Taking his oath of office in La Paz, the flamboyant new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, railed against the exploiters of his country. In his fiery campaign he had said that the government had done nothing for Bolivia "in the last 50 years." The country itself is 500 years old, and "we are here to change history."
At one point in the late '50s, Bolivia registered its 48th coup d'etat since World War II. As a magazine editor, I proposed to my colleagues that we counsel the new government to set a date to celebrate the 50th coup d'etat. But the following coup had a long life under a military government, and the return to democracy didn't happen until 1982.
The Morales administration is deadly serious about a very different future for Bolivia. Evo (as in "Evo, Evo, Evo!" -- the cry that greeted him from fellow parliamentarians when he took office) heads up a party called Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). He himself received 54 percent of the vote in December's election, and his party won the lower house of parliament outright and effective control of the upper house. This gives Morales, he believes, the power to change history by rejecting "neoliberalism" and "imperialism" and corruption.
The idea, in A.D. 2006, of aiming at reform by movement toward socialism is at best quaint. Evo's new best friends are Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has promised to swap Venezuelan oil for Bolivian soya, and to throw in a $30 million gift. It isn't obvious what's to be done to eliminate colonialism, inasmuch as foreign aid accounts for 10 percent of Bolivia's GDP. Achieving socialism takes time, and a great deal of aid from non-socialists.
President Morales is committed to nationalizing the oil and gas industry and to ending graft. Brazil and Spain are the sources of most of the investment in Bolivian oil and gas exploration, and this is a problem that seems to be slowing down the Morales agenda. Brazil's leader is a socialist, as is Spain's, but that doesn't mean that Brazilian and Spanish capital will flow into Bolivia to help it along in its movement toward socialism.
But Mr. Morales makes an arresting point on the matter of coca. The coca growers of Bolivia, who backed MAS in the election, deeply resent U.S. policy calling for the eradication of coca. This resentment Bolivia shares with Afghanistan, where there is a quiet return to the rewarding production of heroin and opium.