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Evo Morales
Morales by a Bolivian flag
Morales in 2018
65th President of Bolivia
In office
22 January 2006 – 10 November 2019
Vice President Álvaro García Linera
Preceded by Eduardo Rodríguez
Succeeded by Jeanine Áñez
President pro tempore of CELAC
In office
14 January 2019 – 10 November 2019
Preceded by Salvador Sánchez Cerén
Succeeded by Jeanine Áñez
President pro tempore of UNASUR
In role
17 April 2018 – 16 April 2019
Preceded by Mauricio Macri
Succeeded by Vacant
Leader of the Movement for Socialism
Assumed office
1 January 1998
Preceded by Party established
Member of the Chamber of Deputies
from Cochabamba circumscription 27
In office
2 August 2002 – 22 January 2006
Alternate Luis Cutipa
Succeeded by Asterio Villarroel
In office
6 August 1997 – 24 January 2002
Alternate Valentín Gutiérrez
Preceded by Seat established
Personal details
Juan Evo Morales Ayma

(1959-10-26) 26 October 1959 (age 63)
Isallavi, Oruro, Bolivia
Political party Movement for Socialism
Children Evaliz Morales Alvarado
Álvaro Morales Peredo
Parent(s) Dionisio Morales Choque
María Ayma Mamani
Relatives Esther Morales (sister)
Military service
Allegiance Bolivia
Branch/service Bolivian Army
Years of service 1977–1978
Unit Fourth Ingavi Cavalry Regiment

Juan Evo Morales Ayma (Spanish pronunciation: [xwan ˈeβo moˈɾales ˈajma]; born 26 October 1959) is a Bolivian politician, trade union organizer, and former cocalero activist who served as the 65th president of Bolivia from 2006 to 2019. Widely regarded as the country's first president to come from its indigenous population, his administration focused on the implementation of leftist policies, improving the legal rights and socioeconomic conditions of Bolivia's previously-marginalized indigenous population and combating the political influence of the United States and resource-extracting multinational corporations. Ideologically a socialist, he has led the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party since 1998.

Early life

Morales was born in the small rural village of Isallawi in Orinoca Canton, part of western Bolivia's Oruro Department, on 26 October 1959, to an Aymara family. One of seven children born to Dionisio Morales Choque and his wife María Ayma Mamani, only he and two siblings, Esther and Hugo, survived past childhood. His mother almost died from a postpartum haemorrhage following his birth. In keeping with Aymara custom, his father buried the placenta produced after his birth in a place specially chosen for the occasion. His childhood home was a traditional adobe house, and he grew up speaking the Aymara language, although later commentators would remark that by the time he had become president he was no longer an entirely fluent speaker.

Aymara in traditional dress (left); Poopó Lake was the dominant geographical feature around Morales's home village of Isallawi (right).
A Bolivian man holding a coca leaf, (left); Coca tea, a traditional Andean infusion (right).

Morales' family were farmers; from an early age, he helped them to plant and harvest crops and guard their herd of llamas and sheep, taking a homemade soccer ball to amuse himself. As a toddler, he briefly attended Orinoca's preparatory school, and at five began schooling at the single-room primary school in Isallawi. Aged 6, he spent six months in northern Argentina with his sister and father. There, Dionisio harvested sugar cane while Evo sold ice cream and briefly attended a Spanish-language school. As a child, he regularly traveled on foot to Arani province in Cochabamba with his father and their llamas, a journey lasting up to two weeks, in order to exchange salt and potatoes for maize and coca. A big fan of soccer, at age 13 he organized a community soccer team with himself as team captain. Within two years, he was elected training coach for the whole region, and thus gained early experience in leadership.

After finishing primary education, Morales attended the Agrarian Humanistic Technical Institute of Orinoca (ITAHO), completing all but the final year. His parents then sent him to study for a degree in Oruro; although he did poorly academically, he finished all of his courses and exams by 1977, earning money on the side as a brick-maker, day laborer, baker and a trumpet player for the Royal Imperial Band. The latter position allowed him to travel across Bolivia. At the end of his higher education he failed to collect his degree certificate. Although interested in studying journalism, he did not pursue it as a profession.

