SEATTLE, Washington — Evo Morales, a member of the Aymara indigenous group, served as Bolivia’s first indigenous president since 2005. On November 10, 2019, Morales resigned at the request of the military, ending the country’s longest-term presidency. During the 14 years of his presidency, Morales’ effect on poverty was critical for Bolivia, a country in which more than 533,000 people live in poverty.
Who is Evo Morales?
Born in Isallavi, Bolivia, Morales worked as a herder in a mining village before moving to the Chapare region of eastern Bolivia to farm. Morales became active in his worker’s union in the 1980s where he spent 38 years as a union leader for cocoa farmers. Eventually, he helped found the national political party Movimiento al Socialismo or Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).
Morales first ran for president in 2002 but was not elected until after his second attempt in 2005 when he won 54 percent of votes. He became the first president since 1982 to gain a majority of national votes. One main focus of his platform was to improve the quality of life for indigenous people in Bolivia. He supported efforts to restructure the Bolivian constitution to include his own policies of nationalization and land redistribution.
Morales was reelected in January 2009 after the constitution was amended to allow for a consecutive five-year term. In 2014, Morales was reelected a third time. Throughout the course of his later presidential years, the wealthier population that worked in oil and gas began to bristle at the increased control of natural resources that Morales enabled. The former president was accused of being involved in a corruption scandal with a Chinese company in 2013, and Morales’ public perception and popularity declined.
The Pink Tide
Due to his policies and practices, Morales is considered to be part of the “Pink Tide” that swept Latin America in the early 2000s. The Pink Tide refers to the surge of non-communist and leftist governments that ousted more conservative governments in the region. The Pink Tide began in 1998 with the election of leftist Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and the movement continued to grow as Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Guatemala gained left-leaning governments.
The Pink Tide coincided with massive economic expansion across Latin America, and Morales’ effect on poverty played a significant role in the economic improvement of Bolivia. Morales had an undeniably positive influence on the standard of living for the indigenous communities in Bolivia, a subset of the population that faces higher rates of poverty than other Bolivians. In the 13 years between 2004 and 2017, Bolivia’s GDP grew at an average of 4.8 percent per year and the extreme poverty rate dropped by more than half during this time.
Morales and Poverty
Throughout the country’s economic expansion, Morales’ effect on poverty was focused on improving the lives of everyone in his country, not just the wealthier population. Morales raised the minimum wage multiple times during his time in office and poured “money into schools, hospitals and infrastructure.” He developed several different programs benefiting his country’s people, including ones that focused on keeping children in schools, aiding women in obtaining pre and post-natal healthcare and providing a pension program for those 60 years and older.
Despite Morales’ effect on poverty in Bolivia, the end of his presidency is often noted with distaste as skeptics began to criticize Morales for valuing power more than people in the end. After stepping down in November 2019 at the request of the military, Morales left Bolivia in a state of social and political unrest. Protests in the streets of Bolivia stared after Morales’ resignation. There were also accusations of voter fraud against Morales’ party.
Legacy Left Behind
Morales always championed the indigenous population in Bolivia, understanding how deeply and unjustly these communities were hit by poverty. Yet, indigenous discrimination is rampant throughout Latin America, and many non-indigenous communities have lashed out against the perceived privileges these communities have gained under leftist governments. Having Morales serve as the country’s first indigenous leader was monumental for Bolivia and the rest of Latin America. While some may portray the ex-president as a corrupt, power-hungry leader, Morales’ effect on poverty was undeniably beneficial to the country’s population.
– Elizabeth Baker