Bolivian Indian leader Evo Morales said recent expressions of support for his presidential candidacy from Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were understandable given the leader’s socialist background, "but should not be taken as meddling".
"Lula’s liking for me is an example of his political understanding and background. It would be surprising if Lula expressed a liking for the candidates of the Bolivian elite," added Morales in an interview published Monday by Brazil’s daily O Estado de S. Paulo.
The Bolivian presidential hopeful who is leading the public opinion polls for next Sunday’s election (32.8%) said the Brazilian leader’s statements of support were merely opinion and not an attempt by Brazil to interfere in Bolivia’s internal affairs.
"That statement won’t add or take votes in an election in Bolivia. I also have my opinion about politics in other countries. That’s natural," underlined Mr. Morales referring to Lula’s comments in late November during a meeting with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.
"At no moment in history have we had such a chance to have a South America that really takes care of the people," Lula said at the time adding, "I told Kirchner, look what the election of (leftist-populist President Hugo) Chavez meant for Venezuela, imagine what it will mean if Evo Morales wins the election in Bolivia."
The following day Brazil’s diplomacy tried to downplay what were perceived as Lula’s expressions of support for the left-wing Indian legislator and presidential candidate.
An official spokesman said Brazil "has no candidate" in Bolivia’s December 18 presidential election and is "only interested in seeing a country with strong institutions."
Morales admitted in the interview that at one point he referred to Lula as his "big brother" and expected that their relationship would prove productive for the two countries if he was elected president.
"Lula leads an enormous country and a powerful economy, and I would represent a smaller country, much poorer. We both come from similar backgrounds and have the political determination to do our best for the poor in our countries," emphasized Morales.
"And since we consider each other brothers, everything is much easier. Brothers have the trust to address all problems that must be addressed," he added.
Morales, founder of the Movement Toward Socialism, MAS, has pledged to establish greater government control over Bolivia’s oil and massive natural gas reserves much of which is now exploited by private foreign companies including Brazil’s Petrobras.
It was precisely the energy ownership controversy that led to conflict and the protests that toppled presidents Sanchez de Lozada in 2003 and Carlos Mesa earlier this year.
Morales and his MAS party ensured the passage by Congress last May of a bill sharply increasing taxes and royalties paid by foreign companies operating in Bolivia.
Private operators in Bolivia currently hold oil and gas concessions and pay taxes and royalties on output.
Mr. Morales has anticipated he wants to replace concessions with service contracts, a practice adopted by Mexico to attract foreign capital and technology in exploration and production efforts while retaining government ownership of the resources.
This article appeared originally in Mercopress – www.mercopress.com.