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Bolivia’s Morales to be Inaugurated on Sunday

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• Morales inauguration on Sunday may mark the beginning of a troubled time.
• Bolivians are cautiously optimistic, but Morales must deliver on his promises in order to stay in office.
• Washington will wait and see whether Morales plays by their rules, but its influence is waning and South America is watching to see how the U.S. responds to Morales.

His global honeymoon over, Bolivia’s president-elect Evo Morales will soon have to face his country’s hard realities when he is sworn into office on Sunday. The path ahead is not clear, partly because, although a professed socialist, Morales can play the role of a Rotarian when needed. However wavering Morales may be, he will have to sail very close to the wind because he’s dealing with a situation of enormously rising expectations with his constituency, which he can ignore only at his own peril. If he backtracks on his commitments for real change and an improved standard of living, he may very well end up being one more Bolivian president who was capsized and drown. The indigenous, who so fervently supported Morales’ campaign, are no longer prepared to suspend disbelief when it comes to one of their presidents. If Evo doesn’t fulfill his campaign platform, and falters in his attempts to bring about real change, he most likely will be ousted, as he helped to do with several of his ill-fated predecessors.

Morales’ ultimate test will be to match the incendiary rhetoric that eventually launched him into office, with tangible deeds that will more equitably distribute the benefits of Bolivia’s natural resources to the entire population, not only the narrow elites living in the eastern part of the country. He must also resist the lure of international conclaves where he might be deluded into believing that the world is waiting for Evo Morales to come forth with his oracular phrases, rather than staying at home in order to better administer his revolution on a day-to-day basis.

Even if he is not seduced by the international spotlight, his efforts to implement meaningful changes will collide with Bolivia’s stultifying bureaucracy, whose main interest lies not in serving all of the citizenry, but rather its own self-interests. The country’s legacy of petty corruption that accompanies almost every official transaction could quickly begin to taint the new administration and make it the source for derision. But if Morales attempts to explain away the lack of progress using the excuse of real politik and practicality, and then avoids the urgent issue of improving standards of living for the poor, rapidly and significantly, he will be in danger of being pulled aside and brought down by the very electorate which installed him in office with such enthusiasm.

Evo Morales has inspired the country to believe in politics once again, but there is no guarantee that he too will not disappoint it and break its heart. Since the colonial era, the indigenous were fed first class promises, which eventually led to steerage class realities. Such betrayals traditionally have registered few political repercussions. Morales, however, faces a startling new element in the equation as a result of recent experiences, namely the realization by highland Bolivians that they have the power to unseat governments. Therefore, Evo sits on a very troubled throne, and the indigenous will soon discover whether they have a principled leader or some sweet-talking political hustler. In a very real sense, Morales is untested and the next four months will reveal whether he has the right stuff.

Another open question is whether Washington, when it comes to Bolivia, has the right stuff. Up to recently, it certainly didn’t. In fact, at the time of the Sánchez-Lozada election in 2002, then U.S. ambassador Manuel Rocha informed the Bolivian leadership, that if Morales (who was then running for the presidency) was elected, the U.S. would cut off aid. The State Department feels that Morales is on probation and it will wait and see if La Paz abides by market reforms and anti-drug efforts. But South America says that the U.S. is on probation, and that it will wait and see whether the U.S. still sees all things through an anti-Havana prism, and whether it still considers socialism a dirty word.