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Bolivia Elects a President Who Supports Coca Farming
date: 19-December-2005
country: BOLIVIA
editorial comment editorial comment
Hum! From pot in the north to coke in the south and sudafed in the hearland, paraphernalia is starting to wonder if America has enough jails and soldiers to deal with this. Unfortunately, it does not lack dump politicians to try anyway......

Evo Morales, a candidate for president who has pledged to reverse a campaign financed by the United States to wipe out coca growing, scored a decisive victory in general elections in Bolivia on Sunday.

Evo Morales, 46, a former coca farmer, was mobbed Sunday after winning Bollivia's presidency and receiving up to 51 percent of the vote.

Mr. Morales, 46, an Aymara Indian and former coca farmer who also promises to roll back American-prescribed economic changes, had garnered up to 51 percent of the vote, according to televised quick-count polls, which tally a sample of votes at polling places and are considered highly accurate.

At 9 p.m., his leading challenger, Jorge Quiroga, 45, an American-educated former president who was trailing by as much as 20 percentage points, admitted defeat in a nationally televised speech.

At his party's headquarters in Cochabamba, Mr. Morales said his win signaled that "a new history of Bolivia begins, a history where we search for equality, justice and peace with social justice."

"As a people who fight for their country and love their country, we have enormous responsibility to change our history," he said.

Mr. Quiroga's concession signaled that he was prepared to step aside and avoid a protracted selection process in Congress, which, under Bolivian law, would choose between the top two finishers if neither obtained at least 50 percent of the vote.

"I congratulate Evo Morales," Mr. Quiroga said in a somber speech.

The National Electoral Court had not tabulated results on Sunday night, though Mr. Morales echoed the early polls and claimed to have won a majority.

His margin of victory appeared to be a resounding win that delivered the kind of mandate two of his predecessors, both of whom were forced to resign, never had. Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian-born political analyst from Florida International University in Miami, said Mr. Morales could be on his way to becoming "the president with the most legitimacy since the transition to democracy" from dictatorship a generation ago.

A Morales government would become the first indigenous administration in Bolivia's 180-year history and would further consolidate a new leftist trend in South America, where nearly 300 million of the continent's 365 million people live in countries with left-leaning governments.

Though most of those governments are politically and economically pragmatic, a Morales administration signals a dramatic shift to the left for a country that has long been ruled by traditional political parties disparaged by many Bolivians.

The victory by Mr. Morales will not be welcomed by the Bush administration, which has not hidden its distaste for the charismatic congressman and leader of the country's federation of coca farmers. American officials have warned that his election could be the advent of a destabilizing alliance involving Mr. Morales, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, who has seemed determined to thwart American objectives in the region.

In comments to reporters after casting his vote in the Chapara coca-growing region on Sunday , Mr. Morales said his government would cooperate closely with other "anti-imperialists," referring to Venezuela and Cuba. He said he would welcome cordial relations with the United States, but not "a relationship of submission."

He also pledged that under his government his country would have "zero cocaine, zero narco-trafficking but not zero coca," referring to the leaf that is used to make cocaine.

Mr. Chávez, who has met frequently with Mr. Morales, expressed confidence that Bolivia would turn a new page with the election. "We are sure what happens today will mean another step in the integration of the South America of our dreams, free and united," he said earlier in the day from Venezuela.

The election, which was marked by personal attacks, pitted two fundamentally different visions for how to extricate Bolivia from poverty. While Mr. Quiroga pledged to advance international trade, Mr. Morales promised to squeeze foreign oil companies and ignore the International Monetary Fund's advice.

Mr. Morales enjoyed strong support in El Alto, a largely indigenous city adjacent to the capital, La Paz, where voters said they had tired of years of government indifference.

"The hope is that he can channel our needs," said Janeth Zenteno, 31, a pharmacist in El Alto. "We have all supported Evo. It is not just what he says. It is that this is his base and he knows us."

For Javier Sukojayo, 40, a teacher, the election could signal a transformation of Bolivia into a country where the poor have more say.

"It has been 500 years of oppression since the Spanish came here," said Mr. Sukojayo, who counts himself as indigenous. "If we are part of the government - and we are the majority - we can make new laws that are in favor of the majority."

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