500 years later

Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales as a man of “remarkable humility and warmth.” Clearly impressed by Morales, Tutu declares, “I can see why he won the election, he has a warmth that attracts people, but he is also ready to learn from others.” As he prepares to take office on January 22, Morales has expressed deep admiration and respect for indigenous people in their resistance against oppression raising hopes of a new leadership that is persuaded to address the continuing dilemma of the indigenous people and their rights. 

Besides accomplishing the unique feat of being the first indigenous person to be elected Bolivian President, what makes Morales a unique person is his down-to-earth attitude and ability to identity himself with issues of social justice and peace. Not only is he open towards being teachable, unlike most political leaders, but more profoundly is his willingness to listen and be guided by the wisdom of people. His election victory and revolutionary rhetoric has already set off alarm bells in the United States.

With a note of diplomacy and openness, Morales stated that “the indigenous people of the Americas do not look for revenge,” and that “If we won the elections democratically after 500 years, it’s not to look for revenge.” He acknowledged the challenge in overcoming the legacy of “500 years of colonialism and oppression” and pointed out the need to learn more about the process of reconciliation. As a matter of political astuteness, Morales extended a conciliatory hand to the United States soon after news of plot to overthrow him and declared he forgave those in the White House for so many humiliations. Morales welcomed dialogue which was oriented to put an end to discrimination and poverty.  

Ever conscious of the legacy of historical discrimination, Morales will have the daunting task of creating a fine diplomatic balance of nurturing common ground in which companies and corporations will be invited as ‘partners but not owners.’ As a leader with indigenous interest, the task of renegotiating contracts with multi-nationals will have to be exercised with clarity and in a manner that would not undercut his political authority. Simultaneously the task of creating new jobs and initiating genuine development for indigenous people that had been neglected for centuries will require pragmatism and courage. 

Being the revolutionary, Morales stated, “In the last millennium, the peoples took up arms against the empires; in this new millennium, it is the empires which are taking up arms against the people.” Only history will bear testimony as to whether Morales will withstand the test of time to truly represent indigenous aspirations or whether he will succumb to the pressures of real politik, which will only further the legacy of 500 years.