President Evo Morales on Thursday hosted a rally to mark the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492 and to celebrate the return of Bolivia’s Indian majority to power more than five centuries later.
Some 15,000 people packed a plaza in the capital of La Paz to hear Morales, who was elected last December as the country’s first Indian president, speak on Columbus Day — commemorated as Dia de la Raza or Indigenous Peoples Day in much of Latin America. The crowd also came to support his populist government amid vague rumors this week of a coup.
“My friends, surely 514 years ago the Western invaders thought to finish us off, sought to exterminate the indigenous people,” Morales said. “We have not only defended ourselves, we have not only resisted … here in Bolivia, we have begun to liberate ourselves.
“Oct. 12, once known as a day of disgrace, is now a day of liberation,” he continued.
Morales appeared with his customary wreath of coca leaves around his neck and confetti in his hair, speaking through clouds of incense. Many admirers waved the rainbow-checkerboard flag known as the Wiphala, a Bolivian symbol of Indian pride.
Morales also told the crowd that rumors of a coup against his government had been circulated by the conservative opposition to “frighten and intimidate” his government and its allies.
“They wanted to defeat us psychologically, but this gathering today demonstrates the unity of our people,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Heinz Dieterich, a Mexican university professor and sometime adviser to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, suggested in an article published in the opposition paper El Mundo that a coup against Morales was in the works.
Chavez on Thursday reiterated his own suspicions of an effort to depose his ally Morales, and said U.S. President George W. Bush would be to blame if there were a coup in Bolivia.
“If something were to happen to brother President Evo Morales, the president of the United States would be responsible,” Chavez said while attending a celebration of his own country’s indigenous heritage.
U.S. officials deny plotting against either Chavez or Morales, who are united by their leftist policies and have close ties with Cuba.
Morales also said Thursday that “nobody is going to stop” sweeping reforms such as the nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves and the drafting of a new constitution for the country — both longtime goals demanded by Bolivian Indian groups.
“This democratic and cultural revolution, with Evo Morales or without Evo Morales, will continue to move forward,” he said. International Herald Tribune