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U.S. Sen. Reid commends Bolivian democracy as senators begin Andean trip

U.S. Sen. Reid commends Bolivian democracy as senators begin Andean trip

The United States needs to seek a better relationship with Bolivia, according to incoming U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who on Thursday led a delegation of six senators to this Andean capital.
In a news conference following a meeting with leftist leader President Evo Morales, Reid said it was not by accident that he chose Bolivia as the first country to visit in his new role.
"I came to Bolivia because I felt that our country and Bolivia need to have a better relationship," Reid said. "We're here as Democrats and Republicans to help North America appreciate the potential of this mighty little country."
Sen. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, said earlier in fluent Spanish to Bolivian reporters that the visit "signals a different direction" for U.S.-Bolivian relations, which have been strained under Morales.
"I believe all of us want the same thing, to help lift up the people of Latin America so that they can achieve the human dignity they deserve," Salazar said.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said that Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, had been elected democratically.
"Not everyone was pleased with the outcome, but that's the way elections are, just like ours of Nov. 7," he said, referring to the vote in which Reid's Democratic Party retook both houses of Congress.
Reid then admired a copy of Morales' famous red-and-blue striped sweater, hand-knit by a Quechua woman.
Joining Reid and Salazar were incoming Majority Whip Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois; Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota; Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire; and Sen. Robert Bennett, a Republican from Utah.
U.S. ties to Bolivia have been tense partly due to Morales' friendship with Presidents Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as well as by Morales' background as the leader of coca growers fighting U.S. attempts to eradicate their crops.
Morales announced earlier this month that he would seek to significantly expand the area for legally allowed cultivation of coca, which is commonly used in Bolivia as a mild stimulant but also is processed into cocaine.
The statement drew sharp criticism from Washington, which has strenuously objected to any increase in coca production, but the two nations this month signed an agreement guaranteeing US$34 million (euro26 million) in U.S. anti-narcotics aid for next year.
Reid said Thursday, after visits with both U.S. and Bolivian officials, that the Andean country was "moving forward" in its fight against drug trafficking.
Like Chavez in Venezuela, Morales has railed against U.S. foreign policy and occasionally accused the Bush administration of plotting to overthrow his government or even assassinate him.
But he also sent Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera twice to Washington to negotiate an extension of a key trade agreement with the U.S. _ which President Bush himself eventually backed and Congress passed earlier this month.
The U.S. delegation travels next to Ecuador where it will meet Saturday with populist President-elect Rafael Correa. The senators will then travel to Peru for talks with center-left President Alan Garcia on Jan. 2.


Updated : 2021-07-25 02:46 GMT+08:00