- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Coca Cultivator
- Official Title: President
- Government: Established democracy
- Years Left in Office: To 2014; re-election possible
- Political Classification: Left
- Education: Finished 8th grade
- Age: 61 (born October 25, 1959)
Evo Morales Facts and Information
- Evo Morales is the first indigenous President of any Latin American country
- Evo Morales is openly and avidly leftist/socialist who has nationalized key resources
- Evo Morales is the only President that grows coca
I’m fresh out of La Paz from a beer summit with the famous Paceña Girls…and ready to bring you an even hotter dish on my main man, the cocalero extraordinaire, Bolivian President Evo Morales. So what do you need know about this Cosby-sweater-wearing, coca-growing, llama-herding campesino? In a word, everything – this guy has seen and done it all!
Morales family is of Aymara ethnicity, one of many indigenous Bolivian groups, collectively called the Amerindians, which make up well over half of Bolivians nearly 11,000,000 citizens. Like his family for generations before, Morales grew up a farmer herding llamas and growing coca leaves? Say what Plaid Man? Yes, my friends I said coca – as in what you need to manufacture cocaine! Before you start quoting Scarface, keep in mind that this plant was (and still is) a traditional Amerindian crop: they grow it but not for drug cultivation and they certainly don’t refine it…it’s used more like a high-octane chewing tobacco. But let’s face it, one cannot hide the fact that drug traffickers do buy and use it to manufacture the white horse.
Not so ironically, it was the ‘war on drugs’ that led to our man Evo to start his political career. Morales first hit the political scene after spending years fighting international pressure, i.e. largely American, to eliminate Bolivia’s coca-leaf crop industry. You see, following in the family footsteps, Morales established himself as a cocalero, or coca-leaf grower, and rose to prominence among local growers’ unions in Bolivia. It was these organized groups that became a prominent force in the 1980’s and waged a fight on government restrictions on their livelihood. Morales spent the better part of the 1980’s and the 1990’s towards this effort, meeting with Bolivian and other foreign offices and getting harassed accordingly – including being jailed, shot at, and nearly beaten to death by government anti-narcotic forces. Damn! Evo can take a beatin on that big Bolivian noggin of his!
In addition to his work with the cocaleros, Evo became a strong supporter of the rights of indigenous peoples in Bolivia. With these two agendas as his driving force, Evo helped form the Assembly for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (ASP) in 1995, which successfully elected Morales and several other candidates to congressional seats in 1997 under the larger United Left party, which was affiliated with the Communist Party of Bolivia. This group later splintered and merged with another group to form what is called the Movement for Socialism-Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, or more simply the Movement towards Socialism, or MAS. Leftie, leftie, leftie Latin American!
Following Evo’s congressional election in 1997, the sitting Bolivian president Hugo Banzer (a former general and Nixon Administration lap dog) instituted Plan Dignidad, or the Dignity Plan, which sought to eradicate the drug scourge in Bolivia. Largely ignoring the issue of drug trafficking organizations, this plan focused on eradicating the growth of coca plants, which had a devastating effect on the poor campesinos. Like all great government programs, Plan Dignidad failed to offer an alternative development for the rural poor, and actually led to an overall decline of economic conditions for farmers. No real surprise then when violent unrest started occurring – and right there supporting the campesino/cocalero cause was Evo. Standing up to a growing unpopular government, Morales was awarded with the Banzer government’s highest honor: he was formally expelled from the Bolivian Congress on January 24, 2002! Hahahaha damn! Rejected and ejected!
Not one to give up so lightly (did I mention he has been shot at and beaten senseless), Evo found himself the MAS candidate for president in 2002, narrowly losing to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in a controversial election. Sanchez de Lozada’s presidency was pretty much a complete shit storm from the beginning. Organized protests against the wildly corrupt government, courtesy in part by yet another Evo formed group called the People’s High Command, continued to flare up. Under this pressure, Sanchez de Lozada quickly resigned the presidency in late 2003, followed by the resignation of his running mate and vice president Carlos Mesa in 2005 – again thanks to the efforts of Evo and MAS. This paved the way for early elections in Bolivia in December 2005, where our campesino Evo and MAS secured the win. Morales is the first 100% indigenous President of any Latin American country, man! Its kind of a big deal, much like Obama becoming the first African American President in the US. Barriers coming down!
So what does Evo stand for and why is he important? Well, keeping in mind his background, look no further than one of MAS’ stated purpose, which is the promotion of a state based on autonomies of the indigenous peoples. Long discriminated against by the political, economic, and social elite of colonial power, indigenous peeps have largely existed as subsistence farmers, eking out a living on tiny plots of land, and growing largely coca.
And so when you talk about indigenous peoples in Bolivia – you are talking about Amerindians and cocaleros – of which Evo counts his self as both. (This explains those cool Cosby sweater’s that Evo is known for – he favors casual dress and rarely dresses “formally” like other heads of state.) Morales’ domestic policies strongly support this platform, as well as the socialist agenda professed by MAS. Following his election to the presidency, Evo has made big strides to eliminating the coca eradication programs that were devastating to the livelihood of the cocaleros, expanded programs for indigenous peoples and adding Amerindian languages to national education curriculums and nationalizing a significant portion of natural resource production, such as gas, in Bolivia.
Nationalization of gas? Hell yes! Evo is definitely part of the radical leftist movement in Latin America that counts Fidel Castro of Cuba and ring-leader Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as die-hard members. Did I say Castro? Hell yes, I did – not only has Evo significantly aligned himself with Chavez, he also enjoys smoking a nice Cohiba with Fidel from time to time! Their ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ seeks to remedy social ills by heavy use of government intervention into the economy to run businesses, nationalize resources, and redistribute wealth via lots of social benefits. These 3 amigos are def on the forefront of countering capitalism and securing socialism for their peoples…
Needless to say, these policies also have direct, negative impacts on Bolivia’s relationship with the United States. Obviously, the coca issue is a major thorn in America’s policies regarding the war on drugs and Evo has been consistent in his support for the cocaleros, including actually expelling U.S. DEA agents from Bolivia and forbidding the U.S. from flying DEA related missions over Bolivian air space! Damn! Back the hell up DEA! And I should not paint a totally rosy picture here either: while he is beloved his fellow indigenous folks, there are many conservative/capitalist Bolivians who hate his guts and feel his policies are destroying the country…there has even been talk of territorial secession by some of his opponents, a tangible threat that many fear could rip the society apart.