April 21, 2008 / 10:14 PM / 10 years ago

Bolivia's Morales says biofuels serious problem to poor

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday criticized “some South American presidents” for supporting the use of biofuels, which he said are responsible for high food prices and global hunger.

Bolivian President Evo Morales speaks during a military ceremony celebrating the anniversary of the General Gualberto Villarroel Military School in La Paz April 18, 2008. REUTERS/Gaston Brito

Visiting the United Nations while fighting autonomy referendums called by the opposition at home, the Bolivian president said the increased use of farmland for fuel crops was causing a “tremendous increase” in the price of food -- especially of wheat, which has made bread more expensive.

“We have that problem in Bolivia. It is not an internal problem, it is an external problem,” Morales told a news conference after delivering a speech during a meeting on indigenous people and climate change at the U.N.

Morales said that during a recent conference on energy issues, he disagreed with “some South American presidents who were talking about biofuels but did not understand what they were talking about.”

“This is very serious,” he said. “Cars come first, not human beings. But, for us, how important is life and how important are cars? So I say life first and cars second.”

In his U.N. speech earlier, Morales called on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to develop policies to curb the use of biofuels “in order to avoid hunger and misery among our people.”

Morales did not name the South American presidents he was criticizing.

But his views are in sharp contrast to those of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who says developing countries have enough land to produce both food and biofuels.

DOWNPLAYING THE “SEPARATISTS”

Morales’ visit to the United Nations came as he appears to be trying to win international support for his fight against opposition leaders of four eastern provinces who want significant autonomy from the central government.

Morales had no plans for meetings with officials or diplomats from other countries. But aides said he would give several interviews to foreign reporters in New York.

Morales’ aides also distributed what they described as a “memorandum” addressing the political situation in Bolivia.

The document calls the opposition group a “mostly white, powerful and wealthy separatist movement” and accuses it of preparing an “illegal” referendum on autonomy to be held on May 4 in order to destabilize the elected government and resist Morales’ push to rewrite the constitution.

“This resistance comes from some groups, some families which do not want to lose their privileges,” the president told the news conference.

He played down the significance of the separatist movement, however, saying its referendum will not matter because it is illegal.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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