By DAN KEANE
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 23, 2006; 3:36 AM
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Bolivia's unlikely new ambassador to the United States is a career journalist with no previous diplomatic experience and a limited command of English.
Gustavo Guzman told The Associated Press he was dumbfounded when President Evo Morales asked him to represent Bolivia's populist government in Washington.
"I said, 'Evo, my friend, please,'" Guzman recalled _ how could Morales think him capable of such a delicate and high-profile position?
"And he answered: 'Did you ever imagine I had the capacity to be president?'"
Guzman, 49, is only the latest unconventional appointment made by Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president. A former maid is justice minister. A coca-farming feminist with little formal education heads the assembly rewriting the constitution. A renowned Quechua-language singer whose voice mimics birdsongs is ambassador to France.
As editor of the Bolivian magazine Pulso, Guzman's coverage of the October 2003 killings of 60 people during anti-government protests sparked a successful effort to oust then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who fled to Washington. Now Guzman will press for his extradition in the killings. U.S. officials said that's unlikely, doubting he'd face a fair trial.
But the newly minted diplomat is optimistic about his mission to sell a skeptical U.S. government on Bolivia's transformation.
"We are building here, with great energy, a new democracy," he said. "And I believe the U.S., its government and its Congress cannot fail to accompany us in our task."
Experienced Washington hands predict he'll have a difficult time.
"The challenge for any ambassador from Bolivia is really going to be to try and get the (Bush) administration to act in a civil manner toward a government that it didn't choose, which is not really their track record, I'm afraid," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director for the Washington-based Center for Policy and Economic Research.
For his part, the pony-tail wearing Guzman doesn't intend to lose his antiestablishment roots.
"If I have to put on a tie, I'll put on a tie," Guzman said, laughing. "But I'm not going to cut my hair."