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Aymaran Evo Morales takes power in Bolivia

TIAHUANACO, Bolivia -- Proclaiming "a new era for the original peoples of
the world," the Aymara leader Evo Morales officially took over as president
of Bolivia.

The two-day inauguration on Jan. 21 and 22 included a historic Aymara
ceremony on the 3,000-year-old ceremonial site of Tiahuanaco, the official
transfer of power in the Government Palace and a walk to the popular Plaza
de los Heroes, where the new president was greeted by traditional musicians
and a multitude of supporters shouting "Evo! Evo! Evo!"

On a hill overlooking Tiahuanaco, Morales, who was born in an adobe hut in
the altiplano and herded llamas as a boy, received the spiritual power from
local community authorities that would enable him to govern Bolivia.
Fifteen thousand supporters craned their necks to get a view from below,
while hundreds of local community leaders, dressed in red ponchos, guarded
the ceremonial site. Morales, dressed in a red robe and red and white hat
adorned with the Andean cross that was especially prepared for him by the
amautas, or spiritual authorities, then walked down a dirt path to the
ceremonial center, where he received gifts from indigenous leaders from all
over the continent.

Morales, the first Indian president to take power in this country despite
its 65 percent indigenous population, asked his constituency and spiritual
advisers to "correct me if I go wrong" and announced a commitment to "to
defend the indigenous people not just of Bolivia but of America." He was
elected president with a 53 percent majority on Dec. 18.

The day before the ceremony, indigenous authorities gathered in La Paz for
a special conference called by Morales to prepare an advisory document that
would help him govern Bolivia and assist in the continent-wide struggle for
indigenous rights. Many of these leaders walked up the steps of Tiahuanaco
on Jan. 22 to give Morales gifts ranging from a backpack "to carry your
gathering wisdom," to a flag of the Mapuche people of Chile and Argentina,
to an eagle feather offered by an unidentified woman from California who
announced that "the beginning of the joining of the eagle and the condor
starts today."

Morales received the official government sash and medal of the presidency
with tears in his eyes. He began his acceptance speech by asking for a
minute of silence for ancestral heroes like Tupac Katari and Bartolina
Sisa, and announced that "the campaign of 500 years of resistance has not
been in vain." Morales promised to reverse Bolivia's history of
discrimination of its Indian majority, creating a country that would be
multicultural and inclusive. He also promised to nationalize all of the
country's resources and to break up the latifundios, large estates held as
private property, that keep the country's land in the hands of a minority.

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Accompanied by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuban Vice President
Carlos Lage and other dignitaries, Morales observed a military salute from
the country's armed forces from the balcony of the palace following his
speech. He then walked to the Plaza de los Heroes, where he was greeted by
traditional musicians and supporters from all over the country, including
middle-class professionals, miners in hard hats, union organizers and women
in traditional clothing from diverse Bolivian communities.

"Now the indigenous people of Bolivia will have a voice," said one observer
from Santa Cruz, "something we have not had before."

At the plaza, speeches were given by Morales, Vice President Garcia Alvaro
Linera and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

"Bolivia is the nucleus of a new indigenous power," announced the
European-descended Linera, to thundering applause.

"The dictatorship of fear is over," said Galeano.

After the speeches, the crowd stayed on in the rainy plaza, dancing and
exploding firecrackers throughout the night.