Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carter and Morales, Coca, Peanuts, and the Peacecorps...

(translation from Telesur) -- In La Paz, Ex-President of the United States and Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter accepted an invitation from Bolivian President Evo Morales to harvest coca leaves at the Bolivian President’s home in the Andean region of Chapare.

“I hope that on my next visit I can go to Chapare, where he [Morales] will take me to harvest coca leaves,” Carter said through an interpreter during a press conference with the Bolivian president after a private meeting in the Presidential Palace.

Morales, a former leader of coca farmers, made the first invitation among smiles and an announcement that he and Carter had a good meeting that also included Carter inviting Morales to harvest peanuts at his farm in Georgia.

“One time he invited me to visit his family and his home, to harvest peanuts on his land in Atlanta, so now I am inviting him to Chapare to harvest coca…the next time [he visits],” said Morales, without providing details when he would again visit the United states, which triggered laughter from Carter.

Morales also denied any intention of expelling the Peace Corps from Bolivia. While Bolivia, like Venezuela, has expelled other US agencies from operating within its national territory (most notoriously in the US, the Drug Enforcement Administration). In the case of the Peace Corps, however, Morales said that he welcomed any organization to Bolivia that had "social ends" and that did not seek to meddle in Bolivian affairs.

The question of the Peace Corps' status in Bolivia has been somewhat in question since February of 2008. At the time, it was revealed that the US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, had requested that Fullbright Scholars and Peace Corps volunteers spy on Venezuelan and Cuban nationals working in Bolivia. Morales eventually expelled Philip Goldberg, the US Ambassador to Bolivia, in September of last year after he was caught consorting with violent separatist groups in the eastern department of Santa Cruz.

Venezuela expelled its ambassador in solidarity, at the time Chávez said at a rally, "Get out of here, bullshit yankees! We're a dignified people, We are the children of Bolívar, the children of Guaicaipuro, the children of Tupac Amarú, we are free...when there is a new government [in the United States] we will request a new ambassador."

Carter's meeting with Morales is the latest in a series of warming signs that relations between the United States and Latin American democracies. Carter's position today, which tacitly accepts the legitimacy of coca as a crop is significant step in the direction of normalization.

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