The interim government of Bolivia on Monday expelled three senior Spanish and Mexican diplomats from the country, dramatically intensifying a diplomatic dispute caused by the fall of President Evo Morales.
The interim president of Bolivia, Jeanine Añez, gave the ambassador of Mexico and the head of business of Spain and her consul in La Paz, the main city of the nation, 72 hours to leave, accusing them of breaking diplomatic norms by helping former officials linked to Morales.
"This group of representatives of the governments of Mexico and Spain has seriously damaged the sovereignty and dignity of the people and the government,quot; of Bolivia, Añez said Monday at a press conference.
The government of Spain responded by expelling three Bolivian diplomats on Monday. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico called Bolivia's measure "political,quot;, but did not retaliate immediately.
The surprise expulsions of Bolivia were the last and most drastic step taken by Ms. Añez to reshape foreign and domestic policy since succeeding Mr. Morales in November. Morales fled to Mexico last month, after retiring under pressure from street protesters and the military. Then he traveled to Argentina.
Since assuming the presidency, Ms. Añez expelled hundreds of Cuban workers, stopped the formal recognition of Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela, began a legal crusade against high officials under Mr. Morales' command and brought religious symbols to the ceremonies of the explicitly secular state. .
His critics say that these measures go well beyond his self-taught mission as a supervisor to oversee the new elections early next year.
The shaking of Ms. Añez's diplomatic ties could have lasting political and economic consequences for the next president. Any political dispute with Spain, an important investment partner whose government helped negotiate the rise of Mrs. Añez, would be especially worrying.
"Frankly, Bolivia has very little to gain from this in the long term," said Filipe Carvalho, a Washington-based risk analyst at the Eurasia Group, a consultant. "These measures are counterproductive."
Instead, Ms. Añez's diplomatic noise serves a short-term political objective, she said: mobilize Morales' staunch opponents before the elections. "This is a very polarized country, and some here really want to take revenge on the people who held power for 14 years,quot; under Mr. Morales, said Carvalho.
Recent diplomatic tensions have centered around 10 officials of Mr. Morales's intimate circle who sought asylum in Mexican diplomatic facilities in La Paz after the former president fled into exile. The provisional government accused three of them of sedition and electoral fraud and issued arrest warrants against them.
Añez administration officials said Mexico had violated diplomatic norms by allowing asylum seekers to carry out political activities and move in diplomatic vehicles. The leftist president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, initially provoked the wrath of Bolivia to grant Mr. Morales, an ally, temporary asylum and send a military plane to pick him up in his Bolivian hiding place.
Tensions exploded last week after the Spanish government got unexpectedly involved. On Friday, two Spanish diplomatic cars, driven by masked security officers, attempted to enter the residence of the Mexican ambassador in La Paz, fueling suspicions that Spain was trying to intervene silently in the confrontation.
In an attempt to spread the dispute, the Spanish government sent a commission to investigate the episode, without explaining why its officials covered their faces and refused to identify themselves with the Bolivian police.
Some local residents and politicians were outraged, accusing Spain, an old colonial power, of disrespect and arrogance.
"The times of Pizarro and Cortés are over," said Jorge Quiroga, a former president of Bolivia who is a leading commentator. "With these actions, they have thrown decades of work dedicated to improving their image in the country."
Cesar Del Castillo contributed reports from La Paz, Bolivia, and Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City.