Instead of going to class on Monday, September 21, Hunter student Alex Hamblet stood in line outside the College’s Kaye Playhouse. He was there to “get an unbiased look” at a president who he says “tends to get a little misrepresented” by the US media. In Latin America, “we’ve had indigenous presidents in the past,” said Mariano Muñoz a few feet down the line, “but none with the same impact as Evo.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales’s story has inspired millions of people around the world. He is a man who grew up herding llamas in the Bolivian mountains, who became the national leader of the Coca Farmers Union, who successfully led a peasant struggle against the privatization of water, and who became the first indigenous president of a country with an indigenous majority.
President Morales visited Hunter College to celebrate the English version publication of a book that tells that very story. “Evo Morales: The Extraordinary Rise of The First Indigenous President of Bolivia,” by Argentine journalist Martin Sivak, is the product of Sivak’s two-year stint following President Morales around Bolivia and all over the world. During that time, Sivak had unprecedented access to President Morales’ personal and public life. He was with him at meetings with other heads of state, at marches, summits, public speeches, and small gatherings in Bolivia. Martin Sivak is currently a PhD student at NYU.
In a conversation with Sivak, he told me he first traveled to Bolivia as an eighteen-year-old backpacker. By the time he left the Andean nation, he had secured a job as a foreign correspondent in Argentina for a Bolivian newspaper. He first met Evo Morales while working as a journalist fifteen years ago.
When President Morales took the podium at the Kaye Playhouse, he received a standing ovation from the students, activists and academics that had been waiting outside for hours. Before them was a man who had defied Bolvia’s deep-seeded social and political norms when elected president and who, as president, is allegedly defying US influence in Latin America as well as the “global capitalist system.”
President Morales spoke of economic growth and social progress in his country. His administration, he said, is guided by the principles of “honesty and austerity.” “To speak of Evo Morales today is to speak of the rights of Mother Earth,” he continued, underlining his government’s commitment to addressing climate change and global warming.
He said all of the things the audience wanted to hear.
What the President didn’t say is that Bolivia is still one of the poorest nations in South America. According to the Bolivian opposition, Morales’ political slogans have yet to translate into concrete improvements.
Perhaps President Morales is “a little overly idealistic” said Alex Hamblet as he waited in line to enter the building. But “idealism,” he added, “isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time.”
Posted by Juan Victor Fajardo – MA candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU. Photograph by Juan Victor Fajardo