SPIEGEL Interview with Bolivia's Evo Morales "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.
Bolivian President Evo Morales sits in front of a picture made out of coca leaves depicting leftist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara.
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 factions?
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 predecessors.
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 optimistic.
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.
Morales is close to Latin America's other leading leftists Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
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 their livelihood.
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 us subordinate.
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 the continent?
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.
- Part 1: "Capitalism Has Only Hurt Latin America"
- Part 2