- Title: BOLIVIA: Evo Morales becomes country's first Indian president
- Date: 23rd January 2006
- Summary: CHILEAN PRESIDENT RICARDO LAGOS ARRIVING CROWD
- Embargoed: 7th February 2006 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAANR4AYPKBMMI4AJBP5TJC7THP
- Story Text: Leftist coca grower leader Evo Morales was sworn in
on Sunday (January 22) as the first indigenous president of
Bolivia with high expectations of a better life for the
poor majority in one of Latin America's most volatile countries.
The latest in a string of leftists to sweep to power in
the region in a backlash against U.S.-backed free-market
policies, Morales won 54 percent of the vote on Dec. 18,
the biggest landslide since the return to democracy in 1982.
An Aymara Indian who herded llamas as a boy, Morales
cried as he donned the presidential sash and medal over his
black wool jacket embroidered with traditional colored
stripes while an unprecedented 12 heads of state looked on.
"The 500 years of Indian resistance have not been in
vain," Morales said in his inaugural speech. "From 500
years of resistance we pass to another 500 years in power."
Miners and Indians with weathered faces, many clad in
the colourful clothing of the Andean highlands, swarmed the
colonial government square chanting "Evo, Evo" and waving
the indigenous rainbow-hued flag, the Wiphala.
Bolivia's rich and poor hope the historic hand-over
will bring stability after street protests toppled the two
previous presidents and dozens died in clashes with security forces.
But Morales' leftist and pro-coca rhetoric has
unsettled Washington, a highly influential presence in
Bolivia as the top aid donor and sponsor of a coca
eradication program. In closing his election campaign, he
said his Movement to Socialism party was "a nightmare for the United States."
His biggest supporters along the way have been Cuban
President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez,
united by their opposition to U.S. presence in the region.
In his inaugural speech, Morales blamed the
"neo-liberal" economic policies of the past and the
"looting of our natural resources" for the poverty that
affects around two-thirds of Bolivians.
Morales, 46, was born in a hardscrabble highland
village where four of his six siblings died as babies. A
bachelor of modest means, he eschews the Western coat and
tie in favour of a striped pullover and has cut his
presidential salary in half to $1,700 a month.
Morales' rise to power began with his leadership of the
coca growers and his high-profile opposition to the
U.S.-funded eradication of the coca crop, the raw material
used to make cocaine. "Long live coca, death to the
gringos," was his slogan.
Limited coca cultivation is legal in Bolivia to supply
leaves for chewing or brewing tea, the traditional ways to
ward off altitude sickness, fatigue and hunger. Cocaine is illegal.
More recently, he benefited from widespread discontent
over Bolivia's management of its natural gas reserves, the
second-largest in South America.
But Morales has tempered his speech in the last month
in what many see as a sign of pragmatism and a desire to
unite the indigenous majority and the European-descended
elite and attract foreign investment.
He maintains his anti-eradication stance for coca but
now vows to fight the narcotics trade and has pledged to
turn the page with Washington.
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