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'Indigenous leadership and influence in this government is fundamental'

A conversation with Bolivian Ambassador Mario Guzman Saldana

Part two

WASHINGTON - Bolivian President Evo Morales has good relations with many countries other than Cuba and Venezuela, and is in regular contact with a variety of indigenous leaders, including presidential candidate Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, according to His Excellency, Mario Gustavo Guzman Saldana, Bolivian ambassador to the United States.

Guzman spoke about the indigenous influence in his country and a variety of topics during a 40-minute interview with Indian Country Today at the Bolivian Embassy in Washington.

Indian Country Today: How would you say, generally, are the relations between the United States and Bolivia?

Mario Guzman: I would say that there is still a great lack of trust. Undoubtedly with the history of this Bolivia, and of President [Evo] Morales and the U.S., there are still some wounds. Nevertheless, I know also that now, in the U.S., Bolivia is being watched carefully - not only the U.S., but the whole world.

In the U.S. they are beginning to understand that the changes in Bolivia are truly transcendental. The elites that had ruled Bolivia for so long were very friendly with the U.S.; the governments were very connected. This is a different government, not necessarily characterized as having great relations, but in my day-to-day schedule I can see that there is some opening ... that people in the U.S. embassy are beginning to see that there is a change in Bolivia, that it is a democratic change, a change that benefits the poor and that we are a respectable and sovereign nation.

ICT: Is there a message or statement that you would like to send to Native Americans of the U.S.?

Guzman: Yes, I do. First I want to say to them, with humility, that I am not indigenous, not Aymara, or Quechua, but I do have some indigenous blood in my ancestry. I have begun to understand in my country the importance of recognizing the historical value and teachings of the indigenous people of my country. Along with the ancient teachings that are emerging into the larger public view in my country, the message I want to say to the Native people of the United States is of a profound sense of solidarity.

I want to express the desire of President Morales when he said to the Native Americans of the U.S. that our battle is one; it is one struggle. The presence of indigenous people in the administration of President Morales pertains to all Native Americans. The president is constructing a different government in the name of all indigenous people of America.

ICT: In the mainstream press of this country, whenever they mention President Morales they connect him or link him with President [Hugo] Chavez [of Venezuela] and Mr. Castro [of Cuba]. I want to ask if President Morales has positive relationships with other leaders. It appears, for instance, that he is on good terms with practically all of Latin America, maybe with the exception of President Uribe [of Colombia] ...

Guzman: No, including Uribe; even with Uribe it is positive. Listen, this is a prejudice. This idea of a club where they meet exclusively with each other is a scheme. President Morales is friends with President Chavez; he is friends with President Castro but, for example, he is also friends with President Lula of Brazil. Just a few days ago they met to discuss gas prices and, in this spirit of Latin American brotherhood, they came to a better, fairer price. Also he is friends with Pres. [Nestor] Kirchner of Argentina, who is also a friend of President Chavez; yesterday [Feb. 21], Argentina and Venezuela just signed an oil trade agreement. President Morales is good friends with President [Michelle] Bachelet of Chile; that is to say, it is truly absurd to imagine that the close relationships that Bolivia has with Venezuela and Cuba could not happen between Bolivia and many other countries. President Morales can have good relationships with any country that respects the dignity and sovereignty of his country.

ICT: With leaders of Europe as well?

Guzman: Oh yes, especially with [Jacques] Chirac of France and [Jose Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero of Spain. President Morales is very charismatic.