Evo Morales: Dictator?

Interviewer: “Your name and photos are everywhere,” I said. “Aren’t you afraid the power will become too personalized in you?”

Evo: “In Latin America, unfortunately, I’ve seen that political movements become focused on certain people. It’s my responsibility to offer a guarantee. There will no longer exist leaders drunk on power or despotism. That’s why I ask my compañeros to correct me if I make a mistake.”

Like his ideological mentor, Hugo Chavez, Evo’s remarkable rise to power was built on rights for the poor, distribution of wealth, and extermination of corruption. As his vice president’s first speech declared, Evo’s presidency was hinged on the idea of uniting the uneducated and the educated, the poor and the wealthy, the indigenous and the elite: “Bolivia will have dignity when the poncho and the tie govern together” (Álvaro García Linera quoting Bolivian President Manuel Isidora Belzá). However, like Hugo Chavez, time in power has revealed a darker character than this initial platform would have us believe.

In words:

  • Justice: “I’d actually like to eradicate all the law schools as a matter of public health. I see the judicial system we have in Sucre as a faithful model of colonialism.”
    • “We want to govern with the law that our ancestors left us, the ama sua, ama llulla, ama quella, not to steal, not to lie, and not to be lazy, that is our law.”
    • A branch of Evo’s government is a group of attorneys responsible for supervising the legality of governmental actions and decrees that Evo refers to as “bananas.” He insists that all bananas are crooked.
    • Evo was inaugurated as Bolivia’s President in three separate ceremonies, including an indigenous leader’s ceremony at Tiwanaku where a child is said to have been sacrificed on his behalf.
  • World Affairs: “It’s the ICSID [International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes – part of the World Bank] that should be eradicated and not the coca leaf.”
  • Finances: “When I came to the presidency, I didn’t know that the circulation of a lot of money would bring about inflation.”
  • Respect for women or “Machoism”?: Evo has two children from different mothers; when asked by a European diplomat whether he has twins (since the children are the same age), Evo replied, “I’m not selfish, and I wanted each of them to have their own mother.”
  • Accusations of coups/destabilization: Evo is highly suspicious of any group in opposition to him, as seen in the October 2011 indigenous Tipnis march that was confronted with police violence.
    • His mistrust runs even deeper with the US: “They’re financing my rivals. Since there isn’t opposition, they’re trying to create it in order to destabilize me,” Evo said to Spain’s President Zapatero at the UN meeting in NYC.
    • His notes from his UN speech in NYC: “Capitalism: the worst enemy to humanity.”

In affiliation:

  • Political party: MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo – “Movement Towards Socialism”)
  • *No member of his intimate circle (at least for his first term in 2006) had ever been a civil servant before*
  • During his first, failed election for the presidency of Bolivia, Evo chose Antonio Peredo as his vice presidential candidate. Peredo was a Guevarist and the brother of Guido “Inti” (a Bolivian guerilla who fought with Che Guevara).
  • Filemón Escobar, a Trotskyite leader adamantly pro-coca
    • Their 14+ year mentor-pupil relationship was severed by Evo in May 2004, when he accused Escobar of being corrupt and a CIA agent for not being present in Congress when a law was passed allowing US troops immunity to enter Bolivia.
  • Felipe Cáceres: Evo’s newly appointed anti-drug czar, who is proudly a cocalero
  • Quintana: liaison to the armed forces; formerly incriminated as a narcotics cocalero
  • Alfredo Rada (Director of the Center for Judicial Studies and Social Investigation – CEJIS): in charge of management of social conflicts; former member of Trotskyite party
  • Chancellor Choquehuanca (Evo’s cabinet): created Bolivia’s US visa “reciprocity” requirement; said that “he has gone 20 years without reading an entire book, but that he could read the wrinkles of the elderly, that his ancestors lived to be 200 years old, and that coca could replace a child’s daily glass of milk” (182).
  • Hugo Chavez (Venezeula): friend and mentor; Venezuela provides private Falcon planes for Evo to use for personal and state affairs.
  • Fidel Castro (Cuba): close council, who he visits frequently (including 5 days after winning the Bolivian presidency). In a speech at the UN in NYC, Evo said, “A salute to all of the revolutionaries, especially President Fidel, for whom I have a great deal of respect because Fidel also sends troops to many countries, but troops to save lives, unlike the president of the United States [Bush] who sends troops to end lives.”
  • Iran:Evo received Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Bolivia to forge a formal relationship just days after President Ahmadinejad was only given a US visa for use within 25 miles of the UN headquarters in NYC for security reasons.
    • Evo of his relations with Iran: “They’re cooperative agreements. There are investments in gas, petro-chemistry, milk processing, and mining.”
  • And the USA? “I knew that the United States wasn’t going to be an ally. They accused me of narcotics trafficking, of murder, of being an Andean Bin Laden, and they organized persecution teams from the State Department. So we made an alliance with countries not subjected to the empire’s dictations [Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, and recently China]”

