LA PAZ, Bolivia -- President-elect Evo Morales appeared to gain some support from his biggest political adversaries in a conciliatory Tuesday evening meeting with the businessmen and civic leaders of Santa Cruz, a relatively wealthy city that has sought more autonomy in the very poor country.
Morales, an Aymara Indian protest leader, has been viewed with suspicion by the Bolivian elite, but they applauded after he promised a referendum on their demands for greater autonomy and said his government would create a stable legal and economic environment that will attract investment and create jobs.
Morales also promised an early development of El Mutun, a rich iron mining project near the border with Brazil that would create some 2,000 jobs in the Santa Cruz area. A public bidding for the project had been postponed in a joint decision by the outgoing government and Morales to give the future authorities time to learn the details. The postponement had angered regional leaders.
"He promised more than what we asked for," said Gabriel Dabdoub, the president of the region's powerful Council of Industry and Commerce. "Let's now hope he will fulfill his promises."
With his Vice President-elect Alvaro Garcia by his side, Morales took a conciliatory tone during the Tuesday night meeting.
"I do not want to harm anybody, I do not want to expropriate or confiscate any assets," the former coca growers leader said. "I want to learn from the businessmen."
"I do not have a professional education, but it is important that we cooperate. You have the professional capacity, I have the social consciousness," added Morales, who did not complete his high school education.
While the audience clearly included a number of invited Morales supporters who appeared to account for the most enthusiastic applause, many civic leaders and businessmen clearly joined in it.
"I think Mr. Morales' stance is coherent and I am satisfied," said Juan Abuawad, president of the Forestal Chamber.
He added that Morales' promise to speed up the iron mining project was "a clear message to the people of Santa Cruz."
On Wednesday, Morales was traveling to the coca growing region of El Chapare, from where he emerged to the political prominence that led him to win a surprise majority in the Dec. 18 election. Although his victory has yet to be formally confirmed by the National Election Board, he's already widely recognized as the president-elect and is busy preparing his Jan. 22 inauguration.
On Friday he will travel to Cuba to meet with President Fidel Castro, opening a world tour that will also take him to Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, China, South Africa and Brazil. AP