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President Evo Morales on Bolivia’s Human Rights and Development Issues

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
By Carol Blenda Reyes Avila

Evo Morales Ayma is a man who wears many titles – coca grower, labor leader, and president of Bolivia.  Presiding over a country wherein 64 percent of citizens live in poverty conditions, this President possesses insights into their situation that his predecessors have lacked.  Born in the Andes Highlands in the colonial mining city of Oruro in 1959 to a small-time peasant farmer Dionisio and his wife Maria, Evo was one of seven children.  Like other farm families their village, the impoverished Morales clan endured the hardships of agricultural life in a challenging region susceptible to dramatic changes in weather, which include frost, hail, and drought which are frequent in the “Bolivian Altiplano”.  Like their harvesters, the Morales’ potato crops were in a constant struggle for survival.

The President has vivid memories of chewing on banana and orange peels that were dropped by bus passengers traveling through his village.  Life was so difficult for the family that four of the seven Morales children died before the age of two.  Despite enduring great hardship and loss, the President remains both matter-of-fact and even upbeat about his difficult childhood, observing, “That’s how life is in peasant families… What luck that three of us survived!” What President Morales took from his childhood were the moral principles his parents instilled in him and his surviving siblings as well as a deep concern for human rights and a commitment to his country’s economic development .

Having confronted adversity at an early age, the President never harbored any illusions that life in politics would be easy.  His career in the National Congress was cut short by his expulsion in 2002, which he contends served “to deepen his commitment to the people”.  By 2005, his political comeback was complete as the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party’s presidential candidate.  The charismatic leader marketed his indigenous background to cement unity within the disenfranchised masses of natives and “cholos” that had little voice in the Bolivia political system as those with European background governed Bolivia since the early days of the Republic.

Morales is infuriated by the notion that indigenous Bolivians are still regarded as “sub-national groups” when they should be the architects of their own political and social development.  He would be the first to admit that his strong indigenous grass-roots support led to his assuming the presidency after a landslide victory on January 22, 2006, the first indigenous individual to ever assume Bolivia’s highest political office.

The President remains as hardworking now as he was when he was a little boy on his father’s farm, working from Monday to Sunday and sleeping a mere four hours a nigh.  He wasted little time in initiating changes that would contribute to Bolivia’s economic prosperity and encourage development.  Within the first year, he reduced his own salary by 60 percent and those of other government officials at a savings of 61 million bolivianos in savings, which the President announced would be used for educational and health programs.  He raised the average minimum wage 13.63 percent and also increased physician and educator salaries.  The President addressed educational and medical care deficiencies by hiring more than 2,000 teachers and doctors and through the implementation of literacy programs that benefited 300,000 citizens.

The President said he expected his ambitious campaign would have a positive impact upon the country’s widespread illiteracy within a few months.  He also revealed he was investing $217 million U.S. dollars in primary school education. Evo Morales also said his socialist reform plan would provide state medical insurance for young people and senior citizens that had been previously denied coverage. Furthermore, Cuban volunteer physicians were imported to Bolivia to provide free medical care, and with the assistance of Cuba and neighbor Venezuela, the President reveals, “We have established eleven ophthalmology centers and sixteen surgical centers, which have served more than 200,000 people” .  By far, the President’s most aggressive action during his first term he believed strongly had both human rights and developmental implications.  His “Agrarian Revolution” targeted the historic practice of concentrating land into latifundios or large commercial estates while leaving the peasant farmers with little or no land.

Evo Morales prohibited the hoarding of land by landowners and supported the peasants in their efforts to grow food not only for their families and for their villages but also so they can turn a profits .  His programs and reforms succeeded for the now ” Plurinational State of Bolivia”  and its native people but also created great animosity to many which saw power and property decreased through the “Evo Year in Power”

Not surprisingly, on December 6, 2009, President Evo Morales was voted into a second term, receiving an astounding 63 percent of the popular vote.  He wasted no time in cementing the foundation he constructed in his first term by allocating funds to further assist the poverty-stricken rural citizens.  The President has established three cash-transfer programs that expedites funds to groups that are in the greatest need – public schools, elderly pensions, and pregnant women.  There are also incentives being provided for poor farm families so they will not have to seek employment elsewhere.  President Morales has also spearheaded public works programs that distributed more than 1,000 tractors to farmers in need, paved 840 roads, built 545 medical clinics and healthcare facilities, and financed water connections for 821,000 that have existed without water resources for far too long.

Despite criticism that President Morales has become as power hungry as his reported mentor Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he considers himself very much a man of the Bolivian people.  He explains, “In addition to being part of the Aymara nation and having lived in both the highlands of Oruro and the Cochabamba tropical area where the Quechua culture is predominant, maybe the most important thing is that I am a leader who came out of the social struggles of the country, from a situation of poverty, of knowing and experiencing the reality of most of my countrymen…  I really think that the most important thing is my life experience”.

The special connection this popular President has with his constituents is evident in the attitudes expressed by peasant housekeeper Adela Rojas, who declares she will remain a loyal supporter of ‘Evo’ “until the end”.  When asked why, she explained,  “Because Evo is us and we are Evo” .  Evo Morales is a leader with a clear vision of what the future of Bolivia should be.  Perhaps this is because he has never forgotten where he came from.
Garrigues, L.  (2007).  Bolivia looks back on Morales’ first year.  Indian Country Today, 26, A7.

O’Shaughnessy, H.  (2006).  Evo Morales: How long will Bolivia’s cocalero President last?  New Statesman & Society, 135(4776), 36.

Panizza, F., & Miorelli, R.  (2009).  Populism and democracy in Latin America.  Ethics & International Affairs, 23(1), 39-46.

Shultz, J.  (2010).  ‘Evonomics’ gets a second term in Bolivia.  NACLA Report on the Americas, 43(1), 4-5.

Trujillo, A.  (2007).  Evo Morales: Commitment to change.  Americas, 59(4), 14+.


© 2010, Carol Blenda Reyes Avila. All rights reserved’s-human-rights-and-development-issues/

1 Comment

  1. Bolivia

    November 24, 2011 @ 8:46 am


    Exelent Article, I think they are doing a good job but there is still much to do.

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