In actions:

  • Incrimination as a congressman: Expulsed from Congress in January 2002 under accusations of under-minding the deaths of two police officers during the conflict that erupted with the closing of the coca market in Sacaba, near Cochabamba. Five campesinos and four members of the security forces were killed.
  • January 2003, after losing the presidential election and being impotent in Parliament: Evo called for the January 13th protests against Goni’s “pro-American” limitation of coca cultivation per family (<1,600 yards^2), which led to over 12 deaths.
  • September 19, 2003 declared the “War of Gas”: President Goni Sánchez de Lozada wished to export gas to the USA and Mexico via Chile to raise exports and cut deficits. Evo rallied the cause of recovering the country’s natural resources (see Bolivia’s War on Water in 2000 for more political context), stirred up deep-seated anti-Chilean hatred (learn about Bolivia’s loss of sea access to Chile during the War of the Pacific), and effectively split the nation in half. In the aftermath of Evo’s social mobilization and strikes, 56 were found dead, Goni would resign (October 17th), the “state” of Santa Cruz would demand regional autonomy, and the indigenous majority would place 3 demands: (1) Decolonization, (2) Nationalization of natural resources, and (3) Eradication of Supreme Decree 21.060 (the US-based anti-cocaine act).
  • 2006 election “investigations”: In one community, an investigation was launched because one person voted for Podemos (rival party) in the presidential election.
  • The execution of 3 men on April 16, 2009 by the Delta Group, Bolivia’s elite police force, “caught in an alleged assassination plot.” A physician we know was accused of conspiracy for a pathological report stating the three men were executed (contrary to the government’s claim that they were killed in a violent, armed conflict).
  • October 2011 march against Evo’s plans to build a road through the Bolivian amazon (Tipnis): Evo apologized after the police attacked innocent, unarmed protestors in La Paz, conceded not to build the road (saying, “This is a government that responds to the people”), then turned and accused the Tipnis of conspiring with the Americans and Santa Cruz elite to destabilize his government.

Nationalization (many of which were May 1st decrees in celebration of international “workers’ day”):

