WASHINGTON – Indian Country Today sat down for an exclusive interview with Bolivian President Evo Morales Nov. 19. Time constraints and language barriers aside, Morales’ strong vision for how indigenous people can prosper shined brightly.
Indian Country Today: As an indigenous leader of your country, what unique leadership contributions do you bring to Bolivia?
Evo Morales: I feel that the indigenous movement around the world is the reservoir of moral authority for the following reasons: First, because we have lived in communities, in collectives — not only in harmony with other human beings, but in harmony with the mother Earth. The indigenous culture does not guide people to live better, but to live well. We are not part of an individualism, or sectarianism or ambition. What we try to do is seek equality amongst human beings.
The Western culture guides people to live differently. Discrimination, slavery, all of this comes from the West. Those kinds of things appeared in Bolivia because they came from capitalism, in which there were economic models that concentrated wealth in few hands. In order to concentrate this wealth of capital in very few hands, you have to destroy the environment. There is exploitation of man by man. People are not interested in their homelands, or in their life, they’re just interested in capitalism and making money.
In indigenous culture, equality is so sacred. It’s a profound difference between our model life in indigenous communities and the model of life put forward by a capitalist society.
“The indigenous culture does not guide people to live better, but to live well.”
In my case, I have said a few times, thanks to honesty, I was able to become president. Since 1988, I have been a union leader. … from ‘88-2008, it’s been 20 years. I went from being a union leader to being a president, and I still get all these offers of money — from deputy ministers, and even priests in the Catholic Church. Before the recall referendum [in August], a minister said, ‘Here, I’ll give you 100,000.’ I said, ‘Go away. …’
The indigenous culture is very important in terms of keeping people honest. That’s what I was telling people during the election, that our ancestors gave us a law: Don’t lie, don’t steal, and don’t be lazy. This worldview that we inherited from our ancestors has now been enshrined in our new constitution.
ICT: How did your meeting at the museum with tribal leaders go? Did you find any similarities between their philosophies and your own?
Morales: Well, we didn’t have that much opportunity to exchange those kinds of viewpoints. But I do congratulate the indigenous brothers and sisters of North America for their fine museum, which preserves and presents our cultural wealth and heritage. In my quick passing, I saw that [the museum] has cultural artifacts here not only from North America, but also from South America.
When we come together within a spiritual framework, and under legitimacy — and, above all, when we have solidarity with each other — this is the basis for agreement among the indigenous movements of the world. These points of view are the values of the indigenous people, and they should be the values of humanity. Ethics is so important in a human life. We do have some profound differences in ethics of morality in humanity. The Western way of thinking wants to concentrate wealth in a few hands and amongst a few clans and families.
ICT: Do you think that North American indigenous leaders should be doing a better job at reaching out to Central and South American indigenous leaders?
Morales: In 1991 and 1992, I saw great integration of indigenous movements not only in North and South America, but of the whole world. During the anniversary of 500 years of [colonization], we decided to move from resistance to taking over power. In Bolivia, we are fulfilling a promise that we made to ourselves back in ’91-92. … During some periods of time, we have not been able to coordinate our struggles, but deep down, we do have continuous contact. …
The decade of the indigenous peoples, proclaimed by the United Nations, was really nothing more than a slogan. It was like the birthday of the indigenous peoples of the world, 10 years long. So, when you have a birthday party, you have to eat well. You have cake. You have a party. But nothing happened during that decade. We didn’t have a cake, or a party or anything. And we were actually living under the neo-liberal politics that were taking more and more of our land away. The civil, political and cultural rights of indigenous peoples were never respected. And the decade ended without accomplishing anything. …
ICT: Are you at all surprised that the United States hasn’t signed on to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
Morales: Not only the United States. The first country to not only sanction, but also to enact it into law was Bolivia. But in the United States, all of the rules and treaties and agreements on human rights never get signed.
Thank you very much.