|80th President of Bolivia|
January 22, 2006
|Vice President||Álvaro García Linera|
|Preceded by||Eduardo Rodríguez|
|Leader of Movement for Socialism|
January 1, 1998
|Born||Juan Evo Morales Ayma
26 October 1959
|Political party||Movement for Socialism|
|Religion||Religion of Pachamama and Roman Catholicism|
Juan Evo Morales Ayma, (born October 26, 1959), popularly known as Evo (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈeβo]), is a Bolivian cocalero activist and politician, who has served as President of Bolivia since 2006. Widely regarded as the country's first democratically-elected President to come from the indigenous population, his administration has focused on the implementation of leftist policies, poverty reduction, and combating the influence of the United States and transnational corporations in Bolivia. A democratic socialist, he is the head of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) political party.
Born to an Aymara family of subsistence farmers in Isallawi, Orinoca Canton, Morales undertook a basic education before mandatory military service, in 1978 moving to Chapare Province. Growing coca and becoming a trade unionist, he rose to prominence in the campesino (rural laborers) union, campaigning against U.S. and Bolivian attempts to eradicate coca as a part of the War on Drugs. Often taking direct action against the government, he was arrested on multiple occasions. Entering electoral politics in 1995, he became the leader of the MAS, and began a campaign focusing on issues affecting indigenous and poor communities, advocating land reform and the redistribution of gas wealth. Gaining increasing visibility through the Cochabamba protests and gas conflict, in 2002 he was expelled from Congress, though came second in that year's presidential election.
Elected president in 2005, Morales oversaw increased taxation on the hydrocarbons industry, agrarian reform, and a program of literacy, anti-poverty, and anti-racism campaigns. He scaled back U.S. involvement in Bolivia while building relationships with other nations in the Latin American Pink Tide and joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. Attempting to moderate the left-indigenous activist community, his administration also opposed the right-wing autonomist demands of the media luna. Winning a recall referendum in 2008, he instituted a new constitution before being re-elected with a landslide in 2009, furthering leftist policies and joining the Bank of the South and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. He is seeking reelection in the 2014 general election.
Morales is a controversial and divisive world figure, lauded by his supporters as a champion of indigenous rights, anti-imperialism, and environmentalism. Leftist critics have condemned him for failing to implement socialism, while rightist critics have accused him of being authoritarian in suppressing eastern Bolivia's autonomist movements.
- 1 Early life and activism
- 2 Political Rise
- 3 Presidency
- 4 Political ideology
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Influence and legacy
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early life and activism
Childhood, education and military service: 1959–78
Morales was born in the small rural village of Isallawi in Orinoca Canton, part of western Bolivia's Oruro Department, on 26 October 1959. One of seven children born to Dionisio Morales Choque and Maria Mamani, only he and two siblings, Esther and Hugo, survived past childhood. His mother almost died from a postpartum haemorrhage following his birth. Ethnically a Mestizo and thereby of both European and Native American heritage, much of his ancestry came from the indigenous Aymara people, and in keeping with Aymara custom, his father buried the placenta produced after his birth in a place specially chosen for the occasion. His childhood home was a traditional adobe house, and he grew up speaking the Aymara language, although later commentators would remark that by the time he had become president he was no longer an entirely fluent speaker.
Morales's family were farmers and from an early age he aided them in planting and harvesting crops and guarding their herd of llamas and sheep, taking a homemade soccer ball to amuse himself. As a toddler, he briefly attended Orinoca's preparatory school, and aged 5 began schooling at the single-room primary school in Isallawi. Aged 6, he spent 6 months in northern Argentina with his sister and father. There, Dionisio harvested sugar cane while Evo sold ice cream and briefly attended a Spanish-language school. As a child, he regularly traveled by foot to Arani province in Cochabamba with his father and their llamas, a journey lasting up to two weeks, in order to exchange their salt and potatoes for maize and coca. A big fan of soccer, aged 13 he organised a community soccer team with himself as team captain. Within two years, he had been elected training coach for the whole region, gaining early experience with leadership.
After finishing primary education, Morales attended the Agrarian Humanistic Technical Institute of Orinoca (ITAHO), completing all but the final year. His parents then sent him to study for a degree in Oruro; although he did poorly academically, he finished all of his courses and exams by 1977, earning money on the side as a brick-maker, day labourer, baker and a trumpet player for the Royal Imperial Band, the latter of which allowed him to travel across Bolivia. At the end of his higher education he failed to collect his degree certificate. Although interested in studying journalism at university, he didn't have the aptitude to pursue it as a profession. Morales served mandatory conscription in the army from 1977 to 1978. Initially signed up at the Centre for Instruction of Special Troops (CITE) in Cochabamba, he was sent into the Fourth Ingavi Cavalry Regiment and stationed at the army headquarters in the Bolivian capital La Paz. These two years were one of Bolivia's politically most unstable periods, with five presidents and two military coups, led by General Juan Pereda and General David Padilla respectively; under the latter's regime, Morales was stationed as a guard at the Palacio Quemado (Presidential Palace).
