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Bolivian President Open to Closer Ties with Obama Administration

At a post-UN General Assembly news conference on November 17, 2008, Reuters reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales stated that "he wanted improved ties with the incoming U.S. administration of Barack Obama but ruled out having U.S. anti-drug agents resume work under his rule" ("Bolivia's Morales Seeks Better Ties with Obama"). Rather, as he stated, "My interest is how to improve relations with the new president." He added that "better relations had to be based on 'respect from one government to another." But unless Obama agrees to allow "the world's No. 3 producer of cocaine" to continue banning the Drug Enforcement Administration from working on its soil, Obama may think twice about getting too friendly with Morales.

Morales remains an avid advocate of the coca leaf, "which Bolivian Indians use in rituals and chew for its medicinal and nutritional properties." However, the Bolivian leader denies that his firm belief in the legitimacy of coca cultivation barrs him from opposing cocaine production and trafficking - activities that sit at the center of U.S.-Bolivian relations. "Morales said Boliva was keen to work with other countries to combat drugs," but he opposes the DEA's presence in his country for specific reasons; after accusing Administration agents "of spying and maintaining ties with anti-government groups that staged violent protests in September" of 2008, Morales expelled both the U.S. ambassador and the DEA from Bolivia, a move that reportedly caused Morales' relationship with the Bush administration to "sour." Only if the leaders accept one another's terms can their governments truly base their relationship upon mutual respect.

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