Morales served his mandatory military service in the Bolivian Army from 1977 to 1978. Initially signed up at the Centre for Instruction of Special Troops (CITE) in Cochabamba, he was sent into the Fourth Ingavi Cavalry Regiment and stationed at the army headquarters in the Bolivian capital La Paz. These two years were one of Bolivia's politically most unstable periods, with five presidents and two military coups, led by General Juan Pereda and General David Padilla respectively; under the latter's regime, Morales was stationed as a guard at the Palacio Quemado (Presidential Palace).

Political career

Evo Morales y Garcia Linera en El Potosi
Morales with his vice presidential running mate, Álvaro García Linera, in 2005

Growing coca and becoming a trade unionist, he rose to prominence in the campesino ("rural laborers") union. In that capacity, he campaigned against joint U.S.–Bolivian attempts to eradicate coca, denouncing these as an imperialist violation of indigenous Andean culture. His involvement in anti-government direct action protests resulted in multiple arrests. Morales entered electoral politics in 1995, was elected to Congress in 1997, and became leader of MAS in 1998. Coupled with populist rhetoric, he campaigned on issues affecting indigenous and poor communities, advocating land reform and more equal redistribution of money from Bolivian gas extraction. He gained increased visibility through the Cochabamba Water War and gas conflict. In 2002, he was expelled from Congress for encouraging anti-government protesters, although he came second in that year's presidential election.

Presidency (2006–2019)

Once elected president in 2005, Morales emphasized nationalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-neoliberalism, although did not initially refer to his administration as socialist. He immediately reduced both his own presidential wage and that of his ministers by 57% to $1,875 a month, also urging members of Congress to do the same. Morales gathered together a largely inexperienced cabinet made up of indigenous activists and leftist intellectuals, although over the first three years of government there was a rapid turnover in the cabinet as Morales replaced many of the indigenous members with trained middle-class leftist politicians. By 2012 only 3 of the 20 cabinet members identified as indigenous.

At the time of Morales' election, Bolivia was South America's poorest nation. Morales' government did not initiate fundamental change to Bolivia's economic structure, and their National Development Plan (PDN) for 2006–10 adhered largely to the country's previous liberal economic model. Bolivia's economy was based largely on the extraction of natural resources, with the nation having South America's second largest reserves of natural gas. Keeping to his election pledge, Morales took increasing state control of the hydrocarbon industry with Supreme Decree 2870; previously, corporations paid 18% of their profits to the state, but Morales symbolically reversed this, so that 82% of profits went to the state and 18% to the companies. The oil companies threatened to take the case to the international courts or cease operating in Bolivia, but ultimately relented. As a result, Bolivia's income from hydrocarbon extraction increased from $173 million in 2002 to $1.3 billion by 2006. Although not technically a form of nationalization, Morales and his government referred to it as such, resulting in criticism from sectors of the Bolivian left. In June 2006, Morales announced his plan to nationalize mining, electricity, telephones, and railroads. In February 2007, the government nationalized the Vinto metallurgy plant and refused to compensate Glencore, which the government said had obtained the contract illegally. Although the FSTMB miners' federation called for the government to nationalize the mines, the government did not do so, instead stating that any transnational corporations operating in Bolivia legally would not be expropriated.

Under Morales, Bolivia experienced unprecedented economic strength, resulting in an increase in value of its currency, the boliviano. Morales' first year in office ended with no fiscal deficit, which was the first time this had happened in Bolivia for 30 years. During the global financial crisis of 2007–08 Bolivia maintained one of the world's highest levels of economic growth. Such economic strength led to a nationwide boom in construction, and allowed the state to build up strong financial reserves. Although the level of social spending was increased, it remained relatively low, with a priority being the construction of paved roads and community spaces such as soccer fields and union buildings. In particular, the government focused on rural infrastructure improvement, to bring roads, running water, and electricity to areas that lacked them.

