Indigenous leader Evo Morales gained 54 percent of the popular vote in Bolivia’s Dec. 18 presidential election, and his totals would have been more had election officials not decertified a million poor people before the voting. Even so, the longtime leader of Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism won by a landslide.
He immediately began a global tour to meet with world leaders. The attention given his trip attests to the historical significance of his victory.
On Dec. 30 the drama was intense as President-elect Morales arrived in Havana on a Cuban airliner for meetings with Cuban leaders. He was in Cuba for only 18 hours and, in a symbolic joining of two generations of revolutionary leadership, he spent 15 of those hours with Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Cuba’s National Assembly and Council of State adopted a statement that said, “With your victory, a new history is born, the history of the emancipation of the peoples whom colonialism and racism wanted to crush and wipe out.”
Alluding to Morales’ indigenous ancestry, the statement added, “Finally, after half a millennium of genocide, they come to power with you. It is the hour of the true discovery of America, of indigenous America, of Black America, of mestizo America, of the America of Bolívar and Martí. … Thank you, Evo, thanks to the Bolivian people for having demonstrated with the clarity of the sun that another, better world is possible.”
Honoring the tradition of solidarity among socialist nations, Castro announced at a meeting with Bolivian students studying in Cuba that 5,000 young Bolivian doctors would receive training in general medicine in Cuba, 10 times the number of Bolivian students currently enrolled at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine. Cuba will also help Bolivia conduct a massive literacy program, and Cuban ophthalmologists will assure that 50,000 Bolivians annually receive eye surgery. Havana will also aid Bolivia’s sports programs.
The Cuban president commented on U.S. reactions: “Will the U.S. government be offended if Cuba helps increase the life expectancy of Bolivians [and] reduce infant mortality? … These agreements we have signed are for life, for humanity. They are not a crime.”
Referring to the possibility of U.S. interference, Morales said, “Even if they come with threats, blackmail and pressure, we will not be the least bit afraid.”
He returned to Bolivia early on Dec. 31, only to leave for Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 3. With President Hugo Chávez at his side, Morales told reporters, “We are determined to rid the country of its ills, and for that we need support. …We will change history; not only that of Bolivia, but of all Latin America, and we will free ourselves from U.S. imperialism.”
Venezuela’s government announced it will exchange 150,000 barrels of diesel fuel every month for Bolivian agricultural products. Chávez pledged support for Bolivia’s literacy campaign and $30 million for social projects.
The next day Spanish President José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and a variety of ministers received Morales correctly, if not effusively, in Madrid. They reportedly advised him to proceed with caution in any attempts to control the earnings of the Spanish oil company Repsol. At the same time, Spanish officials said that $120 million of Bolivia’s debt to Madrid would be written off as a contribution to the country’s education projects. Spain will also provide agricultural irrigation equipment and expertise on favorable terms. Morales also met with King Juan Carlos.
The Bolivian leader departed for Belgium on Jan. 5. There he conferred with high European Union officials, among them Javier Solana, the EU’s secretary general. A reporter asked Morales about whether Bolivia would tilt toward Europe or the United States. He replied, “The indigenous movement, our political movement, has the culture of dialogue and we are going to dialogue with everybody.” After a few hours, Morales was on to France, South Africa, China and Brazil.
Morales’ Jan. 22 inauguration will amount to a world gathering of social movements. The Zapatistas from Chiapas, Mexico, will be there, along with Bolivarian Circles from Venezuela, Brazil’s Landless Movement, and the “Piqueteros” of Argentina. Argentine football great Diego Maradona, Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez and Portuguese writer Jose Saramago will all be on hand.