Bolivian President Evo Morales, on his first visit to Washington, addressed the Organization of American States (OAS) and a standing-room only audience of diplomats, scholars and students at the American University. Explaining the extraordinary transformations taking place in Bolivia in the past few years, his overall theme, as he himself defined, was visible change. Contrary to the Bush administration, who always antagonized him, and whose ambassador was declared persona non grata in Bolivia by the President, Evo Morales – who was called the Indian President – hoped bilateral relations under Obama – the Black President – will improve.
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Evo Morales in his own words
PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: In the latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, James Bond goes rogue against the MI6 and the CIA to defend a legally elected indigenous government in Bolivia. The true leader of an indigenous movement in Bolivia, now-President of Bolivia Evo Morales, came to Washington—his first official visit. He came here to the OAS, the Organization of American States, where 100 years ago this building was the home of the Pan-American Union. There is a pan-American union, but it’s not exactly going through the OAS. The true South American union now is going to the UNASUR, and it’s much more powerful for South Americans than the OAS. But Evo, anyway, came to Washington to explain to the members of the OAS, including Canada and the United States, what’s really happening in Bolivia legally. It’s a fabulous, extraordinary historical juncture. A few months ago—in fact only a few weeks ago the Bush administration, which sits a few yards from this building, was trying to overthrow Evo, and Philip Goldberg, the US ambassador in La Paz, was in intimate contact with separatist movements, which objective was to balkanize Bolivia. It didn’t happen, the Bush administration soon will be history, and now we’re going to have a new historical juncture. In his first public address and his first visit to Washington, Evo, the community organizer, spoke to a standing-room-only audience at the American University, addressing diplomats, scholars, and, most of all, students. It was a master class on the situation on the ground in Bolivia in these past few years.
EVO MORALES, BOLIVIAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): We got where we are first of all because of mistakes by the right, and also because of the mistakes of the US Embassy, but also because of the conscience of the Bolivian people. Until recently, the Armed Forces have been paying the invoice of the military dictatorships. In the new constitution—forgive me if you North Americans do not agree with this—we decided that it’s unacceptable to have any foreign military bases in Bolivia. I praise the fact that our Armed Forces respect the Constitution and democracy. This is changing Latin America. I think there won’t be any more military coups after Venezuela. We have to fight against narco-trafficking, but not by sending the CIA or the national police or the army, or suppress demonstrations by the cocalero peasant movement. Cocaine, the drug, is not part of the indigenous culture. If we’re talking about a drug, it’s alcoholism, not cocaine. This constitution recognizes the coca leaf as a natural product.
ESCOBAR: Evo was very forceful on the partial nationalization of the oil and gas industry in Bolivia.
MORALES: Some technicians told me, “You need to nationalize, but you cannot interfere with companies’ profits.” Others told me 60 percent for the state and 40 percent for the companies. At the most they said 70 percent for the state and 30 percent for the companies. So I said, “Why not change it all? Eighty-two percent for the state and 18 percent for the companies.” This change, post-nationalization, improved the national economy. In 2005, the last year of the neoliberal governments, we got only 300 million dollars from oil and gas revenues. Last year we got 2 billion dollars. For a country of 10 million people, this money allows us to increasingly solve our problems, distributed in local governments, municipalities, public universities. Nationalization allowed us not to have a fiscal deficit. In the first year of my government, 2006, we had a surplus. Same for the second year and for this year. This year we are eradicating illiteracy. Before December 2005 we will declare Bolivia an illiteracy-free territory. We keep making progress.
ESCOBAR: He explained what indigenous democracy and the new Bolivian constitution are all about.
MORALES: In indigenous democracy there are no majorities and minorities. This is a concept imported from the West. Indigenous democracy is all about consensus: if there is a problem, there is a proposal; and if that satisfies everybody, it’s approved by consensus. I’m here in the United States to thank the international community for recognizing we were right in Bolivia. The national government will guarantee a united Bolivia with autonomies departmental, regional, and indigenous. We have to reconcile the autonomous statutes with the new constitution—a pluri-national state, home for mestizos, Criollos, Aymaras, Quechuas, blacks, all. And we are also betting on a plural economy with respect for private property, state property, and communal property, the collective property of cooperative associations. We decided that basic services—water, electricity, telephones—are a human right and as such cannot be private enterprises. How is it possible for water to become a private business? In this new Bolivian constitution we state that basic services are a human right, thus have to be a public service. I think this makes the Bolivian Constitution very progressive.
ESCOBAR: At the OAS he went further, praising the newfound Latin American unity.
MORALES: I feel that Mother Earth continues to suffer. We are advancing in our South American unity, and I’m also convinced that if we make good use of our natural resources, Latin America can be a source of hope for humanity. And we are also an environmental reserve. If we organize ourselves to take care of the Amazon Rainforest, Latin America will be a solution for humanity on this planet.
ESCOBAR: But what about mending the nowadays-very-thorny relationship between Bolivia and the US?
MORALES: Look, I just had talks with Senate and Congress members. They complained about why I declared the US ambassador persona non grata, why I indefinitely suspended the activities of the DEA. You as North Americans should know the entire world condemned these groups that threaten democracy and the rule of law—except the US, via its ambassador. We want to improve relations. I think that the struggle of our ancestors has not been in vain. We want to improve relations with the president-elect. There should be respect, cooperation, and trade between our two countries. There was talk about change, and then I said that in Bolivia I was called the “Indian president.” In the US there’s a black president. That’s visible change.
ESCOBAR: We’re going to have a presidente Indio, an Indian president, as Evo qualified himself, and a presidente negro, a black president, Barack Obama, starting January. So true history will really be running when the Indio and the negro will meet and maybe start a new era of cooperation and mutual understanding between the Americas.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.