The government's stated intention was to reduce Bolivia's most acute poverty levels from 35% to 27% of the population, and moderate poverty levels from 58.9% to 49% over five years. The welfare state was expanded, as characterized by the introduction of non-contributory old-age pensions and payments to mothers provided their babies are taken for health checks and that their children attend school. Hundreds of free tractors were also handed out. The prices of gas and many foodstuffs were controlled, and local food producers were made to sell in the local market rather than export. A new state-owned body was also set up to distribute food at subsidized prices. All these measures helped to curb inflation, while the economy grew (partly because of rising public spending), accompanied by stronger public finances which brought economic stability.

During Morales' first term, Bolivia broke free of the domination of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) which had characterized previous regimes by refusing their financial aid and connected regulations. In May 2007, it became the world's first country to withdraw from the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, with Morales stating that the institution had consistently favored multinational corporations in its judgments. Bolivia's lead was followed by other Latin American nations. Despite being encouraged to do so by the U.S., Bolivia refused to join the Free Trade Area of the Americas, deeming it a form of U.S. imperialism.

Fórum Social Mundial 2008 - AL
Morales with regional allies, at the Fórum Social Mundial for Latin America: President of Paraguay Lugo, President of Brasil Lula, President of Ecuador Correa and President of Venezuela Chávez.

A major dilemma faced by Morales' administration was between the desire to expand extractive industries in order to fund social programs and provide employment, and to protect the country's environment from the pollution caused by those industries. Although his government professed an environmentalist ethos, expanding environmental monitoring and becoming a leader in the voluntary Forest Stewardship Council, Bolivia continued to witness rapid deforestation for agriculture and illegal logging. Economists on both the left and right expressed concern over the government's lack of economic diversification. Many Bolivians opined that Morales' government had failed to bring about sufficient job creation.

Morales' government sought to encourage a model of development based upon the premise of vivir bien, or "to live well". This entailed seeking social harmony, consensus, the elimination of discrimination, and wealth redistribution; in doing so, it was rooted in communal rather than individual values and owed more to indigenous Andean forms of social organization than Western ones.

Upon Morales' election, Bolivia's illiteracy rate was at 16%, the highest in South America. Attempting to rectify this with the aid of far left allies, Bolivia launched a literacy campaign with Cuban assistance, and Venezuela invited 5000 Bolivian high school graduates to study in Venezuela for free. By 2009, UNESCO declared Bolivia free from illiteracy. The World Bank stated that illiteracy had declined by 5%. Cuba also aided Bolivia in the development of its medical care, opening ophthalmological centers in the country to treat 100,000 Bolivians for free per year, and offering 5000 free scholarships for Bolivian students to study medicine in Cuba. The government sought to expand state medical facilities, opening twenty hospitals by 2014, and increasing basic medical coverage up to the age of 25. Their approach sought to utilize and harmonize both mainstream Western medicine and Bolivia's traditional medicine.

The 2006 Bono Juancito Pinto program provided US$29 per year to parents who kept their children in public school with an attendance rate above 80%. 2008's Renta Dignidad initiative expanded the previous Bonosol social security for seniors program, increasing payments to $344 per year, and lowering the eligibility age from 65 to 60. 2009's Bono Juana Azurduy program expanded a previous public maternity insurance, giving cash to low-income mothers who proved that they and their baby had received pre- and post-natal medical care, and gave birth in an authorized medical facility. Conservative critics of Morales' government said that these measures were designed to buy off the poor and ensure continued support for the government, particularly the Bono Juancito Pinto which is distributed very close to election day.

