NEW YORK – In the last week of September, Bolivian President Evo Morales came to New York to speak to the U.N. General Assembly and a variety of audiences about global warming, the devastating effects of unchecked capitalism, the re-founding of his country in the face of internal and external pressures, and other issues.
”The market converts life into commodities; it converts land into a commodity,” he told the assembly. ”And when the capitalists cannot sustain this economic model based on looting, on exploitation, on marginalization, on exclusion and above all, on the accumulation of capital, they rely on war, the arms race … For the indigenous movement, land cannot be a commodity; it is a mother that gives us life, so how could we convert it into a commodity as the Western model does?
”This is why I feel it is important,” he continued, ”to change economic models, development models, and economic systems, particularly those in the Western world. And if we do not understand and thoroughly discuss the very survival of our peoples, then we certainly will not be addressing the problem of climate change, the problem of life, the problem for humanity.”
The Bolivian chief executive, who is Aymaran, also spoke about the history of the indigenous campesino movement that brought him to power and how difficult it was to bring together so many different social movements, indigenous communities, unions and farmers associations like the coca leaf growers that first elected Morales as their president. His speech was peppered with details on the struggles within the movement that was already being opposed by Bolivian and U.S. interests.
Morales attended more than a dozen meetings, gave radio interviews and a press conference, appeared on Jon Stewart’s ”The Daily Show” and even squeezed in a little time to play soccer at a local stadium, where cheering Bolivians held signs saying ”Adelante Evo” (”Keep moving forward, Evo”).
He was also greeted with passionate cheers and two standing ovations when he gave a 90-minute speech at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The crowd was made up mostly of students along with Bolivians and other Latinos who occasionally broke into sustained applause, especially after comments that echoed his U.N. speech when he mentioned ”destroyer capitalism” as a root cause of global warming.
Internal and external opposition were among the many themes discussed at the president’s press conference/breakfast at the Tudor Hotel in midtown Manhattan. More than a dozen reporters from the United States, Latin America and Europe sat with Morales and two of his ministers for the event, which was held in the hotel’s ground floor.
During the brief question and answer period, Morales was asked about opposition from the United States and its allies in his country.
”As a government, we have been victims of the [U.S.] State Department,” he replied. ”There is a certain division within the State Department; there are some officials who oppose this process of democracy … There are some that provoke, and incite violence against the government of Evo Morales. And some of these funds that are supposedly for cooperation are those that prepare the groups that are against our government.
”Before, they persecuted and threatened us as unions, and union leaders,” he continued. ”And I thought that when I changed from union leader to president that that situation would change. But it exists, and we are not going to end our relationship with the United States over that. For 500 years we have had patience and hopefully, with patience, these things will change and we hope that all the cooperation will be transparent.”
Morales also spoke of the improved reputation of his government, which received a good report from Transparency International for its anti-corruption efforts. He also repeated some statistics on the country’s economic performance due to the nationalization of petrochemical or hydrocarbon profits. He reported that Bolivia, which has struggled with debt and terrible poverty, had a budget of $300 million when he entered office, and will soon have $2 billion to $5 billion after recovering these new fees.
But several reporters brought up the country’s upcoming trade deals with Iran and asked if that relationship would hurt Bolivia’s reputation due to Iran’s controversial nuclear program and its other human rights problems.
”We are from indigenous families and we are from a culture of dialogue,” he asserted. ”Dialogue is the most important … we can have dialogues with all countries where we can have complementarity, in defense of life. Never will our government enter into policies that go against life or into agreements that hurt life. … With Iran, we were impressed with their technological developments with petrochemicals. We had already been in discussions with Iran that will help our country but do not harm anyone.”
When pressed further about Iran, especially as that country’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the main focus of media coverage during that entire week, Morales responded.
”Well, these are accusations from the communications media,” he said. ”When I was a union leader of the coca leaf farmers, I was called an Andean bin Laden. We were called indigenous Taliban by these same media and that I was a terrorist murderer, or I was the cocalera mafia. This was coming from this same State Department and these are accusations only.
”But I want to say this to you,” he continued, ”that there is no Latin American country that has reasonable prices for building milk processing and fruit processing plants. We were importing those from Iran. My country did not have the industries that manufactured those materials. We wanted those processing plants.”
Morales also spoke of trade with Latin American allies such as Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela and other countries. In addition to meetings with presidents and ministers, Morales met with U.S. union activists, peace groups, farmers organizations and indigenous leaders, including the New York-based American Indian Law Alliance.