His idea of formal wear is a brown leather jacket over an open-collared shirt.
He is more at home leading street protests than wrangling deals in the corridors
of power. His fiery speaking style leaves no room for prepared texts.
Evo Morales assumes Bolivia's presidency Jan. 22 as an extreme outsider to
the country's politics, and as the first Indian president to rule an Andean
nation that has always been governed by people of European descent.
His triumph is causing concern in Washington because of his promises
to reverse the U.S.-backed campaign to end the growing of coca leaf, which is
used to make cocaine, and to nationalize Bolivia's gas and oil reserves.
Counting Cuba's Fidel Castro among his allies, he also is a strong
critic of free-market economics, and his election win was the latest in a string
of leftist victories in South American nations disenchanted with ruling elites,
endemic corruption and chronic poverty.
But the maverick style and street activism that helped the 46-year-old Morales
connect with the country's poor Indian majority could prove a liability once
he takes office.
``Evo Morales is an unpredictable politician,'' said Henry Oporto, a Bolivian
political analyst. ``He is a person who can say unexpected things without weighing
the consequences. Unfortunately, I don't think that is going to help him in
his role as president.''
While results from congressional voting have not been announced, calculations
by polling companies predict Morales' supporters will have a slim majority in
one house and a near tie in their other. That means he won't have the two-thirds
majority needed to pass major reforms and he will have to bargain with other
parties to advance his radical agenda.
After his surprisingly easy victory in the Dec. 17 election - his 54 percent
of the vote was the most popular support for a presidential candidate since
democracy was restored two decades ago - Morales acknowledged being ``a little
As president he will be faced with easing the social and political strife of
a country that has seen more than 200 coups, countercoups and street rebellions
in 180 years of independence.
Morales led Indian protests that ousted two presidents since 2003 using highway
blockades and mass demonstrations. Now, thanks to the same angry groundswell,
he will be on the inside, where any misstep could lead to the same kinds of
``It's still a big question how he's going to govern. Clearly if he wants to
be a successful president, he doesn't want the same fate as some of his predecessors,''
said Michael Shifter, a Latin American expert at Inter-American Dialogue, a
think tank in Washington.
How he will govern is anyone's guess. At this point, even whether he'll wear
a tie to his inauguration remains a mystery. ``We don't know,'' said Alex Contreras,
a close Morales adviser who heads the transition commission for protocol.
An Aymara Indian who grew up in poverty herding llamas and raising potatoes
in Bolivia's arid highlands, Morales migrated as a youth to the coca-growing
region of Chapare, where many poor farmers depend on small plots of the crop
to provide a livelihood for their families.
With an 11th grade education, the coca farmer emerged as an astute organizer
able to harness the anger of the poor and flex their political muscle in the
Given the new president's strong electoral mandate, Bolivia's 8.5 million people
are putting their hopes on his shoulders, and analysts say his opponents will
be under pressure to deal with him. That also will leave him no one else to
blame for failures.
``It is precisely the magnitude of his victory that places on him a much greater
responsibility because he will practically have no opposition,'' said Cayetano
Llobet, a Bolivian political analyst.
Morales, who promised during his campaign to be Washington's ``worst nightmare,''
already appears to be moderating his rhetoric.
In an interview with The Associated Press a week ago, he attributed his support
to the desire of Bolivians to rebel against ``the empire,'' referring to the
U.S. government. Later in the interview, however, he said he was open to dialogue
with Washington and will try ``diplomacy with any country.''
On his Web site he once wrote, ``Thanks to coca, we've made it through the
endless suffering caused by the white man's infamous war on drugs.'' But in
recent statements he has said that while he supports the growing of coca for
traditional uses - such as coca tea and medicinal purposes - he opposes cocaine
Seeking to calm worries of some voters who didn't support him, he tapped a
middle class intellectual to be his vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera.
Morales also says he plans to strengthen relations with state-owned foreign
energy companies as he seeks to assert ownership over Bolivia's large natural
gas reserves. He has assured the business community his government will not
confiscate energy company assets and will respect private property rights.
Still, Morales, who contends two decades of free-market policies have worsened
life for Bolivia's poor, said Friday that his government will ``change the economic
model.'' He offered no details, but Garcia Linera said Saturday that one aspect
would be a new tax on the wealthy.
``A Bolivian political cycle has ended,'' said Llobet, the analyst. ``Another
one is beginning. Exactly what will be the characteristics of this new political
cycle, it's too early to say.''