"Capitalism Has Only Hurt Latin America"
Bolivia's President Evo Morales, 46, talks to DER
SPIEGEL about reform plans for his country, socialism
in Latin America, and the often tense relations of the
region's leftists with the United States.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, why is such a large part of
Latin America moving to the left?
Morales: Injustice, inequality and the poverty of the
masses compel us to seek better living conditions.
Bolivia's majority Indian population was always
excluded, politically oppressed and culturally
alienated. Our national wealth, our raw materials, was
plundered. Indios were once treated like animals here.
In the 1930s and 40s, they were sprayed with DDT to
kill the vermin on their skin and in their hair
whenever they came into the city. My mother wasn't
even allowed to set foot in the capital of her native
region, Oruro. Now we're in the government and in
parliament. For me, being leftist means fighting
against injustice and inequality but, most of all, we
want to live well.
SPIEGEL: You called a constitutional convention to
establish a new Bolivian republic. What should the new
Bolivia look like?
Morales: We don't want to oppress or exclude anyone.
The new republic should be based on diversity, respect
and equal rights for all. There is a lot to do. Child
mortality is frighteningly high. I had six siblings
and four them died. In the countryside, half of all
children die before reaching their first birthday.
SPIEGEL: Your socialist party, MAS, does not have the
necessary two-thirds majority amend the constitution.
Do you now plan to negotiate with other political
Morales: We are always open to talks. Dialogue is the
basis of Indian culture, and we don't want to make any
enemies. Political and ideological adversaries,
perhaps, but not enemies.
SPIEGEL: Why did you temporarily suspend the
nationalization of natural resources, one of your
administration's most important projects? Does Bolivia
lack the know-how to extract its raw materials?
Morales: We are continuing to negotiate with the
companies in question. The current lack of investment
has nothing to do with nationalization. It's the fault
of the right-wing government of (former president)
Tuto Quiroga, who stopped all investment in natural
gas production in
2001 because, as he claimed, there was no domestic
market for natural gas in Bolivia. We plan to start
drilling again. We have signed a delivery agreement
for natural gas with Argentina, and we are also
cooperating with Venezuela. We have signed a contract
to work an iron mine with an Indian company. This will
create 7,000 direct and 10,000 indirect jobs. We have
negotiated much better prices and terms than our
SPIEGEL: But there are major problems with Brazil.
Bolivia is demanding a higher price for natural gas
shipments. Doesn't this harm your relationship with
(Brazilian) President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva?
Morales: Lula is showing his solidarity. He behaves
like a big brother. But we are having problems with
Petrobras, the Brazilian energy company. The
negotiations are very difficult, but we are
SPIEGEL: Petrobras has threatened to end all of its
investments in Bolivia.
Morales: This isn't coming from the Brazilian
government, but from a few Petrobras executives. They
print these threats in the press to put us under
pressure. Brazil is a major power, but it has to treat
us with respect. Compañero Lula told me that there
will be a new agreement, and that he even wants to
import more gas.
SPIEGEL: Bolivia doesn't sell natural gas to Chile
because the Chileans took away Bolivia's access to the
sea in a war more than
120 years ago. Now a socialist is in power in Chile.
Will you supply them with natural gas now?
Morales: We want to overcome our historical problems
with Chile. The sea has divided us and the sea must
bring us back together again. Chile has agreed, for
the first time, to talk about sea access for Bolivia.
That's a huge step forward. The Chilean president came
to my inauguration, and I attended
(Chilean President) Michelle Bachelet's inauguration
in Santiago. We complement each other. Chile needs our
natural resources and we need access to the sea. Under
those circumstances, it must be possible to find a
solution in the interest of both countries.
SPIEGEL: What influence did Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez have on the nationalization of Bolivia's
Morales: None whatsoever. Neither Cuba nor Venezuela
was involved. I managed the nationalization myself.
Only seven of my closest associates knew about the
decree and the date. Although I did meet Chavez and
(Cuban leader) Fidel Castro in Cuba a few days before
the announcement, we didn't talk about
nationalization. I had already signed the decree
before I departed for Cuba, and the vice president
gave it to the cabinet. When Fidel asked me in Cuba
how far the project had progressed, I told him that we
planned to announce the nationalization in the coming
days, but I didn't give him a date. Fidel warned me to
wait until the constitutional convention. Chavez
wasn't aware of anything.
SPIEGEL: Chavez wants to install a socialism for the
21st century in Venezuela. His ideological advisor
Heinz Dieterich, a German, was recently in Bolivia. Do
you intend to introduce socialism in Bolivia?
Morales: If socialism means that we live well, that
there is equality and justice, and that we have no
social and economic problems, then I welcome it.
SPIEGEL: You admire Fidel Castro as the "grandfather
of all Latin American revolutionaries." What have you
learned from him?
Morales: Solidarity, most of all. Fidel helps us a
great deal. He has donated seven eye clinics and 20
basic hospitals. Cuban doctors have already performed
30,000 free cataract operations for Bolivians. Five
thousand Bolivians from poor backgrounds are studying
medicine at no charge in Cuba.
SPIEGEL: But Bolivian doctors are protesting the
Cubans' presence. They say that they deprive them of
Morales: The Bolivian state doesn't pay the Cuban
doctors any salaries, so they're not taking anything
away from the Bolivians.
SPIEGEL: Do you know how Castro is doing?
Morales: Yes, I spoke with him on the phone today. He
has been feeling better for the last two days. He told
me that he'll be well enough to attend the summit of
nonaligned nations in Havana in September.
SPIEGEL: And he'll give a speech then?
