Press Briefing with Evo Morales at the 5th Summit of the Americas

Bolivian President Evo Morales at the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Bolivian President Evo Morales during a press briefing at the
5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

This interview has been transcribed from a translation during a press briefing featuring Bolivian President Evo Morales at the Fifth Summit of the Americas – April 18, 2009

PRESIDENT MORALES: Thank you my friends from the press. For those of you that don’t know me, I am Evo Morales Ayma, President of the nation of Bolivia. I would like to take this opportunity, first to thank you for your presence, and also to engage in a political and ideological debate that is taking place at the Summit of the Americas.

This is the first time I have taken part as a president, the second time as a labour leader. The fight and social movements [that] were against the FTAA, thank goodness, has been overcome in some of the countries in Latin America and what we have in it’s place is the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of the Americas (ALBA). It is a new form of integration of the peoples of America in which solidarity prevails that is complimented by competence in which what we seek is the ongoing fight for the dignity and sovereignty and not a policy of submission or subordination. That way Latin America has started to be more dignified.

I would like to explain some of the problems that I had as the president of the republic with an ongoing conspiracy during the George Bush administration. We had problems with him last year and I would like to show you here some of the evidence. A staff member of the Peace Corps (I know a lot of young people are in the Peace Corps who expressed solidarity with my country), [a] young American, a member of the Peace Corps, issued an affidavit before the appropriate authorities and he said, and I will read, and then the part that made my ears pick up came, when Vincent Cooper, who is second in charge of the US Embassy, said, “Alex, (that was the young man’s name)… Alex, when you are in the countryside and you come across any Columbian or Venezuelan who is working there and as a doctor you should report that to the US Embassy and give their names and where they live.” And Alex said, “Cooper should provide that information because you know that there are Cubans and Venezuelans out there and that they should be watched closely,” and I smiled and I nodded because I didn’t want to show that I was taken aback by the fact that they had asked me to do such a thing. I asked the Foreign Ministry to call the ambassador who has now been expelled, so that I can ask him why the US Embassy had made such a request to tail Cubans and Venezuelans. And this interview says that the United States admits that it ordered spying in Bolivia, and not just to spy on Cubans and Venezuelans but also the Bolivian Government.

This is a clear meddling and interference on the part of the US State Department and we could show a lot of documentation on this fact. For example, I know that the United States is interested in cooperating through USAID but during the previous administration the economic resources of USAID, that is, on behalf of the US people, only reached those institutions that are constantly conspiring against the national government. Ex or former ministers of neoliberal governments; former ministers who have been hired as consultants by USAID, they are the ones who are openly planning the conspiracy. They can also be held responsible for the attempted coup.

I would like to thank those people who defended rule of law and democracy in the rally that was held in Moneros Santero, Chile. We would like to thank the contemporary president of Chile who convened a meeting of the presidents to speak out against that coup; against the civil state. It failed.

As a result of this external mobilization of economic funds that come from the United States – forty percent goes to per diems, airfare and other expenses of US functionaries and forty percent goes as a commission for these activities and only twenty percent trickles down; and so this [is a] type of bad investment and provocation.

I would like to read from these newspaper clips on the different ambassadors of the United States who, on an ongoing basis, issued threats. When I was a candidate for the presidency in 2002, the Ambassador of the United States, Manuel Rocha, at the time, said that anyone who backs Evo Morales would not receive international assistance; “the United States pressures the drug trade, do not vote for Evo!” The ambassador says that if citizens vote for the cocaine leader as the leader of our country then they will jeopardize cooperation and that on Sunday, the future [of] Bolivia is in the balance.

They came just short of saying do not vote for me, so I think that was the best campaign advisor I could have had. The United States will close down the markets if Evo Morales is elected. The ambassador of the country warned against the consequences if the leader tied to drug trafficking and terrorism were to be elected. Of course, all of the social movements paid no heed to this. At the time, the President, Jorge Quiroga said nothing; he was the ally to the US Embassy. Ambasadar Rocha threatens and is criticized for meddling, and he went so far to say that I was the Andean Bin Laden and that I was providing coca leaves to the Taliban. It’s here in print, my friends of the press.

