Bolivia's leader advocates change in US relations
LA PAZ, Bolivia - President Evo Morales called for an about-face in relations with Washington on Thursday, saying past diplomatic spats can be overcome if the new U.S. government refrains from meddling in Bolivia's affairs.
Morales met with U.S. envoy Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, who said their talks were a "good start" toward improving ties.
(below) Bolivia's President Evo Morales, right, shakes hands with Thomas Shannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, during a meeting at the presidential palace in La Paz, Thursday, May 21, 2009. Shannon is on a two-day visit to Bolivia. (AP Photo/ Juan Karita)
Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador last year, claiming he had conspired with the Bolivian opposition to incite violence. U.S. officials denied it, and former President George W. Bush's administration kicked out Bolivia's envoy to Washington and suspended trade preferences.
Morales said Thursday the two nations must treat each other with "mutual respect" and Washington should not interfere in Bolivia's internal matters , which he frequently accuses U.S. officials of doing.
The leftist leader, a close ally of Venezuela and Cuba, also said U.S. aid should be channeled to his government instead of other groups in the country, which he accuses of conspiring against him.
The Bolivian government has expressed hope of improved ties under President Barack Obama. As recently as last month, however, Morales said he believed Washington continued to conspire against him.
(below) Bolivia's President Evo Morales, right, talks to Thomas Shannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, during a meeting at the presidential palace in La Paz, Thursday, May 21, 2009. Shannon is on a two-day visit to Bolivia. (AP Photo/ Juan Karita)
Morales also suspended cooperation with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents last year, accusing them of espionage and funding "criminal groups" trying to undermine his government. The U.S. in turn added Bolivia to its anti-narcotics blacklist.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, who met Shannon on Wednesday, expressed willingness to cooperate on anti-drug efforts and said Bolivia hopes Obama reverses course on Bush policies that he called "injustices" against the Andean nation.
Shannon said the talks helped "deepen the goodwill between the two countries."