Saturday, December 31, 2005

Fidel Castro Welcomes Evo Morales with Full Honors

Saturday, December 31, 2005

HAVANA (EFE) – Cuba’s Fidel Castro ordered full state honors Friday for the visit of Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales, who chose the Communist-ruled island as the destination of his first trip abroad after a resounding win in the Dec. 18 election.

Morales traveled to Havana with a delegation of some 60 people to meet with Castro, who was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs of the Cuban airliner that brought the Bolivian to Havana.

In brief statements to the press, the leftist who will become Bolivia’s first Indian president when he is sworn in on Jan. 22, said his visit translates into “a joy, an emotion, a friendship with the Cuban people.”

Morales, who made the trip on Castro’s invitation, had visited the island several times in the past, most recently in April, when he was operated on for a knee he injured playing soccer.

The Bolivian president-elect’s “friendly visit” was confirmed in an official communiqué the Cuban government released Thursday.

“Evo Morales’ presence honors and pleases our people, and constitutes an important stimulus that strengthens the bonds of friendship and cooperation between the government of Cuba and the next government of Bolivia,” the statement said.

It also said that in the course of the visit, Morales and his delegation would hold working sessions with Castro and other Cuban officials.

At campaign rallies, Morales referred to both Castro and Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chávez, as brothers in the struggle against U.S. “imperialism.” He also devoted plenty of rhetoric to excoriating the policies of the Bush aministration.

Morales will be spending barely a day in Cuba, as he plans to return home Saturday in time to celebrate the New Year’s holiday in Orinoca, the small Andean village where he was born.

The president-elect, who garnered nearly 54 percent of the vote on Dec. 18 amid the highest turnout in a decade, will be out of Bolivia for much of the time between now and his Jan. 22 inauguration. Morales is to meet in Madrid on Jan. 4 with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero before traveling to Paris for bilateral talks, and then on to Brussels for a get-acquainted session with officials of the European Union.

He is scheduled to arrive in South Africa on Jan. 7, and his agenda there includes an encounter with the country’s first post-apartheid leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.

After spending Jan. 10-12 in China, Morales will head back to Bolivia via Brazil, where he will meet with Presi-dent Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who – like the Bolivian – grew up in dire poverty and has little in the way of formal education.

Morales’ team has drawn up an eclectic guest list for his Jan. 22 inauguration, including 130 heads of state and government, 180 leaders of social-action groups, and notables such as Argentine soccer icon Diego Maradona, literary lions Gabriel García Márquez, José Saramago and Nobel peace laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Rigoberta Menchú.

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