PARIS – Hundreds of supporters cheered Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales who gave a speech in Paris on Friday about his humble beginnings and his hopes as South America’s newest leader.
Many in the crowd braved chilly temperatures as they lined the sidewalk awaiting entry to the Latin American House in a chic Paris neighborhood where Morales spoke – the latest stop on a world tour.
Morales, who won nearly 54 percent of votes in the presidential election last month, is poised to become Bolivia’s first indigenous leader in its 180-year history. He takes office Jan. 22. In his address, Morales inspired the crowd with the account of his rise from a poor childhood in the Bolivian highlands to become a llama herder, coca farmer and union leader – and soon president.
“I only know how to plant coca, defend our land and lead marches in the streets,” Morales said, prompting a peal of laughter from the crowd.
Many at the event were Latinos. Some were decked out in traditional Andean dress, others waved checkered rainbow flags – the symbol of Bolivia’s indigenous movement – or passed out stickers.
“Morales is leading our people out of a nightmare,” said Gustavo Espinosa, a 50-year-old street musician from Bolivia who now lives in Paris. “Morales is a major step forward for our people.”
Juan Rojas Rumano, a Bolivian who teaches anthropology in Paris, said: “His appeal lies in his humility ... Unlike other politicians, he has lived the life of most Bolivians.”
Morales laid out his plan to nationalize Bolivia’s rich energy resources, but said that it would not mean confiscating industrial holdings or expelling foreign companies. Andrés Razzini, a 23-year-old Bolivian student, said he supported nationalization, but worried about the reaction his plans would elicit within Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party.
“What are they going to do when they realize he is not going to kick the foreign oil companies out?” Razzini said. France’s Total SA operates in Bolivia, home to the second-largest natural gas reserves in Latin America after Venezuela.
Speaking to reporters earlier Friday, Morales expressed willingness to work with the United States in the fight against drug trafficking, but reiterated his plan to legalize coca cultivation. AP