By Ramiro Fuente
LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday thanked Spain’s Queen Sofia for Madrid’s help in improving health and education in Bolivia, expressed confidence that this would continue in the future and reconfirmed that he will attend the Ibero-American Summit in Cadiz, which will be held in mid-November.
In addition, in a relaxed tone he admitted that he is a big soccer fan and commented that he would like to be able to accept King Juan Carlos’ invitation to attend – along with the monarch – a match in Spain between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Morales on Tuesday at the Government Palace welcomed the queen at the start of her four-day visit to the South American country and they examined the prospects for cooperation in areas such as extending Bolivia’s health care and potable water network, improving education and professional training and the development of good administrative practices, sources with the Spanish delegation said.
After their meeting, Queen Sofia and Morales presided in the Hall of Mirrors over the signing of a memorandum of understanding that will allow Bolivia to host an exhibit of coins minted in Potosi that were part of the treasure on board the sunken Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes found and salvaged by the U.S. firm Odyssey but later recovered in court by Madrid.
Bolivian Culture Minister Pablo Groux and the Spanish secretary of state for International Cooperation and for Ibero-America, Jesus Gracia, signed the memorandum, which opens the door for the Casa de la Moneda in Potosi to display for public viewing the coins once they have been properly cleaned, restored and catalogued in Spain.
Gracia said before the signing that the accord will authorize the joint use of the coins, which are defined as “a cultural element shared by Bolivia, Spain and other Ibero-American countries” and which will be given over in the future to “museum use,” through temporary loans and jointly organized exhibits.
Meanwhile, Groux officially expressed Bolivia’s pleasure at having the opportunity to reward the Casa de la Moneda for the wealth that it contributed to other parts of the world while the region was a Spanish colony, and he emphasized that the agreement will allow the two countries and the two governments to restore their history “with honesty, dignity and equity.”
The two nations thus reached a negotiated solution to the Bolivian government’s demands that Spain return the coins, which amount to about 6 percent of the 600,000 recovered by the U.S. salvage firm from the wreck of the Spanish frigate, which sank in 1804 off the coast of Portugal after setting sail from the Viceroyalty of Peru.
The “La Mercedes” treasure was recovered by Spain after a long legal battle with the U.S. company when U.S. federal Judge Mark Pizzo – who was presiding in the case in a Tampa, Florida, court – in late February 2012 ruled that the Spanish state was entitled to recover the 17 tons of silver and gold coins, among other objects of value and historical interest salvaged from the underwater wreck.
The queen also went to the National Museum of Art to examine firsthand the works on display in its colonial halls, to receive information about the construction work to expand the museum, a project that is being financed by Spain’s international cooperation agency, and to chat with students from La Paz’s Escuela Taller, who waited to welcome her at the museum’s entrance.
The queen’s schedule for the day will conclude at the Government Palace, where Morales – who presented his royal guest with several examples of indigenous textile work, among them a jacket bearing the queen’s name – will host a dinner in her honor.
Madrid wants to make clear on this royal visit that Bolivia will remain a priority recipient of Spanish cooperation, despite the 22.69 percent cut in bilateral aid to the Andean country compared to 2011 as a result of the government’s budget adjustment, a move that reduces the annual volume of those funds to 32.7 million euros (about $43 million). EFE