Evo Morales, the elected Bolivian president who describes himself as anti-imperialist is leaving for a long pre-inauguration international tour that begins Friday in Cuba with Fidel Castro.
From Havana Morales flies to Europe, China, South Africa and Brazil, before taking office next January 22.
On the campaign trail, Morales referred to Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as brothers in the struggle against U.S. "imperialism". He also devoted plenty of rhetoric to blast the policies of the Bush administration.
Early this week Morales rejected the U.S.-backed program to eradicate coca crops in Bolivia and told a gathering of coca planting peasants that "the leaf is beating the US dollar".
Later on in a post-election interview with the Arab television network Al Jazeera Morales called US president George W. Bush a "terrorist" and claimed Washington had launched a "smear war" against his presidential candidacy. However a spokesman for the future president said Morales' comments had been mistranslated by the Arabic-language broadcaster.
Morales has visited Cuba before but he will be arriving Friday as Bolivia's elected president and accompanied by 60 members of his Movement Toward Socialism party. The elected president, who plans to return home Saturday in time to celebrate the New Year's holiday in his native village in the Andes, will hold talks with Castro and visit several Havana landmarks during his brief stay on the island.
Cuba's ambassador in La Paz, Luis Felipe Vazquez said Mr. Morales is a friend of Cuba because he "has maintained all along a position of solidarity with Cuba against the U.S. blockade (economic embargo)".
He added that it's "mere chance" that Morales' first foreign visit as president-elect will be to Cuba though stressing that the Cuban government is very pleased at the prospect.
Following New Year Morales whirlwind journey will take him to Spain, France, Belgium, South Africa, China and Brazil. Morales is to meet in Madrid January 4 with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero before travelling to Paris for bilateral talks and then on to Brussels for a get-acquainted session with officials of the European Union.
He is scheduled to arrive in South Africa on Jan. 7, and his agenda there includes an encounter with the country's first post-apartheid leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.
After spending January 10-12 in China, Morales will head back to Bolivia via Brazil, where he will hold discussions with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who the elected president calls "my eldest brother".