I would like to talk about this ongoing story of conspiracy when I was a candidate to the presidency and I was surprised yesterday by the words of the new US President Obama. Three things of importance he said: There aren’t small or large partners here; that relations should be based on mutual respect; and he talked about change and how the days have gone by. In Bolivia, we are yet to feel any changes. The policies of conspiracy continue from the right.

I do understand that it is hard to bring about change overnight. I have been the president for the last three years and changes are slow in coming. It’s very hard to change state bureaucracy. It’s very difficult to do away with corruption. At one time, I said that corruption is the right of a colonial state, that bureaucracy is the right of a colonial state and to decolonize is very difficult but we are well on the way in Bolivia.

What is being currently debated is fundamentally an economic issue; we are debating human prosperity. If we don’t change current economic policies it will be impossible to ensure human prosperity. In Bolivia, we have started to change the neoliberal model. The model of neoliberalism, of privatization, of privatizing basic services and raw materials. These privatizations have not solved the problems.

Bolivia had never had a fiscal surplus until 2006, thanks to the recovery of our national resources such as hydrocarbon and oil. In 2006, we had our first surplus after so many years. Before, the government, especially ministers of finance, they would ask for loans from the United States so that they could make their payroll. We don’t have that problem anymore. Before the nationalization of natural resources such as oil, petroleum, international reserves were one point seven (1.7) billion dollars. Last year, we reached seven point eight (7.8 billion dollars in international reserves. Of course, that’s nothing compared to what other countries have – but look how far we have come – from one point seven to seven point eight billion dollars in such a short period of time. (Now, of course, those countries that forgave our foreign debt, the IDB. Also we had a foreign debt of five billion dollars, now we have a foreign debt of two point five billion dollars.)

We will use this money for road systems to link our different state departments and we have signed on with agreements with President Lula. They have lent money for us to build these roads and pave them.

This international event, I think that it is a propitious time for us to express our deep differences and disagreements with capitalism. The financial crisis has not been caused by the so-called developing countries. This financial crisis which is currently under debate is the result of capitalism and therefore this is a structural financial problem; it’s not just a passing problem. This isn’t just a passing problem, but if we don’t correct this (and we have started to correct the neoliberal system in Bolivia) …and if that correction is not done, and actually, if we don’t do this safely, then all of humanity is in jeopardy – even those people who concentrate vast amounts of capital in a few hands. No one will be safe, because capitalism, the unbridled industrialization, is threatening our environment; we don’t only have the problem of the financial crisis.

In short, these types of events, as heads of states we need to debate openly about our deep ideological, cultural and platform problems. We need to address these policies. I just said that I come from a university which was that of abject poverty, discrimination and racism. We are the most reviled people of the Americas; the indigenous groups. I come from a number of universities. I have come to learn about new proposals; economical, political and social proposals that could inspire me to solve these problems.

I don’t want models that would just disturb or disrupt our country such as the neoliberal system has and that’s why I have come seeking a dialogue, cooperation and not relations based on conspiracies. I have come to build with trust diplomacy and not interference and I would like to say to President Obama, I welcome the three messages he sent.

We cannot, however, overlook our history. Our history is sacred. Thanks to our forefathers we are where we are. That’s why I am here. I can say if President Obama is now president, then he owes that to Martin Luther King and to overlook the past, to forget it would be a mistake. But we are obliged to correct the errors of the past to make up for the damage done so that we can ensure new human prosperity which is precisely the topic of this event. We need to correct these errors of the past and that also means to do away with interventionism, the arms race, and we have to put an end to the type of capitalism that only seeks out good markets and good resources without concern or regard for the concern of human life.

The policy of concentrating economic resources in the hands of a few, leaving in its wake misery and poverty, is no solution for humanity, not just in the Americas but worldwide. That is why we have to seriously consider how we can live in a complementary way and not in competition with one another. We have to start thinking about how we can live in harmony with mother earth and not convert mother earth into a commodity to be continuously exploited.

