Evo Morales life and biography

Evo Morales picture, image, poster

Evo Morales biography

Date of birth : 1959-10-26
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Orinoco, Bolivia
Nationality : Bolivian
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-23
Credited as : Politician and government official, President of Bolivia, World's political leader

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Evo Morales, also known as Juan Evo Morales Aima born October 26, 1959 in Orinoco, Bolivia is a Bolivian-American politician, government official and the current President of Bolivia.

Evo Morales was elected president of Bolivia in 2005 in a landslide election that generated headlines worldwide. A union leader and farmer with only a high school education, Morales was the first Amerindian to lead the South American nation in the modern era. The surprising election results supporting Morales and his socialist-oriented party signaled a shift to the left for yet another Latin American nation, according to many international observers.

Herded Llamas

Morales, born in 1959 in Oruro, spent his childhood helping his father herd llamas. The family eventually moved to the southern highlands part of Bolivia, which was known for its coca crops. Indigenous Indian tribes had cultivated the plant for centuries there, as well as in Colombia and Peru. Its leaves were chewed or brewed in tea, and possessed medicinal properties that staved off hunger among a population that had historically been decimated by periodic famines. Coca also provided stamina for communities that lived at high altitudes in the Andean Mountain chain. When the plant became known outside South America, it was used to make cocaine, an illicit and addictive drug.

After Morales finished high school, he served in the Bolivian military and then played trumpet in a bar band. He eventually became a coca farmer, and rose to lead an alliance of six coca growers' unions. The growers had banded, in part, to protest international interference in their livelihood. As part of its "War on Drugs," the United States had sought to curb coca production in Bolivia and other South American countries. For many Bolivians, however, coca cultivation was the only source of income available. Years of dictatorship, followed by corrupt elected regimes, had damaged Bolivia's economy, and well over half of its 8.5 million citizens were earning less than $2 a day. Moreover, the country's political structure was dominated by people of Spanish or European heritage, while three-quarters of Bolivians were indigenous, or part of the pre-Columbian population. Morales, an Aymara Indian, was a member of this Indian majority.

Morales rose to prominence in the provinces of Chapares and Carrasco, and was elected to represent them in Bolivia's Chamber of Deputies, or lower house of its national legislature, in 1997. His political party was the Movimiento al Socialismo ("Movement for Socialism"). In 2002 he ran for president, and took on an unusual political enemy: the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rochas. Some of the MAS campaign literature claimed Rochas was secretly in charge in the country, and the ambassador responded with remarks about Morales that outraged many Bolivians. Though Morales finished second that year, the election had made him a national hero for Bolivia's poor.

Set New Tone for Bolivia

Morales ran again for the presidency in 2005, this time successfully, and MAS won several seats in the senate and lower house, as well as governorships of several provinces. He was sworn in on January 22, 2006, in a ceremony that included a stop at ancient ruins, and he wept when presented with the presidential sash of Bolivia. He was the first person of non-European heritage to lead Bolivia since the Spanish conquest of the region in 1535. His cabinet included several political outsiders, and he continued to wear the black denim jeans, tennis shoes, and colorful striped sweaters that he had for most of his adult life.

Morales told journalists Bolivia would put up greater resistance to foreign interference, especially attempts to tie foreign aid dollars from the United States and other countries to coca elimination programs. He pledged to work to end drug trafficking in the country instead, noting that eradication programs in the past had little effect on international consumption rates over the past 20 years. "The fight against drug trafficking," a report from Juan Forero in the New York Times quoted Morales as saying, "is a false pretext for the United States to install military bases."

Early Productivity

In May of 2006, Morales ordered the nationalization of the Bolivian oil and natural gas industries within six months. Foreign companies that drill for oil and gas in Bolivia must renegotiate their contracts, but during those negotiations, the companies will receive only 18 percent of the revenues from their operations. In late October of that year, Morales won a significant victory when the foreign companies agreed to new contracts, but "but it remains unclear if the new deals will lead to badly needed investment to find new fields," Tyler Bridges wrote for McClatchy Newspapers.

Meanwhile, Morales, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met in Cuba to form the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a socialist trade and development cooperative. The organization was intended to counter the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a capitalist free trade agreement the United States promoted and several other Latin American countries joined. In June of 2006, Morales launched a program to redistribute farmland from large landowners to poor peasants by giving poor farmers titles to parcels of land totaling 7.8 million acres. The large landowners have vowed to form self-defense groups to protect their property. In August, Morales opened the Constituent Assembly, a convention charged with writing a new constitution.

At the end of his first year in office, opinion polls showed that Morales had the support of about two-thirds of Bolivians as he continued to be seen as a liberator of the Bolivian people. His receiving this on-going support was important as Bolivia had been politically unstable until he took office. However, problems remained, including the need for more public investment spending, which Morales tried to help with a government-wide austerity plan. There were also on-going conflicts over increased regional autonomy, something Morales did not fully support.

Constitution Problems

The call for more regional government autonomy affected the re-drafting of Bolivia's constitution. Though the new constitution was supposed to be ready in the summer of 2007, it was not as the elected Constituent Assembly was deadlocked after fifteen months of negotiations. Though work continued, Morales grew frustrated with the situation, which had broken down primarily over money, specifically how gas royalties should be distributed. He lost support of certain areas of the country along the way, and lost followers to the opposition. The assembly met a second deadline of December 14, 2007, though the opposition boycotted a key vote and claimed the resulting document was illegal. Nonetheless, Morales and his followers stated that the new constitution was to be voted on by the Bolivian people in 2008.

Recognizing that he needed to unify rather than allow divisions to fester, Morales changed his tone in early 2008. In January, he opened unity talks with provisional governors from opposition parties. Eight of the nine provincial governors agreed to form a commission to reconcile a new draft of the constitution. The new draft was to still increase presidential power while recognizing the provincial demands for more autonomy.

Soon, Morales faced a new round of challenges to his authority. In August, he beat back an attempt to remove him from office, winning a recall election with 60 percent of the vote. In response, the opposition to Morales staged several major strikes, aiming to stop Morales from rewriting the constitution and redistributing natural gas wealth to poorer areas of the country. The protests turned violent in September. Eight people were killed, and opposition members disrupted an oil pipeline and caused millions of dollars of damage to government offices. Morales responded by sending troops to the eastern provinces, the heart of the opposition to him. He also expelled the United States ambassador from Bolivia, accusing him of conspiring against the government; the United States responded by expelling the Bolivian ambassador from Washington.

That October, the Bolivian Congress ratified Morales' proposed new constitution, which included provisions meant to increase the power of the native Bolivian majority. For instance, it included a provision that gave Indians more control over natural gas resources in their territory. The congress scheduled a referendum on the new constitution for three months later. In exchange for winning support from legislators, Morales promised that he would only seek one more term as president. Voters overwhelmingly approved the constitution in January of 2009.

That April, Morales staged a five-day hunger strike to protest the Bolivian Senate's refusal to pass laws that would allow him to run for re-election and increase the autonomy of provinces rich in natural gas. He also claimed that Bolivian police had foiled an assassination plot against him. A police squad had shot and killed three men in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, but opposition figures said they were not convinced that the men had been involved in an assassination plot.

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