Morales Aligns Himself With Castro, Chavez
- Morales Aligns Himself With Castro, Chavez
By CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 5 minutes ago
Praising Fidel Castro as a model, Bolivia's president-elect arrived
Monday in Venezuela for a meeting with leftist leader Hugo Chavez, who
said the nationalization of Bolivia's oil and natural gas was high on
Evo Morales arrived in Caracas aboard a Cuban jet and said he and
Chavez were uniting in a "fight against neoliberalism and imperialism."
"We are here to resolve social problems, economic problems," said
Morales, an Aymara Indian coca farmer who has pledged to renegotiate
international contracts to extract his country's vast natural gas
reserves the second-largest in South America after Venezuela's.
"This movement is not only in Bolivia," he said. "Fidel in Cuba and
Hugo in Venezuela are logging triumphs in social movements and leftist
Chavez said the two leaders would discuss the nationalization of
Bolivia's oil and gas resources a campaign issue for Morales.
Morales has said the country's natural gas reserves have been
"looted," current contracts must be re-negotiated and national
resources placed under state ownership. He also has said he would not
take over foreign oil and gas companies operating in Bolivia.
Morales is on the first leg of a tour that will take him to Europe,
South Africa, China and Brazil. The United States is notably not on
Morales, who vowed during his campaign to be Washington's "nightmare,"
is willing to visit the U.S. but hasn't been invited, his spokesman,
Alex Contreras, said.
After Castro, Chavez is the second foreign leader to meet the newly
elected Morales, a sign of a growing relationship between the three
leftist leaders that has concerned Washington. Contreras called the
three "an axis of good."
"We are going to change Bolivia; we are going to change Latin
America," Morales said Tuesday.
Morales plans to use the tour to drum up support for his incoming
government the first headed by an Indian in Bolivia's 180-year
history and also to show he can hold his own on the world stage.
Chavez, a strident critic of U.S.-style capitalism, already has
promised financial aid to Bolivia. The Venezuelan leader says he is
leading a socialist revolution and has taken increasing control of the
oil and gas industry; reworking contracts with private oil companies
and sharply raising royalties and taxes.
High oil prices and the greater share of industry profits have allowed
him to fund growing social programs.
Morales' opposition to U.S.-led efforts to eradicate coca cultivation
in his Andean nation also have alarmed Washington. Coca is the source
of cocaine but Bolivia's Indians also use it for hunger suppression
and medicinal purposes.
Morales tended llamas as a young boy and rose to power at the head of
street demonstrations that toppled two presidents, demanding that more
power held by the country's long-ruling lighter-skinned elite move to
Bolivia's poor Indian majority.
Morales has toned down some of his fiery campaign rhetoric since his
election last month, promising Bolivia's business leaders that he will
create a climate favorable to foreign investment and jobs.
After Venezuela, Morales is due to visit Spain and France. France's
Total SA and the Spanish-Argentine Repsol YPF SA are among foreign oil
companies with big investments in Bolivia.
Morales also will meet in Brussels with officials from the European
Union, then stop in South Africa, China and Brazil.