Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Evo in better days.

The dream is over for Bolivian president EVO MORALES.  Five and a half years ago, he was a national hero...the first person with indigenous blood to hold the nation's highest office.  "The people are finally in power," he famously proclaimed.  After the election, MORALES continued to impress.  He kept his ambitious campaign promise and nationalized the lucrative the natural gas industry.  Next, he turned to foreign policy and shored up relationships with other South American states.  His alliance with HUGO CHAVEZ and Venezuela helped finance public work projects.  His friendship with Brazilian president LULA DA SILVA helped erase decades of dispute.  Heck, EVO was so successful he was rumored to win the Nobel Peace Prize!  He won re-election in 2009 by a landslide.

HOWEVER...things are quite different for Evo today.  Over the weekend, Morales appeared disheveled and distressed at a press conference.  He announced he was bowing to public pressure and halting construction of the new trans-Amazon highway.  "This is governing by obeying the people," he explained.  It's true...a group of highly motivated protesters had stolen the hearts of Bolivians away from their once-savior.  Here's how: Two months ago a thousand-or-so Amazonian Indians began a 370 mile march from their home to the capital.  The difference in altitude from Trinidad (in the lowland jungles) to La Paz (the world's highest capital) is 13,000 feet.  Many walked the entire distance barefoot.  Along the way, they spoke of the deforestation to rain forest the highway would bring.  They also talked about the inevitable human development a four-lane highway brings.  With daily news coverage of the march, by the time the protesters reached the streets of La Paz, they were hailed as heroes!

The march from the jungles to the mountains.
All of which put Morales in a very sticky situation.  Many Bolivians accused him of not being true to his roots.   How could the nation's first native president build a road through a nature reserve? (C'mon...you know the answer: MONEY!) Indeed, the highway is financed entirely by Brazil.  It would provide a superior route not only to Brazil but also to Chile's Pacific ports as well.  This would make it much easier for everyone to get their natural resources to China.  In short, Bolivia would be able to conduct commerce quicker and cheaper, without investing a peso to build the road.  It appeared to be what every politician dreams of: A Win-Win situation.

The only thing that stood in the way of progress was the 15,000 indigenous folks who happened to live in the distant Amazonian province.  Since this is such a small population, Morales assumed the five million Quechua and Aymara peoples...who currently hold power...wouldn't care and see the greater good of the highway.  He was wrong.  The highland folks showed solidarity for the lowlanders and came out in force.  All week long, the streets of the capital have been filled with demonstrators. And it only gets worse for Morales.   Not only did he anger his own support base, but the Brazilians as well...they were quite eager to build.  Pobracito Evo! Ultimately, the situation boils down to the same issue facing most developing nations on the globe: How can one export raw materials to industrial nations without getting ripped off and destroying your own lands?

This is a question Morales is having trouble answering.  It takes a delicate balance to achieve industry in a rain forest.  Unfortunately, Evo was anything but gentle in his approach to the problem.  Two months ago, when the protest first began, he thundered to the media: "Whether they like it or not...We will build that road."  What happened to the humble subsistence farmer?  It seems six years of dining on caviar in palaces worldwide has made hm a bit arrogant.  Then again...maybe Evo has learned a thing or two from other politicians.  He may be eating crow today but the rumor is he is already secretly planning a new route for the highway.  This one takes a lot longer to drive, but at least it doesn't go through any silly National Parks!

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