A dispute between Mexico and Bolivia intensified on Thursday after the federal government said it was initiating legal action against the South American nation and a former Bolivian president called President López Obrador a “cowardly thug.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the government would file a complaint against Bolivia in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, against a “siege” on the Mexican embassy in the Bolivian capital, La Paz.
“We will present a complaint before the International Court of Justice so that the police and military siege on the headquarters of the embassy of Mexico in Bolivia is suspended. We demand respect for the Vienna Convention [on the Law of Treaties] . . .” he wrote on Twitter.
The government says the embassy in La Paz has been encircled by Bolivian forces since it gave refuge to nine former officials from the government of ex-president Evo Morales, who resigned in November amid accusations of electoral fraud and took up an offer of political asylum in Mexico only to leave the country for Argentina less than a month later.
The Mexican government says that drones have been flown over the embassy, more than 50 security force members have been deployed there and that its diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, have been intimidated and harassed.
The Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE) acknowledged in a statement that it made a request to its Bolivian counterpart for the provision of security due to the unrest in the country that followed the disputed October 20 election, but asserted that the police response has been excessive.
“. . . The police operation that Bolivian authorities have assembled is not only out of proportion but generates exactly the opposite of what the embassy requested: support to guarantee the security of the Mexican buildings, diplomatic personnel and the people under Mexican protection in La Paz,” the SRE said.
The department charged that Bolivia has violated the Vienna Convention by constantly filming its embassy and searching its diplomats’ vehicles.
Speaking at the president’s regular news conference on Thursday, Ebrard said he hoped that the International Court of Justice would uphold Mexico’s right to grant asylum and have its embassy respected.
The “consensus of the international community” is on Mexico’s side, he said.
The foreign secretary said Mexico asked for safe conduct passes for the nine people in the embassy, among whom is Morales’ former chief of staff, but Bolivian authorities refused the request.
The government of the landlocked nation, led now by interim President Jeanine Áñez, has issued warrants for the arrest of four of the former officials, he said.
Standing alongside Ebrard, President López Obrador said he hoped that no attempt would be made to force entry into the embassy, adding “not even [former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet did that.”
A minister for the Bolivian presidency responded that the intention of his government was in fact to protect the Mexican embassy, stating that there are “supposedly groups who want to come down and take it.”
However, Yerko Nuñez added that the Bolivian government also wants “everyone who committed acts of terrorism and sedition and sought to organize conflict to face justice.”
He asserted that the ex-officials in the embassy won’t be given safe passage.
In turn, Bolivian Foreign Minister Karen Longaric told reporters in La Paz that Mexico’s appeal to the International Court of Justice was a “mistake” and a “legal fallacy” and should be withdrawn.
She rejected the claims that Mexican diplomatic personnel have been intimidated and that the police presence outside the embassy has been bolstered.
“No one can file a lawsuit for unproven facts, no one can be sued for acts they have not committed,” Longaric said.
“The government of [interim President Jeanine] Áñez is respectful of international treaties, of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and, so national security forces would never enter a diplomatic building without prior authorization,” she added.
Also on Thursday, former Bolivian president Jorge Quiroga – now an international delegate for the government of the interim president – launched a scathing attack on López Obrador.
“Mr. López Obrador, it’s time to speak clearly. You have clearly decided to be the godfather of the Latin American tyrants. You’re a cowardly thug . . . we’ve seen you kneeling down ashamed before [United States President Donald] Trump, who places demands on you, who forces you to deport Central Americans, who’s putting labor inspectors even in the bathroom of your apartment,” he told a press conference.
“You kneel down before Trump and you shamefully kneel down before Castro of Cuba and [President Nicolás] Maduro of Venezuela,” Quiroga added.
In granting asylum to Morales, López Obrador “gave shelter” to a person who committed electoral fraud and is a “cocaine producer,” the ex-president said.
Quiroga also asserted that the Mexican president violated asylum conventions by allowing Morales to make political declarations while in Mexico that instigated violence in Bolivia.
“You have become a rogue with Bolivia. You confused our respect, our deference, with cowardice . . . Don’t come and bully the second female president of Bolivia . . .” he said.
In response, López Obrador told reporters at his Friday news conference that he wouldn’t take Quiroga’s bait and “fall into provocation.”
“We’re going to wait for this diplomatic matter to be resolved. We’re not going to get hooked on tittle-tattle, it’s not up to our level,” he said.
“. . . We’re going to continue demanding that they [the Bolivian government] respect the sovereignty of our country that is represented in the precinct of our embassy [in La Paz].”