Bolivia's interim government is accusing Venezuela's state-owned PdV of funneling cash to exiled former president Evo Morales to destabilize his estranged country.
Bolivian police raided PdV's La Paz office on 8 January and arrested PdV Bolivia deputy manager Maria Palacios at the El Alto airport carrying an undeclared $100,000 on her way to Buenos Aires. The prosecutor's office has not ruled out summoning PdV Bolivia executives, including the subsidiary's top local executive Martha Gabriela Ortega, who has held several overseas posts for PdV.
Bolivia's government minister Arturo Murillo alleges that Palacios was ferrying the cash to Morales for a 22 January political rally at a Buenos Aires stadium, and had registered dozens of suspicious trips to Argentina and Paraguay in recent months.
Palacios denied the allegations, asserting that the funds were earmarked to pay PdV Argentina expenses.
PdV headquarters in Caracas has not commented. The socialist Venezuelan government of president Nicolas Maduro was a close political ally of Morales, who held power in Bolivia since 2006. Despite his nationalist rhetoric and tough contract terms, Morales provided a stable operating environment for foreign oil companies in the landlocked country, including European firms Repsol, Total and Shell.
Conservative Bolivian senator Jeanine Anez assumed the interim presidency in La Paz in November 2019 days after Morales resigned and fled to Mexico. Now in Argentina, Morales claims he was the victim of a coup in the wake of a disputed 20 October election in which he had declared victory for a fourth presidential term, igniting weeks of violent clashes.
Argentina's new government, which pivoted the country away from an international coalition supporting the US-backed Venezuelan opposition, concurs that Morales was forced out of power and granted him asylum in December. But president Alberto Fernandez has not fully embraced Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. Earlier this week, the Argentinian government criticized the US-sanctioned Maduro government for trying to thwart a National Assembly leadership vote critical to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Yet at the same time, Argentina has stripped the diplomatic credentials of Guaido's envoy in Argentina.
The Bolivian government accuses Morales of terrorism and sedition and is seeking to apprehend him through Interpol. Murillo said the new authorities are shutting down vast cocaine production operations and tackling corruption they say thrived during the Morales era. Morales denies any wrongdoing and accuses the Anez government of attacking him for his socialist policies and indigenous heritage.
The discord between Bolivia and Argentina has not impacted Bolivian pipeline gas supply to Argentina, which averaged 11.6mn cm/d in December. Argentina's domestic shale gas production is rising, but the country still relies on Bolivian gas to supply its northern regions.
By Patricia Garip