WASHINGTON – The acting head of US diplomacy for Latin America, Michael Kozak, has called on Bolivia’s current President Evo Morales to ensure that all the votes in Sunday’s presidential elections were counted “accurately” to uphold legitimacy.
Kozak, who has spent almost half a century in US diplomacy, welcomed EFE to his office for his first interview since taking on the role of Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs in September.
In Bolivia, after Sunday’s elections, Evo Morales proclaimed himself the winner but his government has asked for a second round of voting, why?
Well, our position has been that the vote should be counted and every vote counted accurately. Now, we were very supportive of the government of Bolivia when it asked the Organization of American States to send election observers experts on this matter.
And I had the opportunity to meet with a couple of the ministers of the Bolivian government this morning and said look, when you asked for the experts to come and validate your election, you need to take their recommendations not just take the ones you like and ignore the others. So it’s a very critical moment for Bolivia.
Even though we’ve had our differences with the current government there we’ve always considered it to be a legitimate democratically elected government. But if this matter of the election isn’t handled properly that can be put in jeopardy.
Could the relationship with Bolivia be altered? Any proposals to stop recognizing Morales as the legitimate president?
I mean, you can look around the world and see the kinds of relationships that you have with governments that are democratically elected and legitimate are very different than you have with governments that are not.
I’m not going to go into detail of what the government to government relationship would be but I can certainly say one thing if you’re an investor, whether it’s a Bolivian investor or a foreign investor, and you’re looking at a situation where there’s a real question as to the legitimacy of an election, that’s going to influence your decisions and not in a way that’s good for Bolivia.
You told a congressional committee this week that “foreign actors” had been detected in the protests in Chile, what exactly did you mean?
We’ve identified on social media fake accounts emanating from Russia that are people pretending to be Chilean people but, really, the whole message that they’re doing is trying to undermine all Chilean institutions and society. Now, this doesn’t mean that was the cause of the unrest in Chile.
These actors are not unique to the region but where people pretend to be a fellow citizen and they say ‘oh have you heard about this or have you heard about that.’ And it’s a made-up story but designed to provoke you into some kind of action oriented at distrusting your own institutions. And that’s a very dangerous thing.
TAKING ON NARCOS IN MEXICO
Last week, Mexican authorities arrested and later released Ovidio Guzman Lopez, one of El Chapo’s sons. The streets of Culiacan, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, turned into a battlefield. What’s your view on the reaction of the Mexican government.
I don’t think, if you ask the Mexican government their opinion, it’s something that they would be happy about, it was very unfortunate, has a lot of bad implications.
We understand the situation they found themselves in where, according to their accounts, they were outgunned by the bad guys, there would have been a lot of civilian damage.
But that tells you there’s a broader problem there that has to be dealt with and something that we and the government in Mexico have been dealing with together, trying to fight these transnational criminal organizations and not have them be able to do something like this.
Do you think that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador still has not defined a solid strategy for this?
Every strategy needs to be refreshed every so often just because people tend to forget and it’s this is very much a bureaucratic problem.
In bureaucracies, we all get focused on what we’re supposed to be doing right now. So I may be sitting here thinking what can I do about stopping X and I’m not looking at the 10 things that are going on over here and maybe there’s something over here that actually could be more effective. So that’s where having a bit of a vision is it is a good thing to do.
So, we’re not criticizing what Mexico is doing now but we’re saying let’s reinvigorate what the strategy is.
Last week, in New York, a judge found former Honduran official Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, brother of the president, Juan Orland Hernandez, guilty of drug trafficking. New York prosecutors named the president as a co-conspirator and he has been linked to drug trafficking several times. Does the US still consider him an ally?
We see Honduras as a reliable partner and we will work with the officials in office. I obviously can’t comment about what’s going on in the criminal justice system that’s for our Justice Department to do.
But we are working with the government of Honduras, continue to work with them and we’ve got a big broad agenda that we have to work on sort of regardless of what’s going on that front. So that’s where we are.
But you still have confidence in Hernandez? Or you simply have to keep a good relationship because he is the president?
I think I will leave it saying we’re dealing with the elected officials of Honduras.