Bolivian President visits US seeking to mend fences


Washington : Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales has begun a two-day visit to Washington to make first contacts with president-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to explore ways of improving strained bilateral relations, EFE reported Wednesday

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“We have a lot of hope that diplomatic, trade and investment relations with our country are going to improve. We have a lot of hope and we’re optimistic,” said Morales Tuesday at a ceremony where he paid homage to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Obama who fought the presidential election on the plank of change had said during his presidential campaign that he was open to talks with the Latin American countries seeking to resolve their diplomatic face off with the US during the administration of outgoing President George W. Bush.

Bilateral relations plunged even deeper with Morales’ decision to suspend operations in Bolivia of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as his prohibition on the US secret service CIA from expanding its activities in his South American country.

The US in response froze customs benefits to Bolivia because of its alleged lack of cooperation in the anti-drug fight.

The customs benefits allow Bolivian products in to the world’s largest consumer market duty free, thus keeping the prices relatively low and encouraging sales. Some 25,000 workers in Bolivia benefit from the customs-free exports of their goods to US.

On Tuesday, Morales met senator Richard Lugar, Republican member on the Foreign Relations Committee, who called the Bolivian leader’s visit to Washington a “positive step” in improving dialogue and understanding between the two countries.

Morales was to address the permanent council of the Organization of American States (OAS) over his proposals for change in Bolivia as well as his plans for the constitutional reform process currently under way in his country.

This will be his first appearance before the inter-American organization.

Obama’s victory has been widely hailed by many Latin American leftist leaders who saw it as a harbinger of historic change in US and world politics.