Condi Rice Receives More Than She Bargains For With Guitar Gift
"I'm a musician, you know..." said a delighted Condoleezza Rice while strumming the charango - an Andean five-string lacquered guitar - which the Bolivian President had just presented to her.
The occasion was a meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous President, in Valparaiso, Chile.
The presentation of the guitar no doubt provided Rice with some light relief at the end of a 25-minute meeting to discuss drug policy, part of a gruelling nine-day diplomacy trip encompassing Chile, Indonesia and Australia.
What she didn't realize at the time was that the beautiful Bolivian charango guitar, hand-crafted with five pairs of strings, was inlaid with coca leaves.
Coca was always bound to be high on the agenda - Morales came to political prominence as leader of farmers campaigning for more freedom to grow coca - the principal ingredient in cocaine, but also used in many legal products such as traditional medicines and in certain teas.
The fight against cocaine is the source of much friction between the U.S.A. and Bolivia, the world's third largest cocaine producer.
The charango seems to be the gift of choice for celebrities and dignitaries visiting Bolivia and Chile at the moment - U2's Bono recently received a similar guitar from Chile's President Ricardo Lagos.
Condoleezza's claim to be a musician is certainly well-founded - even her name has a musical origin - con dolcezza - an indication to play a piece of music 'with sweetness'.
She is the most accomplished musician ever to work in the White House. Coming from several generations of pianists, she began learning the instrument at the age of three, and at age fifteen won a competition in Denver for her performance of Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto. At one point she even considered a career as a concert pianist.
Well, it is believed that Condi Rice's charango guitar didn't make it onto the plane back to Washington - perhaps the coca leaf inlay would have created too many problems at U.S. Customs!
This article was posted on March 27, 2007