In an apparent violation of U.S. policy, Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar were asked by a U.S. Embassy official in Bolivia "to basically spy" on Cubans and Venezuelans in the country, according to Peace Corps personnel and the Fulbright scholar involved.
"I was told to provide the names, addresses and activities of any Venezuelan or Cuban doctors or field workers I come across during my time here," Fulbright scholar John Alexander van Schaick told ABCNews.com in an interview in La Paz.
Van Schaick's account matches that of Peace Corps members and staff who claim that last July their entire group of new volunteers was instructed by the same U.S. Embassy official in Bolivia to report on Cuban and Venezuelan nationals.
The State Department says any such request was "in error" and a violation of long-standing U.S. policy which prohibits the use of Peace Corps personnel or Fulbright scholars for intelligence purposes.
The point of putting a wall between Peace Corps activities and intelligence gathering activities is that any hint of the latter contaminating the former puts the entire Peace Corps operation in jeopardy. If Peace Corps volunteers (or Fulbright Scholars) are suspected of gathering intel for the United States government, then their work can be compromised and their physical safety endangered. I suspect that this represents the activity of "enterprising" low level personnel at State or (more likely) CIA rather than official policy, but it's nevertheless a very stupid move. In the context of a narrative that describes Hugo Chavez as the next V.I. Lenin, however, it shouldn't be all that surprising.