Bwog Guide to the Weekend Editor Sara Jane Panfil attended this afternoon’s installment of the World Leaders Forum, starring Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Earlier today, President Evo Morales of Bolivia delivered a speech to a packed Low Memorial Library Rotunda as part of the World Leaders Forum.  President Bollinger briefly introduced Morales, who took the stage to a standing ovation.  

Morales began light-heartedly, with a declaration of his intention to listen to the assembled students. Morales, who graduated from high school and never had the opportunity to go to college, called these kinds of events crucial for his continued education.  Unperturbed by this lack of pedigree, he claimed a populist authority: he came to power without the help of political professionals or experts, and said that he has worked faithfully in the spirit of the Bolivian masses since his election to the presidency three years ago. 

Indeed, the importance of democracy emerged as a major theme of his hour-and-a-half talk (he was scheduled to speak for an hour).  Recently, a nation-wide referendum on his presidency revealed a 67% approval rating, which he referred to repeatedly as he defended his more controversial policy approaches.  Morales cited the positive gains his administration has made for the Bolivian people and economy, like his nationalization of much of Bolivia’s industry has given the country the budget necessary for social welfare programs and for the provision of other basic services. He also roundly condemned privatization and other neoliberal policies.  

As a matter of fact, he blamed much of his country’s recent inner turmoil on the greed of neoliberalism.  He accused Bolivia’s right-wing elements of working against the interest of the people–citing the recent referendum on his presidency–which required a proportionally firm response.  Similarly, according to Morales, the recently expelled US Ambassador had brought about his own non grata status by inappropriately trying to meddle in Bolivia’s political and economic affairs.  Respect emerged as a major theme during this portion of Morales’ speech: ambassadors should stick to their ambassadorial duties, and wealthy landowners should respect the will and need of the people.  He denounced the prospect of any further violence, at which point the audience applauded. 

Poco a poco, Morales made the nature of Bolivia’s future quite clear.  Little by little Bolivia has worked towards development, and though the country has come a long way, it still has awhile to go. He said that he knew that a good future relationship with the United States would be crucial to a prosperous future, and articulated his intent to cooperate as long as he felt that it would benefit the Bolivian people. (He offered no comment on the recent American election.) 

He communicated his ultimate faith in Bolivia–the natural resources are just there, he said, you can see them all around; it is merely a matter of mobilizing them.  He admitted that the Bolivian economy relies too heavily on oil for financial stability (especially in lieu of falling oil prices), and reassured the interested Q&Aers that the new ministry for planning will develop strategies to cope with the world financial crisis.  His optimistic demeanor and hopeful rhetoric will be put to the test this January, when his government’s newly-drafted constitution comes up for a popular vote.