In a Democracy Now! special, we spend the hour with Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a Democracy Now! special: We spend the hour with Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of
Evo Morales first spoke before the UN General Assembly last year, where he dramatically brandished a coca leaf and vowed never to yield to US pressure to criminalize coca production. Morales’s rise to power began with his leadership of the coca growers union in
An Aymara Indian, Evo Morales became the country's first indigenous president when he was elected nearly two years ago with more popular support than any Bolivian leader in decades. Since then, he has moved to nationalize
Today, we spend the hour with Evo Morales, talking about indigenous rights, biofuels, the
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Last year was our first experience, my first time at the United Nations, as well as my first time in the
But today, the most important thing is to talk about the changes that we're forging in democracy through this cultural and democratic revolution in my country and at the same time share my enormous concern and to talk about things that are not just a regional or a local problem, but a global problem, and that's the environment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things that has happened, changes, obviously, is that just a few days ago, more than a week ago, the United Nations General Assembly passed an important declaration in terms of indigenous rights. Article 34, specifically, says that indigenous peoples have rights to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their customs. How important is this to
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, we'd like to salute, thank and recognize the countries of the world that approved and voted for this Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, just as fifty, sixty years ago, the United Nations for the first time recognized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it's only now, over 500 years later, that indigenous people’s rights are being recognized. Happily, there were only a few countries that didn't support this declaration.
And so, I want to say to the indigenous peoples, but also to the other peoples who live in the cities, that this is a very important thing that the struggle for indigenous people's rights has not been in vain. And it was very important to get organized to mobilize. It took over twenty years, but, working together, people were able to do this, to approve this declaration and establish that we are people that have rights just like anyone else on earth.
In some cases, it will be to recognize the rights of minorities in some countries, this declaration. In my country, it's to make sure that the majority is respected, and it will be respect for their institutions, for their structures. And this is an important contribution to unity within our country, but not because we have a declaration behind us recognized by the United Nations. It’s important that, even though this declaration exists, that doesn't mean that we, as the majority, are going to be vengeful or use this as the majority.
I want you all to know, through the means of communication like yourself, I want the people of the
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think the message was of the four countries that voted no:
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] It will be important for not the countries, but the people who lead those countries, their ambassadors, their leaders, to reflect and to embrace a recognition of indigenous people's rights. I’m convinced that indigenous peoples are the moral reserve of humanity. So amongst indigenous peoples, there’s not a mentality of being individualist, personalist or egotistical, and therefore there’s not an attitude of trying to take over resources and control them for themselves. How nice it would be if those four countries, or better, for the presidents of those four countries, and along with the social forces, and especially the indigenous peoples, join together to save humanity.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But in practical terms, implementing this in your country is obviously creating many issues. You have thirty-six different nationalities among the native people. And the battle now, the constitutional battle over whether you're going to have provincial autonomy or autonomy for these indigenous nations, how will that work itself out?
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, dialogue and concerting, coming together. You're right, though, when you recognize that there are some small groups in my country that still don’t recognize exclusion and racism as it exists in our country. And that's why I call on the countries that not only supported this declaration, but also the countries that didn't support this declaration, to come together and move forward to recognizing indigenous people’s rights, but without excluding anyone.
My government will guarantee departmental or state-level autonomies, but also local-level autonomies and indigenous people’s autonomies. A lot will depend on the specificities of these different regions. Sometimes there will be regional autonomies and local autonomies; sometimes there will be regional autonomies, as well as indigenous autonomies. And we’ll have to figure out how these different autonomies are going to work together. When we made our initial demands as indigenous, original peoples, there were people who reacted to and rejected our demands. But I want to tell these people now -- and some people are originally from a place that dates back to a thousand years, some are much more contemporary, but we all have to learn how to live together.
AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales. We'll come back to our conversation in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation with the president of
Democracy Now!, Juan Gonzalez and I sat down with President Morales at the Bolivian mission. Juan asked President Morales about the issue of biofuels.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the message that you're going to be bringing to the United Nations, as well, over the issue of the use of agricultural products for biofuels, that clearly in
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] From the time that biofuels were first talked about, we've seen a spiraling process of speculation of land. There’s a whole speculation on grains like wheat, not only at the regional level within countries, but also internationally. So, therefore, the cost of agricultural products rises. And this is a product of that moment from which, going forward, people have been talking about biofuels.
And personally, in our movement, as well, we're convinced that agricultural products should not be dedicated, directed towards automobiles, cars, and that lands be dedicated towards old rusted vehicles. First to people, before automobiles. And that’s our difference.
And we want to debate this, but we don't want to debate it just as governments or presidents. We want to debate with our peoples, with the social forces in our countries, and I would even dare to say, at the South American regional level, submit this to a referendum of the peoples of
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, you've just established diplomatic relations with
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, it’s important our peoples are from the culture of dialogue, so we have diplomatic relations with the
In my country, we're going to be opening commercial and diplomatic relations to establish relationships of complementarity so that we can resolve the social and economic problems that we confront. We're never going to establish diplomatic relations to wage aggression or to hurt or to declare wars or to get involved in arms races. We're not of the culture of death.
Moreover, I respect the technology, the industrial development in the area of gas and oil in
AMY GOODMAN: Just to follow up on that point, has the
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] The United States, nor any other country, can observe or comment or have anything to say about the relationships that we have with any other countries. We’re a small country, but we’re a sovereign country with dignity, with the right to establish relations with whoever we want. If the
AMY GOODMAN: Your vice president has denounced US funding of rightwing think tanks in
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Former ministers and vice minister of the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who, as you know, escaped to the United States, and the former President Banzer, who, may he rest in peace, as well as former President Tutu Quiroga, these former ministers are financed through foundations, NGOs, to create this counterweight to the government of Evo Morales. It’s impressive. And what we're asking for is that all international cooperation be transparent, that it come through formally the central government.
AMY GOODMAN: What are those groups pushing for?
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, these neoliberals, the rightwing organizations, the ones who sold out the country, as we say in
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the student protests that broke out recently there and the continuing battle over writing a new constitution. It's been more than thirteen months, and the Constituent Assembly, I understand, now is going to start meeting again. But the battle, especially over this issue of the capital for
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated]
The enemies of this deep structural transformation that we're pursuing, some of them have entered, are members of the Constituent Assembly, and they've been working from the very beginning, when the Constituent Assembly started on 6th of August, 2006, to undermine the process through the demand for two-thirds, the demand for autonomy, and now the demand to move the capital of the country.
This issue of where the capital is going to be located is not a national issue. It’s not a problem for the government. It’s an issue for just two departments. And there are families that don't love their country and who are not working for the majorities, who are working for those people who have not been respected, the indigenous majorities, they're talking about where the capital is going to be located as a tool to shut down the Constituent Assembly.
But what are we working for? What are we betting on? First, as the government and also as the indigenous movement, to make sure that the Constituent Assembly concludes successfully. It’s the best way to find unity, equality and justice, to forge that in my country.
And I would like to remember the words of a businessman, actually, from
And now, so that we have neither the protests nor the shooting war with bullets, we're pursuing this deep structural transformation through a democratic process, which is the Constituent Assembly. How are we doing this? Through the creation of writing a new constitution for the country.
Of course, it’s going to be difficult to have equality, but to make those differences between people smaller is possible. Early in the process, only weeks into the process, they said that Evo Morales was not going to respect private property. That was another attack, another attempt to undermine and cause the Constituent Assembly to fail. With the powerful people above, what we're trying to do is lift up the people, the humble people, from below, through using the strategic natural resources that we have to put them on a more equal footing.
