March 13, 2006

Bolivia’s Morales invites Bush to visit

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales, a coca farmer who has called himself a nightmare for Washington, has invited U.S. President George W. Bush to visit the country, a Bolivian official said on Monday.

Morales has formed close relationships with communist Cuba and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Washington has been wary of Morales' leftist ideology and his policy to defend coca growing in Bolivia -- the world's third-biggest cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru.

President Bush "is one of the several foreign dignitaries invited to this important event," a government spokesman said, referring to the August 6 inauguration of a national assembly tasked with rewriting the Bolivian constitution.

Chavez, who the Bush administration regards as a belligerent, anti-U.S. leader, has also been invited to the event in the city of Sucre.

The establishment of Bolivia's so-called constitutional assembly was a key election promise of Morales, who says it will help "re-found" the impoverished South American country and give more power to the poor, indigenous majority.

The government spokesman said Morales made the Bush invitation during a weekend meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during which he presented her with a small Andean instrument decorated with coca leaves.