December 23, 2008 / 9:35 PM / 11 years ago

Bolivia counts on better U.S. ties under Obama

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Tuesday he hopes relations with the United States will improve after Barack Obama takes office and urged the U.S. president-elect to lift sanctions against Cuba.

Morales, who expelled the U.S. ambassador in September accusing him of fueling unrest in Bolivia, said he abhors “the empire” as some Latin American leftists call the United States, but he envisions better ties with Washington in the future.

“I’m really hopeful ... We need the United States although maybe they don’t need Bolivia,” Morales, the Andean country’s first Indian president, told foreign reporters in La Paz.

He said putting an end to the decades-long embargo against Cuba and withdrawing troops from Iraq would reduce differences between his government and the United States, and pave the way for Obama to become a true “world leader.”

“If I were Obama, the first day of my presidency I’d lift the economic blockade on Cuba,” Morales said, echoing a similar call by Latin American leaders last week.

Obama takes office on January 20 promising to improve ties with Latin America, where U.S. influence and popularity have declined under outgoing President George W. Bush.

Washington denied Morales’s charge of meddling in Bolivia and retaliated by ousting Bolivia’s envoy to the United States. The Bush administration also accused the Andean country of not doing enough to fight cocaine traffickers and suspended trade benefits that helped employ thousands of Bolivians.

Morales called these moves “political revenge” and said he felt compelled to fight against the United States like his Indian ancestors fought against the Spanish conquistadors.

“This new generation must fight against the North American empire and if we don’t change the capitalist system I’m sure that humanity doesn’t have much of a future,” said Morales, one of several Latin American leaders who have shunned Washington and warmed to Russia and Iran.

Morales took office nearly three years ago promising a “democratic revolution” to give more political power to the country’s indigenous majority.

Editing by Hilary Burke and Anthony Boadle

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