Havana — Cuban President Fidel Castro and Bolivia’s President-elect Evo Morales signed a cooperation accord on Friday in Havana to educate 5,000 Bolivian doctors in Cuba. The figure does not include the 497 Bolivian youths who are already studying medicine on the island, explains the agreement that becomes effective after Morales is sworn in on January 22.

Morales, the first indigenous leader to hold the Bolivian presidency, swept to victory on December 18th winning 54 percent of the vote. He has announced a busy schedule of visits with foreign leaders before taking office and made Havana his first stop.

The accord reached on Friday also provides the setting up of a non-profit Cuban-Bolivian entity to guarantee free, high quality eye surgery to those Bolivian citizens who can not afford such expensive treatment in their country.

Havana will provide high-tech equipment and specialists for the initial stage of the project and will also provide salaries. Meanwhile Bolivia will provide the facilities for the medical services in the South American nation.

The program is expected to provide surgery to at least 50,000 patients annually. Cuba will also offer Bolivia its experience in energy conservation, sports assistance and the necessary resources for a literacy program.

Both parties pledged to look for ways to expand academic, scientific and cultural exchange as well as other forms of cooperation that result mutually beneficial.

At a meeting with Bolivian students and members of the visiting delegation headed by Morales, Fidel Castro called his talks with the president-elect very fruitful. He added that during their conversations contact was made with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We have tackled many issues in what could be described as a family environment; we have learned from each other," said Fidel Castro who noted that more than 2,000 Bolivian youths are already taking pre-med classes in Cuba.

The island is gearing up to provide 20,000 additional medical school scholarships to Latin American and other foreign students during the first quarter of 2006.

Fidel Castro said that over 100,000 Cuban and foreign doctors will graduate from the island’s medical schools in the next ten years and will become the doctors of the poor in the Third World. President Castro recalled the valuable work undertaken in Guatemala and Pakistan by the Henry Reeve International Contingent made up of personnel specialized in disaster situations and epidemics.

The Cuban leader went on to note that many US citizens died in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina because the Bush administration refused to accept the generous medical assistance offered by Cuba.

Bolivian students told Fidel Castro and Evo Morales about their experiences in living with Cuban families while studying here, while the president of Bolivia’s Federation of Mining Cooperatives Walter Villaroel gave the Cuban president a medal and miner’s helmet as symbols of that traditionally exploited sector in Bolivia.

Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon, Vice-president Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Argentinean writer and legislator Miguel Bonnasso were among the guests attending the meeting.