Evo in New York -The Speech

I went to see Evo Morales speak at The Great Hall at Cooper Union Monday night. He spoke for approximately an hour and a half and was humble, humorous and engaging. Some of the better points he made:

  • Corruption is worse than neoliberalism.
  • Coca in and of itself is a harmless crop with a long tradition of use by the indigenous people of the Andes.
  • Democracy is integral to his movement.

On the subject of corruption, I could not agree more. I've long believed that corruption and impunity are the evil twins of the very worst in Latin American politics. I'm certainly no fan of neoliberalism and am overjoyed that the Washington Consensus is effectively dead, but corruption is a disease that knows no left or right. Coca is maligned because it is made into cocaine. Cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, the coca leaf is not. It has numerous other uses that do not involve drug addiction and narcotrafficking. Given the miserable failure that the war on drugs has become, this is a problem that, in my opinion, should be addressed on the demand side. As for his support for democracy, well that goes without saying is a positive.

Among the things I found disturbing and/or inconsistent were the following:

  • Praise for Fidel Castro.
  • Condemnation of capitalism in general.

If Morales is going to put forth the ideas of a constituent assembly, referenda, free and open elections and fair representation as intrinsic to good government, why does he support a man who has denied his citizens those same things while imprisoning them for the non-violent expression of their beliefs. Does he believe that anything in the way of the protests that shut down El Alto in the Gas War could have been accomplished in Cuba if Cuban citizens had legitimate grievances that the government was not responding to them?

As for his condemnation of capitalism, I'm not a supporter of unbridled capitalism, but Morales rightfully took credit for increasing Bolivia's currency reserves and creating a budget surplus. How did this happen? In addition to nationalizing the petroleum industry, the government had to sell some of its natural resources. Clearly there had to be businesses interested in buying said resources. I'm certainly glad to see Bolivia getting its fair share, but without a market for it, it might as well stay in the ground.

There were a number of young people in the audience. As I was waiting in line I heard them discussing Cuba. One of them pointed out that he supported the Cuban Revolution, but said that  he did not support Fidel and felt that Fidel Castro had betrayed his own movement by letting his nation become a client state of the USSR and the resulting difficulties of the Special Period, maintaining his hold on the government and not calling for elections. When Morales praised Castro, a middle-aged woman sitting in front of me jumped up and applauded saying, "Viva Fidel!"

Ahh, the wisdom of youth, the calcification of some of the middle-aged among us.

A note to the young woman who introduced President Morales: learn some basic Latin American history. When you make the statement that Evo Morales is the first indigenous president of a nation in the Americas, you're promoting your admiration for Morales over the truth. Anyone worth their salt on the subject would surely know that Benito Juarez preceded Morales as the first indigenous president in the Americas by 148 years.

The two most peculiar observations of the evening: for the duration of Morales' speech, a officer in the dress whites of the Bolivian Navy stood behind Morales. I suppose if Michelle Bachelet were in the audience it might have been done for effect. As it turns out, it just looked strange.

At the end of the evening a number of enthusiastic supporters rushed the stage to shake Morales' hand. Several handed him flags: some were Aymara flags, some were Venezuelan flags; none were Bolivian flags.

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