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BOLIVIA: Morales – ‘Condor’ in Tiwanaku, President in La Paz

Franz Chávez

LA PAZ, Jan 19 2006 (IPS) - With an Aymara ritual, an official ceremony and a mass celebration, Bolivia will see its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, take office this weekend, with around 10 Latin American presidents in attendance.

Faithful to his traditions, the outright winner in the first round of elections on Dec. 18 with 53.4 percent of the vote, Morales will receive cultural symbols and recognition from the original peoples of the region in a ceremony at midday Saturday in the ruins of Tiwanaku, a 3,000-year-old archaeological site 72 km from La Paz.

This will be the first time that indigenous authorities, known as “mallkus” (condors), will hand over a staff of command and ceremonial vestments to a Bolivian president-elect. The spiritual and religious ritual will take place the day before the official investiture with all its attendant protocol and special guests.

Morales was born 46 years ago in the Andean community of Isallavi, in the western province of Oruro. This rural area is deeply rooted in Aymaran culture. Although he emigrated to the central semitropical region of Chapare, where he established the trade union that propelled him on to the political scene, Morales still keeps to the customs, language and traditions of his birthplace.

At the start of his presidential campaign he made offerings to the Earth goddess Pachamama and other deities for an electoral victory, and he did indeed win by a decisive majority in the first-round vote. Now, on his return to Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaco) he will also give thanks for blessings received.

As a sign of respect for his ancestral culture, on Saturday the president-elect will walk barefoot and clad in a cap and poncho knitted from sheep’s wool, amid the smoke of incense and offerings of llama foetuses, sweets and aromatic herbs amongst the half-buried archaeological ruins.

An estimated 10,000 people and some 1,000 national and foreign journalists will witness this ceremony. Tiwanaku is surrounded by the Altiplano and mountains, and the ruins are characterised by the precisely cut coffee-coloured stones and monolithic figures representing Tiwanakan gods.

Performances by traditional music and dance groups will accompany the rituals. Their percussion and wind instruments, made out of hollow canes, wood and sheepskin, and their dress and typical choreography can only be seen at traditional festivals.

After the ceremony, the municipal authorities of Tiwanaku will provide a communal meal for the visitors. The community feast is known as an “aptapi” and is spread on top of woven woollen textiles and white tablecloths. Indigenous families set out dried and roast meats, a variety of potatoes, red peppers and cheese.

Then, at midday on Sunday in La Paz, the seat of government, current President Eduardo Rodríguez will formally hand over the presidency to Morales at the National Congress.

Morales will receive the presidential sash and the medal of South American independence hero, Liberator Simón Bolívar, while his running mate Alvaro García Linera, as vice-president, will be given the medal that belonged to Bolívar’s chief lieutenant, Marshal Antonio José de Sucre.

So far, presidents Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Alfredo Palacio of Ecuador, Nicanor Duarte of Paraguay, Alejandro Toledo of Perú, Janez Drnovshk of Slovenia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, have confirmed that they will attend.

A notable visitor will be Ricardo Lagos, outgoing president of Chile, with which Bolivia has been engaged in a border dispute for more than a hundred years. Relations between the two countries were broken off in 1978.

The historic Plaza of San Francisco will host the third celebration of Morales’s accession. He is the first indigenous person to become president in Bolivia’s history as an independent nation, although 60 percent of its 9.2 million inhabitants identify themselves as part of an indigenous ethnic group.

The plaza is dominated by an imposing colonial church, a stone monument to Bolívar, Sucre and former president Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz, and tall buildings of the old city centre.

This is where Morales made fiery speeches at the end of marches, hundreds of kilometres long, from Cochabamba, the geographical centre of the country. Thousands of small farmers staged such marches in defence of life, human rights, and the rights of coca growers.

In Bolivia and the rest of the Andean region, coca leaf (Erythroxylon coca) is legally used as an infusion to make tea, and for indigenous rituals, but outside the region, coca is classified as a prohibited drug. However, a complex chemical process including other ingredients is needed to convert it into cocaine. One of Morales’s campaign pledges was the legalisation of coca, in defiance of the anti-drug guidelines laid down by the United States.

On Sunday, the Plaza of San Francisco will look very different, welcoming the jubilant crowds of those who supported Morales. Former president Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002), candidate for a right-wing coalition, took second place in the December elections.

People are expected to fill the plaza, where Morales will announce the main policies of his government from a stage platform.

Throughout the 20th century, the plaza’s paving of cobblestones saw thousands of courageous miners defending democracy, tanks firing machine guns against crowds in times of dictatorship, the bodies of dozens of activists killed by military and police crackdowns, and triumphant rallies of workers and farmers fighting the economic model that Bolivia’s governments have followed for the last 20 years.

Now, however, it will be the centre of popular celebrations to recognise Morales’s electoral victory. He received the highest percentage of the popular vote since the return to democracy in October 1982.

The rest of the city of La Paz, set in a wide canyon between two mountain ranges, will be the stage for musical performances ranging from Andean folklore to rock. However, many people will merely go out into the streets to gather round bonfires and make offerings to the Earth goddess, to ask for blessings on the new government administration.

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