  • Changed the constitution of the country (Constituent Assembly, 2006-2007)
    • First article of the new constitution: “Alienation of natural resources in favor of foreign powers, companies, or persons” is deemed “treasonous to the homeland” (an offense punishable by 30 years in prison)
    • Gave himself power to dissolve Congress
    • Changed the terms of presidential terms from one 5-year term to two 5-year consecutive terms
    • Grandfathered himself into more presidential time with the new constitution (he says his first 3 years of office don’t count towards the two 5-year terms set forth in the new constitution, since they preceded it).
    • Promised to subordinate himself to the Assembly, but in practice the government has stood above the Assembly.
  • Renamed “The Republic of Bolivia” to “The Plurinational States of Bolivia”
  • Feb 2007: nationalized Vinto Metallurgic plant and used the military to seize Glencore (Swiss company)
  • March 2007: MAS leaders placed into state jobs (the exact same practice of nepotism that Evo so adamantly hated prior to election)
  • May 1, 2007: Evo granted a monopoly of Bolivian oil/gas to the state-run YPFB to devalue Petrobrás (Brazilian private company), then used the military to cease Petrobás’ $650 million oil refinery (which he later “purchased” on May 10thfor $112 million)
    • Previously, private oil companies gave 18% of production profits to Bolivia via taxes and prerogatives; Evo now makes all companies pay 82% and keep only 18%.
    • Resulted in a jump in Bolivia’s tax revenues from $173 million in 2002 to $1.3 billion in 2006.
    • Evo’s appointed president of YPFB (Santos Ramírez) was later removed because of corruption involving a $450,000 bribe and murder involving Catier Uniservices, who “won” the contract for installing a gas processing plant for YPFB.
      • By February 2009, YPFB had been through its 6th president in 3 years.
  • Meanwhile, though the World Bank forgave Bolivia’s debt, they decreased annual allowances from $75 million to $35 million in response to illegal seizures and monopolizing of private industries
  • Land reform act (Nov ’06): allows the State to seize “unproductive” (left in these terms, undefined) land from owners and redistribute to the poor
    • Land ownership is limited to 12,500 acres/citizen
    • 80% of Bolivians were in favor (the 20% with land weren’t)
  • Decreased the presidential salary by 57% to $1,875/month and declared that no elected or government paid official could receive more than him (effectively “equalizing” salaries by bringing the wealthy down, not the poor up)
  • September 11, 2008: Evo expelled the US amabassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, from Bolivia, accusing him of conspiring against democracy and promoting Bolivia’s division:
    • “Without fear of the empire, today I declare Philip Goldberg persona non grata, and I ask our chancellor…be sent to the ambassador today to inform him of the decision of the national government and its president so that he may return to his country immediately.”
    • The DEA was expelled as well.
  • May 1, 2012: nationalized Spain’s Red Electrica
  • Nationalized mining, electricity, telephones and railroads

In deference to his office:

  • Binge drinking guindol (fermented cherry juice) after a 7am rally in Colomi and before 3 more rallies that day
  • Interviewer:“What do you have the most to learn about?”Evo: “I haven’t yet mastered economic matters. For me every day is an educational experience. Before it was through the unions, the conferences, the marches, the rallies. Now it’s the Palace. It’s one thing to have a title and another to know something”

Evo Morales was reelected in the December 2009 election with 64.4% of the popular vote. Time will tell if he will escape miscues like Hugo Chavez’s April 11, 2001 massacre and continue ruling the country with an iron fist and a paranoid mind.

Other sources:


Evo Morales: The Extraordinary Rise of the First Indigenous President of Bolivia by Martín Sivak


Evo’s 10 commandments

Evo has a love for making his own 10 commandments. The first set came with some assistance from a key figure in his 2006 campaign: Walter Chávez, former chief editor of culture for the La Paz paper Hoy. He based Evo’s campaign on the five points of Salvador Allende (Chile’s famous left-wing president), changing it to 10 commandments:

  1. Hydrocarbon nationalization
  2. Gas industrialization
  3. Constituent Assembly
  4. Law against corruption
  5. Law of state austerity
  6. Tariff regulation for public services
  7. Land reform
  8. Ease restrictions on coca farmers
  9. Reduce poverty among the indigenous population
  10. Increase taxes on the wealthy

Evo’s 10 commandments to save the planet (UN speech in NY on October 9, 2008):

  1. End capitalism
  2. Renounce war
  3. End imperialism
  4. Access to water as a human right
  5. Stop using agro-fuels
  6. Stop treating Mother Earth as a commodity
  7. Water, electricity, education and health need to be considered human rights
  8. To consume what is needed, prioritize what we produce and consume locally, end consumerism, decadence and luxury.
  9. To promote the diversity of cultures and economies
  10. To Live Well (building a communitarian socialism)


Causachun coa!~ Wañuchun yanquis! (Long live coca! Death to the Yankees!)” – Evo Morales upon winning the Bolivian presidential election on December 18, 2005

How it began

Between 1981 – when the Morales family arrived in El Chapare – and 1988, coca prices soared, resulting in a seven-fold boom in the population from 40,000 to 215,000. Even though short-lived in office (three months), the Argentinian-supported dictator, General Luis García Meza, helped streamline coca by designating government officials dedicated to cocaine trafficking. Included in this group was the infamous Ariel Coca, who was caught with a small plane loaded with cocaine. Unlike other crops, coca can be cultivated year-round (up to four time per year) and 100 pounds of coca leaves (one load) yields a price equivalent to 15,000 oranges.