Hopefully in this debate, we can correct this document that is being debated so that we can sign it. But if those corrections aren’t made (the issue of bio fuels), then our government, the government of Bolivia, will not sign this document. To implement bio fuel policies means that it is more important than human life. I think that we should go for human life rather than the scraps of the US. I don’t want to be an accomplice of implementing these policies that are going to harm human lives so much. I don’t want to speak too much at length. I would just like to thank all of you.

Some are more concerned about being greater informed although last year in September and October we faced a coup on the part of civil society. Now these groups are still voting up the neoliberal model and they are plotting… the latest information that we have received to that effect. The fascist right in Bolivia tried to take me out of the palace through the recall referendum. Happily they failed, thanks to the Bolivian people.

Instead of recalling me, they reasserted my position. I won fifty-four percent last year (in 2005 rather), and sixty-seven percent was the result of the recall attempt and after they failed with that then they tried a coup d’état and they failed with that too.

Just one week ago there was a radio hearing in which it was said that perhaps the president or some other authority of Bolivia, their days may be numbered and that just broke. These mercenaries, blood thirsty mercenaries – snipers, have been found out in the city of Santa Cruz and there were three dead and a few arrested and a few got away. I was very sad to see this happen, but after on Monday in Bolivia, this group, that didn’t want to have the law passed to ensure national elections that is to comply with the mandate of the people, went on a peaceful hunger strike and in the past hunger strikes were against dictatorship and now the hunger strike is against the neoliberal model, and so the fight goes on. This is a hunger strike and a peaceful one. Tuesday after the celebration, there was a bomb that was found at the door of the Cardinal’s residence or the Catholic Church. That was placed there simply to cast a pall over the success that we have had with this electoral process.

The Vice President of the Republic issued precise instructions on these groups we detected. The lines were tapped and we found weapons and bombs, highly sophisticated weapons with high power scopes and silencers, and even when I was serving in the military we didn’t have that type of high powered weaponry. So what is the right doing in Bolivia?

They failed with the recall attempt, with the coup attempt and now they are seeking to strike at the life of the president himself. I am not frightened by this, but we are obliged to denounce this and that’s why this first contact with President Bachelet, the contemporary president who put together a meeting of the hemispheric countries with President Obama.

The first thing I said at that meeting was that we speak out against this type of attack. Last year during the coup attempt Mercosur, UN, OAS, Europe, everyone denounced this. They rejected it except for government of the United States. Obama wasn’t in office yet. Now the OAS has denounced yesterday, they have repudiated that attempted assassination.

There is evidence: weaponry; Irish, Croatians, Hungarians planning with Bolivians, not just Bolivians. What we are investigating is where is the money coming from? I don’t think that the business class, the Bolivian oligarchs put up so much money. Who is organizing it? We know the goals, we know what the objective is.

We ask for this meeting and we have asked President Obama to repudiate what is happening, not to hush up as happened last year when he kept quiet and said nothing. Well I could think that coup attempt was organised through the embassy. We do have this information here. It is recognised in any event, once again, I have come here to dialogue but a dialogue based on cooperation and not relationships based on conspiracy. I would like to foster confidence and not meddling in my country. That will be the principle of my government, once I am in the government as president, to respond to the demands of the Bolivian people.

Question from the media: Good morning, I have a question about President Obama’s speech and what you said. Do you think that Obama’s speech means that the Obama administration has now understood the message from the international community that the trade embargo is the main obstacle to normal relations with Cuba, or did the speech with Obama not reflect that?

PRESIDENT MORALES: At this time we are engaged in the debate as a hemisphere on economic problems, environmental problems and security problems. How is it possible that we could engage in this debate without one or two countries that are not here, such as Cuba or Haiti. I don’t know if Haiti is here … I am sorry, Haiti is here but Cuba is not here.