Early cocalero activism: 1978–83
Following his military service, Evo returned to his family, who had escaped the agricultural devastation of 1980's El Niño storm cycle by relocating to the Tropics of Cochabamba in the eastern lowlands. Setting up home in the town of Villa 14 de Septiembre, El Chapare, using a loan from Evo's maternal uncle, the family cleared a plot of land in the forest to grow rice, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, bananas and later on coca. It was here that Morales learned to speak Quechua, the indigenous local language. The arrival of the Morales family was a part of a much wider migration to the region; in 1981 El Chapare's population was 40,000 but by 1988 it had risen to 215,000. Many Bolivians hoped to set up farms where they could earn a living growing coca, which was experiencing a steady rise in price and which could be cultivated up to four times a year; a traditional medicinal and ritual substance in Andean culture, it was also sold abroad as a key ingredient in the illicit drug cocaine. Evo joined the local soccer team, before founding his own team, New Horizon, who proved victorious at the August 2nd Central Tournament. The El Chapare region remained special to Morales for many years to come; during his presidency he often talked of it in speeches and regularly visited.
In El Chapare, Morales joined a trade union of cocalero (coca growers), being appointed local Secretary of Sports. Organizing soccer tournaments, among union members he earned the nickname of "the young ball player" because of his tendency to organize matches during meeting recesses. Influenced in joining the union by wider events, in 1980 the far-right General Luis García Meza had seized power in a military coup, banning other political parties and declaring himself president; for Morales, a "foundational event in his relationship with politics" occurred in 1981, when a campesino (coca grower) was accused of cocaine trafficking by soldiers, beat up and burned to death. In 1982 the leftist Hernán Siles Zuazo and the Democratic and Popular Union (Unidad Democrática y Popular - UDP) took power in representative democratic elections, before implementing neoliberal capitalist reforms and privatizing much of the state sector with US support; hyperinflation came under control, but unemployment rose to 25%. Becoming increasingly active in the union, from 1982 to 1983, Morales served as the General Secretary of his local San Francisco syndicate. However, in 1983, Morales's father Dionisio died, and although he missed the funeral he temporarily retreated from his union work to organize his father's affairs.
Fighting their War on Drugs, the U.S. government hoped to stem the cocaine trade by preventing the production of coca; they pressured the Bolivian government to eradicate it, sending troops to Bolivia to aid the operation. Bolivian troops would burn coca crops and in many cases beat up coca growers who challenged them. Angered by this, Evo returned to cocalero campaigning; like many comrades, he refused the $2,500 compensation offered by the government for each acre of coca he eradicated. Deeply embedded in Bolivian culture, the campesinos had an ancestral relationship with coca and didn't want to lose their most profitable means of subsistence. For them, it was an issue of national sovereignty, with the U.S. viewed as imperalists; activists regularly proclaimed "Long live coca! Death to the Yankees!" ("Causachun coca! Wañuchun yanquis!").
General Secretary of the Cocalero Union: 1984–94
From 1984 to 1985 Morales served as Secretary of Records for the movement, and in 1985 he became General Secretary of the August Second Headquarters. From 1984 to 1991 the sindicatos embarked on a series of protests against the forced eradication of coca, occupying local government offices, setting up roadblocks, going on hunger strike, and organizing mass marches and demonstrations. Morales was personally involved in this direct activism, and in 1984 was present at a roadblock where 3 campesinos were killed. In 1988, Morales was elected to the position of Executive Secretary of the Federation of the Tropics. In 1989 he spoke at a one-year commemoratory event of the Villa Tunari massacre in which 11 coca farmers had been killed by agents of the Rural Area Mobile Patrol Unit (Unidad Móvil Policial para Áreas Rurales - UMOPAR). The following day, UMOPAR agents beat Morales up, leaving his lifeless body in the mountains to die, but he was rescued by other union members. To combat this violence, Morales concluded that an armed cocalero militia could launch a guerrilla war against the government, but he was soon persuaded on an electoral path to change instead. In 1992, he made various international trips to champion the cocalero cause, speaking at a conference in Cuba, and also traveling to Canada, where he learned of his mother's death.
In his speeches, Morales presented the coca leaf as a symbol of Andean culture that was under threat from the imperialist oppression of the U.S. In his view, the U.S. should deal with their domestic cocaine abuse problems without interfering in Bolivia, arguing that they had no right trying to eliminate coca, a legitimate product with many uses which played a rich role in Andean culture. In a speech on this issue, Morales told reporters "I am not a drug trafficker. I am a coca grower. I cultivate coca leaf, which is a natural product. I do not refine (it into) cocaine, and neither cocaine nor drugs have ever been part of the Andean culture." On another, he asserted that "We produce our coca, we bring it to the main markets, we sell it and that's where our responsibility ends."
