Monday, January 23, 2006

Evo Morales Sworn In as Bolivia's New President

Morales begins to form government

Bolivian leftist may bring resources under state control

Monday, January 23, 2006 Posted: 0655 GMT (1455 HKT)


Bolivia's new president, Evo Morales, waves Sunday after his inauguration in La Paz.

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivia's first Indian president was working to form a new leftist government Monday, a day after he pledged in his inaugural speech to transform the poor Andean nation by bringing its natural resources under state control.

Bolivians were waiting to see if Evo Morales' Cabinet choices, which he is expected to announce on his first day in office, will shed light on whether the former street activist will take a market-friendly approach or a more radical path at the outset of his five-year term.

Morales, who counts Cuba's Fidel Castro and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as his political allies, is the latest leftist in Latin America to be swept to power by people weary of sluggish economies and free-market policies.

"I wish to tell you the people, especially the Quechua and Aymara people, you now hold this presidency. We are going to finish off the colonial state and the neoliberal economic model," said Morales as he addressed an estimated 100,000 people who crammed the city center after his inauguration Sunday.

Indians, many in brightly colored wool caps and ponchos, cheered along with leftist sympathizers, miners and students on the cobblestone plaza outside Congress during Morales' inaugural address earlier Sunday. Firecrackers boomed and some Indians blew long, wailing notes on cow horns.

"I wish to tell you, my Indian brothers, that the 500-year indigenous and popular campaign of resistance has not been in vain," Morales said.

Morales recalled past decades of harsh discrimination as something akin to apartheid-era South Africa, adding "Bolivia seems like South Africa," that Indians weren't allowed in the very plaza where the inaugural ceremony was taking place.

"Evo, presidente!" chanted a jubilant crowd at the rally in La Paz late Sunday. Morales shouted "Viva Bolivia!" in his native Aymara Indian language as firecrackers boomed overhead.

The 46-year-old son of a peasant farmer, Morales said in his inaugural speech that his socialist government would reshape Bolivia and he lashed out at free market economic prescriptions, calling them a failure in easing chronic poverty here.

Sunday's inauguration was attended by 11 national leaders, including left-leaning presidents Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Ricardo Lagos of Chile.

A man dressed as a sacred condor madly flapped his feathered wings as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez left the Congress, trying to call his attention. "Chavez!

Chavez!" the crowd shouted as the Venezuelan leader then joined Morales on a balcony of the presidential palace.

People traveled from all over Latin America to witness the Morales inauguration, including 18-year-old Chilean Miguel Gutierrez, who sported a red T-shirt with the image of socialist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

"I support Evo Morales because I believe this is a radical change," Gutierrez said. "He's going to unite Chavez and all the rest of the progressive world. He is going to change the direction of South America."

Dressed casually in an open-collar shirt and alpaca wool jacket, Morales vowed his leftist Movement Toward Socialism would be stubbornly independent, steering clear of outside influences. While he said he had a positive meeting with Thomas Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state on the eve of his inauguration, Morales vowed he would not "submit" to any outside powers.

Morales rose to power as a leader of the coca leaf farmers and spent years in an often violent struggle against Washington-backed coca eradication programs aimed at controlling the leaf that can be made into cocaine. The leaf also has traditional uses among Bolivians.

He has also promised to consolidate control over Bolivia's abundant natural gas reserves and call a constitutional assembly this year to answer Indian demands for a greater share in power at all levels.

Nonetheless, he said he would rule "with all and for all" and would not seek revenge for the past. And while he accused foreigners of looting Bolivia's national resources since the Spanish conquest, Morales repeated his pledge to respect property rights that he made after winning the presidency last month in a landslide.

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