1981 also marked a pivotal event in Evo’s political involvement. Drunk soldiers beat then burned alive a campesino who refused to incriminate himself as a drug trafficker. Not long after, Evo became involved in “the Juvenile Center,” a group of young subsistence farmers wary of threats by the outside world.

Historical background

Understanding some basics of Bolivian politics in the 80s is crucial to understanding the world in which Evo Morales formed his positions. Following Meza, Hernán Siles Suazo of the left-wing Democratic Popular Union (UDP) started democratization of Bolivia, but also unleashed an economic crisis in which hyperinflation rose to 8,767% by 1985. Bolivians, such as Carolina’s grandfather, Hugo Añez, recall these terrible years of needing suitcases full of money to make every day purchases. In less than three years, Suazo successfully ripped through seven cabinets and 80 ministers, but still failed to control the economic disaster. Subsequently, the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) introduced Supreme Decree 21.060 in August 1985 with US-backing. This neoliberal policy led to government reduction, liberalization of the economy, and entrance of foreign competitors (later leading to privatization of state companies). With this decree, the brakes were successfully applied to the racing hyperinflation, but unemployment skyrocketed to 25%. Miners, historically the head of social struggles in Bolivia since the 1952 revolution, were hardest hit by this shift: 23,000 state-employed miners lost their jobs. Many packed up their belongings and moved east to a land of promised prosperity: El Chapare, the home of coca.

All the while, the US escalated its fight against drug trafficking. The spirit of this crusade is best captured by President George H. W. Bush’s explanation of the drug war strategy: “The logic is simple. The fastest and cheapest way to eradicate narcotic trafficking is at its source…We need to do away with the plantations where they grow and eliminate the laboratories.” In the late 1980s, US citizens snorted $20 billion worth of cocaine; by 1992, 72% of US foreign aid was tied to the war on drugs.

Anti-American sentiment spread like wildfire on a windy day when Law 1008 passed in 1987, with Washington’s thumbprint. The law categorized agricultural regions as “legal” or “illegal” zones for coca cultivation, based on quantified production already taking place. El Chapare was marked a “surplus zone,” and therefore cocaleros were required to supplement their fields with an alternate crop or eradicate coca all together (with a $2,500/acre incentive). Driven by aspirations for national sovereignty, their ancestral ties to the coca leaf, and a survivor’s instinct to defend their most profitable crop, cocaleros in El Chapare learned to hate the USA like a Hutu hates a Tutsi. Their cry became, “Causachun coa!~ Wañuchun yanquis! (Long live coca! Death to the Yankees!).”

Filemón Escobar, a ex-miner and well-known coca supporter, trained Evo in his pro-Trotsky political and ideological thought, along with hundreds of other campesino leaders. He would lecture, “The coca leaf has the same value to us as does the host for Catholics. It is our relationship to the Pachamama (mother earth).” In an interview, Escobar recalls how Evo “wanted to stick it to gringos,” and how he “wasn’t interested in elections,” but rather in developing a guerrilla group in El Chapare. Evo never materialized his thoughts of an armed uprising, but instead became an effective union organizer.

The USA launched another great anti-cocaine offensive in 1993 with the passage of Decree 21.060 with the support of then President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. “The war should be against the hive (cocaleros), not the bees,” US drug czar, Lee Brown, said.

El Cocalero, El Presidente

Evo has always denounced downstream responsibility for coca’s inevitable use for cocaine:

“We produce our coca, we bring it to the main markets, we sell it and that’s where our responsibility ends,” he said to journalist Martín Caparrós in a 1991 interview. And, on a September 7, 1993 debate with the minister of government, Evo’s response to the fact that 66% of coca from El Chapare was destined for narcotics trafficking was: “Say I give you all of the coca in El Chapare, do you think that’s going to eliminate the market in the United States? If we finish with coca in El Chapare, the illegal problem will move into Los Yungas and later we’ll say that ninety percent of the coca of Los Yungas goes to drug-trafficking. El Chapare is run by the DEA and the American Embassy.” Thus, he continued his deviance of American-led cocaine-eradication policies by swearing the following after passage of Decree 21.060: “If the government doesn’t lift the forced eradication, all sixty thousand of us producers are going to go into hiding to confront it.”

