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