"In our culture, there is a cosmic law. Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't be lazy ... in our culture, honesty is very important. I'm convinced still that it was that honesty that allowed me to arrive at the presidency."
That was Bolivian President Evo Morales in an interview during his first trip to the
Morales, an Aymara Indian, is the first indigenous president in
The workday for the president and his Cabinet begins at and often goes past There is no hint of corruption in the presidency, nor would it be tolerated. And as he passed his first year in office last month, the benefits of honest government were showing.
In the last year the government's revenue from hydrocarbons (mostly natural gas) has increased by more than US$340 million, an amount that - relative to
The Morales government has been investing in the poor: for example, it has approved a program of free reproductive health services for women, is expanding health care to children and people over 60, and building rural clinics. More than 5 million acres of previously state-owned land have been distributed to people in the countryside, and the government has plans to redistribute an area the size of
Trying something different
These are all reforms that Morales promised in his electoral campaign, which he won with the largest margin in
Not everyone sees it that way. Last month former U.S. Intelligence Chief John Negroponte (now a deputy in the State Department), stated that democracy is "at risk" in
This obscures what is really happening in
The Bolivians tried
But the government has maintained good relations with
But it appears to learn from its mistakes, and has avoided the repression deployed by its predecessors - the prior government killed dozens of people in the streets - even in the face of violent protests. It faces many daunting challenges, mostly in putting together an efficient and effective government at all levels and implementing a development strategy that can reduce the country's dependence on natural resources.
But honest government at the top is a good start, and worthy of respect.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in