Essentially, Evo’s political paradigm was birthed in the school of campesino unionism, where politics = marches + rallies (public demonstrations, confrontations, and eventually negotiations). When he won his first seat in Congress in July 1988, he frequently repeated his new mantra, “to be honest and direct with my constituents and at the front of all marches and rallies.” And, his politics have always centered around his jewel: coca.

From a pro-coca, anti-US speech in the small town of Irupana:

“I’m getting a little jealous. With this many people, you all are going to beat El Chapare. One of my compañeros here just said to me, ‘We’ve fought together’ and started to cry. And she’s right about that. Sometimes it was you all who started the marches. And other times we started them. Coca awoke this political instrument. Cocaine continues to be a problem for the United States, not for us. And coca continues to be a pretext for subjugating us. In Iraq, they went in for oil. Here, for coca. Industrialized coca, at first, isn’t going to make us money, but we have to have patience. We’ve made shampoo with coca. My hair felt a little strange, but my housemate told me that it can keep one’s hair from falling out [laughter]. She set off to get some coca shampoo, and I went with her [more laughter]. She’s not my girlfriend: I’m still single. I’m just campaigning a little. We need to ration coca crops [some whistles]. When production is regulated, the product costs more. My recommendation is not an imposition. The union must ration per family and per person.”

Watch: “Coca sí, cocaina no” – A video about Evo, the coca leaf, cocaine, and foreign political opinions

Evo Morales: The Extraordinary Rise of the First Indigenous President of Bolivia by Martín Sivak

Salteñas: A Country-wide Ranking

(1) Cochabamba’s Los Castores: the best, juicy, spicy concoction of goodness!

(2) Sucre’s El Patio: smaller, football-like bites of deliciousness

(3) Salteñas potosinas: a little potato-heavy, but altogher yummie

(4) Santa Cruz’s Hamacas: a good Cruceñan showing, always








(5) Homemade “Salteñas” (really more like empanadas): a recipe from Salta, Argentina

*Note: La Paz was disqualified from the competition after refusing to provide the contestants with salteñas at midday.

Salar de Uyuni

The real adventure started in the town Uyuni, where we began a 3-day Southwest tour of Bolivia. It was just the five of us, our awesome tour guide Christian, excellent cook Vilma, a tough SUV, a spare tire, lots of alpaca wool hats and scarves, and the open road. The land in this part of the country is literally overflowing with minerals, and the subsequent spectrum of colors is amazing.

Before heading to the Salar, we stopped at a train cemetery, a somewhat spooky but fun place to take photos. Originally this train was built to carry minerals extracted from the Salar to Chile and from there to the rest of the world.

At 3653m above sea level and 17,000 square kilometers in size, the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. The Salar was formerly a salt water lake that covered most of southwestern Bolivia 40,000-25,000 years ago; when it dried up, it left this eerie, breathtaking massive expanse of pure white salt. In parts of the Salar, the salt is extracted and processed for human consumption.

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Next stop on our trip: Copacabana, Bolivia, a small, brightly-colored town on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, the largest high-altitude lake in the world at 3,808 meters. Dan and I felt like we had come full circle, as we had visited the Peruvian side of the lake when we first arrived to South America. The town has long been a religious pilgrimage site, first for the Incas and later for Catholics. The religious festivals here continue but seem to be much more marked by dancing and heavy inebriation. Still, we enjoyed the beautiful views of the pristine blue waters of the lake and the local specialty: trucha (trout).

The start of our great Bolivian adventure

Last week Dan, Ted, my cousins, and I set off for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I say this for two reasons. One, I think we can all agree that traveling in Bolivia is not for sissies. You’re faced with dizzying heights in some of the highest altitude cities in the world, extreme temperature and UV radiation, frightening “highways,” malodorous and uncomfortable sanitation facilities, and bare-minimum accommodations. However, we also witnessed such stark natural beauty that we (even Cayi) were left speechless. Vale la pena!

