Pubdate: Fri, 05 Jul 2002
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Jan McGirk, Latin America Correspondent


The level of popular support in Bolivia for a presidential candidate
who opposes American efforts to eradicate the coca crop from which
cocaine is produced has startled political analysts and angered Washington.

Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian activist, had been dismissed as an
outsider, but he is is in third place, just behind Manfred Reyes
Villa, a former mayor, and Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former
president and owner of the country's biggest mine, who leads with
nearly 25 per cent of the vote. Congress will have to pick the new
President, to be inaugurated next month, if none of the 11 candidates
wins more than 50 per cent of the ballots cast last Sunday.

Campaigning has concentrated on cocaine, corruption, and
anti-globalisation, playing on widespread discontent with the market
reforms in the Andean region during the past two decades. Mr Morales
entered politics by leading the coca farmers' battle against the
US-backed eradication programme.

When the US ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, warned that
Washington could cut off aid if Bolivians chose a candidate such as Mr
Morales, popularity for the outsider soared. This was despite the fact
that more than $100m a year goes to Bolivia in exchange for coca
eradication. The diplomat was criticised for interfering with the
elections, but his comments bolstered Mr Morales' standing as a
radical anti-US candidate.

Mr Morales was expelled from Congress last year on charges of inciting
violence after roadblocks by the coca farmers led to bloody clashes.

Few expected Mr Morales, who had surged from 4 per cent to 12 percent
in pre-election polls, to make it into third place. More than 60 per
cent of Bolivians live below the poverty line, and in rural areas,
where the population is overwhelmingly indigenous, 90 per cent are
destitute. It is one of the poorest nations in Latin America and
violent crime isrife.

The current leader, President Jorge Quiroga, is prohibited from
running for a second term. Mr Quiroga took office when Hugo Banzer
resigned last year after a diagnosis of cancer. He died in May.
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