And the other thing that they can't accept is, how is it that what they call the Indians, that they feel for the country and they're working for their people and that this Indian is governing well? This is something they can't tolerate. Two facts: the last time that
A political class, for them, government was business. It was enrichment. What they can't accept is that our corruption in
And in this situation, some sectors are talking about the re-election of Evo Morales, and so this is something that would have to be become constitutionally permitted. But what do the right, the neoliberal, the opposition, say to this? And they say we can negotiate anything, but not the re-election of this Indian. This is the problem. It's not a problem of where the capital of the country is located. And, of course, they never liked groups like the ones that you make reference to that will travel from
AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales. We'll return to the conclusion, where he talks about the war in
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation with the Bolivian President Evo Morales. The Bolivian Supreme Court recently asked the government to start extradition proceedings for the former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who lives here in the
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, the United States cannot, should not receive, protect delinquents from any part of the world. It is unconscionable that the
I hope the
JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. President, you said a few moments ago that you'd rather have protesters throwing rocks than using guns. In a few weeks, it will be the fortieth anniversary of the death of Che Guevara. He died in
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, in the ’40s, in the ’50s, in the ’60s -- of course, when I hadn’t been born yet -- my first perception was that people rose up in arms to struggle against the empire. Now, I see quite the opposite, that it’s the empire that’s raising up arms against the peoples. What I think is that back then, that the peoples, they got organized and struggled, looking for justice, for equality. And now I think that these transformations, these structural transformations, are being forged through democracies.
And from these two points of view, Che Guevara continues to be a symbol of someone who gave his life for the peoples, when in
And that’s where, for example, I respect Fidel Castro. In 2003, I was invited to a conference in
AMY GOODMAN: What is the effect of the war on
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] There is a feeling that leads to the rejection, the repudiation of the
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the issue of global warming. It's become a major increasing discussion in many governments and around the world. From the perspective of the indigenous people of
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] So if globalization does not admit difference and pluralism, if it’s a selective globalization, therefore it will be almost impossible to resolve environmental issues and save humanity. The most important contribution that indigenous peoples can make is to live in harmony with Mother Earth. We say the “Mother Earth,” because the earth gives us life, and neither the Mother Earth nor life can be a commodity. So we're talking about a profound change in the economic models and systems.
AMY GOODMAN: Several years ago, Father Roy Bourgeois and others who founded the anti-School of the Americas movement at Fort Benning, Georgia, asked that -- came and visited you in the palace and asked that Bolivia not send soldiers to train at the -- what used to be called the School of the Americas, a place where Banzer, the dictator, had trained. Other countries are considering this ban. I think
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] So, it's not just a question of not sending people. Perhaps it would be better to shut the School of the
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you perhaps a delicate question. You mentioned earlier your admiration for Fidel Castro. Fidel, before he stepped down, had been president for more than forty years, before he stepped down from day-to-day administration in the Cuban government. President Chavez now has been in office for two terms and is seeking to change the law to maintain himself in office. Do you think that the leader of a country, no matter how progressive, should have a limited amount of time in power?
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] To put those kinds of limits may not be the most democratic. Here, what’s important is the conscience of a people. And so, our proposal, there has to be a way to revoke leadership roles, but also to ratify leadership, and this is for mayors, for governors, for regional leaders, as well as for presidents. If they have the support of the people, then they have every right to be ratified in power. And mayors, governors and presidents, they can also be revoked, their mandates can be revoked before they finish their terms, if that’s the will of the people. In fact, I’m seeing at this point that, through ratifying and returning people to power, it actually becomes an incentive for them to do a good -- and continue to do a good and better job in their municipalities at the departmental levels in the positions that they hold, because the people have valued their work, and that's why they're ratified. But when they are not ratified, they take advantage of that fact, and they say, “OK, I’m on my way out the door, so now is the time to steal, as my mandate is ending.”
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of President Bush?
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Why would I have to evaluate President Bush? I respect your country. One concern that I have is that in
AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales. He speaks today to the UN General Assembly.
Reprinted from Democracy Now!