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Bolivia, US to exchange ambassadors again

LA PAZ -- Bolivia and the United States agreed Tuesday to resume the exchange of ambassadors, in a step toward warmer ties after years of diplomatic strain.

U.S. and Bolivian officials said the shift is meant to improve ties between the United States and South America's poorest nation, whose leftist leader is a staunch U.S. critic.

No date for an ambassador exchange was immediately announced.

Socialist President Evo Morales in 2008 ordered the expulsion of U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg, accusing him at the time of backing opposition groups which had been defying the Bolivian president.

Washington retaliated by telling the Bolivian ambassador to go home.

In 2011, the countries set up a panel to hold talks on improving bilateral relations that covered many issues, including cooperation on the fight against the illegal drug trade and on fostering more investment.

The United States often criticizes Bolivia's handling of its trade in coca leaves, the raw material from which cocaine can be made.

Morales, Bolivia's first elected indigenous president, is the former head of a coca growers union and highly sensitive to the criticism.

The plant's raw leaf is an age-old keystone of indigenous Andean culture: it is chewed to fight altitude sickness, taken as a tea, and used in religious ceremonies.

Bolivia's main indigenous peoples are Aymara and Quechua. It is South America's only country with an indigenous majority.

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