If we want to discuss the economic issues of the hemisphere, then we all must come together. It might be difficult for Obama, but Obama is under an obligation to make reparation for economic damage, for political damage that has been done to Cuba. He should have great respect for Fidel and for Cuba because Fidel is the symbol of solidarity. I said at one point in time when I was a trade union leader, I had an opportunity to speak with Fidel Castro and he didn’t talk to me about communism, he didn’t talk to me about socialism. He only spoke to me for six hours on health and education … I was surprised. I wanted to hear Fidel – this was five or six years ago when I was a union leader – I wanted to hear him tell me about what socialism was, how he had done the revolution. He said not a word about the revolution or about socialism. I was surprised.

The United Nations spoke several times, from 1990 I think, has been adopting resolutions calling on the economic blockade against Cuba to be lifted. I would like, with regards to Cuba, to be Obama. You know why? Because Cuba receives support from the whole world except for two countries in terms of the economic blockade, Israel and the United States. Now as Cuba receives support from the whole world, if I was Obama, I would lift the economic blockade and now I would have support of the whole world …that’s what I would like to do. Of course, I would hope that this request [comes] not only from countries from South America but from the whole world. I hope it will be heard, that he lifts the economic blockade against Cuba. It is a call from the whole world, not just from presidents but social movements as well. We have seen statements to Obama from the COB, from the federations, from the peasant, indigenous and worker sectors, also from the professionals. There is a big national and international movement in solidarity with the Cuban people.

Question: Good morning, your excellency, thank you very much for coming to Trinidad and Tobago. My name is Dennis Mc Comie and I represent the National Secretariat for the Fifth Summit of the Americas. I hope you indulge me, I have three short questions. First, what did you think of the Opening Ceremony last night? Secondly, do you think your international fast demonstration for elections has been successful and thirdly, as the indigenous first president of Bolivia, what would you like to see come out of the final conclusions of the Fifth Summit of the Americas?

PRESIDENT MORALES: First, I would like to congratulate you on excellent organization, by your government, the prime minister, of your people of Trinidad and Tobago. I’ve been impressed.

Second, in terms of the fast, I am still waiting for shark soup. I haven’t had any yet. Since there’s no shark soup, there is no human prosperity for me. Since there’s no shark soup there is not a new package. Therefore, the package continues to be the struggle for dignity, sovereignty and social justice. This triumph in Bolivia is not the first time. This is a government of the social movements. When we began to change policies having to do with lands and territory in 2006, there was a one week march: thousands of people marched to get the congress to change the law governing land. Why with legislature? Well unfortunately, we do not have majority in the senate and they [are] constantly blocking what we want to get done. With the lower house we don’t have any problem. In order to give income to the most abandoned sensitive sector of humankind, which is to say our elders, our grandfathers and our grandmothers, we have created something called the dignity allowance which has also been created through the efforts of the people to approve the new constitution of the Bolivian state … another march of thousands and thousands of people. Now instead of a march we have had a hunger strike in order to push and get these results.

What conclusions would I like to see come out of this international event? The agreements, the declarations, that they be geared first to unity of the Americas and that means the presence of Cuba. We hope that is the last summit of heads of states without Cuba. That is what I would like.

Just a moment. I am about to wind up. I was saying, I would like to see unity of all the Americas. Second, if President Obama really follows through on his word, that there be no junior partners and senior partners, then that would be great. That would be the best conclusion. If there is real change, not just change in international relations, but also change in economic relations then the world would change and if the relations are based on mutual respect it will be all the better. We cannot forget our past. It is impossible to forget our past. I am very certain that our past is in our future. One needs to review the errors of the past to plan into the future. I agree that we cannot be held hostage to the past either. We make history and we will continue to make history. We are different from one country to the next, from one continent to the next, of course.

Respecting those problematic ideological and cultural differences, it is important to figure out how to diminish the great asymmetries that exist from one family to the next, from one country to the next, from one continent to the next. It’s not possible for the migrants to have bear the brunt of the financial crisis. That’s no solution for the economic and social problems of the poorest of the poor, of the most abandoned, and if there is migration now from the Latin American countries to Europe, well it is because they have good salaries. Before, the migration from Europe to the Americas and no Europeans were expelled. Now many Bolivians, Latin Americans go to Europe and what they face is expulsion; they are sent back. We never did that, our grandparents never had a directive to send people back. That’s another debate we need to have with Europeans that punishing the migrants to resolve the financial crisis is no solution and such conclusions would give us even greater guidance for resolving the economic problems in our countries.

