LA PAZ, Bolivia —
Bolivia’s interim president says her government is expelling the top Mexican and Spanish diplomats in the country over an alleged attempt by members of Bolivia’s former government to leave their refuge in the Mexican Embassy with Spanish help and flee the country.
Spain expelled three Bolivian officials Monday in response.
Interim President Jeanine Áñez said Ambassador María Teresa Mercado, the Spanish charge d’affaires and the Spanish consul were all declared persona non grata and given 72 hours to leave the country.
The incident centers around a group of nine former officials in the government of deposed Bolivian President Evo Morales who sought refuge in the Mexican Embassy after Morales stepped down under pressure last month.
The acting Bolivian government has charged the former officials with sedition, terrorism and electoral fraud and has refused to allow them safe passage out of the country.
The Bolivian government has accused Spanish diplomats of trying to help the nine officials leave the Mexican Embassy on Friday and says the Spaniards arrived at the embassy accompanied by a group of hooded Spanish security agents. Spain has denied the charges.
“A serious violation has been committed against Bolivian sovereignty and democracy, which must be respected,” Áñez said.
Six Spanish security officials departed Bolivia on Sunday after the Bolivian government asked them to leave.
Spain’s interim government said Monday that it was expelling three Bolivian diplomats accredited in Spain in response to Bolivia’s “hostile gesture.”
It said that Spain “categorically rejects any hint about the alleged willingness to interfere in the internal political affairs of Bolivia” and called the allegations “conspiracy theories.”
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A police union in Spain said that the agents from the national police force’s Special Operations Group, which provides diplomatic security, were partially masked Friday to protest their identities for their own security, a routine precaution.
The Mexican government said its diplomats in Bolivia had followed the principles of Mexican foreign policy and international law.
“We consider this to be a political decision,” the government said in a written statement.
Later, Mexico’s Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the relationship between the two governments remained “tense.”
She said Mercado was recalled for her personal safety, but the embassy would continue operating normally and there was no intention of breaking off diplomatic relations with Bolivia.
As for the nine Bolivians staying at the Mexican Embassy, Sánchez Cordero said they had requested political asylum and Mexico had told them it was open to that possibility.
“Of course we’re going to protect them,” she said during a news conference Monday. “While they are in the Mexican Embassy, they are in Mexican territory.”