Morales announced that one of the top priorities of his government was to eliminate racism against the country's indigenous population. To do this, he announced that all civil servants were required to learn one of Bolivia's three indigenous languages, Quechua, Aymara, or Guaraní, within two years. His government encouraged the development of indigenous cultural projects, and sought to encourage more indigenous people to attend university; by 2008, it was estimated that half of the students enrolled in Bolivia's 11 public universities were indigenous, while three indigenous-specific universities had been established, offering subsidized education. In 2009, a Vice Ministry for Decolonization was established, which proceeded to pass the 2010 Law against Racism and Discrimination banning the espousal of racist views in private or public institutions. Various commentators noted that there was a renewed sense of pride among the country's indigenous population following Morales' election. Conversely, the opposition accused Morales' administration of aggravating racial tensions between indigenous, white, and mestizo populations, and of using the Racism and Discrimination law to attack freedom of the press.

On International Workers' Day 2006, Morales issued a presidential decree undoing aspects of the informalization of labor which had been implemented by previous neoliberal governments; this was seen as a highly symbolic act for labor rights in Bolivia. In 2009 his government put forward suggested reforms to the 1939 labor laws, although lengthy discussions with trade unions hampered the reforms' progress. Morales' government increased the legal minimum wage by 50%, and reduced the pension age from 65 to 60, and then in 2010 reduced it again to 58.

While policies were brought in to improve the living conditions of the working classes, conversely many middle-class Bolivians felt that they had seen their social standing decline, with Morales personally mistrusting the middle-classes, deeming them fickle. A 2006 law reallocated state-owned lands, with this agrarian reform entailing distributing land to traditional communities rather than individuals. In 2010, a law was introduced permitting the formation of recognized indigenous territories, although the implementation of this was hampered by bureaucracy and contesting claims over ownership. Morales' government also sought to improve women's rights in Bolivia. In 2010, it founded a Unit of Depatriarchalization to oversee this process. Further seeking to provide legal recognition and support to LGBT rights, it declared 28 June to be Sexual Minority Rights Day in the country, and encouraged the establishment of a gay-themed television show on the state channel.

Morales' administration ensured the legality of coca growing, and introduced measures to regulate the production and trade of the crop. In 2007, they announced that they would permit the growing of 50,000 acres of coca in the country, primarily for the purposes of domestic consumption, with each family being restricted to the growing of one cato (1600 meters squared) of coca.

Measures were implemented to ensure the industrialization of coca production, with Morales inaugurating the first coca industrialization plant in Chulumani, which produced and packaged coca and trimate tea; the project was primarily funded through a $125,000 donation from Venezuela under the PTA scheme. These measures proved largely unsuccessful given that coca remained illegal in most nations outside Bolivia, thus depriving the growers of an international market. Campaigning against this, in 2012 Bolivia withdrew from the UN 1961 Convention. The U.S. State Department criticized Bolivia and dramatically reduced aid to Bolivia in 2007.

Morales' government also introduced measures to tackle Bolivia's endemic corruption; in 2007, Morales issued a presidential decree to create the Ministry of Institutional Transparency and Fight Against Corruption.

Second presidential term: 2009–2014

Evo morales 2 year bolivia Joel Alvarez
Morales in 2008
Dmitry Medvedev 16 February 2009-1
Morales meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009
Evo Morales in 2012
Morales at an international conference in 2012

During his second term, Morales began to speak openly of "communitarian socialism" as the ideology that he desired for Bolivia's future. He assembled a new cabinet which was 50% female, a first for Bolivia, although by 2012, that had dropped to a third. One of the main tasks that faced his government during this term was the aim of introducing legislation that would cement the extension of rights featured in the new constitution. In April 2010, the departmental elections saw further gains for MAS. In 2013, the government passed a law to combat domestic violence against women.

Bolivia evo-morales government Joel Alvarez
Morales addressing Bolivia's Parliament

Morales' second term was heavily affected by infighting and dissent from within his support base, as indigenous and leftist activists rejected several government reforms. In May 2010, his government announced a 5% rise in the minimum wage. The Bolivian Workers' Central (COB) felt this insufficient given the rising cost of living, calling a general strike, while protesters clashed with police. The government refused to increase the rise, accusing protesters of being pawns of the right. In August 2010, violent protests broke out in southern Potosí over widespread unemployment and a lack of infrastructure investment. In December 2010, the government cut subsidies for gasoline and diesel fuels, which raised fuel prices and transport costs. Protests led Morales to nullify the decree, responding that he "ruled by obeying". In June 2012, Bolivia's police launched protests against anti-corruption reforms to the police service; they burned disciplinary case records and demanded salary increases. Morales' government relented, canceling many of the proposed reforms and agreeing to the wage rise.