Is it possible that there be democratic elections in Cuba? I was in Cuba as a union leader and I was there during the elections, the elections where there is no prudence. If one does not win 50 percent then assembly members can’t be elected. Apart from the question of democracy, any country has the right to make it’s own decisions, that’s self-determination. President Obama said liberty, freedom and justice. Well Cuba is free and that must be respected. Let us recall the earlier years or earlier decades, coup d’états were sponsored by the United States in Latin America and there are calls for democracy. Chile was Pinochet, without going further. Some politicians told me it’s only in the United States where there are no coup d’états because there are no US ambassadors in the United States.

Question from the media: What is the role that young people should play in the models of inspiration that you speak of in Bolivia and the rest of the Americas?

PRESIDENT MORALES: Youth, children, they are not the future, they are the present. I have a short history, I come from a group of youths who were engaged in sport and soccer. I love soccer. Any sport, it means integration. Sports is not just a trophy or championship, it is integration. Sport is the best way of gauging the character of any human being. So I began with youth, and with sports you can create great movements of solidarity, ideological movements, political movements. It is youth and women who are the great supporters of movements. When we [were] young we were always agitators: agitating for equality, for dignity, for unity and also for a great sense of social responsibility; for youth are at the head of democratic evolutionary processes in Latin America.

Question from the media: I was looking at the daily Bolivian press today casting in doubt on the alleged terrorist attack. They say ….recorded the statements by the Governor of Santa Cruz saying that it was all a show that was conjured up by the government. Do you have something to say about this?

PRESIDENT MORALES: Let us recall that there was a massacre led by the governor of Pando last year during the attempted civil coup. First, they said it was a setup, but when they saw that there were people who were killed, they hushed up. Then they said that seven Venezuelans were killed in that massacre. I asked who is getting airplane travel to Venezuela to talk to the widows and the orphans, and then they hushed up. Then they said that this minister had given four million dollars to a union leader. Well what union leader is going to be walking around with four million dollars? And then they hushed up. Little by little, more documents emerge to show how they carried out this massacre of peasant and indigenous colleagues in [place name]. I have heard the words of the governor, “how is something set up like this?” Certainly, those authorities are experts in various situations. I can tell you, I was detained so many times. As a union leader I am very familiar with what a frame-up is, but here they put a bomb at the door of the Cardinal’s house. The person was found as people wrote down the license plate of the car, so what frame-up? There are always going to be distortions and I have asked you, the international press, to go and investigate. There is nothing to hide and nothing to lie about. We are characterized by transparency and honesty in our administration of the state. Just a month ago, after they failed with the recall vote, after they failed with the coup attempt, now they are failing. I hope they fail forever in trying to attack the lives of others. We have received information, thanks to efforts of the officers of the army and police.

Question from the media: Mr. President, you said a moment ago in your presentation that you are going to sign the declaration tomorrow if the issue regarding bio fuels is modified, but you haven’t given details about what you would like the declaration to include and what is it about the text on bio fuels that you do not like.

PRESIDENT MORALES: We cannot implement bio fuels policies of any sort and this is what we would like to see reflected in the text.

Question from the media: Speaking of the future, when do you think that relations with the United States can be improved? When do you think the countries can exchange ambassadors again? And in terms of bio fuels, that is not so much a difference with the United States as it is with Brazil. How does your position on bio fuels interplay with your relations with Brazil?

PRESIDENT MORALES: It is up to the United States government to improve relations. If diplomatic relations with the United States had to do with investment, cooperation and not meddling and conspiracy, then they are welcome; not only with the United States, but with the whole world. And the ambassador of the United States will say that when they begin to change the staff, because the staff continues to operate as if they were serving the Bush administration. That is the key issue.

Question from the media: Do you see this same change, this change in socio-economic policies happening throughout the hemisphere, and if so, how long might this last?