Morales presented the coca growers as victims of a wealthy, urban social elite, who had bowed to U.S. pressure in implementing neoliberal economic reforms to the detriment of the majority of Bolivians, in this way arguing that the representative democratic system in Bolivia failed to reflect the true democratic will of the majority. This situation was exacerbated following the 1993 general election when the centrist Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario - MNR) won the election and Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada became President. He adopted a policy of "shock therapy", implementing economic liberalization and widescale privatization of state-owned assets. Sánchez also agreed with the U.S. DEA to relaunch its offensive against the Bolivian coca growers, committing Bolivia to eradicating 12,500 acres of coca by March 1994 in exchange for $20 million worth of US aid, something Morales claimed would be opposed by the cocalero movement.
In August 1994 Morales was arrested; reporters present documented that he was beaten and accosted with racial slurs by civil agents. Accused of sedition, in jail he began a dry hunger strike to protest his arrest. The following day, 3000 campesinos began a 360 mile march from Villa Tunari to La Paz. Morales would be freed on September 7, and soon joined the march, which arrived at its destination on 19 September, where they covered the city with political graffiti. He was again arrested in April 1995 during a sting operation that rounded up those at a meeting of the Andean Council of Coca Producers that he was chairing on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Accusing the group of plotting a coup with the aid of Colombia's FARC and Peru's Shining Path, a number of his comrades were tortured, although no evidence of a coup was brought forth and he was freed within a week. He proceeded to Argentina to attend a seminar on liberation struggles.
The ASP, IPSP, and MAS: 1995–99
Members of the sindicato social movement first suggested a move into the political arena in 1986. This proved controversial, as meany feared that the social movement would be co-opted for personal gain by politicians, who were widely mistrusted by the activists. Morales began supporting the formation of a political wing in 1989, although a consensus in favor of its formation only emerged in 1993. On March 27, 1995, at the 7th Congress of the Unique Confederation of Rural Laborers of Bolivia (Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia - CSUTCB), a "political instrument" (a term employed over "political party") was formed, named the Assembly for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (Asamblea por la Sobernía de los Pueblos - ASP). At the ASP's 1st Congress, the CSUTCB participated alongside three other Bolivian unions, representing miners, peasants and indigenous peoples. In 1996, Morales was appointed chairman of the Committee of the Six Federations of the Tropics of Cochabamba, a position that he retained until 2006.
Nonetheless, the National Electoral Court (Corte Nacional Electoral - CNE) refused to recognize the ASP, citing minor procedural infringements. The coca activists circumvented this problem by running under the banner of the United Left (IU), a coalition of leftist parties that had been founded in 1988 and which was headed by the Communist Party of Bolivia (Partido Comunista Boliviano - PCB). They went on to win landslide victories in those areas which were local strongholds of the movement, producing 11 mayors and 49 municipal councilors, with Morales being elected to the National Congress as a representative for El Chapare, having secured 70.1% of the local vote. In the subsequent national elections of 1997, the IU/ASP gained four seats in Congress, obtaining 3.7% of the national vote, with this rising to 17.5% in the department of Cochabamba. The election itself led to the establishment of a coalition government led by the right-wing Nationalist Democratic Action (Acción Democrática Nacionalista - ADN), with Hugo Banzer as President; Morales lambasted him as "the worst politician in Bolivian history".
Rising electoral success was accompanied by factional in-fighting, with a leadership contest emerging in the ASP between the incumbent Alejo Véliz and Evo Morales, who had the electoral backing of the social movement's bases. Morales and his supporters subsequently split from Véliz and the ASP and formed their own party, the Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos - IPSP). The movement's bases soon defected en masse to the IPSP, leaving the ASP to crumble and Véliz to join the centre-right New Republican Force (Nueva Fuerza Republicana - NFR), for which Morales denounced him as a traitor to the cocalero cause. Continuing his activism, in 1998 Morales led another cocalero march from El Chapare to la Paz, and came under increasing criticism from the government, who repeatedly accused him of being involved in the cocaine trade and mocked him for how he spoke and his lack of education.
Morales came to an agreement with David Añez Pedraza, the leader of a defunct yet still registered party named the Movement for Socialism (MAS); under this agreement, Morales and the Six Federaciónes could take over the party name, with Pendraza stipulating the condition that they must maintain its own acronym, name and colors. Thus the defunct right wing MAS became the flourishing left wing vehicle for the coca activist movement known as the Movement for Socialism – Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples. The MAS would come to be described as "an indigenous-based political party that calls for the nationalization of industry, legalization of the coca leaf ... and fairer distribution of national resources." The party lacked the finance available to the mainstream parties, and so relied largely on the work of volunteers in order to operate. It was not structured like other political parties, instead operating as the political wing of the social movement, with all tiers in the movement involved in decision making; this form of organisation would continue until 2004. In the December 1999 municipal elections, the MAS secured 79 municipal council seats and 10 mayoral positions, gaining 3.27% of the national vote, although 70% of the vote in Cochabamba.