In 2011, the government announced it had signed a contract with a Brazilian company to construct a highway connecting Beni to Cochabamba, which would pass through the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). This would better integrate the Beni and Pando departments with the rest of Bolivia and facilitate hydrocarbons exploration. The plan brought condemnation from environmentalists and indigenous communities living in the TIPNIS, who said that it would encourage deforestation and illegal settlement and that it violated the constitution and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The issue became an international cause célèbre and cast doubt on the government's environmentalist and indigenous rights credentials. In August, 800 protesters embarked on a protest march from Trinidad to La Paz; many were injured in clashes with police and supporters of the road. Two government ministers and other high-ranking officials resigned in protest and Morales' government relented, announcing suspension of the road. In October 2011, he passed Law 180, prohibiting further road construction, although the government proceeded with a consultation, eventually gaining the consent of 55 of the 65 communities in TIPNIS to allow the highway to be built, albeit with a variety of concessions; construction was scheduled to take place after the 2014 general election. In May 2013, the government announced that it would permit hydrocarbon exploration in Bolivia's 22 national parks, to widespread condemnation from environmentalists.

Third presidential term: 2014–2019

Plaza Murillo
The new Casa Grande del Pueblo presidential offices built by Morales in 2018

In 2008, Morales stated that he would not stand for re-election in the 2014 general election. The 2009 Bolivian constitution places a term limit of two consecutive presidential terms. However, a 2013 ruling by the Plurinational Constitutional Court held that Morales' first term did not count towards the term limit, because it had taken place prior to the ratification of the 2009 constitution. The court ruling, which was criticized by opposition politicians, allowed Morales to run for a third term as president. After standing for re-election and proclaiming victory, Morales declared it "a triumph of the anti-colonialists and anti-imperialists" and dedicated his win to both Castro and Chávez.

Third GECF summit in Tehran 11
Morales with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the Third GECF summit.

On the basis of this victory, the Financial Times remarked that Morales was "one of the world's most popular leaders". On 17 October 2015, Morales surpassed Andrés de Santa Cruz's nine years, eight months, and twenty-four days in office and became Bolivia's longest serving president. Writing in The Guardian, Ellie Mae O'Hagan attributes his enduring popularity not to anti-imperialist rhetoric but his "extraordinary socio-economic reforms," which resulted in poverty and extreme poverty declining by 25% and 43% respectively. Bolivia's newly implemented universal healthcare system has been cited as a model for all by the World Health Organization.

Resignation and political asylum

Following the disputed 2019 election and the ensuing unrest, Morales agreed to calls for his resignation.

Morales resigned as president on 10 November 2019; he called his removal "forced" and a "coup" but also said that he wanted to stop bloodshed from the election protests. He made the announcement from El Chapare, a coca-growing rural area of Cochabamba where he had sought refuge. Mexico immediately offered him political asylum as "his life and safety are at risk" in Bolivia. Armed intruders broke into Morales’ home in Cochabamba and he accused "coup plotters" of an arson attack on his sister's home and of putting a price of $50,000 on his head. He said his fellow socialist leaders were being "harassed, persecuted and threatened". He thanked Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whom he credited with saving his life.

