PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: ONE YEAR LATER
Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia and South America was elected last year.
He still refuses to wear a tie. Gone are the cheap looking social activist jackets he used to wear. Fashion designers put together formal open necked shirts with indigenous motifs. Yup..no doubt about it, Evo looks presidential these days with his fancy new shirts and jackets.
Evo celebrated his first year in office and delivered the State Of The Union message to the nation in Congress. He is a controversial figure whose rhetoric never fails to provoke his hearers. Some of his opponents walked out during his speech because negative remarks were directed toward them.
A PRAGMATIC STREAK
Looking beyond the man's rhetoric one surprisingly detects a certain pragmatic streak. Here are some examples. The education minister last year made some controversial remarks and decisions about the place of religion in government and church based schools. There was an outcry. Evo stepped in, dialogued with Cardinal Terrazas and the matter was settled. Religion will still be taught in Bolivian schools
Recently campesinos organized a blockade which laid seige to city of Cochabamba over problems related to their dislike of the Governor; the citizenry reacted; riots broke out; many were injured and a couple protesters died. Evo was attending the inauguration of the President elect in Nicaruaga when problems erupted in Cochabamba. On his return, Evo managed to convince the campesinos to lift the blockade. He also refused to recognise the emergence of a parrallel governor and an administration put together by some of the more anarchic elements. A few days many were pleasantly surprised when President Evo replaced two controversial members of his cabinet: the ministers of internal affairs and education.
The country's economy has not exactly grown by leaps and bounds. But neither has it tanked. Last year he announced the nationalisation of oil and gas reserves. Many were spooked thinking that the major petroleum companies would simply pack their bags and leave. They did not; the matter was resolved when the announced "nationalisation" was not in fact a confiscation of foreign assets in the country but a re-negotiation of contracts which would increase Bolivia's share from the sale of oil. Everyone rejoiced when the the oil companies signed the new contracts. Its important to give the President his due.
NOT A ROSY PICTURE
Not everything is rosy in Bolivia. Evo's red meat rhetoric against imagined villians in the country appears to be an attempt to keep his base happy. The press and the middle class find his speeches divisive and inflammatory. Many are still spooked by his socialist outlook; tensions between the central government and leaders from Eastern Bolivia continue to intensify over questions of land reform and regional autonomy; these issues have yet to be resolved. Its almost as if there are two Bolivias : one in the east; the other in the west.
And more importantly the constitutional assembly has not been able to make headway in coming up with articles for the proposed new constitution. This new consitution needs to be approved at a national referendum this June. Various commissions have been formed to work through the components which constitute the new magna carta. To date, not one single article has surfaced. The root of the problem is the inability of the delegates to arrive at a consensus over the size of the majority needed to approve the articles that would make up the new constitution. Evo's people are hoping that a new constitution will establish social justice and ensure a fairer distribution of the nation's wealth.
2007 promises to be a year of surprises, change and anxiety. Pray for the nation of Bolivia!