Cochabamba protests: 2000–02
In 2000, protests against the privatization of water facilities in Cochabamba broke out, resulting in the Water War. The Tunari Waters corporation had doubled the price of water, resulting in a backlash from activist groups, among them the cocalero movement, who fought with police and the armed forces, resulting in 6 dead and 175 wounded. The violence led the government to remove the contract from Tunari and appoint a cooperative to control the utility instead. Other protests broke out across the country in the following years, during which soldiers and activists clashed, with deaths on both sides. There was widespread opposition to economic liberalization across Bolivian society, with a common perception that it only benefited a small minority. In the Andean High Plateau, a cocalero group launched a guerrilla uprising under the leadership of Felipe Quispe; an ethnic separatist, he and Morales did not get along, for Quispe considered Morales a traitor and an opportunist for his willingness to cooperate with whites. Morales had not taken a leading role in these protests, but did use them to get across his message that the MAS was not a single-issue party, and that rather than simply fighting for the rights of the cocalero it was arguing for structural change to the political system and a redefinition of citizenship in Bolivia.
In August 2001, Banzer resigned due to terminal illness, and Jorge Quiroga took over as President. Under U.S. pressure, Quiroga sought to have Morales expelled from Congress. He claimed that Morales' inflammatory language had caused the deaths of two police officers in Sacaba near Cochabamba, however was unable to provide any evidence of his culpability. 140 deputies voted for Morales' expulsion, which came about in 2002. Morales asserted that "This was a trial against Aymara and Quechas", while MAS activists interpreted it as evidence of the pseudo-democratic credentials of the political class.
The MAS gained increasing popularity as a protest party, relying largely on widespread dissatisfaction with the existing mainstream political parties among Bolivians living in rural and poor urban areas. Morales recognized this, and much of his discourse focused on differentiating the MAS from the traditional political class. Their campaign was successful, and in the 2002 presidential election, the MAS gained 20.94% of the national vote, becoming Bolivia's second largest party by pushing the NFR into third place and being only 1.5% behind the victorious MNR. They won 8 seats in the Senate and 27 in the lower house. Controversy arose just prior to the election when US ambassador to Bolivia Manuel Rocha "reminded" Bolivians that due to Morales' opposition to the War on Drugs, US aid to Bolivia would be cut if he had been elected. Many thought that Rocha's comments had led to increased support for Morales.
Morales was now the leader of the political opposition, although largely protested against government policies rather than suggesting alternatives. He met with President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada on a number of occasions, although they were not constructive. Shortly after the election, Morales met Venezuela's democratic socialist President Hugo Chávez for the first time. At the time, the U.S. embassy continued to describe Morales as an "illegal coca agitator", and Morales began to claim that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was plotting to assassinate him.
Rise to power: 2003–05
In 2003, the Bolivian gas conflict broke out as activists – including coca growers – protested against the privatization of the country's natural gas supply and its sale to the U.S. below the market value. Activists blocked off the road into La Paz, resulting in clashes with police. 80 were killed and 411 injured, among them officers, activists, and civilians, including children. Morales did not take an active role in the conflict, instead traveling to Libya and Switzerland, there describing the uprising as a "peaceful revolution in progress." The government accused Morales and the MAS of using the protests to overthrow Bolivia's parliamentary democracy with the aid of organised crime, FARC, and the far left governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Libya.
Morales led calls for President Sánchez de Lozada to step down over the death toll, gaining widespread support not only from the MAS, other activist groups, and the middle-classes; with pressure building, Sánchez resigned and fled to Miami, Florida. He was replaced by Carlos Mesa, who tried to strike a balance between US and cocalero demands, but whom Morales mistrusted. In November, Morales spent 24 hours with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, and then met Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner. In the 2004 municipal election, the MAS became the country's largest national party, with 28.6% of all councilors in Bolivia. However, they had failed to win the mayoralty in any big cities, reflecting their inability to gain widespread support among the urban middle-classes. In Bolivia's wealthy Santa Cruz region, a strong movement for autonomy had developed under the leadership of the Pro Santa Cruz Committee (Comite Pro Santa Cruz). Pro-neoliberal and strongly critical of the cocaleros, they considered armed insurrection to secede from Bolivia.
In March 2005, Mesa resigned, citing the pressure of Morales and the cocalero road blocks and riots. Amid fears of civil war, Eduardo Rodríguez became President of a transitional government, preparing Bolivia for a general election in December 2005. Hiring the Peruvian Walter Chávez as its campaign manager, the MAS electoral campaign was based on Salvador Allende's successful campaign in the Chilean presidential election, 1970. Measures were implemented to institutionalize the party structure, giving it greater independence from the social movement; this was done to allow Morales and other MAS leaders to respond quickly to new developments without the lengthy process of consulting the bases, and to present a more moderate image away from the bases' radicalism. Although he had initially hoped for a female running mate, Morales eventually chose Marxist intellectual Álvaro García Linera as his Vice Presidential candidate, with some Bolivian press speculating as to a romantic relationship between the two. MAS' primary opponent was Jorge Quiroga and his center-right Social and Democratic Power, whose campaign was centered in Santa Cruz and which advocated continued neo-liberal reform; Quiroga accused Morales of promoting the legalization of cocaine and being a puppet for Venezuela.
