Bolivian president touts women’s progress amid effort to remain in office

Evo Morales Ayma, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, at a press conference in UN Headquarters in 2015. (United Nations Photo/Flickr)

Bolivia’s Evo Morales highlighted his government’s efforts to include women, youth and indigenous people yesterday amid an effort to stay in office for an unprecedented fourth term.

“From 1825 to 2005, 23 [women]ministers [were]appointed between all our presidents,” Morales said in his annual address to the nation’s legislative assembly yesterday, adding that “under our management, 11 years of government, 47 [women] ministers [were]appointed by a single president.”

After Rwanda, he said, Bolivia has the world’s second-largest representation of women in Congress.

Morales also pointed out the growing representation of young people in his Cabinet of Ministers, and said that of the legislative assembly’s 166 legislators, 41 are indigenous.

“In the republic, the most marginalized, excluded, have been the indigenous movement and women of varied social classes,” Morales said. “… until 2005 there was no representation of young people between 18 and 25 years.”

Morales listed numerous other achievements of his administration, including drastic reductions in poverty, inequality and unemployment. The president said his government has done more for Bolivia than any of his 64 presidential predecessors.

Morales lost a referendum vote last February that would have made him eligible to run for a fourth term. The president blamed the loss on discrimination and a smear campaign by the right-wing opposition, but said he would respect the will of voters.

Nearly a year later, however, Morales is seeking to extend his time in office with a constitutional change that would allow him to nullify last year’s referendum results – a move the Catholic Church has warned could “widen schisms in Bolivian society” and “generate violence.” Whether the constitutional reform will be approved remains to be seen, but the New York Times reported it is likely, considering that his political party holds the majority in Congress.

Bolivian businessman and opponent Samuel Doria Medina criticized the president’s speech yesterday, which he said aimed to “show his desire to want to be eternalized in power, even using blackmail to say that if he is not re-elected he will block the roads,” according to a report from Pagina Siete. “He is willing to do anything to cling to power.”

Doria also criticized Morales’s comparison between his government and foregone periods of Bolivian history.

“It is not possible to compare today’s reality with that of 180 years ago,” he said in the Pagina Siete report. “And what interests the Bolivian people is what kind of country we are now building.”

Morales first took office in 2006 on a promise to govern in favor of Bolivia’s indigenous majority, who had suffered centuries of discrimination and abuse. The former coca grower is credited with improving indigenous rights through social programs and the introduction of a plurinational constitution in 2009 that recognized the multi-ethnic diversity of the country.

Morales’s administration also pulled through on its promise to slash Bolivia’s poverty levels. In just a few months, the socialist leader brought Bolivia’s rich oil and gas industries back under state control. The BBC reported that his administration used the revenue to invest in public works projects and social programs to fight poverty, which reduced by 25 percent during his presidency. Extreme poverty dropped by 43 percent.

Over the years, Morales has maintained strong support among ordinary Bolivians. He first took office with 54 percent of the vote, and won two re-elections – one in 2009 and another in 2014 – with more than 60 percent of the vote. Now in the middle of his third term, Morales has been in office longer than any other leader in Latin America.

But prominent indigenous groups have denounced some of Morales’s recent development projects that threaten the environment and traditional indigenous ways of life, according to Foreign Policy. Some of these critics argue his policies favor Bolivia’s wealthy, light-skinned minority. This, combined with allegations of corruption and the government’s attempts to discredit and silence its critics, have fractured parts of Morales’s voter base.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com

  • Uh, I’m pretty sure Morales was saying FEMALE ministers not “women” ministers. Women is not an adjective. In Spanish, the word “ministro” means male minister and “ministra” means female minister, so clearly this is a translation error.

    • Lisa Nikolau

      “Female” would imply the minister’s sex, ability to produce children and so on. “Women” is used to be more inclusive and accurate.