22 January 2006

Bolivia swears in first indigenous leader

RTÉ

22 January 2006 20:58

**See also Who is Evo Morales?

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Radical leftwinger Evo Morales has been sworn as the first indigenous leader of Bolivia and has vowed to end what he called the humiliation of the native population.

The former leader of poor coca leaf growers took an oath of office in front of 11 presidents and government leaders from Latin America and Europe, and Bolivian politicians.

While many countries and multinational oil firms are anxious over his policies, Morales concentrated his first speech on how he would bring justice to the indigenous population and ease crippling poverty.

Morales held a moment of silence for those who died in social campaigns in Bolivia in recent years, calling them 'martyrs'.

'We have been condemned, humiliated ... and never recognized as human beings', he said, stressing how Bolivian Indians made up 62% of the population.

'Fifty years of campaigning and popular resistance by indigenous people has not been in vain. We are here and we say that we have achieved power to end the injustice, the inequality and oppression that we have lived under,' he said.

His fiery speech also mentioned Latin American revolutionaries Che Guevara and Simon Bolivar.

Morales has said he will increase state control of valuable natural resources in a bid to ease the huge poverty divide in the country.

But the US is concerned over Morales' promise to end restrictions on production of coca leaf -- the core ingredient for cocaine. The US government has spent millions of dollars trying to eradicate coca.

Many governments are also anxious to see what impact his policies have in a region where leftist governments have increasing power.

Among those present at the ceremony were Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez, another virulent critic of the United States, and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former union leader.

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