Bolivian President Evo Morales sits in front of a picture made out of coca leaves depicting leftist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara. AP
Bolivia's President Evo Morales, 46, talks to DER SPIEGEL about reform
plans for his country, socialism in Latin America, and the often tense relations
of the region's leftists with the United States.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, why is such a large part of Latin
America moving to the left?
Morales: Injustice, inequality and the poverty of the masses
compel us to seek better living conditions. Bolivia's majority Indian population
was always excluded, politically oppressed and culturally alienated. Our national
wealth, our raw materials, was plundered. Indios were once treated like animals
here. In the 1930s and 40s, they were sprayed with DDT to kill the vermin on
their skin and in their hair whenever they came into the city. My mother wasn't
even allowed to set foot in the capital of her native region, Oruro. Now we're
in the government and in parliament. For me, being leftist means fighting against
injustice and inequality but, most of all, we want to live well.
SPIEGEL: You called a constitutional convention to establish
a new Bolivian republic. What should the new Bolivia look like?
Morales: We don't want to oppress or exclude anyone. The new
republic should be based on diversity, respect and equal rights for all. There
is a lot to do. Child mortality is frighteningly high. I had six siblings and
four them died. In the countryside, half of all children die before reaching
their first birthday.
SPIEGEL: Your socialist party, MAS, does not have the necessary
two-thirds majority amend the constitution. Do you now plan to negotiate with
other political factions?
Morales: We are always open to talks. Dialogue is the basis
of Indian culture, and we don't want to make any enemies. Political and ideological
adversaries, perhaps, but not enemies.
SPIEGEL: Why did you temporarily suspend the nationalization
of natural resources, one of your administration's most important projects?
Does Bolivia lack the know-how to extract its raw materials?
Morales: We are continuing to negotiate with the companies
in question. The current lack of investment has nothing to do with nationalization.
It's the fault of the right-wing government of (former president) Tuto Quiroga,
who stopped all investment in natural gas production in 2001 because, as he
claimed, there was no domestic market for natural gas in Bolivia. We plan to
start drilling again. We have signed a delivery agreement for natural gas with
Argentina, and we are also cooperating with Venezuela. We have signed a contract
to work an iron mine with an Indian company. This will create 7,000 direct and
10,000 indirect jobs. We have negotiated much better prices and terms than our
SPIEGEL: But there are major problems with Brazil. Bolivia
is demanding a higher price for natural gas shipments. Doesn't this harm your
relationship with (Brazilian) President Luiz Inácio "Lula"
Morales: Lula is showing his solidarity. He behaves like a
big brother. But we are having problems with Petrobras, the Brazilian energy
company. The negotiations are very difficult, but we are optimistic.
SPIEGEL: Petrobras has threatened to end all of its investments
Morales: This isn't coming from the Brazilian government,
but from a few Petrobras executives. They print these threats in the press to
put us under pressure. Brazil is a major power, but it has to treat us with
respect. CompaZero Lula told me that there will be a new agreement, and that
he even wants to import more gas.
SPIEGEL: Bolivia doesn't sell natural gas to Chile because
the Chileans took away Bolivia's access to the sea in a war more than 120 years
ago. Now a socialist is in power in Chile. Will you supply them with natural
Morales: We want to overcome our historical problems with
Chile. The sea has divided us and the sea must bring us back together again.
Chile has agreed, for the first time, to talk about sea access for Bolivia.
That's a huge step forward. The Chilean president came to my inauguration, and
I attended (Chilean President) Michelle Bachelet's inauguration in Santiago.
We complement each other. Chile needs our natural resources and we need access
to the sea. Under those circumstances, it must be possible to find a solution
in the interest of both countries.
SPIEGEL: What influence did Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
have on the nationalization of Bolivia's natural resources?
Morales is close to Latin America's other leading leftists Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. AP/Granma
Morales: None whatsoever. Neither Cuba nor Venezuela was involved.
