"I feel I’m more of a syndicalist leader than a President”
(Página/12, my translation follows.-) The Bolivian Air Force’s helicopter takes flight and in a few minutes one can see the infinite and arid extensions of the Altiplano. The trip is to the Pampa Aullagas community, the “lost Atlantis” –according to the British cartographer Jim Allen- and center of a regional llama and quinoa trade fair.
The duration of the trip was the time president Evo Morales gave to Página/12 to talk about his first five months in government and his next visit to Buenos Aires, were he’ll meet Néstor Kirchner in the town of Hurlingham and sign an accord to raise the price of natural gas exported to Argentina.
A short time before arrival, Evo Morales looks at a dot in the landscape and remembers “in that little town I made 100 dollars playing for the Imperial band” he’s visibly touched; minutes later the helicopter flies over his old adobe house in Orinoca. “Every time I come back my family and friends make me cry”, he confesses. In the middle of those remembrances, Morales surveys the topics of the day and his government, and calls Kirchner ‘a South American patriot”.
- What accord are you signing Thursday 29 with Néstor Krichner?
- Fundamentally, volumes and price of natural gas exports. But also other aspects like investment and credits to industrialize natural gas in our territory and other productive projects. We are also working between at a diplomatic level in topics related to enhancing the [quality of life] conditions of Bolivian residents in Argentina.
- Do you believe Kirchner is part of the “new nationalism” current running through Latin America?
- Yes, of course, he’s part of the Latin American patriotic [current] since the moment he started to dignify Argentina by opposing the intrusion of the United States.
- The Bolivian opposition says that you have only changed dependence to the United States for dependence to Venezuela…
- There’s no dependence to Venezuela and Cuba, these to sister nations have expressed great and unconditional solidarity in favor of Latin American integration. And we recognize that help, for instance Cuba has helped us in the alphabetization issue just as countries like Holland, Denmark, Sweden or Canada. Italy or Spain helps us with road and irrigation projects, Argentina helped with medicine and food during natural disasters. I want to express my solidarity to the Argentinean airmen who have died in Bolivia for solidarity. Why does Podemos fear Hugo Chávez? Since Chávez has confronted the United States, the instruments of Bush’s empire, like Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, also confront Chávez. There’s no intromission, there is solidarity and cooperation, thanks to Venezuelan investment there’s going to be industrialization of our gas.
- Did the Chávez visits and his speeches in Bolivia damage the relationship with the United States’ embassy?
- The embassy and the US government have a defined line: attack, provoke and conspire against our governments. There’s an example, Leonilda Zurita, when she was a coca-grower leader she had a visa to the US and now that she’s a senator she doesn’t; the same with the water vice minister René Orellana. When the [US] diplomatic corps came to visit me only the ambassador was absent, and that night we invited congressmen, senators and ministers for a dinner. Those are provocations. Second, the North American military presence in Bolivia, camouflaged as qechua students, when according to trustworthy sources, they are doing intelligence. It’s not that the arrival of Chávez affects or doesn’t affect [relations], the United States’ position is defined: to conspire against our government.
- Colombia and Peru already signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and Venezuela [Chávez] said “the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) is dead”, why insist in resuscitating a block in which you are now pro tempore president?
- If the CAN returned to its foundational principles, which are to strengthen the national and regional economies, it would be very different. CAN was weakened by the Free Trade Agreements, which destroy the small producer and the farming communities. We have the obligation to return to those principles and strengthen the block, but not to benefit the transnational economy, but the popular and communal economy of the Andean region.
- What is your balance after five months in the government?
- In five months we’ve consolidated as government and addressed social demands and, at the same time addressed structural issues. We have increased salaries and derogated labor flexibility; we advanced alphabetization, national ID and health policies for the poor, like Operation ‘Miracle’. All of this accompanied by strong austerity and anti-corruption measures. In the structural space, we’ve nationalized hydrocarbons and approved a law to call for the Constituent Assembly, which will‘re-found’ our country; in these five months we’ve followed the slogan of mandating while obeying and today we enjoy great support from the Bolivian people.
- A while ago, you declared to be comfortable with the “comrade president” or “brother president” denomination, what distinguishes Evo the president with Evo the syndicate leader?
-I feel I’m more of a syndicalist leader than President of the Republic, sometimes I don’t even believe I’m the president. I more like (Más me gusta) than they call me Evo, comrade Evo, given that it shows more trust. Presidential security used to call me Mr. President, now they only call me President or ‘Presi’. We eat as equals and that generated trust with people from the Police or the Armed Forces. Y don’t trust that ‘Mr. President’ thing, I like ‘brother president’ or ‘comrade president’, it’s part of the friendliness my comrades express.
- Why are you still president of the six Chapare coca-grower federations?
- It was the unanimous will of the six federations, besides it’s a guarantee for them, who are my extended family. Through my activities in the farmer’s union movement I learned my politics, we marched together, faced repression, mourned the dead and wounded of the Chapare, and we danced and partied our triumphs together. It’s something I’ll never forget. Because of that brotherhood I accepted the role as union directive,
- The medical corporations (?) reject the presence of Cuban physicians, what is the government’s response?
- Some doctors say “out with the Cubans”, but those doctors don’t have any feelings with the national majorities, the poor and the indigenous, who, for the first time have free healthcare (sic). The ophthalmologic centers built with Cuban cooperation have state-of-the-art technology, specialists and I’m very sorry that some doctors oppose the idea when the great majority of the population supports it. Bolivian doctors threat the indigenous as stinking pigs, while Cubans work with a lot of love and friendship.
- You recently accused the Unitel’s owners of acquiring land illegally, and announced your government would promote communitarian radios and alternative media, what is your relation with the press and other communicators?
- Businessmen shouldn’t be the only ones with access to the media, the poor, the farmers, also have the right to own their own communication channels. Today the only opposition we have is the big media corporations, who defend the interests of a fistful of families who lived off politics and concentrated the economic power. That has to change; they attack the popular movement and the MAS government every day.
- How far is your government going with the ‘agrarian revolution’?
- We are beginning to prepare the agrarian revolution, which is not a simple distribution or redistribution of land, but markets for the products and mechanization of the fields. We have begun with fiscal lands and we will continue with the latifundios that don’t have an economic function.
- Many people say ‘why would we want a constituent assembly, if we already have a president that represents the social movements’. What then is the constituent assembly for?
- The constituent assembly is not only to have an indigenous president, but to peacefully change the structure of the State, it’s to recover the territory and natural resources, incorporate communitarian justice –currently justice is corrupt- and re-found our nation incorporating the national majorities. That way we will reverse Bolivia’s original sin: having been founded excluding ninety percent of its population.
- During the [electoral] campaign, you declared yourself a socialist, are you still a socialist?
- Of course, that’s the goal.
Notes and Sources:
. - Original interview by the Argentinean daily Página 12 available in http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-69050-2006-06-26.html as of July 10, 2006, original interview by Pablo Stefanoni. I have tried to keep Evo’s grammar and other language idiosyncrasies as close to the real thing as possible. This is certainly not the interview I (or any other non Evo-apologists) would have conducted, but there are some priceless pieces of demagoguery (the last line of paragraph 10 is specially touching) which shouldn’t go unrecorded. As always I encourage participation in the comments section.
Tag: South America, Bolivia, Intervie, Evo+Morales, Cuba, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela, Demagogia.