Socialist Morales Expects Victory in Bolivian Vote
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A former coca farmer is poised to become president of Bolivia, continuing a trend in South America toward socialist governments. Evo Morales would also become the first indigenous leader of the country. During the campaign, Morales promised to roll back the US-backed coca eradication program and to nationalize Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves. The opposition candidate has already conceded yesterday's election. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from La Paz.
JULIE McCARTHY reporting:
Despite no official results yet, many Bolivians went to bed last night astounded by the margin of victory projected for the champion of the indigenous, the poor and the workers. Some estimates put his vote total at 50 percent.
Group of People: (Chanting in foreign language)
McCARTHY: Before chanting supporters, Evo Morales looked delighted but spent by a campaign that had exposed some of the deep social and economic fault lines of this Andean nation. Pulling confetti from his hair, Morales basked in the glow of supporters who had gathered for the anticipated victory of the country's first Indian president.
Mr. EVO MORALES (Bolivian Presidential Candidate): (Spanish spoken)
McCARTHY: `I'm very happy, very moved, and grateful to the people who fought to keep our national resources and the social movements who fought to change our history,' he said. `The history in which we seek equality, justice and peace,' he added.
Morales rose to power as the leader of the country's coca farmers. His base has grown to include an array of Bolivia's disadvantaged. Last night, Morales sought to put to rest fears that if elected he would only govern on behalf of his own consistency.
Mr. MORALES: (Spanish spoken)
McCARTHY: `I want to reiterate that we of the indigenous movement are not exclusive. We are inclusive. With our government, we will end discriminations and phobia, hatred, and the contempt with which we have historically been treated,' Morales said.
Morales focused much of his campaign on the demerits of the free market. But last night, he defended the rights of private property owners and welcomed investments of entrepreneurs. Gito Ravero(ph), president of the Bolivian Foundation for Multiparty Democracy, says the results of Sunday's election are part of the growing influence of the political left throughout Latin America. But he added that in a country as diverse and fragmented as Bolivia, Evo Morales must adopt a more conciliatory tone if he is to govern.
Mr. GITO RAVERO (President, The Bolivian Foundation for Multi-Party Democracy): (Through Translator) This is the big challenge. He will have to change his policies towards the free-trade agreements and think more openly towards other international groups of organization, other topics.
McCARTHY: Ravero says Morales also needs to open a dialogue with the United States, which sees his proposal to decriminalize coca cultivation as a setback for the war on drugs. Coca chewing is an ancient part of Bolivian culture Morales wants to preserve. On the streets of La Paz, where he won 60 percent of the vote, celebrations were cheerful but restrained, with the occasional firecracker...
(Soundbite of firecrackers)
McCARTHY: ...and small clumps of supporters who gathered outside the Morales headquarters, some talking, some singing.
Group of Supporters: (Singing in foreign language)
McCARTHY: Alfonso Alem(ph) summed up the day's events that are expected to lead to Morales being declared president and taking office next month.
Mr. ALFONSO ALEM (Evo Morales Supporter): People's victory the first time in republican history. The real people, the majority of the population, will rule this country.
McCARTHY: `We are now the landlords of this country,' he says, `no longer the tenants.' Julie McCarthy, NPR News, La Paz, Bolivia.