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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Evo Morales

Yesterday I saw Evo Morales, Bolivia’s new president, speak at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago. Morales is number three on my list of Latin American presidents I have seen in the last seven weeks (Hugo Chavez, Michelle Bachelet, Evo Morales). Today is the inauguration of Michelle Bachelet and so presidents and important figures from around the world have come for the inauguration, including Morales. The event was very exciting. It was both a talk by Morales as well as a big concert before and after his speech with popular leftist Chilean singers. The feeling of the crowd was similar to that of the crowd when I saw Chavez but at the same time was very different. It was a small stadium, with the stage decorated with Chilean and Bolivian flags, banners depicting indigenous symbols and banners in the background from various sponsoring leftist organizations. In the crowd were various organizations and political parties who sat together waving flags and banners and with their own chants. There was a large section of the Communist Party of Chile, the Humanist Party and many others (many of which I don’t know what they are). The music was really fun, and the groups were obviously very popular because everyone was singing along, dancing, and there was even a section in the front that became a huge mosh pit.

To back track a little bit as to who Evo Morales is. Morales was just elected president of Bolivia in January. He is Latin America’s first indigenous president. Bolivia is a country full of indigenous people (I think over 50%) and has the biggest indigenous population in South America and so it was a huge victory that a president who represents the majority of people was elected. Morales ran on the platform of indigenous rights and the issue of the coca plant. I wrote some about the coca plant in one of my earlier posts and I don’t know all the details but it is a huge crop in Bolivia and its production and exportation is restricted by the US and other countries. I don’t know the details on his background but he was previously a labor leader and doesn’t have the traditional high level of education you would expect of a president.

Morales came out in full traditional outfit, which is how I think he often appears in public to emphasize the indigenous thing. He spoke about the importance of indigenous rights and having an indigenous leader. He addressed the issue of coca, and criticized the US and calling it an imperialist nation. Yet again, there was a language barrier and so I didn’t fully understand everything in his speech and missed a lot of what he said. He also spoke about an issue that I didn’t know anything about, the issue of access to the sea. Bolivia is a landlocked country which means that the transportation of goods is a huge economic burden in an already poor country because they have to cross Peru or Chile’s borders to access sea ports. Slightly over a hundred years ago, a section of Chile’s coast belonged to Bolivia, but Chile won it in a war. There is currently a movement for Bolivia to again have access to the sea either by reclaiming the land, or by just giving Bolivia a passage to the sea. Because this is a sensitive issue in Chile, Morales only hinted at it and didn’t directly address it until the crowd started chanting “Mar para Bolivia” (Sea for Boliva) and once he had the crowds support he addressed the issue. Overall the event was very exciting to be at.

Although I went with some friends from COPA, it turned out that my host family went too and ended up sitting right behind me. It ended up being a great conversation starter with my host family to talk about politics which until now was a subject we had not really talked about very much. So this week has been very exciting here in Chile and is not over yet. Right now I am watching on TV the inauguration of Bachelet which is in Valparaiso and tomorrow I will hopefully go to the post inauguration celebration in Santiago where there will be a big concert with many of the same groups playing.


At 3:44 AM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Becca said...

holy crap sari! *so* exciting! i leave for the weekend and come back and read your blog and you've done one hundred million exciting things. awesome awesome awesome. so so awesome. yep. xo -b


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