Evo Morales was sworn in as Bolivia’s president before assembled foreign dignitaries at the congressional building in La Paz Jan. 22, dressed in a sports jacket and white shirt but no tie. One day before, he celebrated with his indigenous supporters at the pre-Columbian ruins of Tiwanaku, dressed in full indigenous regalia, including a head-dress embroidered with the wiphala, symbol of the Quechua-Aymara peoples. This marked the first time that Bolivia’s traditional indigenous authorities, known as mallkus (condors), handed over a staff of command and ceremonial vestments to a Bolivian president-elect. (IPS, Jan. 19)
Draped in a crimson robe and bearing a staff inlaid with silver and gold and adorned with condor heads, the barefoot Evo Morales thanked Father Sun (Pachacamac) and Mother Earth (Pachamama) for his election as this country’s first indigenous leader.
Tens of thousands of indigenous Bolivians, also in traditional dress, performed dances banned by the Spanish conquerors, blew ram horns, burned incense, waved banners shaped like coca leaves and shouted “Viva Evo! Our time has come!”
“The time has come to change the evil history of plunder of our natural resources, of discrimination, of humiliation, of hatred…toward indigenous people in Bolivia and all of Latin America,” an emotional Morales declared during the ceremony. “With the force of the people, we will put an end to the colonial state and the neo-liberal model.” (Newsday, Jan. 21)
His rhetoric was hardly more restrained at the official inauguration in La Paz the following day. “It is not right to concentrate capital in the hands of a few while the poor die of hunger,” a fist-clenching Morales declared in his inauguration speech before Bolivia’s Congress. “… We don’t want Bolivia and its economic resources held hostage by the United States or Europe.” (Newsday, Jan. 23)
He also asked for a moment of silence for Inca martyrs, for Che Guevara, who was martyred in Bolivia in 1967, and “the millions of humans who have fallen in all of Latin America.” He praised Fidel Castro of Cuba, and he warned that the United States must not use the War on Drugs “as an excuse” to “dominate and submit other peoples.”
“I want to say to you, my Indian brothers concentrated here in Bolivia, that the 500-year campaign of resistance has not been in vain,” Morales said in his official remarks. “This democratic, cultural fight is part of the fight of our ancestors, it is the continuity of the fight of Tupac Katari, it is a continuity of the fight of Che Guevara.”
Outside in the central plaza of La Paz, tens of thousands of people celebrated, including Aymara and Quechua indigenous people, tin and silver miners, coca growers and international leftists. They blew cow horns, danced to brass bands and waved the seven-colored wipala flag. By evening, Morales and his vice president, Alvaro Garcia, a former leader of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army who spent five years in jail for rebellion, had joined them. (NYT, Jan. 23)
See our last post on Bolivia.