December 19, 2005

Bolivia’s Morales further slams US drug policies

By Adriana Barrera

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (Reuters) - Evo Morales, who won
Bolivia's presidential election on vows to end a U.S. campaign
against coca growing, stepped up his criticism of American
anti-drug policies on Monday, accusing Washington of using drug
fighting efforts to militarize the region.

In his first news conference since claiming victory on
Sunday Morales -- who took a surprisingly strong majority and
will be Bolivia's first Indian leader -- insisted he was
opposed to drugs but disputed Washington's methods.

"The fight against drug trafficking is a false pretext for
the United States to install military bases and we're not in
agreement," he told reporters.

"We support an effective fight against drugs. Neither
cocaine or drug trafficking are part of the Bolivian culture,"
he said in his stronghold of Cochabamba as the first official
results from Sunday's vote trickled in.

Washington considers Morales, who first rose to power as
the leader of the country's coca leaf farmers, an enemy in its
anti-drug fight in Bolivia, the third biggest cocaine producer
after Colombia and Peru.

The U.S. government insists much of Bolivia's coca is
processed into cocaine, but farmers say they grow the plant for
traditional medicinal uses, herbal teas and religious

According to UN statistics, Bolivia put 107 tons of cocaine
on world markets last year. The United States spends $150
million a year on anti-drug efforts in Bolivia.

Some analysts said the United States should move quickly to
engage Morales and discuss ways to bridge their differences.

"I would hope that Morales' position would lead to the U.S.
taking a more realistic policy because if there's one thing
we've learned in last 20 years is we can't stop the drug
trade," said Nicolas Shumway, director of the Institute of
Latin American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

"What I'm hoping is the U.S. will listen to him and try and
hear his concerns and not just try to impose a policy on
Bolivia unilaterally," Shumway said.


Morales' leading rivals conceded defeat when results
tabulated by local media Sunday showed him heading for a
resounding victory, taking slightly more than 50 percent of the

With 33 percent of the official results tallied Monday,
Morales led with 48 percent to 35 percent for Jorge Quiroga, a
conservative former president. The official count will take
several days but based on media calculations Morales' vote
tally is expected to remain near 50 percent.

If Morales gets more than half of the votes he will avoid
having to face a congressional vote between the two top
vote-getters as required by Bolivian law.

Asked by reporters if he had been contacted any Bush
administration officials after he emerged as the likely victor,
Morales said no. "I don't expect to be, either," he said.

Morales, a lawmaker who admires Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez's drive for regional cooperation to counter U.S.
influence, drew his most fervent support from Bolivia's
indigenous majority.

Many Bolivian Indians see one of their own reversing what
most see as more than 500 years of discrimination under leaders
of European heritage, beginning with slavery in Spanish
colonial silver mines.

"There is hope that things are finally going to change,"
said Carlos Pilco, a 48-year-old mechanic, in El Alto, a
satellite city to La Paz and home to hundreds of thousands of
indigenous Bolivians.

Aymara Indian law student Jorge Quispe, 30, urged Bolivians
to give the new leader time to implement his program.

Street protests over the country's economic policies have
unseated two presidents since 2003.

"Bolivians have to think about what ways we can support our
president, he said.

(Additional reporting Fiona Ortiz in El Alto)