HUATAJATA, Bolivia (AP) _ Vice President Al Gore on Sunday visited his Bolivian counterpart’s hometown, an Aymara Indian village on Lake Titicaca, more than two miles above sea level.
Dancers wearing brightly colored feather headresses performed ancient Aymara Indian dances in a ceremony to welcome Gore and his wife, Tipper.
The couple didn’t appear to suffer any ill-effects from the 12,500-foot altitude. They attended a Baptist Church service and toured the local school where Bolivian Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas, an Aymara Indian intellectual and educator, was taught by Baptists.
Speaking to several thousand Aymara Indian farmers, Gore praised Cardenas for his ability to rise from his humble origins to the vice presidency. He spoke in English, and his comments were translated into Aymara and Spanish.
″His leadership role is not only important for Bolivia but a symbol of hope throughout the continent,″ said Gore during a ceremony on the shores of Lake Titicaca, 65 miles northwest of La Paz.
During a welcome ceremony at the La Paz airport, Gore praised Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada’s ″dynamic leadership″ to advance economic and social reform in this landlocked country, South America’s poorest.
From the airport, Gore went to Huatajata, an adobe and tin-roof village where Cardenas and his wife were born and raised.
After a ceremony of Indian dances, Gore, Sanchez de Lozada and Cardenas shared a traditional Indian meal of dehydrated potatoes called ″chuno,″ fish and fava beans served on a hand-woven cloth spread out near the lake.
″We have visited many places in the world, but never have we received such warm hospitality as we have found in Huatajata,″ said Gore, who was covered with flower garlands and given a totora reed boat as a gift.
At least 75 U.S. security personnel and thousands of Bolivian police and members of the armed forces were mobilized for the three-hour visit to Huatajata. Bolivian navy vessels patrolled on Lake Titicaca.
In August 1988, a bomb exploded near a motorcade carrying former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz as he traveled from the airport to La Paz.
On his arrival, Gore had been greeted with a garland made of coca leaves - the raw material for cocaine - that Mayor Flavio Clavijo of El Alto, where the airport is located, placed around his neck. U.S. Ambassador Charles Bowers immediately removed it.
Bolivia is the world’s second largest grower of coca leaf, which is used to make cocaine.
Clavijo said the garland was to show Gore ″the need to respect the traditions of the people.″ Coca is an integral part of Aymara and Quechua Indian cultures, where it is chewed to kill hunger and used in medicines and rituals.
With U.S. aid, Bolivia has been encouraging farmers to switch to other crops by paying growers up to $2,000 for each 2 1/2 acres of coca leaf they destroy. The United States is providing $112 million in aid this year, down $63 million from last year.
Mrs. Gore met with Aymara Indian school children and presented them with materials to finish building a school.
Gore flew later Sunday to the tropical city of Santa Cruz to sign aid agreements with the Bolivian government, including a $7 million grant for development and environmental protection.
Gore will continue Sunday night to Argentina, then stop in Brazil before returning to Washington on Tuesday.