Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales has arrived in Cuba on his first foreign trip since a sweeping election victory earlier this month. Mr Morales was warmly welcomed by Cuban President Fidel Castro, who said his poll win "had shaken the world".
Castro said: "I think that it has moved the world. It's something extraordinary, something historic. The map is changing." Castro, 79, sent his private plane to bring Morales to Havana, on his first visit abroad since winning Bolivia's 18 December presidential vote. Morales, who has never hidden his admiration for Cuba's revolution, said he felt "joy, great emotion to be here". Morales referred to Castro as "el comandante" and said his trip was a gesture of "friendship with the Cuban people".
Morales' visit to Cuba underlines the political loyalties of the leftist leader, who pledged to join Castro's "anti-imperialist struggle" in a message to the Cuban people the day after his election. Castro said Morales' election was "something extraordinary" that had "rocked the world". Morales will be the first indigenous president in Bolivia, which has a majority of ethnic Aymara and Quechua peoples. "Our brother Evo possesses all the necessary qualities needed to lead his country."
Despite US efforts to isolate Cuba, Castro enjoys very close ties to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's leftist president. Left-leaning governments have come to power elsewhere in the region, from Argentina and Uruguay to Chile and Brazil. Castro said "during our discussion we were in touch with Chavez," but he did not offer further details.
An official Cuban government statement said Mr Morales' visit was "in keeping with the historic and profound relations of brotherhood and solidarity between the Bolivian and Cuban people". Mr Morales will also visit a number of other countries including Brazil, China and South Africa - but not the US - ahead of his inauguration next month. Earlier this week, Mr Morales gave an interview to the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera in which he accused President George Bush of practising terrorism in Iraq.
He also said the White House had run a dirty campaign to try to stop him winning office. US officials have said they will judge Mr Morales by his actions, not his words. But correspondents say there is no doubt Washington is concerned about a politician who has described himself as a "nightmare for the US". Following his election earlier this month, Mr Morales said he would join what he called President Castro's anti-imperialist struggle. Mr Morales was elected president with nearly 54% of the vote, the biggest support for any candidate since democracy was restored in Bolivia in the 1980s.
Source: BBC and Al Jazeera