With a turnout of 84.5%, the election saw Morales gain 53.7% of the vote, while Quiroga came second with 28.6%; Morales' was the first victory with an absolute majority in Bolivia for 40 years. Becoming president elect, Morales was widely described as Bolivia's first indigenous leader, at a time when around 62% of the population identified as indigenous; political analysts therefore drew comparisons with the election of Nelson Mandela to the South African Presidency in 1994. He traveled to Cuba to spend time with Castro, before going to Venezuela, and then on tour to Europe, China, and South Africa. In January 2006, Morales attended an indigenous spiritual ceremony at Tiwanaku where he was crowned Apu Mallku (Supreme Leader) of the Aymara, receiving gifts from indigenous peoples across Latin America. He thanked the goddess Pachamama for his victory and proclaimed that "With the unity of the people, we're going to end the colonial state and the neo-liberal model."
First presidential term: 2006–09
Morales' inauguration took place on January 22 in La Paz. It was attended by various heads of state, including Kirchner, Chávez, Brazil's Lula da Silva, and Chile's Ricardo Lagos. Morales wore an Andeanized suit designed by fashion designer Beatriz Canedo Patiño, and gave a speech that included a minute silence in memory of cocaleros and indigenous activists killed in the struggle. He condemned Bolivia's former "colonial" regimes, likening them to South Africa under apartheid and stating that the MAS' election would lead to a "refoundation" of the country, a term that the MAS consistently used over "revolution". Morales repeated these views in his convocation of the Constituent Assembly. Reducing his and his ministers wage by 57% to $1,875 a month, Morales gathered together a largely inexperienced cabinet made up of indigenous activists and leftist intellectuals. In taking office, Morales emphasized nationalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-neoliberalism, although did not refer to his administration as socialist.
In their National Development Plan (PDN) for 2006–10, Morales' government adhered largely to the country's previous liberal economic model. Social spending was kept low, although a major priority was placed on constructing roads. However, their stated intention was to reduce Bolivia's most acute poverty levels from 35% to 27% of the population, and moderate poverty levels from 58.9% to 49% over five years. The 2006 Bono Juancito Pinto program provided US$29 per month to poor families for every young child that they had, while 2008's Renta Dignidad initiative provided around $344 per month to low-income citizens over 60. 2009's Bono Juana Azurduy program offered cash transfers to uninsured mothers to improve their likelihood of seeking medical care.
Bolivia had South America's second largest reserves of natural gas, a major component of its economy. As per his election pledge, Morales took increasing state control of Bolivia's hydrocarbons industry with Supreme Decree 2870; previously, corporations paid 18% of their profits to the state, but Morales symbolically reversed this, so that 82% of profits went to the state and 18% to the companies. The oil companies threatened to take the case to the international courts or cease operating in Bolivia, but ultimately relented. Thus, where Bolivia had received $173 million from hydrocarbon extraction in 2002, by 2006 they received $1.3 billion. In June 2006, Morales announced his desire to nationalise mining, electricity, telephones, and railroads, and in February 2007 nationalized the Vinto metallurgy plant, refusing to compensate Glencore, whom the government asserted had obtained the contract illegally. Although the FSTMB miners' federation called for the government to nationalise the mines, the government did not do so, instead stating that any transnational corporations operating in Bolivia legally would not be expropriated.
Upon his election, Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 16%, with Morales enlisting the aid of Cuba and Venezuela to eradicate the problem; Cuba helped Morales' government launch a literacy campaign, while Venezuela invited 5000 Bolivian high school graduates to study in Venezuela for free. By 2009, UNESCO declared Bolivia free from illiteracy. Cuba also aided Bolivia in the development of its medical care, opening ophthalmological centres in the country to treat 100,000 Bolivians for free per year, and offering 5000 free scholarships for Bolivian students to study medicine in Cuba. Morales' government increased the legal minimum wage by 50%, and carried out agrarian reform by distributing land to traditional communities rather than individuals. His first year in office ended with no fiscal deficit; the first time this had happened in Bolivia for 30 years.
Morales' administration ensured the legality of coca growing, but also introduced measures to regulate the production and trade of the crop. Measures were implemented to ensure the industrialization of coca production, with Morales inaugurating the first coca industrialization plant in Chulumani, which produced and packaged coca and trimate tea; its creation was funded largely by Venezuela, who had donated $125,000 under the People's Trade Agreement. The U.S. State Department criticized Bolivia, asserting that it was regressing in its counter-narcotics efforts, and dramatically reduced aid to Bolivia to $34 million in aid to fight the narcotics trade in 2007.
