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Bolivia's Evo Morales Wins Hearts and Minds in US

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  • George Lessard
    Bolivia s Evo Morales Wins Hearts and Minds in US by Deborah James and Medea Benjamin Published on Monday, October 1, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2007
      Bolivia's Evo Morales Wins Hearts and Minds in US

      by Deborah James and Medea Benjamin

      Published on Monday, October 1, 2007 by


      While Iranian President Ahmedinejad stole the headlines
      during the United Nations meeting last week in New
      York, Bolivia's President Evo Morales - a humble coca
      farmer, former llama herder and union organizer - stole
      the hearts of the American people. At public events and
      media appearances, Bolivia's first-ever indigenous
      president reached out to the American people to
      dialogue directly on issues of democracy, environmental
      sustainability, and social and economic justice.

      Morales appeared at a public event packed with
      representatives of New York's Latino, labor, and other
      communities, speaking for 90 minutes - without notes -
      about how he came to power, and about his government's
      efforts to de-colonize the nation, the poorest in South
      America. At first, he said, community organizations did
      not want to enter the cesspool of politics. But they
      realized that if they wanted the government to act in
      the interest of the poor Indigenous majority, they were
      going to have to make alliances with other social
      movements, win political representation democratically,
      and then transform the government.

      Now having been elected to office, they have a clear
      mandate based on the urgent needs of the majority: to
      organize a Constitutional Assembly to rewrite the
      Constitution (controversial with the traditional
      elites, but well on its way), engage in a comprehensive
      program of land reform and decriminalize the production
      of coca for domestic use (in progress), and reclaim
      control over the oil and gas industries (mission

      While other heads of state were meeting with bankers
      and billionaires, Morales asked his staff to set up a
      meeting with U.S. grassroots leaders so he could learn
      about our struggles and how we could work together. The
      meeting included high-ranking labor leaders, immigrant
      organizers, Indigenous leaders, peace activists and
      environmentalists. "I've lived in New York during a lot
      of UN meetings, and I've never seen a president reach
      out to the labor community like Evo did today,"
      remarked Ed Ott, Executive Director of the New York
      City Central Labor Council.

      The President listened patiently while U.S. organizers
      talked about efforts to stop the war in Iraq,
      injustices in the prison system, organizing efforts of
      low-wage immigrant workers, struggles for Indigenous
      rights and the difficulties of getting the Bush
      administration to seriously address the crisis of
      climate change. "For a farmer to become President, that
      is a dream come true!" commented Niel Ritchie,
      president of the League of Rural Voters. "Listening to
      President Morales, it's so easy to see how our current
      trade model has wreaked havoc on farmers in the U.S. as
      well as in Bolivia."

      His most widespread outreach, however, was on the Daily
      Show with Jon Stewart, who also seemed captivated by
      this Indigenous farmer-turned-president. Speaking
      through an interpreter, Morales told millions of
      Americans how his government's policies have brought
      hundreds of millions of dollars for the nation's poor -
      that would have gone to foreign corporate coffers -
      through the nationalization of oil and gas. Revenues
      from hydrocarbons, mostly natural gas, have increased
      from $440 million in 2004 to over $1.5 billion in 2006
      - a significant amount in Bolivia's economy, as it is
      an increase from 5 percent of GDP to over 13 percent of
      GDP. This year revenues will likely top $2 billion, he
      said. With a twinkle in his eye as he made a measured
      critique of the Bush administration's policies, he said
      that in this new century, armies should save lives
      through humanitarian aid, not take lives.
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