In Bolivia, union leader Evo Morales has claimed a stunning victory in Sunday’s presidential elections. Exit polls show Morales won just over 50% of the vote–giving him the greatest political mandate that any Bolivian president has had in decades. Morales would become the country’s first indigenous head of state. He has vowed to increase state controls over Bolivia’s key gas resources and to protect coca plantations. We go to Bolivia for a report. [includes rush transcript]
Exit polls from Bolivia’s presidential election suggest a clear victory for left-wing Aymara Indian candidate, Evo Morales. Morales is a former coca leaf-grower and union leader. If elected, he would become Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state.
Two separate exit polls showed Morales getting 51 percent of the vote, 20 points ahead of his nearest challenger, former President Jorge Quiroga. Quiroga conceded defeat Sunday and offered his congratulations to Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism party.
- Evo Morales, speaking in Cochabamba, December 18th , 2005
The official election results have yet to be released. If no candidate wins 50% of the votes, the new parliament–also being elected on Sunday–will formally vote on who the next president should be.
Bolivia, South America’s poorest state, has had five presidents in four years. Large-scale street demonstrations by Indian and union groups over the country’s economic policies have toppled the last two presidents. It is currently governed by a caretaker President, Eduardo Rodriguez.
Bolivia’s indigenous people make up more than half the population. On Sunday, Morales reiterated his pledge to increase state control over Bolivia’s vast natural gas resources and to protect coca plantations. Bolivia is the world’s third largest coca producer of coca leaf, the base ingredient of cocaine but also a medicinal plant popular with indigenous people. He said that under his administration, "there will be zero cocaine, zero drug trafficking but not zero coca."
The Bush administration has criticized Morales for his close ties to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Cuban president Fidel Castro as well as his opposition to so-called free-trade policies. Morales closed his campaign Thursday by declaring his election would be a: "nightmare for the United States."
- Jim Shultz executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabama, Bolivia. He writes a blog on Bolivia that can be found at DemocracyCtr.org.
AMY GOODMAN: Morales gave a victory speech Sunday night in Cochabamba.
EVO MORALES: [translated] The indigenous movement, since its inception, is not exclusive; it’s inclusive. This is what we live by. Through our government, we will end discrimination. Xenophobia will end, hate will end, and so will the scorn to which we have been submitted historically. We want to live together in so-called diversity, changing the neo-liberal model and finishing off the colonial state.
AMY GOODMAN: The official election results have yet to be released. If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the new parliament, also being elected on Sunday, will formally vote on who the next president should be. Bolivia is South America’s poorest country. It has had five presidents in four years. Large-scale street demonstrations by Indian and union groups over the country’s economic policies have toppled the last two presidents. It is currently governed by a caretaker president, Eduardo Rodriguez.
Bolivia’s indigenous people make up more than half the population. On Sunday, Morales reiterated his pledge to increase state control over Bolivia’s vast natural gas resources and to protect coca plantations. Bolivia is the world’s third largest coca producer, the base ingredient of cocaine, but also a medicinal plant popular with indigenous people. He said under his administration, quote, "there will be zero cocaine, zero drug trafficking, but not zero coca."
The Bush administration has criticized Morales for his close ties to Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, and Cuban president, Fidel Castro, as well as his opposition to so-called free trade policies. Morales closed his campaign Thursday by declaring his election will be a, quote, "nightmare for the United States."
We go now to Cochabamba to Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center. He writes a blog on Bolivia that can be found at DemocracyCtr.org. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jim.
JIM SHULTZ: Hi, Amy. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. The significance of the huge lead that Evo Morales now commands? Jim, are you there?
JIM SHULTZ: Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m losing you a little bit. Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you just talk about the significance of the lead that Evo Morales now commands?
JIM SHULTZ: Well, it’s a really stunning, stunning victory at the polls yesterday. No president, in recent Bolivian memory, has ever won with 50% of the vote. I mean, to put it into perspective, the last president was elected, Gonzales Sanchez de Losada was elected with about 23% of the vote in 2002. Hugo Bánzer in 1997 was elected again with about 22% of the vote. No president has ever come to Bolivia with this kind of a broad popular mandate to govern.
AMY GOODMAN: Now explain what will happen in these next two days?
JIM SHULTZ: Well, I think people will rest for a little bit and celebrate the holidays. And then in January, the new congress will convene. If the final result is that Evo Morales won more than 50% of the vote, then he will automatically become president. If he comes in at 48-49% or even a little bit less than that, then the congress will have to vote to make him the president, and I think that that’s just a clear case that it will happen. I think it would be political suicide for any of the other candidates, to Jorge Quiroga, in particular, to try to challenge this. It’s a straight-out victory.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think this means for the people of Bolivia, for the indigenous people, and also for Latin America?
JIM SHULTZ: Well, this is a huge symbolic victory in a lot of ways. This is the — Evo was an Aymara Indian. So you have Bolivia, which is the only majority indigenous country in the Americas, that’s going to have an indigenous president for the first time in its history. That’s significant.
And as you and I have talked about before on the program, this really is a nail in the coffin of the Washington Consensus economic policies in the region. This is the culmination of 20 years of Bolivia being a lab rat for World Bank and IMF economic policies, privatization of natural resources and the like. And it’s the culmination of five years of one major nationwide protest after another, demanding a reversal of those policies.
And the reason that Evo Morales is president is because, starting about five years ago, he really converted himself into being just the leader of the coca growers to being the sort of political embodiment of the resistance to the IMF and the World Bank’s economic policies. And that’s what propelled him to the presidency.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Shultz, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba. My final question to you is the relationship he has with the Venezuelan president, with Fidel Castro, and what this means, do you see, for U.S. policy toward the region?
JIM SHULTZ: Well, the United States government, the Bush administration made a very clear decision starting in February with the confirmation hearings of Condoleezza Rice before the Senate to pound this message that Evo Morales and the social movements in Bolivia were really just puppets of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba. They never actually presented any evidence of the kinds of things they were declaring. But, anyway, that’s what the U.S. government wants people to believe.
Evo Morales and his movement have a very close relationship with Hugo Chavez and with Fidel Castro. George Bush has a close relationship with Tony Blair. I mean, heads of state and political actors all over the world have kinships with people who are like-minded. But I think that what you are going to see is, this is another piece of the larger jigsaw puzzle in which progressives of various stripes have taken over the leadership of countries: Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and now Bolivia. And Evo Morales and MAS [Movement to Socialism] in Bolivia will have to create their own model of how to move forward. And they will. And I think it will be something for people all over the world to watch. I think it will be really something important.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Shultz, thank you for joining us from the Democracy Center in Cochabamba. We’ll link to your blog at DemocracyNow.org.