A Fulbright scholar and Peace Corps volunteers say they were asked by a U.S. Embassy official in Bolivia to “spy” on Cubans and Venezuelans there, ABCNews.com reported on Friday.
“I was told to provide the names, addresses, and activities of any Venezuelan or Cuban doctors or fieldworkers I come across during my time here,” the Fulbright scholar, John Alexander van Schaick, told ABCNews.com.
Mr. Van Schaick, a 2006 Rutgers University graduate, said the request was made casually, during a mandatory orientation briefing in Bolivia last November with the Embassy’s assistant regional security officer, Vincent Cooper. Only Mr. Van Schaick and Mr. Cooper were present at the meeting.
During the meeting, Mr. Van Schaick said, he was told of the Embassy’s desire to “keep tabs” on Cubans and Venezuelans in Bolivia. Mr. Van Schaick said he had been shocked that “somebody from the U.S. Embassy just asked me to basically spy for the U.S. Embassy.” Mr. Van Schaick told ABCNews.com that he did not comply with the request, fearing that it would jeopardize the Fulbright program’s integrity and violate Bolivian espionage laws.
Mr. Van Schaick is conducting research in the Santa Cruz department of eastern Bolivia, an area where Cuba sends doctors to support free medical services promoted by Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, an ally of Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro.
Mr. Cooper made similar requests during a July meeting in Bolivia with three Peace Corps volunteers and the Peace Corps’ deputy director, Doreen Salazar, according to ABCNews.com. Mr. Cooper said that knowing more about Cubans and Venezuelans in Bolivia had to do with the “fight on terrorism,” said one of the Peace Corps representatives.
After Ms. Salazar complained about the comments, the U.S. State Department acknowledged the breach in American policy, which prohibits the U.S. government from using Peace Corps members or Fulbright scholars to gather intelligence. Despite that assurance, the policy was violated again in November, during the meeting with Mr. Van Schaick.
A senior U.S. State Department official told ABCNews.com that the matter would be taken “very seriously.”
Mr. Van Schaick is one of five Fulbright scholars in Bolivia. Three of the other scholars said they were not asked about Cubans or Venezuelans during their meetings with U.S. Embassy officials. A fourth scholar declined interview requests by ABCNews.com. —Monica Campbell