I managed the nationalization myself. Only seven of my closest associates knew
about the decree and the date. Although I did meet Chavez and (Cuban leader)
Fidel Castro in Cuba a few days before the announcement, we didn't talk about
nationalization. I had already signed the decree before I departed for Cuba,
and the vice president gave it to the cabinet. When Fidel asked me in Cuba how
far the project had progressed, I told him that we planned to announce the nationalization
in the coming days, but I didn't give him a date. Fidel warned me to wait until
the constitutional convention. Chavez wasn't aware of anything.
SPIEGEL: Chavez wants to install a socialism for the 21st
century in Venezuela. His ideological advisor Heinz Dieterich, a German, was
recently in Bolivia. Do you intend to introduce socialism in Bolivia?
Morales: If socialism means that we live well, that there
is equality and justice, and that we have no social and economic problems, then
I welcome it.
SPIEGEL: You admire Fidel Castro as the "grandfather
of all Latin American revolutionaries." What have you learned from him?
Morales: Solidarity, most of all. Fidel helps us a great deal.
He has donated seven eye clinics and 20 basic hospitals. Cuban doctors have
already performed 30,000 free cataract operations for Bolivians. Five thousand
Bolivians from poor backgrounds are studying medicine at no charge in Cuba.
SPIEGEL: But Bolivian doctors are protesting the Cubans' presence.
They say that they deprive them of their livelihood.
Morales: The Bolivian state doesn't pay the Cuban doctors
any salaries, so they're not taking anything away from the Bolivians.
SPIEGEL: Do you know how Castro is doing?
Morales: Yes, I spoke with him on the phone today. He has
been feeling better for the last two days. He told me that he'll be well enough
to attend the summit of nonaligned nations in Havana in September.
SPIEGEL: And he'll give a speech then?
Morales: Certainly. It's an opportunity he won't miss.
SPIEGEL: The Americans are worried that Chavez is gaining
too much influence. Aren't you making yourself dependent on Venezuela?
Morales: What unites us with Chavez is the concept of the
integration of South America. This is the old dream of a great fatherland, a
dream that existed even before the Spanish conquest, and Simon Bolivar fought
for it later on. We want a South America modeled after the European Union, with
a currency like the euro, one that's worth more than the dollar. Chavez's oil
is unimportant for Bolivia. We only get diesel under favorable terms. But we
are not dependent on Venezuela. We complement each other. Venezuela shares its
wealth with other countries, but that doesn't make us subordinate.
SPIEGEL: The Latin American left is fracturing into a moderate,
social democratic current, led by Lula and Bachelet, and a radical, populist
movement represented by Castro, Chavez and yourself. Isn't Chavez dividing the
Morales: There are social democrats and others who are marching
more in the direction of equality, whether you call them socialists or communists.
But at least Latin America no longer has racist or fascist presidents like it
did in the past. Capitalism has only hurt Latin America.
SPIEGEL: You are the first Indian president in Bolivian history.
What role will indigenous culture play in your government?
Morales: We must combine our social consciousness with professional
competency. In my administration, intellectuals from the upper class can be
cabinet ministers or ambassadors, as can members of Indian ethnic groups.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the Indian peoples have developed
a better social model than the white, Western democracies?
Morales: There was no private property in the past. Everything
was communal property. In the Indian community where I was born, everything
belonged to the community. This way of life is more equitable. We Indians are
Latin America's moral reserve. We act according to a universal law that consists
of three basic principles: do not steal, do not lie and do not be idle. This
trilogy will also serve as the basis of our new constitution.
Bolivian soldiers guard the main gate to the San Alberto gas plant in the southern state of Tarija, where President Evo Morales announced the nationalization of the country's petroleum industry last spring. Reuters
SPIEGEL: Is it true that all government employees will be
required to learn the Indian languages Quechua, Aymara und Guaraní in
Morales: Public servants in the cities are required to learn
the language of their region. If we already speak Spanish in Bolivia, we should
also be fluent in our own languages.
