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New bolivian leader criticized neoliberal reforms { January 23 2006 }

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Bolivian is true to his populist roots
By Juan Forero The New York Times

LA PAZ In taking the oath of office as president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, the first Andean Indian to hold the office, was true to his anti-establishment roots, dressed in a wool jacket featuring white pre-Hispanic motifs on the lapels and an open-neck shirt, but no tie.

With tears welling in his eyes, his left fist raised and his right hand over his heart, Morales was inaugurated Sunday as dignitaries including the leaders of 11 countries and the crown prince of Spain watched from the gallery of the ornate 19th-century congressional chamber.

"I want to say to you, my Indian brothers concentrated here in Bolivia, that the 500-year campaign of resistance has not been in vain," Morales said in his inaugural address. "This democratic, cultural fight is part of the fight of our ancestors, it is the continuity of the fight of Tupac Katari, it is a continuity of the fight of Che Guevara."

Outside, the celebration included tens of thousands of people from the indigenous majority, which has long felt oppressed and cut off from political power. Aymara and Quechua, tin and silver miners, coca farmers and leftists from around the world blew cow horns, danced to brass bands and waved the seven-colored wipala flag of the Andean Indian nation.

"This is a historic day," said Gregorio Mamani, 43, like Morales an Aymara. "I am so happy that after so many years, we have an indigenous president, one we can be proud of before the whole world."

In a rambling, passionate speech that mixed Spanish and Aymara, Morales, 46, a shepherd's son who grew up in an adobe in the frigid highlands, did not veer from the populist themes that enthralled his followers and gave him a landslide in the election Dec. 18.

He criticized "neoliberal reforms," the U.S.-backed free-market prescriptions that are now being tested throughout the continent, as failing to pull Bolivians out of poverty. He lamented that there were no high-ranking Indians in the Bolivian Army, and he railed against the corruption of past governments.

Morales's history as leader of the country's coca farmers and his campaign pledge to become a "nightmare" for the United States have worried U.S. officials. Yet in his speech, he welcomed Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, who was present.

While Morales is clearly among the more anti-establishment in a crop of leftist leaders who have recently swept to power in Latin America, he has tempered his tone since his victory and has spoken of the need for Bolivia to trade and build ties with other countries. "I have learned that the president of a government has to do good business deals for his country," Morales said.

The policies that will be most closely watched, especially by multinational oil companies like Petrobras of Brazil and Repsol of Spain, will be in Bolivia's huge natural gas industry. Morales plans to exert greater control, increasing taxes on the companies, but he also said Sunday that his government needed help from energy experts in formulating a policy.

Still, Morales has to keep in mind supporters like Gregorio Machicado Quispe, 48, who was in the throng outside.

"We expect a complete change," he said. "The government needs to favor the poor, suffering classes. We have to control the wealth here in Bolivia."

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New bolivian leader criticized neoliberal reforms { January 23 2006 }
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