Monday, January 23, 2006


From Democracy Center - Blog From Bolivia
Jim Shultz - Sunday, January 22, 2006

I am sitting in an Internet cafe just beside Plaza San Francisco – in a capital city gripped by ¨Evo Mania¨. Evo being Evo Morales, who two hours ago was sworn in as Bolivia´s president.

It is ironic. Back in the days of ¨Oh my God, the sky will fall if Evo becomes president,¨ the fearful proclaimed that Bolivia would become isolated, a nation shunned. Tell that to a city so full of heads of state and luminaries that people like the literary giant Eduardo Galleano and former Mexico prsidential candidate CuauhtĂ©moc Cárdenas get barely noticed. I met a reporter for breakfast at the Raddison this morning and the staff proudly reported five heads of state in residence. More than 400 foreign media are here. Hotel rooms are virtually impossible to find. If Bolivia´s GNP were measured just by these two days it might compete with China, for all the economic activity generated by the inauguration.

Yesterday Morales passed through another inauguration, standing atop the 1000 year old ruins at Tiahuanaco. In a ceremony that hasn’t taken place since the consquest half a millenia ago, Bolivia´s first indiginous president was granted powers by the indian communities of the altiplano. Indiginous leaders from throughout the Americas and elsewhere were on hand to participate – from Guatemala to the USA. An indiginous leader from the US handed Morales an eagle feather, noting that the eagle would fly with the condor.

Reporters, many sunburned from yesterday´s harsh altiplano sun in Tiahuanaco, asked me all the usual questions. Won´t MAS screw up at governing? What government have they ever run?

(A parade of rainbow-colored, checkered wipala flags – symbol of the indiginous communities – has just gone bounding by on the street outside, to the tune of flutes.)

The U.S. government has planted some of these questions I learn, at a private off-the record chat the ambassador held at his house the other night with visiting US journalists.

In a congress chamber filled to the brim with the heads of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Slovenia, and many other nations, Morales broke the media-generated suspense over what he would wear to such a formal occasion by showing up in a black tunic ringed with indiginous weaving. I had thought about sending Morales a George Bush 2000 inaugural tie that a Republican acquaintance of mine gave me a couple of years back (inexplicably thinking that I might actually use it) but I decided to keep it, knowing that it has come in handy as an emergency halloween costume.

I watched Morales take his oath on TV, in a take-away pizza place a half mile from the Congress. Behind me sat two women, weeping tears and saying over and over ¨que impresionante!¨ As he put on the green, red, and yellow sash of his country, Morales broke down in tears of his own. A split screen image, showing both Morales and the crowd gathered outside here in the plaza, revealed that he was not the only Bolivian marking with tears the moment of history all were living.

Morales began by asking the dignataries, the Congress, and the nation to mark a moment of silence for the martyrs—from Inca kings who died at the hands of the Spanish to Che Guevarra and the humble who have lost their lives in five years of social struggle here.

¨Five hundred years of indiginous resistance have not been in vain,¨ he said. He then luanched into a presidential address – on everything from the US war on drugs to corruption in the building of highways – that was so long that at one point he stopped to ask a Senator in the chamber to wake up from his nap (I am betting it was Omar Fernandez from Cochabamba, who ALWAYS falls asleep when we are in meetings together). The channel I was watching featured CNN-style captions summararizing key points and it was, well, just so Bolivian, when the caption changed to, ¨Morales tells Senator to wake up.¨ The whole ceremony had the air of a young democracy and inexperienced president trying to awkardly find their footing.

Even Morales, at one point acknowledged that his speech was lasting a very long time. ¨Brothers and sisters, I apologize for going on so long. Maybe I caught something from Castro or Chavez (the chamber breaks into laughter and the camera turns to Chavez who appeared to be rustled from a little nap of his own). I just want to express myself about the reality of Bolivia.¨

On my way to the rally here that awaits Morales´ arrival, the streets were nearly deserted . The one person who seemed oblivious to the whole thing was an older indian woman sitting in a narrow alley way, footsteps from princes and presidents, asking for small change.

The question that remains is, once the hoopla is over and the dignitaries are gone, will it make any difference in her life? To be sure, that is what Morales is promising and I believe that he and MAS are sincere in that. But governing and delivering the goods will be a good deal harder than they think.

But for today, La Paz and Bolivia is a spectacle of optimism and history being made. Back to the flutes and the wipalas!

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