Why Bolivia reelected Evo Morales
His presidential victory Sunday chalks up another important win for Bolivia's Evo Morales and the region's hard-left, Chávez-led bloc, which also includes Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
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Girardo Urquizo, a coca farmer, stands as an example of both Morales´s popularity and polarizing abilities. Mr. Urquizo recently moved to Pando, one of the country's northern, tropical provinces, under Morales's plan to redistribute millions of acres managed by the state to landless Bolivians.
"Evo has always spoken in defense of us, no matter how much the rich and the business people try to marginalize us. I know Evo, he's a real socialist," he says. "When he won the first time, we celebrated, and we still have those feelings."
The policy, as many others that seek to redistribute wealth in the poor, landlocked nation, has generated controversy. Some claim that Morales is relocating his supporters to boost votes in areas that do not support him, while others hail the project as a concrete attempt to address inequality in Bolivia.
Down the Chávez path?
Morales has also tightened state control over natural gas and mining industries. Under his administration, relations with the US have at times soured. In 2008 he expelled both the US ambassador and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. His detractors say they fear he is taking Bolivia down the same path as Venezuela, where Chávez has also sought and won re-election and battled the country's elite.
Most recently Chávez shut down several banks in a growing banking probe, including another one this past weekend. On Sunday a government minister stepped down amid the scandal and Chávez called bankers "dirty thieves."
Some Bolivians fear this style will increasingly creep into Bolivia's political and economic life. Sandra Zanier, an opposition congresswoman-elect from La Paz, says she fears that Morales will attempt to run for president again in 2014, using the new constitution to justify a third term. Ms. Zanier sees Morales's alliance with Chávez as a sign of this desire. "It's not a good thing that another president can come here and make decisions," she says. "Morales is permitting it because he wants to become a dictator."
Even those in the center have their misgivings about the president. Voter Graciela Zubieta defines herself as a centrist, but she voted for Mr. Medina in this race. "I'm not from the right or the left. I want to be a neutral point, and I think that is (Medina)," she says. "He represents progress."
But for a majority of voters, it is Morales who will give Bolivians their best chance at moving forward, and he is a man they simply like and trust. "He's a really charismatic candidate. ... He's a president who has represented the people since his first day in office," says Tatiana Albarracín Murillo, a young lawyer and Morales supporter who lives in La Paz. "He's the first indigenous president of Bolivia – that affects his image. That along with his honesty, and the way he resolves problems from day to day, make him a very likable person. At the same time other groups, for the same characteristics, hate him. Even today, there are people who can't believe an Indian is president."