Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Morales tells of Bolivian boyhood

Framed by the United States flag on his right, and the Bolivian and University flags on his left, Evo Morales raised his palm to a packed Sayles Hall and quieted the roars of the standing ovation that greeted him.

In lilting Spanish, the President of Bolivia did not begin his address with a crowd-pleasing joke or a political cry.

Instead, after apologizing for having to cancel his first scheduled visit to Brown in February, Morales began by describing the highland town of Orinoca, Bolivia, where he grew up with his illiterate mother and semi-illiterate father. The president told the audience in his intimate yet subdued tone that he himself had dropped out of school in sixth grade after his father declared, "That boy of mine is no good at studying, so now go to work."

He has been working since, but politics was not his initial occupation. "Never in my life did I think of being a leader, much less a president," Morales said of his early years.

However, in his speech that intertwined his past with his country's future, Morales said with evident pride that after his inauguration as president in 2005, Bolivia has seen increasing economic prosperity and political equality.

While it is impossible to make reparations for 500 years of oppression, "for the first time the government is reaching places it's never reached before," he said.

Morales' tone intensified as he said that after his administration nationalized oil resources, revenues jumped from $300 million to $1.93 billion.

He said this money has been used to offer benefits to those who have never before received assistance from the state. "I'm not paying anything," he said. "I'm just returning the money of the people to the people."

Still, Morales did not dwell on listing his accomplishments as he delivered the Stephen A. Ogden Jr. '60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs. He spent most of his nearly hour-and-a-half lecture speaking of the time before he had nationalized Bolivia's oil, before he had redistributed agricultural land and before he had received international attention as Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Morales repeatedly referred to the scholarly nature of his audience and his own lack of formal higher education.

"This didn't originate with some group of political scientists or professionals or intellectuals," said Morales of the origins of the indigenous movement of peasant farmers in his country. "It was born of the struggles of the campesino (poor farmer) movement."

In keeping with the grassroots nature of the movement, Morales conveyed that his initiation into politics stemmed from firsthand experience.

Morales recalled his trajectory from a childish boy jealous of urban workers who discarded orange peels uneaten to a youth who asked his comrades why indigenous peoples feel the need to fight for territory and power.

"I didn't know what human rights meant," Morales said. "I didn't have a opportunity to do university studies."

However, while Morales began to realize the scope of oppression faced by the indigenous majority in his country, the peasant movement recognized it needed to forge a "political instrument for the poor," especially to defend natural resources he said.

American troops' presence and involvement in Bolivia further stoked the movement's urge to empower themselves, Morales said.

"We decided that we needed to begin to liberate ourselves," he said.

Addressing present criticisms that he faces, he said the oppositions' critiques are often merely personal attacks against him as an indigenous leader. "They use any pretext to wear down Evo Morales." he said. "They wanted to wear down the Indian."

He did not address a common criticism he faces - his relationship and ideological similarities with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - and did not mention the nearby country's leader until a student asked about the pair's relationship during the brief question-and-answer period following the address. Morales quickly tied in a few anecdotes about friendly rendezvous at Chavez' home with a definitive stance on socialism itself.

"What do I understand socialism to mean? Equality among human beings," Morales said.

The audience erupted in applause.

When asked to give his perspective on current U.S. political candidates, Morales said he had no reason to give an opinion on elections in another democratic nation.

However, the question provided a launching point for a harsh crititique against U.S. military and economic involvement in Bolivia.

"Just because it is a powerful country the Unitied States has no right to interfere in my country," he said, adding that economic resources cannot be used for political purposes.

Morales argued that the industrialization and luxury of Western nations causes much harm to the earth.

If natural resources continue to be exploited, "then man himself will be destroying planet Earth and therefore humankind."

The names "socialism" and "communism" mean little, Morales said. "The main thing is life and humankind."

This objective was clear to Will Emmons '09, who called the address "a pretty basic message that anyone could understand."

Likewise, the president's message brought hope to Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, a Native American who works in New York and had come to Brown to participate in the weekend pow wow held on the Main Green.

"It was encouraging for indigenous peoples oppressed by this government to see there is a future for us led by his example," she said.



Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.