By FRANK BAJAK
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — The world's richest nations must be made to pay for the damage their profligate use of natural resources has caused in Bolivia and other developing countries, President Evo Morales said Friday.
(right) Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the presidential palace in La Paz, Friday, Nov. 2, 2007, where he said that the world's richest nations must be made to pay for the damage their profligate use of natural resources has caused in Bolivia and other developing countries. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
"It's not possible that some in the industrialized world live very well economically while affecting, even destroying others," he told The Associated Press in an interview.
The first indigenous president of this country — whose rapidly melting glaciers scientists count among the most profound signs of global warming — said he and other Latin American leaders were exploring possible legal means for demanding compensation for the developed world's "ecological debt."
"If there is understanding, that would be great. But if not, there will have to be international legal responsibility," said the scrappy coca union leader, who turned 48 a week ago.
In a wide-ranging 70-minute interview in the living room of the presidential residence, Morales said his version of socialism requires state control of all basic services, including telecommunications.
He also reiterated his call for the United States, which he accuses of trying to undermine his government, to pull all of its soldiers out of this Andean nation.
Morales told the AP he was willing to help Colombia reach peace with its main rebel movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which he said was no longer justified in spilling blood after more than four decades of conflict.
On Bolivia's divisive domestic front, Morales said he ordered troops to withdraw from the main airport in the country's eastern lowlands last month to avoid bloodshed during a standoff over landing revenues. He said he received intelligence that the crowd that took over the airport included armed separatists looking to provoke a fatal confrontation.
Morales, an Aymara Indian whose father was a community leader, also said proudly that this majority indigenous nation will next week become the first to ratify the Sept. 13 declaration by the United Nations endorsing the rights of the world's native peoples.
The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were the only countries to vote against the declaration.
After winning the presidency in December 2005 with 54 percent of the vote, Morales has increased Bolivia's annual natural gas revenues from $300 million to $2 billion a year by exerting greater state control of the industry.
He has nationalized a tin smelter, most of Bolivia's largest tin mine and the country's railroads, and government officials have suggested they intend to move to nationalize electric utilities.
His government this year completed the re-nationalization of water companies, a demand sparked by widespread popular protests. It is currently negotiating the re-nationalization of the country's main telecommunications company, Entel, which is owned by Telecom Italia SpA.
"It's communication. You want to communicate, right?" Morales said. "It's a basic service. It's a human right."
"Just because you talk on the phone doesn't mean a few people are getting rich," said Morales, seated on a couch wearing fur-lined slippers he said were given to him by fans in a former Soviet republic whose name escaped him.
Morales has allied himself closely with Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's leftist president, and Fidel Castro, Cuba's aging leader.
Asked if his vision of socialism follows the Chavez mold, Morales said the communal structure of Bolivia's indigenous societies and their "way of living in harmony with Mother Earth" set South America's poorest country on a different road.
"This is not the socialism of a leftist. It's the socialism of humanity."
His politics have not endeared him to the United States, which was his nemesis in the late 1980s and 1990s when he led coca-leaf growers in protests against Washington-directed forced eradication campaigns.
Expanding on public remarks last month in which he expressed his desire that all U.S. military personnel leave Bolivia, Morales said he wants all armed foreign troops out.
He said the only Venezuelan soldiers in the country are unarmed pilots who fly him around in loaned helicopters.
"As far as I know, the only armed soldiers I've seen are those from the United States," he said.
The U.S. Embassy would not say how many troops or military contractors it has in the country, but they are believed to not exceed a few dozen.
Blinking from a nap and blowing his nose when the afternoon interview began, Morales was asked how much sleep he gets nightly given his penchant for brutally long work days.
"Less than four hours," he said, though he said he always catnaps during helicopter flights.
"I'd like to get more rest, but you just can't."