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US: US friends and foes in Latin America hail Obama win

06 Nov 2008 12:47 AM

SAO PAULO, Nov 5 AFP - Latin American governments -- including those hostile in the past to the United States -- today hailed with one voice BarackObama's election as the next US president.

The region, which has been generally asserting its independence after decades of being treated as the United States's back yard, pinned huge expectations on Obama and his mantra of "change."

Cubans expressed hope that the ascension of the Democrat who has pledged totalk to US foes could finally ease the 46-year-old US economic embargo on the Americas' only communist government.

Cuban allies Venezuela and Bolivia echoed that wish, and said they saw a chance to reverse the course of their own bilateral ties with the United States which had plunged to chilly lows under the administration of President George W Bush.

Staunch friends of the US, notably Mexico and Colombia, were also quick to congratulate Obama, while cordial but distant nations such as Brazil added their accolades.

The head of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, summed up the overriding sentiment by telling Chilean radio: "There is absolutely no doubt that the United States is going to change after yesterday (Tuesday)."

He predicted that "there will be a fundamental change, an about-face in North American polcies from what they have been in the last few years."

Migration and energy issues could now be resolved, he said.

"Latin America is hoping for cooperation more than general speeches."

Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela and the most vociferous critic of the United States, was one of the first to congratulate Obama for his "historic election."

"We are convinced that the time has come to establish new relations betweenour countries and with our region, on a basis of respect of sovereignty, equality and true cooperation," he said in a statement.

Chavez, whose country is the fourth-biggest oil supplier to the United States, in September kicked out the US ambassador and has regularly accused Bush of fomenting plots against him.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, another hard-left US critic who has also expelled the US ambassador to his country, and who last weekend ended cooperation with US anti-drug officials, saw parallels between himself and Obama.

The US president-elect, son of a black Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, "is a man who comes from one of the most discriminated sectors," said Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president.

He said his "biggest wish is for Mr Obama to lift the economic blockade on Cuba and withdraw troops from some countries." That last appeared to be a reference to Iraq.

"It's certain that relations are going to improve" between Bolivia and the United States, he added.

In Cuba, Havana residents celebrated into today the election of a man they see as capable of ending their isolation imposed under another Democrat, John F Kennedy.

"We hope that things will start to change," said a 32-year-old law student,who heard the US election results from a neighbour with an illegal cable connection in a Havana suburb.

The chief point of optimism is that Obama has said he is ready to talk about easing restrictions on travel and on the money US Cubans send home to family and friends.

Ailing former leader Fidel Castro -- who remains first secretary of the ruling communist party although out of the public view -- yesterday called Obama "intelligent, well-educated and composed" in an endorsement released in the official press.

President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, which has close cultural and economic ties with the United States, sent a letter to Obama inviting him to visit and saying he hoped for a "new stage" in relations.

The other chief US ally in the region, Colombia, sent a message via its foreign ministry saying it wanted to "continue working on areas of common interest."

Colombian analysts, such as Daniel Garcia Pena, said however that ColombianPresident Alvo Uribe could suffer with Obama in the White House, after having invested so heavily in the ideology and positions of Bush, whose deep unpopularity helped deliver Obama's triumph.

Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, said it backed a new US position on Cuba and Venezuela.

"We aren't going to deny that the Brazilian government had a good, pragmatic relationship with the Bush government," Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper.

"But now the relationship can be refined, and we hope to establish a relationship of partners with the new US government," he said.

AFP cmc =0A