ETA Activity in Bolivia Eyed; Morales Denies Purported Links to Terrorist Group
Byline: Martin Arostegui, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - Members of the Basque terrorist group ETA have been conducting financial and propaganda activities in Bolivia with the knowledge of President Evo Morales, according to Spanish intelligence reports cited by the Madrid newspaper El Pais and the local press.
Officials in Bolivia have confirmed that six members of the Basque separatist organization traveled to Bolivia and met with high-level officials of the Morales government during the past year.
According to these officials, Mr. Morales and his vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, have had relations with ETA members since 2005, predating Mr. Morales' 2006 inauguration.
"Members of ETA have been purchasing homes and creating a new refuge for the organization in Cochabamba, where they move like fish in water," according to El Pais.
Cochabamba, which is Bolivia's narcotrafficking center and contains the country's main legal coca plantations, is a stronghold of the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
Mr. Morales denied in a Feb. 22 press conference any links with the Basque separatist group, which has been responsible for a number of fatal bombings in Spain. "I personally don't know anybody in ETA," he told Bolivian reporters.
But his congressional leader, Edmundo Novillo, recalls meeting with representatives of a group called Askapena which is associated with ETA's political wing Batasuna who were invited to attend sessions of Congress last year.
"I did not know that these people supported or had any relation with ETA," Mr. Novillo was quoted as saying in the Bolivian press.
A former interior ministry official, Rafael Puente, who until recently headed the Center for Documentation and Information, also recalls receiving the Basques.
"Novillo told them to come and see me," he said in published remarks. "I wanted support for a project. But they did not offer money. We talked about problems in [the Basque region] and here."
The officials were quoted saying they greeted the Basques, including Gaizka Uharte, Narda Iturri, Inaki Etiaio and Juan Jose Loihotxea, during the August inauguration of Bolivia's constituent assembly in the city of Sucre, at which Askapena participated flying the Basque nationalist flag. …