Morales vows justice for aborigines

Bolivian president promises to redress centuries of injustice

Evo Morales was sworn in Sunday as Bolivia's new president, vowing to end what he described as five centuries of humiliation and abuse of the country's Indian majority.

Wearing a dark suit and no tie, the former union leader for impoverished coca leaf growers, himself an Aymara Indian, fought back tears as he took an oath of office before 11 presidents and government leaders from Latin America and Europe.

Morales, a left-winger and long time protest leader, focused his nearly two-hour inauguration speech on bringing justice to the country's indigenous majority.

Noting that Bolivian Indians made up 62 percent of the population, he said: "We have been condemned, humiliated ... and never recognized as human beings."

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

The new president held a moment of silence for those who had died in social struggles in Bolivia in recent years, calling them "martyrs."

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

And as his speech dragged on he said: "It's not my custom to talk much. Don't think that I've been infected by Fidel and Chavez." He was referring to Cuban President Fidel Castro - who was invited but absent - and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, both known for lengthy, grandiloquent speeches.

Then he made the guests laugh by turned to a member of his own party who was nodding off and upbriaing him: "That senator from Cochabamba, don't fall asleep."

Morales rose to prominence as a leader of street protests and roadblocks that helped topple two Bolivian presidents in the past three years. He was elected on December 18, 2005, with almost 54 percent of the vote.

In a second speech Sunday to supporters crammed into a city plaza, Morales promised "a government without dead people."

"The blood spilled by our brothers has not been in vain," he said of those who had died in mass street protests over the past years.

"We are not vengeful. We are not going to take revenge on anyone," he told the river of people crowding the square and the main avenue leading to it, who were waving the Bolivian national flag and the multi-color flags representing the country's 37 indigenous groups.

"We are going to show those who massacred us and murdered us how to govern."

Morales was especially referring to the so-called "gas wars," a series of bloody mass protests against the policies of then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada on use of the country's vast mineral gas resources. The protests forced Sanchez de Losada to resign in 2003.

Updated : 2021-01-29 00:41 GMT+08:00