Americas, Elections, New in Lobbying

Inside Bolivia’s post-Morales outreach to Washington

Bolivia’s right-wing government immediately got to work courting Florida Republicans and key executive branch officials after ousting socialist President Evo Morales last fall, newly released lobbying records indicate.

CLS Strategies, a Washington firm that often deals with crisis management, helped organize meetings for visiting Interior Minister Arturo Murillo with US decision-makers, media and regional experts back in mid-December. The lobbying work was part of a three-month, $90,000 contract that ended March 1 (CLS says it still hasn’t been paid almost five months later).

The contract was effective Dec. 5, just weeks after Morales fled to Mexico amid clashes over disputed elections in November. Jeanine Anez has led the country as interim president since then, with new elections expected this fall. Murillo accused Morales of terrorism and sedition and vowed to lock him up for decades just before his trip to Washington.

CLS helped set up a meeting for Murillo with the senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, Mauricio Claver-Carone. Murillo also met with Acting Assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Michael Kozak and John Barsa, the acting head of the US Agency for International Agency (USAID) who at the time was assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean. He also met with one of the deputy assistant secretaries of the State Department’s narcotics and law enforcement bureau, who is unnamed in the filing.

On Capitol Hill, Murillo met with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Ted Cruz of Texas. He also met with staffers from the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees.

In addition, CLS helped score meetings with Paulo Abrao, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Secretary General Luis Almagro of the Organization of American States (OAS). That organization’s analysis that the election was flawed, which contributed to Morales’ fall, has since come under criticism. On Dec. 18, Murillo participated in a breakfast discussion with the Council of the Americas / Americas Society.

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The meetings could help burnish the Anez government’s credentials both in Washington and domestically ahead of elections this fall.

“Murillo was likely looking to shore up support for Anez’s government by landing photo ops with people in positions of power,” said Paul Angelo, a fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Anez will no doubt use this to great effect when she rhetorically asks voters when the last time Evo Morales secured such high-level meetings in Washington.”

Since Murillo’s visit, the Anez government has come under some US criticism, mostly from Democrats. Earlier this month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) led six other Democrats on a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to encourage “prompt, free and fair elections and an end to the disturbing actions being committed by Bolivia’s interim government.”

“We are increasingly concerned by the growing number of human rights violations and curtailments of civil liberties by the interim government of Bolivia,” they wrote.

Governments in transition are nothing new for CLS.

The firm previously represented Peru in early 2018 amid growing corruption allegations against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that eventually forced him to step down. The firm’s web site also says CLS worked with the government of Kenya for four years to repair the country’s reputation after 2007 electoral violence, even though no such contract can be found on the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database.

The firm did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did CLS partner Juan Cortinas and managing director William Moore, the two foreign agents registered on the account.