The Miami Herald
Fri, Dec. 30, 2005

Morales celebrates win, resumes criticism of U.S.

After striking a conciliatory tone with business leaders the night before, President-elect Evo Morales resumed his anti-U.S. rhetoric at a party with coca farmers.

Associated Press

ETERAZAMA, Bolivia - Partying until dawn on Thursday with the coca growers who helped him win Bolivia's presidential elections, Evo Morales had the audience cheering with some anti-U.S. rhetoric.

''We are winning the green battle: the coca leaf is beating the North American dollar,'' said Morales, who leaves today for Cuba, the first stop in a world tour before his inauguration Jan. 22.

Morales also won applause the night before with a strikingly different message to Bolivia's business leaders, promising that his government will create a climate favorable for investment and jobs and will not ``expropriate or confiscate any assets.''

Speaking in the relatively rich city of Santa Cruz, a stronghold of his opponents, Morales adopted a conciliatory tone, saying he wants ''to learn from businessmen'' and promising them a referendum on their demands for greater regional autonomy.

''He promised more than we asked for,'' said a surprised Gabriel Dabdoud, president of the powerful chamber of commerce.

The audience, the atmosphere and the speech were deeply different here in the heart of the coca-growing region of Chapare, where Morales repeated his promise to allow coca cultivation, an activity that helps sustain almost 30,000 families in the area.

The 46-year-old Aymara Indian came here for a victory celebration party with the coca farmers. Morales joined the same band he played the trumpet with as a youth. With barbecue and beer, the festivities lasted well into dawn.

While Bolivia is the third largest U.S. supplier of cocaine after Colombia and Peru, the plant is also used for ancestral religious ceremonies and medicine, and Andeans for centuries have chewed it to fight fatigue. Morales' goal is to crack down on drug trafficking while promoting legal markets for coca leaf.

The president-elect has said farmers in Chapare, most of whom also grow subsistence crops, should be allowed to plant 3.7 acres per family of coca leaf, a proposal rejected by the United States in the past.

A Morales aide said this week that he also plans to reject U.S. economic and military aid, worth $91 million this year, if the United States continues to insist on coca eradication as a condition for the money. Morales was to travel today to Cuba to visit with President Fidel Castro, then return to Bolivia for New Year's Eve before visits to several European nations, South Africa, China and Brazil.