PRESIDENT MORALES: It is hard to answer. If we were to all change our programs, principles … if all the presidents of the world were thinking about all of humankind, thinking about the whole world and not just money, we would not be 10 years, but 20 or 30 years. I am not an expert, but if I do not change anything, then there will be a faster accelerated risk to human life.

Question from the media: They are asking for a change not only in terms of the position of the United States, but also in terms of the dissidents in each of the Latin American countries. But in that case, will you also set out a different position in terms of your rhetoric, which is often very strong in many countries in Latin America, beginning with President Hugo Chavez and in general the countries that make up ALBA, and of course, Daniel Ortega as well.

PRESIDENT MORALES: I was saying a moment ago that we have differences, differences among families, differences between continents, but above and beyond those differences, one should first think about humankind. One should first think about the planet earth and not just think about our distinct regions. Once we speak simply about accommodating capitalist interests, we are not going to resolve social problems in the different countries.

Question from the media: I fear that you did not understand the question. In that event I would ask whether there is going to be a change in the rhetoric used against dissidents in each of your countries. For example, in Venezuela and Bolivia there is great conflict between the opposition and official forces. It is a very serious situation, at times it has reached the point of violence and I do not think that a country can prevail living in violence and not in peace. Will there also be a change in your rhetoric in order to maintain peace of mind in your country. I will just cite one example, in Bolivia, day after day, year after year, those who were in economic and political power will never voluntarily give up their power.

PRESIDENT MORALES: That is a permanent struggle. Before the right would win by how much … by 20 or 30 percent and since almost all the parties were right wing, they would constitute the overwhelming majority. We won for the first time since 1950, with 54 percent of the vote. Since 1950, no party has won with more than 50 percent of the vote as a revolutionary movement based in the social movements, and then ratified with a vote of 67 percent. Before, after three, four or five months, the president would have no more authority. In Latin America, there is competition among the social movements to see who could expel the most presidents. That has happening in Argentina, in Ecuador, in Bolivia … expelling the neoliberal presidents. But now, the presidents are being consolidated with the vote of the people in democratic conditions. In Bolivia in 2006, the opposition said that we are going to bring together one million people. I would say that it was about 300 thousand, then about 50 thousand and then how many people were they able to call out two weeks ago? People said 5 thousand, I would say 10 thousand. Those who only think of themselves and not of the people, find their base shrinking. It is a great triumph. Even the people are organised, seeking social justice, seeking to have their unmet demands fulfilled and that is the task that we set out to do.

I would like to say something, however, I don’t have too much time. I would like to continue speaking. I learned as a union leader, to work for those grassroots. I have been marked up, I have been tortured, I have been prosecuted, I have been jailed during the union struggle. I have been accused of being a drug trafficker, a terrorist, of being Bin Laden, of being a Taliban or murderer. I was expelled from the National Congress under accusations that I was a murderer. If I was a terrorist or a drug trafficker, I would not be at this meeting of heads of state. As I defended my people and my organization, they defended me. If those social forces did not defend me, Evo Morales would be defeated in the union movement, in the political struggle, even physically. From leader to president, I began to understand what serving the people means. I began to serve the people.

I have seen in my family and in big families, single women who, when they become pregnant, the male partner abandons her, and even the family discriminates against her and says seek out your man; young women who were pregnant and abandoned. I told the Vice President one day, why can’t we create a special allowance subsidy for single pregnant women. We had a discussion and a tactical team and the conclusion was that we need to give a special allowance to all pregnant women and children of ages one and two. It is not much money, but for those who are impoverished, it is a solution in terms of food, in terms of medical check ups. The dream is for the children to be well-fed.

I can speak about several social policies. We have begun to give loans with zero percent interest to grow rice, corn, wheat, soybean and we want to extend it to other products. At this time, the best way to encourage projection is to ensure that there is no food scarcity. And once we implemented this kind of policy, the people are now defending the president. And therefore, those groups who think only of their own interests find their base shrinking. Of course, there has to be opposition. Those who constantly in Latin America held economic and political power will never voluntarily give it up. It is a permanent battle.

Thank you very much.