|Affiliation||Movement Towards Socialism
, , Bolivia
|| October 26, 1959
Jul 09, 2007 02:48pm
Native American - Socialist - Anti Alaska/Offshore Oil Drilling - Government Reform - Single -
|Info||Among the opposition leaders that will be keeping a close eye on the new president of Bolivia is Aymara Indian Evo Morales. |
Mr Morales, who leads the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), has played a central role in the violent demonstrations that have brought Bolivia to a standstill, and led to the resignation of its president.
He is a controversial figure whose power base is in the coca-growing areas of central Bolivia.
Ties with the coca-growers earned him the label of "narco-trade unionist" by the ousted President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and, in the past, open condemnation from the United States.
But his surprising second place in last year's presidential elections and the widespread support during the recent "gas riots" shows the radical congressman continues to be a key figure in Bolivian politics.
Mr Morales is headstrong and openly speaks his mind.
He refused to accept anything less than the president's resignation over the gas issue and spoke of the demonstrations being an Indian uprising against the white minority elite.
Bolivia is one of the few countries in Latin America with a very strong Indian presence, and ethnic divisions run deep.
Mr Morales, who in his youth was a llama herder and trumpet player in a band, has played a central role in the indigenous struggle and the conflicts between coca farmers and US-backed drug eradication programmes.
He was expelled from a previous government after three policemen were killed as farmers fought to prevent the closure of a coca market.
But lack of evidence and rumours that the US embassy was behind his removal reinforced popular opinion that he was not part of the "corrupt" political elite.
In last year's elections, his campaign received a healthy boost when the US ambassador in Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, warned that Washington could cut off aid if Bolivians chose candidates like Mr Morales.
The comments reinforced Mr Morales' position as a radical anti-US candidate.
Although the recent protests have centred on the issue of Bolivian gas exports, Mr Morales has kept up pressure on the government since the elections over the coca issue.
Previous demonstrations and blockades gathered momentum and support from other unions and farmers groups.
In an interview with Mexican W Radio this week Mr Morales explained why he backs the coca growers.
"I am not a drug trafficker," he said. "I am a coca grower. I cultivate coca leaf, which is a natural product. I do not refine (it into) cocaine, and neither cocaine nor drugs have ever been part of the Andean culture."
Speaking after the resignation of Sanchez de Lozada, Mr Morales praised the union of different groups involved in the demonstrations that have, at a high price, changed the course of Bolivian politics.
He said: "It was thanks to intellectuals, professionals and above all to the struggle of the indigenous peasant front, some of whom went on hunger strike, some of whom blocked roads, who have managed to get rid of part of the political mafia in Bolivia."