Morales tells farmers coca leaf winning "green battle" against U.S. dollar

Partying until dawn on Thursday with the coca growers who helped him win Bolivia's presidential elections, &to=' target=_blank>Evo Morales had the audience cheering with some anti-U.S. rhetoric.

"We are winning the green battle: the coca leaf is beating the North American dollar," said Morales, who leaves Friday for Cuba, the first stop in a world tour before his inauguration on Jan. 22.

Morales also won applause the night before with a strikingly different message to Bolivia's business leaders, promising that his government will create a climate favorable for investment and jobs and will not "expropriate or confiscate any assets."

Speaking in the relatively rich city of Santa Cruz, a stronghold of his opponents, Morales adopted a conciliatory tone, saying he wants "to learn from businessmen" and promising them a referendum on their demands for greater regional autonomy.

"He promised more than we asked for," said a surprised Gabriel Dabdoud, president of the powerful chamber of commerce.

The audience, the atmosphere and the speech were deeply different here in the heart of the coca-growing region of Chapare, where Morales repeated his promise to allow coca cultivation, an activity that helps sustain nearly 30,000 families in the area.

The 46-year-old Aymara Indian came here for a victory celebration party with the coca farmers. Morales joined the same band he played a trumpet with as a youth. With barbecue and beer, the festivities lasted well into dawn.

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