On 11 November, a Mexican government plane flew Morales out of Cochabamba, refuelling in Paraguay before arriving in Mexico. In December, Morales moved from Mexico to Argentina, where he was also granted political asylum. Later that month, an arrest warrant was issued for Morales by Bolivian prosecutors for alleged sedition and terrorism. The interim government alleged that Morales promoted violent clashes in the country before and after he left office. In February 2020, Morales announced that he would run for a seat in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly in the 2020 Bolivian general election. On 20 February however, the national electoral tribunal ruled that Morales was ineligible to run for Senate. In September 2020, Human Rights Watch reported that it had found no evidence that Morales committed acts of terrorism and described the charges against him as politically motivated. In October 2020, the charges were dropped and the arrest warrant dismissed when a court in La Paz found Morales' rights had been violated and judicial procedures breached.

One day after new president Luis Arce was sworn into office, on 9 November 2020 Morales returned to Bolivia after 11 months abroad.

Personality and personal life

Morales is ethnically Aymara, and has been widely described as Bolivia's first democratically elected president from the indigenous majority. Morales is not married and upon becoming president selected his older sister, Esther Morales Ayma, to adopt the role of First Lady of Bolivia. He has two children from different mothers. They are his daughter Eva Liz Morales Alvarado and son Álvaro Morales Paredes.

Influence and legacy

Morales has been described as "the most famous Bolivian ever", whose personality has become "fixed in the global imagination". Morales' government has been praised for its pro-socialist stance. Domestically, Morales' support base has been among Bolivia's poor and indigenous communities. For these communities, who had felt marginalized in Bolivian politics for decades, Morales "invokes a sense of dignity and destiny" in a way that no other contemporary politician has done. He has received the support of many democratic socialists and social democrats, as well as sectors of Bolivia's liberal movement.

Morales promised to "help bring power" to marginalised groups in Bolivia, a country which has the highest percentage of indigenous population of any country in the Americas. His presidency saw poverty reduced by 42% and extreme poverty reduced by 60%.

Honors and awards

Award or decoration Country Date Place Note
VEN Order of the Liberator - Grand Cordon BAR.png Grand Collar of the Order of the Liberator  Venezuela 5 July 2006 Caracas Venezuelan highest distinction.
Orden Sandino 1.svg Order of Augusto César Sandino  Nicaragua 11 January 2007 Managua Nicaraguan highest distinction.
PER Order of the Sun of Peru - Grand Cross BAR.png Grand Collar of the Order of the Sun of Peru  Peru 19 October 2010 Ilo Peruvian highest distinction.
Order Star Karabora ribbon bar.png Order of the Star of Carabobo, First Class  Venezuela 25 June 2014 La Paz
Ribbon jose marti.png Order of José Martí  Cuba 21 May 2016 Havana Cuban highest distinction.
Knight of the Honorary Order of the Yellow Star  Suriname 10 July 2019 Paramaribo

Honorary degrees

  •  Bolivia: Universidad Pública de El Alto honorary degree, 20 December 2008.
  •  Argentina: National University of La Plata honorary degree, 28 April 2009.
  •  Argentina: National University of Comahue honorary degree, 28 April 2010.
  •  Bolivia: Universidad Privada del Valle honorary degree, 31 July 2010.
  •  South Korea: Hansei University honorary degree, 25 August 2010.
  •  Argentina: National University of San Juan honorary degree, 1 September 2010.
  •  China: Renmin University of China honorary degree, 11 August 2011.
  •  Cuba: University of Havana honorary degree, 19 September 2011.
  •  Argentina: National University of Salta honorary degree, 18 November 2014.
  •  Italy: Sapienza University of Rome honorary degree, 6 November 2015.
  •  France: University of Pau and the Adour Region honorary degree, 7 November 2015.
  •  Argentina: National University of Entre Ríos honorary degree, 13 September 2018.
  •  Guatemala: Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala honorary degree, 15 November 2018.
  •  Argentina: National University of Tierra del Fuego honorary degree, 27 February 2019.
  •  Russia: Peoples' Friendship University of Russia honorary degree, 11 July 2019.
  •  Argentina: Universidad Nacional de las Artes honorary degree, 30 October 2020.

See also

  • Domestic policy of Evo Morales
  • Foreign policy of Evo Morales
  • Evo Morales and the Roman Catholic Church

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