Morales announced that one of the top priorities of his government was to eliminate racism against the country's indigenous population. To do this, he announced that all civil servants were required to learn one of Bolivia's three indigenous languages, Quechua, Aymara, or Guaraní, within two years. His government encouraged the development of indigenous cultural projects, and sought to encourage more indigenous people to attend university; by 2008, it was estimated that half of the students enrolled in Bolivia's 11 public universities were indigenous. Various commentators noted that there was a renewed sense of pride among the country's indigenous population following Morales' election. Conversely, the opposition accused Morales' administration of aggravating racial tensions between indigenous, white, and mestizo populations, with some non-indigenous Bolivians feeling that they were now experiencing racism. Many middle-class Bolivians felt that they had seen their social standing decline, with Morales personally mistrusting the middle-classes, deeming them fickle.
Morales' government sought to build strong links with the hard left governments of Cuba and Venezuela. In April 2005 Morales traveled to Havana, Cuba for knee surgery, there meeting with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. In April 2006, Bolivia agreed to join Cuba and Venezuela in founding the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which they initiated with a Peoples' Trade Agreement (PTA). In May 2006, Morales returned to Havana for an ALBA summit, and in September visited the U.S. for the first time to attend the UN General Assembly, where he gave a speech condemning U.S. President George W. Bush as a terrorist, and calling for the UN Headquarters to be moved out of the country. In the U.S., he met with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and with Native American groups.
In December 2006, he attended the first South-South conference in Abuja, Nigeria, there meeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, whose government had recently awarded Morales the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. Morales then went straight to Havana for a conference celebrating Castro's life, where he gave a speech arguing for stronger links between Latin America and the Middle East to combat U.S. imperialism. In April 2007 he attended the first South American Energy Summit in Venezuela, arguing with many allies over the issue of biofuel, which he opposed. He had a particularly fierce argument with Brazilian President Lula, for Morales wanted to bring Bolivian refineries owned by Brazil's Petrobrás under state control. In May, Bolivia purchased the refineries and transferred them to the Bolivian State Petroleum Company (YPFB).
Domestic unrest and the new Constitution
During his presidential campaign, Morales had supported calls for regional autonomy for Bolivia's departments. As president, he changed his position, viewing the calls for autonomy – which came from Bolivia's four eastern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija – as an attempt for the wealthy bourgeoisie living in these regions to preserve their economic position. A referendum on regional autonomy was held in July 2006; the four eastern departments voted in favor of autonomy, but Bolivia as a whole voted against them by 57.6%. In September, autonomy activists launched strikes and blockades across eastern Bolivia, resulting in violent clashes with MAS activists. In January 2007, clashes in Cochabamba between activist groups led to fatalities, with Morales' government sending in troops to maintain the peace. Rather than siding with the left-indigenous activists, the government rejected the Revolutionary Departmental Government that they created as illegal and continued to recognise the legitimacy of right-wing departmental head Manfred Reyes Villa.
In July 2006, an election to form a Constitutional Assembly was held, with MAS winning 137 of the 155 seats in the new Assembly, which was inaugurated in August. In November, the Assembly approved a new constitution, which converted the Republic of Bolivia into the Plurinational State of Bolivia, describing it as a "plurinational communal and social unified state". The constitution emphasized Bolivian sovereignty of natural resources, separated church and state, forbade foreign military bases in the country, allowed for one re-election of the president, and permitted limited regional autonomy. It also enshrined every Bolivians' right to water, food, free health care, education, and housing.
In May 2008, the eastern departments pushed for greater autonomy, but Morales' government rejected the legitimacy of their position. They called for a referendum on recalling Morales, which saw an 83% turnout and in which Morales was ratified with 67.4% of the vote. Unified as the National Council for Democracy (CONALDE), these groups – financed by the wealthy agro-industrialist, petroleum, and financial elite – embarked on a series of destabalisation campaigns to unseat Morales' government. Unrest then broke out across Eastern Bolivia, as increasingly radicalized autonomist activists set-up blockades, occupied airports, attacked pro-government demonstrations, police, and armed forces, as well as bombing state companies, indigenous NGOs, and human rights organisations, and launching armed racist attacks on indigenous communities, culminating in the Pando Massacre of MAS activists. Santa Cruz Governor Rubén Costas accused Morales of being an Aymara fundamentalist and a totalitarian dictator responsible for state terrorism, also lambasting him and his supporters with racist epithets, while foreign commentators began speculating on the possibility of civil war.
In September 2008, Morales accused the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, of "conspiring against democracy" and encouraging civil unrest, ordering him to leave the country. The U.S. government responded by expelling Bolivian ambassador to the US, Gustavo Guzman. Hugo Chávez stood in solidarity with Bolivia by ordering the U.S. ambassador Patrick Duddy out of his country and withdrawing the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) convened a special meeting to discuss the Bolivian situation, expressing full support for Morales' government.
Although unable to quell the autonomist violence, Morales' government refused to declare a state of emergency, believing that the opposition was attempting to provoke them into doing so. Instead, they decided to compromise, entering into talks with the parliamentary opposition. As a result, 100 of the 411 elements of the Constitution were changed, with both sides compromising on certain issues. Nevertheless, the governors of the eastern provinces rejected the changes, believing it gave them insufficient autonomy, while various Indianist and leftist members of MAS felt that the amendments conceded too much to the political right. The constitution was put to a referendum in January 2009, in which it was approved by 61.4% of voters.
