U.S. senators including Reid to tour Andean nations | NevadaAppeal.com

U.S. senators including Reid to tour Andean nations

DAN KEANE
Associated Press Writer

LA PAZ, Bolivia – A three-country Andean tour next week by a bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators will include stops in Bolivia and Ecuador, two members of Latin America’s recently emerging left.

The six-senator delegation, led by incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is expected to meet Dec. 28 with Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales and with Ecuador’s leftist President-elect Rafael Correa on Dec. 30.

The senators will also stop in Peru for a visit with center-left President Alan Garcia, elected in April, before heading home Jan. 2.

International trade and anti-drug efforts are among the topics on the senators’ agenda, Reid’s spokesman Federico de Jesus said Thursday.

Joining Reid, D-Nev., on the tour will be the Senate’s incoming Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.; Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah; and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

In Bolivia, the Senate delegation will seek to soothe recent tensions between the two countries over Morales’ announcement Monday that he would seek to significantly expand the limits on its legal crop of coca leaf, chewed here as a mild stimulant but also the main ingredient in cocaine.

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The move drew sharp criticism from the U.S., which has strenuously objected to any increase in coca production.

“If there are tensions, the best way to solve them is to sit down and talk,” de Jesus said. “Ronald Reagan said the Soviet Union was the ‘Evil Empire’ but yet he talked to them. So if he could, why can’t we do the same with countries that obviously aren’t as evil or as big a threat as the Soviet Union was?”

While Bolivia and the U.S. on Wednesday signed an agreement guaranteeing $34 million in U.S. anti-narcotics aid for next year, the two nations maintain their political differences.

“We must move forward with the United States,” Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Thursday, while adding that the U.S. “does not sincerely support the process of change in which Bolivia now lives.”

During his first year Morales has occasionally accused the U.S. of plotting to overthrow his government or even assassinate him, and made no secret of his friendship with frequent U.S. critic Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But Morales has also sent his Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera twice to Washington to negotiate an extension of a key trade agreement with the U.S. – which President Bush himself eventually backed, and Congress passed earlier this month.