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Carlos Mesa

“I did not have, while in office, intelligence information (about the alleged intervention by Caracas in Bolivia’s conflict)" Mr. Mesa told Mexico City’s El Universal newspaper.

Mr. Mesa, whose resignation was accepted last week by Congress and was replaced by Eduardo Rodriguez, said that, despite not having any evidence of "intervention" by president Chavez, he viewed the Venezuelan leader’s support for leftist coca growers leader Evo Morales as "legitimate".

Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) were among the main organizers of the anti-government protests that eventually pushed Mesa out of office.

"Chavez has empathy and supports Evo. That’s clear and it even seems legitimate to me" admitted Mr. Mesa. During the 35th General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last week, U.S. assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs Roger Noriega, implied that Chavez was somehow linked to the "worrisome" situation in Bolivia.

"Chavez’s profile in Bolivia has been very apparent from the beginning" the U.S. diplomat told reporters at the gathering. "His record is apparent and speaks for itself".Asked by journalists if Washington had evidence of Venezuelan meddling in La Paz, Noriega replied, "I don’t know," and went on to tell reporters it was up to them to seek any such evidence for themselves.

Mr. Mesa told El Universal that the decision by Congress to name Mr. Rodriguez as Bolivia’s new president was "one of the happiest moments" of his life "because we were saving Bolivia from a disaster".

"The situation is very complicated. There can still be a backlash, but as the days pass it’ll become more normal and it is important for Congress to lay the groundwork for a complete election process".

Mr. Mesa praised the conduct of the Bolivian Armed Forces throughout the crisis and said he should have asked the United Nations and neighbouring countries for assistance much earlier to find a solution to the situation. "My error, perhaps, was to believe that transparency in dialogue would help find solutions, and what I did was to let the demons out of the box", concluded the former Bolivian president.

MercoPress