Following the approval of the new Constitution, the 2009 general election was called. The opposition sought to delay the election by demanding a new biometric registry system, hoping that it would give them time to form a united front against MAS. Many MAS activists reacted violently against the demands, and attempting to prevent this, Morales went on a five day hunger strike in April 2009 to push the opposition to rescind their demands. He also agreed to allow for the introduction of a new voter registry, but insisted that it was rushed through so as not to delay the election. Morales and the MAS won with a landslide majority, polling 64.2%. His primary opponent, Reyes Villa, gained 27% of the vote. The MAS won a two-thirds majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Morales notably increased his support in the east of the country, with MAS gaining a majority in Tarija. In response to his victory, Morales proclaimed that he was "obligated to accelerate the pace of change and deepen socialism" in Bolivia, seeing his re-election as a mandate to further his reforms.
Second presidential term: 2009–14
During his second term, Morales began to speak openly of "communitarian socialism" as the ideology that he desired for Bolivia's future. He assembled a new cabinet which was 50% female, a first for Bolivia. In April 2010, the departmental elections saw further gains for MAS.
Following the victory of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, relations between Bolivia and the U.S. improved, although remained strained. After the U.S. backed the 2011 military intervention in Libya by NATO forces, Morales condemned Obama, calling for his Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked. In November 2011, the Bolivian and U.S. governments agreed to restore diplomatic relations, although Morales refused to allow U.S. agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) back into the country.
In 2010, the World's People Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabamba, at which Morales blamed capitalism for environmental degradation.
In May 2010, Morales' government announced a 5% rise in the minimum wage. The Bolivian Workers' Central (COB) dealt this insufficient given the rise in the cost of living, and called a general strike. Protesters clashed with police, although the government refused to increase the rise, accusing protesters of being pawns of the right.
Bolivia faced national protests after the announcement of a supreme decree to cut government subsidies for gasoline and diesel fuels, increasing the prices of those commodities on December 28, 2010. The measures triggered widespread protests throughout the country, among groups including Morales's own political base. Following the protests, on 31 December 2010, Morales announced that the supreme decree would be annulled, saying that he was complying with his promise to "listen to the people". The protest measures were subsequently called off. His approval ratings, consistently high in his first term, have declined according to one poll.
He also faced protests in 2011 from indigenous groups for his plan to build a highway through the Amazon Basin that would encroach on the tribal lands of lowland indigenous tribes. He responded to the protests by initially calling them American lackeys, but later acceded to holding a referendum on the matter. A government crackdown later led to the resignation of his Defense Minister María Chacon.
In August 2011, police violence on peaceful protesters became international news. Morales denied giving the police the order to attack the protesters, but the event tarnished his approval ratings. He issued a public apology and continued to claim the officers acted on their own.
July 2013 flight diversion
On 2 July 2013, Bolivia's foreign minister said that the diversion of Morales's presidential plane (FAB-001, a Dassault Falcon 900EX), when Portuguese, French, Spanish and Italian authorities denied access to their airspace due to suspicions that Edward Snowden was on board the aircraft, had put the president's life at risk. France apologized for the incident the next day. The presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela, Morales's political allies in the region, gathered to demand an explanation of the incident.
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Figures in the Morales government have described the President's approach to politics as "Evoism" or "Evismo". From 2009, Morales has advocated "communitarian socialism", while political scientist Sven Harten characterized Morales's ideology as "eclectic", drawing ideas from "various ideological currents". Harten noted that whilst Morales uses fierce anti-imperialist and leftist rhetoric, he is neither "a hardcore anti-globalist nor a Marxist", not having argued for the violent and absolute overthrow of capitalism or U.S. involvement in Latin America. Morales has expressed admiration for Marxist-Leninist Che Guevara, and has a coca leaf portrait of Guerrillero Heroico in the presidential palace.
Economically, Morales' policies have sometimes been termed "Evonomics" and have focused on creating a mixed economy. Morales' presidential discourse has revolved around distinguishing between "the people", of whom he sees himself as a representative, and the oppressive socio-economic elite and the old political class, whom he believes have mistreated "the people" for centuries. Morales sought to make Bolivia's representative democracy more direct and communitarian, through the introduction of referendums and a citizen-led legislative initiative.
Various far left figures have argued against categorizing the Morales administration as socialist. Bolivia's Marxist Vice President Álvaro García Linera asserts that Bolivia lacks the sufficiently large industrialized working class, or proletariat, to enable it to convert into a socialist society in the Marxist understanding of the word. Instead, he terms the government's approach "Andean and Amazonian capitalism". Far left American sociologist James Petras has argued that Morales' government is neither socialist nor anti-imperialist, instead describing Morales as a "radical conservative" for utilizing socialist rhetoric while continuing to support foreign investment and the economic status of Bolivia's capitalist class, while British Trotskyite academic James Webber asserted that Morales was no socialist but that his regime was "reconstituting neoliberalism", thereby rejecting "neoliberal orthdoxy" but retaining a "core faith in the capitalist market as the principal engine of growth and industrialization".