Our trip itinerary started in La Paz (the seat of the Bolivian government), where we warded off soroche with mate de coca. From there, we traveled 3 hours north to the ancient ruins of Tiwanaku. Most archeologists agree that Tiwanaku originated around 1600 BC. However, mystery surrounds the disappearance of this ancient civilization. The basalt and sandstone slabs used in the consturction weight as much as 25 tons each, and the nearest quarries that would have produced such slabs are at at least 5km away. In fact, when the Incas came across the ruins during their conquest of South America, the local indigenous people told them the city had been built by giants.

While most of the city is still submerged (and most of the valuables have been looted and scattered to the four corners of the world), what has been found sheds light on the people’s mastery of stone work, system of aqueducts, and impressive agricultural techniques, which allowed them to grow potatoes the size of footballs.

Ted, the Spanish-speaking machine

We are incredibly happy to have Ted Perry visiting us right now. After the nearly 30-hours traveling here, Ted arrived exhausted, but in good spirits (as always).

We wasted no time in trying to fatten Ted up. As Hugo Añez would say, “una llave tiene más carne que él” (a key has more meat than him). Ted devoured a salteña and has agreed to join team Clark on a “Salteña Tour & Rating throughout Bolivia” this coming week.

Besides attracting plenty of blushing stares and giggles from the female medical students, Ted has been a big help with our projects. We gave him the day off today after a few early mornings and 7 pediatric echos yesterday on malnourished kids (Yes, for all those wondering, Ted is a certified echocardiogram and liver US expert in both children and adults).

Paro Indefinido

Caption (my photo): Social worker “crucified” with protests to the new law written in blood. (Local newspaper article can be read at: http://www.eldeber.com.bo/nota.php?id=120424143323)

Today marks nearly four weeks of medical strikes in Bolivia. All year, we have being hearing complaints about a proposed increase in physician work hours from 6 hours/day to 8. From the government’s perspective, the suggested work hours permit a burgeoning demand of ill patients to be treated with the limited resources they have available. From the physician’s viewpoint, two extra hours without an increase in pay is cruel, unfair, and bypassing the need for more public health care providers. The issue has been hotly debated much of the last 6 months. Frequently, we have been invited to leave rounds early to attend a marcha – a public protest of the proposed change. Finally, with the Minister of Health’s announcement of the change in work hours last month, physicians decided to attack back. They went on parro: strike.

Essentially, this means only emergencies are attended to. Patients who are already hospitalized are still seen and treated, and new, “true” emergencies are cared for as well. However, all consults and other public medical visits are indefinitely cancelled. If your in Bolivia and sick, it pays to have $ right now (if you can pay, you can be seen in private offices without a problem – though even this might be changing…see last link below).

Recently, tensions escalated and social wokers, nurses, and medical students joined en parro. Many physicians are in huelga: a hunger strike, since late last week and a few have moved their beds to the entrances of the public hospitals, thereby occluding the entrances to the hospitals.

(Since NY Times, CNN, and BBC have no stories about Bolivia right now, here are some links about the strike):







Return of the Queen

Two weeks ago we were blessed with Mom/Ana Maria’s visit to Santa Cruz, which meant that our social calendar got a facelift and our wine intake tripled. The ongoing medical strike in Bolivia allowed for plenty of time for long lunches, “little” family get-togethers, and beautifying at the peluqueria.

One of my favorite memories was a visit to my aunt Ketty’s house. Daughter of a furniture maker, Ketty and her brother Marcelo Callau were destined to be artists. Marcelo, an often provocative sculpter, was locally famous until his untimely death. Ketty still lives in the family house and workshop amd now continues the family tradition, working with wood (the preferred medium of the family). Like most artitsts, Ketty has her “phases.” Two years ago she loved the concept of butterflies. Currently, her inspiration is the flower birds of paradise. My mom has wonderful memories of visiting Ketty’s house as a little girl when Santa Cruz was still very much a pueblo and family and friends, as well as the Cathedral and main plaza, were all within walking distance. Though Santa Cruz has lost some of its small-town charm due to its rapid growth, visits with family and friends will always be cherished. We can’t wait to see you in San Antonio, Mom/Ana Maria!