Morales, Evo


Morales, Evo
▪ 2007

      After his inauguration as president of Bolivia on Jan. 22, 2006, populist labour leader Evo Morales—a member of the Aymara indigenous group and Bolivia's first Indian president—forged ahead on his campaign pledges. Morales took steps to reduce poverty among the country's Indian population, institute a land-redistribution program, ease restrictions on coca farmers, renationalize the country's energy sector, fight corruption, and increase taxes on the wealthy.

      Juan Evo Morales Ayma was born on Oct. 26, 1959, in Isallavi, a mining village in Bolivia's western Oruro department. Morales herded llamas when he was a boy. After attending high school and serving in the Bolivian military, he immigrated with his family to the Chapare region in eastern Bolivia, where the family farmed. Among the crops they grew was coca. In the early 1980s Morales became active in the regional coca-growers union, and in 1985 he was elected the group's general secretary. Three years later he was elected executive secretary of a federation of various coca-growers unions. In the mid-1990s, when the Bolivian government was suppressing coca production with assistance from the United States, Morales helped found a national political party—the leftist Movement Toward Socialism (MAS)—at the same time serving as titular leader of the federation representing coca growers.

      Morales won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Bolivian legislature) in 1997 and was the MAS candidate for president in 2002, losing only narrowly to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. During the presidential campaign, Morales called for the expulsion from Bolivia of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents (his campaign was bolstered by the U.S. ambassador's comment that aid to Bolivia would be reconsidered if Morales was elected). In the following years Morales remained active in national affairs, helping force the resignation of Sánchez de Lozada in 2003 and extracting a concession from his successor, Carlos Mesa Gisbert, to consider changes to the highly unpopular U.S.-backed campaign to eradicate illegal coca production. As the MAS presidential candidate again in 2005, Morales was elected easily, winning 54% of the vote and becoming the country's first president since 1982 to win a majority of the national vote. Even before he officially took office, Morales embarked (Dec. 30, 2005–Jan. 17, 2006) on a world tour, meeting with political and business leaders in Cuba, Venezuela, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, China, South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina to reassure them of Bolivia's status as a safe haven for foreign investment.

      In the run-up to the July 2, 2006, vote for the Constitutional Assembly, Morales urged voters to give MAS candidates a two-thirds majority so that support would not be needed from other factions for constitutional changes. MAS failed to win a majority, but Morales remained committed to his leftist agenda. On November 28 Morales signed into law a land-reform bill that called for the seizure of unproductive lands from absentee owners and their redistribution to the poor. He also pledged to revamp the judicial system, which had a reputation for being riddled with corruption.

Editor

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▪ president of Bolivia
in full  Juan Evo Morales Ayma 
born Oct. 26, 1959, Isallavi, Bol.
 
 Bolivian labour leader who became president of Bolivia (2006– ). A member of the Aymara indigenous group, Morales was Bolivia's first Indian president.

 Born in a mining village in Bolivia's western Oruro department, Morales herded llamas when he was a boy. After attending high school and serving in the Bolivian military, he emigrated with his family to the Chapare region in eastern Bolivia, where the family farmed. Among the crops they grew was coca, which is used in the production of cocaine but is also a traditional crop in the region.

      In the early 1980s Morales became active in the regional coca-growers union, and in 1985 he was elected the group's general secretary. Three years later he was elected executive secretary of a federation of various coca-growers unions. In the mid-1990s, when the Bolivian government was suppressing coca production with assistance from the United States, Morales helped found a national political party—the leftist Movement Toward Socialism (Spanish: Movimiento al Socialismo; MAS)—at the same time serving as titular leader of the federation representing coca growers.

      Morales won a seat in the House of Deputies (the lower house of the Bolivian legislature) in 1997 and was the MAS candidate for president in 2002, only narrowly losing to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. During the presidential campaign, Morales called for the expulsion from Bolivia of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents (his campaign was bolstered by the U.S. ambassador's comment that aid to Bolivia would be reconsidered if Morales was elected). In the following years, Morales remained active in national affairs, helping force the resignation of Sánchez de Lozada in 2003 and extracting a concession from his successor, Carlos Mesa Gisbert, to consider changes to the highly unpopular U.S.-backed campaign to eradicate illegal coca production.

      As the MAS presidential candidate again in 2005, Morales was elected easily, winning 54 percent of the vote and becoming the country's first Indian president and the first Bolivian president since 1982 to win a majority of the national vote. Sworn in as president in January 2006, he pledged to reduce poverty among the country's Indian population, ease restrictions on coca farmers, renationalize the country's energy sector, fight corruption, and increase taxes on the wealthy. Morales strongly supported efforts to rewrite the Bolivian constitution to increase the rights of the country's indigenous population, enshrine his policies of nationalization and land redistribution, and allow a president to serve two consecutive terms, though in a referendum in July 2006 the MAS failed to win a majority in the Constitutional Assembly. Morales then nationalized Bolivia's gas fields and oil industry, and in November he signed into law a land reform bill that called for the seizure of unproductive lands from absentee owners and their redistribution to the poor. His reforms faced opposition from the wealthier provinces of Bolivia, four of which overwhelmingly approved regional autonomy statutes in referenda held in 2008. The Morales government dismissed the referenda as illegal. Tensions escalated, and demonstrations, some of which turned violent, increased throughout the country. A recall referendum on Morales's leadership was held in August 2008, and two-thirds of the voters supported the continuance of his presidency.

      The constitution that Morales had envisioned and planned for nearly three years was approved by voters in a national referendum held in January 2009. It allowed him to seek a second consecutive five-year term (previously the constitution limited the president to a single term) and gave him the power to dissolve Congress. Other changes to the constitution furthered indigenous rights, strengthened state control over the country's natural resources, and enforced a limit on the size of private landholdings. Its passing, however, further aggravated tensions between the country's indigenous majority and wealthier Bolivians from the gas-rich eastern provinces, who strongly opposed its ratification.

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Universalium. 2010.

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