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Bolivian President Evo Morales
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

He came, saw and conquered

Astrid Prange / ksb
October 11, 2014

Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, will most likely be reelected into office for a third time. But who is this man in the black leather jacket who has changed the face of Bolivia?


His dream has come true. A cable car floats over the white houses of La Paz, connecting Bolivia's seat of government with the even higher city of El Alto, which was founded by the surrounding area's indigenous population.

Until recently, La Paz and El Alto were poles apart. La Paz was home to the descendants of Spanish colonists. But high up in the Andes, in the icy wind of the plateau, the indigenous population lived in severe poverty.

Eight years after the inauguration of President Evo Morales, thanks to the new cable car, the distance between these two worlds has shrunk to just 15 minutes.

"Evo," as Bolivia's first indigenous president is known, has been the face behind huge changes in Bolivia over the past eight years. Since he first entered the government palace, Palacio Quemado, in January 22, 2006, Spanish hasn't been the only language to be heard at the decorative colonial building in La Paz, but also Aymara - the language of the natives.

Anti-colonial and ambitious

When Juan Evo Morales Ayma celebrates his 55th birthday on October 26, he will have probably accomplished is biggest dream - to have won a third term in office as president of Bolivia. All recent polls suggest that Morales will win with a landslide vote in the presidential election on October 12, leaving his political opponents far behind.

Morales embodies the new face of Bolivia: confident, ambitious and anti-colonial. As a supporter of Cuba's father figure, Fidel Castro, he demonstrates the common touch and an abundance of power in his celebrated critique of capitalism and business acumen.

Cable car between La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia
Link between two worlds: cable car between La Paz and El Alto, BoliviaImage: picture-alliance/dpa//Martin Alipaz

Anyone who wants to meet him had better be an early riser. Cabinet meetings as well as interviews often take place early in the morning. As a driven man, this figure in the black leather jacket, who in his youth tended Andean llamas and sold sweets at school, completes a political marathon everyday. Alongside his political commitments, however, he still finds time to make it to the football pitch, where he plays professionally for first division club "Sport Boys Warnes."

Powerbase in parliament

For Morales the feat of "only" being reelected in this weekend's presidential election won't be enough. According to press reports, he's also hoping that his party, "Movimiento al Socialismo" (MAS), will win enough votes to give them a two-thirds majority in parliament. This would then enable a constitutional amendment to be made that would allow him to campaign for yet another reelection.

Evo forever? It seems as though Morales aims to refute every preconception that he's fought against his entire life: that indigenous people are overpowered by the government; that union leaders only represent their interests and not those of the population; and that socialists dream of a better world, only to let the country's economy collapses under their leadership.

Morales has already begun reporting back evidence to the contrary. In the past decade, the economy of the Andean nation has grown annually by an average of 4.8 percent - in 2013 it was even 6.8 percent. Bolivia's extreme poverty also sank from 37 percent to 18.7 percent - a feat that brought Morales praise from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Lessons from La Paz

But Morales isn't looking for applause. "If the IMF and World Bank praise our financial policy, then I think that we've maybe done something wrong," he recently said in an interview with the Spanish paper "El Pais." "Or else that they have finally begun to understand how to carry out financial policy."

Morales is, however, more than happy to season his triumph with a pinch of anti-colonialism. "Earlier, we imported the European economic policy to Bolivia," he told "El Pais."

Bolivien Vote 2014
Indigenous Bolivians at the presidential election campaignImage: A.Raldes/AFP/Getty Images

"Today we're exporting our social policy and our economic model to Africa and other continents," he added.

The nationalization of Bolivia's oil and gas sector were also part of Morales' economic model. Since renegotiations with foreign oil companies in 2006, the state treasury no longer receives just 20 percent, but instead 80 percent of the revenue.

Career as waiter

The money has financed government programs, public investment in education, health and transport and the expansion of state apparatus. According to press reports, from 2006 to 2014, the number of officers in public administration, increased from 60,000 to 320,000. Pensions were increased and a 14th salary month was also introduced.

After eight years in office, Morales has reached the height of power. Will he go down as the longest-serving president of Bolivia in his country's history? In his pragmatic style "Evo" has already made ​​plans for any turn of events - but somewhat differently from how most of his compatriots might imagine.

Should he unexpectedly lose the election, Morales said he doesn't intend to return to work as a unionist for coca growers, nor does he want to continue his career as the oldest football player in the world with the "Sport Boy Warnes." According to press reports, he plans to open a restaurant with a couple of barbeque-savvy mayors. "I'll serve their food and give out the beers," he said.

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