SPIEGEL Interview with Bolivia's Evo Morales "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 ethnic groups.
Bolivian soldiers guard the main gate to the San Alberto gas plant in the southern state of Tarija, where President Evo Morales announced the nationalization of the country's petroleum industry last spring.
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 faith.
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 Andean highlands.
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 convention.
Bolivian President Evo Morales (R) and his vice-president Alvaro Garcia wear wreaths of coca leaves during a visit to the Chapare region about 600 km southeast from La Paz.
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 trade.
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 us.
The interview was conducted by Jens Glüsing and Hans Hoyng and was translated from German by Christopher Sultan.