Evo Morales' first day as president of Bolivia
Knight Ridder - Jan. 24, 2006
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Bolivian praises coca and Castro
Evo Morales' first day as president of Bolivia included meeting leaders of
Cuba and Venezuela and the swearing-in of a leftist Cabinet.
BY JACK CHANG
Knight Ridder News Service
LA PAZ, Bolivia - Newly inaugurated Bolivian President Evo Morales began
his historic, five-year term Monday by meeting with leaders from Cuba and
Venezuela, two of Latin America's harshest critics of U.S. policy, before
swearing in a Cabinet largely made up of political radicals.
His Cabinet choices included a former housekeeper turned union activist as
justice minister and a hardline advocate of nationalization as energy
At one point, he gave Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez a portrait of South
American independence hero Simón Bolívar constructed from coca leaf, the
main ingredient in cocaine. Despite U.S. objections, Morales has long
defended its cultivation.
"Let's strengthen together and grow powerful together," Morales told
Chávez. "For these Bolivian people let's fight together."
And in an interview with Univisión anchor Jorge Ramos, Morales said he
"admires and respects" Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Asked if he considers
Castro a dictator, he shot back: "Fidel is a democratic man."
The day was one meeting after another that seemed destined to increase U.S.
anxiety over Morales, a peasant leader who has promised to be a
"nightmare" for the United States.
Morales woke before dawn, then sat down at 7:30 a.m. with Cuban Vice
President Carlos Lage, who attended the president's inauguration on Sunday.
The men discussed how Cuba, which has exported thousands of teachers around
the world, can help Morales' government fight illiteracy, which runs about
20 percent in the impoverished Andean country.
Morales didn't specify whether he reached any agreements with Lage.
Around 10 a.m., Morales walked down to the cavernous atrium of the
presidential palace and swore in his 16-minister Cabinet, using the same
raised-fist salute he used in his inauguration.
Morales' Cabinet includes Bolivia's first indigenous foreign minister,
David Choquehuanca Cespedes, who, like Morales, is an Aymara Indian.
Also sworn in were Abel Mamani Marca, a militant activist who helped bring
down two previous governments over privatized water contracts, who will
become water minister, and Walker San Miguel Rodríguez, a prominent
Bolivian attorney without previous military experience, who will be defense
minister. A former mining union leader was selected as minister of mines.
Andrés Solíz Rada, a former socialist member of Congress who as a
journalist often wrote disparagingly of the U.S. role in Bolivia, was named
energy minister. He will be in charge of renegotiating Bolivia's contracts
with foreign companies that are exploring Bolivia's vast natural gas
NOT WIDELY KNOWN
The head of the domestic workers' union, Casimira Rodriguez, a Quechua
Indian, was named justice minister. Rodríguez, a former housekeeper
herself, led street protests that culminated in the enactment of the
Household Worker Law, which grants domestic workers protection from
mistreatment and near slave conditions.
Few of the Cabinet members are widely known, even in Bolivia.
With thousands of admirers outside the presidential palace chanting his
name, Venezuelan President Chávez arrived around noon and signed a series
of bilateral agreements with Morales, including a deal to trade Bolivian
soy for Venezuelan diesel fuel.
Both leaders, who hugged each other several times, said they were united in
fighting "neoliberalism," meaning U.S.-backed economic policies promoting
free trade and tight fiscal policy.
Venezuela is the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, while Bolivia claims
Latin America's second biggest natural gas reserves. Venezuela's
state-owned oil company opened an office in La Paz on Monday.
Although the 46-year-old Morales has worried energy companies by
threatening to "nationalize" Bolivia's natural gas resources, some
observers expect a more measured approach from the new government, said
Chris Garman, the Latin American director for the Eurasia Group, a New
York-based consulting firm.
"His rhetoric is going to vary according to the audience he speaks to,"