SPIEGEL: Are the whites treating the Indians better, now that
you're in power?
Morales: It's gotten a lot better. The middle class, intellectuals
and the self-employed are now proud of their Indian roots. Unfortunately, some
oligarchic groups continue to treat us as being inferior.
SPIEGEL: Some critics claim that the Indians in Bolivia are
now racist toward the whites.
Morales: That's part of a dirty war the mass media are waging
against us. Wealthy, racist businessmen own much of the media.
SPIEGEL: The Catholic Church has accused you of wanting to
reform religious instruction. Will there be no freedom of religion in Bolivia?
Morales: I am Catholic. Freedom of religion isn't at issue.
But I am opposed to a monopoly when it comes to faith.
SPIEGEL: Some large landowners have threatened violent
resistance to the planned land reforms. Whose land do you intend to seize?
Morales: We will expropriate large land holdings that are
not being farmed. But we want democratic and peaceful agrarian reform. The 1952
land reform led to the creation of many tiny, unproductive parcels in the Andean
SPIEGEL: Bolivia is divided into the rich provinces in the
east and the poor Andean highlands. There is a strong movement for autonomy
in the east. Is the country at risk of breaking apart?
Morales: This is what a few fascist, oligarchic groups want.
But they lost the vote over the constitutional convention.
SPIEGEL: Bolivia is an important narcotics producer. Your
predecessors had illegal coca plantations destroyed. Do you intend to do the
Bolivian President Evo Morales (R) and his vice-president Alvaro Garcia wear wreaths of coca leaves during a visit to the Chapare region about 600 km southeast from La Paz. Reuters
Morales: From our standpoint, coca should be neither destroyed
nor completely legalized. Farming should be controlled by the state and by the
coca farmers' unions. We have launched an international campaign to legalize
coca leaves, and we want the United Nations to remove coca from its list of
toxic substances. Scientists proved long ago that coca leaves are not toxic.
We decided on a voluntary reduction in the amount of acreage being farmed.
SPIEGEL: But the United States claims that the majority of
the coca harvest ends up in the cocaine trade.
Morales: The Americans say all kinds of things. They accuse
us of not fulfilling the conditions of their development aid. My pro-capitalist
predecessor administrations supported the massacre of coca farmers. More than
800 campesinos died in the war on drugs. The United States is using its war
on drugs as an excuse to expand its control over Latin America.
SPIEGEL: The American Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA, has
agents stationed in Bolivia who advise the military and the police in their
efforts to combat the drug trade. Will you be sending them home now?
Morales: They're still here, but they are no longer in uniform
or armed, as they were before.
SPIEGEL: How is your relationship with the United States?
Do you plan to travel to Washington?
Morales: A meeting with (US President) George W. Bush is not
planned. I do intend to travel to New York to visit the UN General Assembly.
When I was still a member of parliament, the Americans didn't let me into the
country. But heads of state don't need a visa to travel to the UN in New York.
SPIEGEL: You broke your nose while playing soccer a few weeks
ago. Are you playing less these days?
Morales: Does my nose still look crooked? Playing sports has
always been my greatest pleasure. I don't smoke, I hardly drink alcohol and
I rarely dance, although I used to play the trumpet. Sports helped get me into
the presidential palace. My first position in the union was that of sports secretary.
I was head of a soccer club in the countryside when I was 13.
SPIEGEL: Why don't you wear a tie?
Morales: I never wore a tie voluntarily, even though I was
forced to wear one for photos when I was young and for official events at school.
I used to wrap my tie in a newspaper, and whenever the teacher checked I would
quickly put it on again. I'm not used to it. Most Bolivians don't wear ties.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, thank you for speaking with us.
The interview was conducted by Jens Glüsing and Hans Hoyng and was
translated from German by Christopher Sultan.
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