Morales: Certainly. It's an opportunity he won't miss.
SPIEGEL: The Americans are worried that Chavez is
gaining too much influence. Aren't you making yourself
dependent on Venezuela?
Morales: What unites us with Chavez is the concept of
the integration of South America. This is the old
dream of a great fatherland, a dream that existed even
before the Spanish conquest, and Simon Bolivar fought
for it later on. We want a South America modeled after
the European Union, with a currency like the euro, one
that's worth more than the dollar. Chavez's oil is
unimportant for Bolivia. We only get diesel under
favorable terms. But we are not dependent on
Venezuela. We complement each other. Venezuela shares
its wealth with other countries, but that doesn't make
SPIEGEL: The Latin American left is fracturing into a
moderate, social democratic current, led by Lula and
Bachelet, and a radical, populist movement represented
by Castro, Chavez and yourself. Isn't Chavez dividing
Morales: There are social democrats and others who are
marching more in the direction of equality, whether
you call them socialists or communists. But at least
Latin America no longer has racist or fascist
presidents like it did in the past. Capitalism has
only hurt Latin America.
SPIEGEL: You are the first Indian president in
Bolivian history. What role will indigenous culture
play in your government?
Morales: We must combine our social consciousness with
professional competency. In my administration,
intellectuals from the upper class can be cabinet
ministers or ambassadors, as can members of Indian
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the Indian peoples have
developed a better social model than the white,
Morales: There was no private property in the past.
Everything was communal property. In the Indian
community where I was born, everything belonged to the
community. This way of life is more equitable. We
Indians are Latin America's moral reserve. We act
according to a universal law that consists of three
basic principles: do not steal, do not lie and do not
be idle. This trilogy will also serve as the basis of
our new constitution.
SPIEGEL: Is it true that all government employees will
be required to learn the Indian languages Quechua,
Aymara und Guaraní in the future?
Morales: Public servants in the cities are required to
learn the language of their region. If we already
speak Spanish in Bolivia, we should also be fluent in
our own languages.
SPIEGEL: Are the whites treating the Indians better,
now that you're in power?
Morales: It's gotten a lot better. The middle class,
intellectuals and the self-employed are now proud of
their Indian roots. Unfortunately, some oligarchic
groups continue to treat us as being inferior.
SPIEGEL: Some critics claim that the Indians in
Bolivia are now racist toward the whites.
Morales: That's part of a dirty war the mass media are
waging against us. Wealthy, racist businessmen own
much of the media.
SPIEGEL: The Catholic Church has accused you of
wanting to reform religious instruction. Will there be
no freedom of religion in Bolivia?
Morales: I am Catholic. Freedom of religion isn't at
issue. But I am opposed to a monopoly when it comes to
SPIEGEL: Some large landowners have threatened violent
resistance to the planned land reforms. Whose land do
you intend to seize?
Morales: We will expropriate large land holdings that
are not being farmed. But we want democratic and
peaceful agrarian reform. The 1952 land reform led to
the creation of many tiny, unproductive parcels in the
SPIEGEL: Bolivia is divided into the rich provinces in
the east and the poor Andean highlands. There is a
strong movement for autonomy in the east. Is the
country at risk of breaking apart?
Morales: This is what a few fascist, oligarchic groups
want. But they lost the vote over the constitutional
SPIEGEL: Bolivia is an important narcotics producer.
Your predecessors had illegal coca plantations
destroyed. Do you intend to do the same thing?
Morales: From our standpoint, coca should be neither
destroyed nor completely legalized. Farming should be
controlled by the state and by the coca farmers'
unions. We have launched an international campaign to
legalize coca leaves, and we want the United Nations
to remove coca from its list of toxic substances.
Scientists proved long ago that coca leaves are not
toxic. We decided on a voluntary reduction in the
amount of acreage being farmed.
SPIEGEL: But the United States claims that the
majority of the coca harvest ends up in the cocaine
Morales: The Americans say all kinds of things. They
accuse us of not fulfilling the conditions of their
development aid. My pro-capitalist predecessor
administrations supported the massacre of coca
farmers. More than 800 campesinos died in the war on
drugs. The United States is using its war on drugs as
an excuse to expand its control over Latin America.
SPIEGEL: The American Drug Enforcement Agency, the
DEA, has agents stationed in Bolivia who advise the
military and the police in their efforts to combat the
drug trade. Will you be sending them home now?
Morales: They're still here, but they are no longer in
uniform or armed, as they were before.
SPIEGEL: How is your relationship with the United
States? Do you plan to travel to Washington?
Morales: A meeting with (US President) George W. Bush
is not planned. I do intend to travel to New York to
visit the UN General Assembly. When I was still a
member of parliament, the Americans didn't let me into
the country. But heads of state don't need a visa to
travel to the UN in New York.
SPIEGEL: You broke your nose while playing soccer a
few weeks ago. Are you playing less these days?
Morales: Does my nose still look crooked? Playing
sports has always been my greatest pleasure. I don't
smoke, I hardly drink alcohol and I rarely dance,
although I used to play the trumpet. Sports helped get
me into the presidential palace. My first position in
the union was that of sports secretary. I was head of
a soccer club in the countryside when I was 13.
SPIEGEL: Why don't you wear a tie?
Morales: I never wore a tie voluntarily, even though I
was forced to wear one for photos when I was young and
for official events at school. I used to wrap my tie
in a newspaper, and whenever the teacher checked I
would quickly put it on again. I'm not used to it.
Most Bolivians don't wear ties.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, thank you for speaking with
The interview was conducted by Jens Glüsing and Hans
Hoyng and was translated from German by Christopher