Morales identifies as ethnically Aymara, and has been widely described as Bolivia's first democratically-elected President from the indigenous majority. Although Morales has sometimes been described as the first indigenous president to be democratically elected in Latin America, this description in fact goes to Benito Juarez, a Mexican of the Zapotec ethnic group, who was elected President of Mexico in 1858. Biographer Martín Sivak described Morales as "incorruptible, charismatic, and combative", also noting that he had a "friendly style" and could develop a good rapport with journalists and photographers, in part because he could "articulate his opinions with simplicity". He places a great emphasis on trust, and relies on his intuition, sometimes acting on what he considers omens in his dreams. Harten noted that Morales "can be a forceful leader, one who instills great respect and, sometimes, a reluctance in others to contradict him, but he has also learnt to listen and learn from other people.
Morales is un-married and, before the election, shared a flat with other MAS officers. Consequently, his older sister, Esther Morales Ayma, fulfills the role of First Lady. He has two children from different mothers, Eva Liz Morales Alvarado and Álvaro Morales Paredes; politician Juan del Granado is Eva Liz's godfather. He has commented that he is only a Roman Catholic in order "to go to weddings", and when asked if he believed in God, responded that "I believe in the land. In my father and my mother. And in Cuchi-Cuchi." Morales is also an association football enthusiast and plays the game frequently, often with local teams. He lives an ascetic life, with little interest in material possessions.
Morales's unorthodox behavior contrasts with the usual manners of dignitaries and other political leaders in Latin America. For example, on taking the presidency he cut his salary by 57%. During speeches he made use of personal stories and anecdotes, and used coca as "a potent political symbol", wearing a coca leaf garland around his neck and a hat with coca leaves in it when speaking to crowds of supporters. Following his election, he wore striped jumpers rather than the suits typically worn by politicians. It became a symbol of Morales, with copies of it selling widely in Bolivia. Unlike his ally Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the MAS does not revolve around his personality.
Influence and legacy
Morales' government has been seen as part of the pink tide of left-leaning Latin American governments, becoming particularly associated with the hard left current of Venezuela and Cuba. It has been widely praised for its pro-socialist stance among the international left. Domestically, Morales' support base has been among Bolivia's poor and indigenous communities. For these communities, who have widely felt marginalized in Bolivian politics for decades, Morales "invokes a sense of dignity and destiny" in a way that no other contemporary politician has done. He has received the support of many democratic socialists and social democrats, as well as sectors of Bolivia's liberal movement, who have been critical of Morales but favoured him over the right-wing opposition.
Opposition to Morales' governance has centered in the wealthy eastern lowland province of Santa Cruz. His policies often antagonized middle-class Bolivians, who deemed them too radical and argued that they threatened private property. Morales' discourse of "the people" against the socio-economic elites has led to a deep social polarization in Bolivia. His most vociferous critics have been from Bolivia's conservative movement, although he has also received criticism from the country's far left, who believe his reformist policies have been insufficiently radical or socialist. Some analysts and human rights organizations have stated that many of the actions and policies of his government have eroded the rule of law and threaten to weaken the situation of human rights in Bolivia.
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|Find more about Evo Morales at Wikipedia's sister projects|
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|Quotations from Wikiquote|
|Database entry Q42410 on Wikidata|
- "Evistas 2006-2007: The first two years of Evo Morales as president of Bolivia", by Jorge Uzon
- Morales ‘Open Letter Regarding the European Union “Return Directive”, 2008
- Morales: I Believe Only In The Power Of The People
- Interview (on CounterPunch)
- Profile: Evo Morales, BBC News Online
- "Bolivia's Home-Grown President" Article in The Nation, (December 21, 2005).
- "'Evo Fashion' arrives in Bolivia", Morales's distinctive dress sense, on BBC News Online
- "Direct Intervention: A Call for Bush and Bolivia’s Morales to Take a Leap of Faith and Change Presidential Issues into Personal Ones", From the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
- "Bolivian President Evo Morales on Latin America, U.S. Foreign Policy and the Role of the Indigenous People of Bolivia", Interview on Democracy Now!
- Bolivia: On the Road With Evo — The making of an unlikely president
- Bolivia Information Forum Information and background about Evo Morales and MAS party
- Evo Morales Interview with BBC
- Review of a speech Morales gave in NYC from PBS
- A Nobel Prize for Evo by Fidel Castro, Monthly Review, October 15, 2009
- Evo Morales on Climate Debt, Capitalism, & Why He Wants a Tribunal for Climate Justice - video report by Democracy Now!
- Evo Morales: WikiLeaks Cables Reveal "Diplomacy of Empire" - video report by Democracy Now!
|President of Bolivia
2006 – present
|Party political offices|
|Leader of Movement Toward Socialism
1998 – present