Bolivian president sees kindred spirit in U.S. candidate Sanders

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Thursday that an unexpected meeting at the Vatican with U.S. presidential contender Bernie Sanders had demonstrated a “thirst for a different kind of democracy” in the United States.

While Sanders’ meeting with Pope Francis was his highest profile encounter with a foreign leader during his Vatican visit last week, the self-described Democratic socialist candidate also crossed paths with Morales at a conference there on social justice.

“I don’t want to meddle in the domestic affairs of the United States, but what a strange coincidence that on certain important issues such as democracy, for example, there should be such overlap between us and some pre-candidates in the U.S.,” Morales said during a press briefing at the United Nations in New York.

The firebrand leftist, known as an outspoken critic of U.S. influence of Latin America, added that Sanders’ critique of wealthy donors’ outsized influence in the U.S. squared with his own skeptical view of its democracy.

“It seems interesting that if we have a candidate who is saying publically that here in the United States the millionaires are the ones who buy the elections, that that is a truth, then that makes it abundantly clear that free market policies affect politics negatively,” he said.

Morales, a one-time coca grower, was recently rebuffed by Bolivian voters when they defeated a referendum that would have changed the country’s constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term.

Sanders, a Democratic senator from Vermont, has campaigned on a promise to rein in corporate power and level the economic playing field for working and lower-income Americans who he says have been left behind.

Reporting By Christian Plumb; Editing by Andrew Hay