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Bolivia leader forms socialist indigenous cabinet

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Bolivia leader forms socialist, indigenous cabinet
Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:10 PM GMT

By Mary Milliken

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, turned to fellow socialists, Indians, grass-roots activists and women to form his Cabinet on Monday and ordered them to root out corruption and adopt a new leftist economic model.

The 12 men and four women were sworn in by Morales, some pledging allegiance with a raised left fist, others with a hand on their heart, and a few with both gestures. This was Morales' first official act after his inauguration on Sunday.

"I want zero corruption, zero bureaucracy, no more 'come back tomorrow'. People are tired of this," said Morales, wearing the striped sweater that has come to symbolise his informal style.

Morales excluded the technocrats that have traditionally served in the governments of the ruling elite, preferring instead to choose ministers close to grassroots movements.

He chose an Aymara Indian intellectual as his foreign minister, a grass-roots leader to be in charge of water and an energy analyst and journalist to over see the hydrocarbonindustry.

"You must comply with the people's mandate, to democratically change the neo-liberal economic model and resolve structural and social problems," Morales said.

Morales and his Movement to Socialism party won 54 percent of the vote in the December 18 election, the biggest margin of victory since Bolivia's return to democracy in 1982.


Like other leftist leaders in Latin America, he capitalised on voters' rejection of U.S.-backed free-market policies and privatisation that flourished in the 1990s but did little to reduce poverty.

Bolivia is South America's poorest country with around two-thirds of the population, mostly from the Indian majority, living below the poverty line.

The new foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, is an Aymara Indian intellectual, while new mining minister, Walter Villarroel, comes from a mining cooperative and wore his hard hat at the ceremony.

Abel Mamani, a leader from the combative city of El Alto, will be in charge of water after he organised protests against the French water company Suez for poor service.

For the all-important Hydrocarbons Ministry, which will oversee an increase in state control over Bolivia's vast natural gas fields, Morales chose energy analyst and journalist Andres Soliz Rada.

Soliz Rada has traditionally defended the right of the 9.4 million Bolivians to have access to natural gas before embarking on major export plans.

He will have the difficult job of renegotiating contracts with foreign oil companies, including Spain's Repsol and Brazil's Petrobras, that have invested $3.5 billion (2 billion pounds) in Bolivia.

Morales has said he wants to nationalise the gas industry -- a demand of the poor indigenous majority --but not expropriate the companies' assets.

(Additional reporting by Carlos Quiroga)

Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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