Sunday, December 6, 2009

Leftist Morales expected to win again in Bolivia

The aftershocks of the eight-year term of former U.S. President George W. Bush are still reverberating in South America, where Bolivia's leftist president, Evo Morales, is expected to win a second term in office and his Movement Toward Socialism party to win control of Congress. Morales, a self-proclaimed admirer of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and an ally of Venezuela's anti-U.S. leader Hugo Chavez, is wildly popular among the 60 percent of Bolivians who live in poverty but has attracted the ire of the country's business elite. Morales is the first Andean Indian to be elected the country's president, and his re-election probably will lead to more government control over the economy, according to the Reuters international news service. The former coca leaf farmer and llama herder has already nationalized the country's energy and mining industries, and used the income to give cash payments to schoolchildren, new mothers and the elderly, Reuters said. Morales, known for fiery speeches in which he rails against capitalism and calls the United States "the empire," also was successful in changing Bolivia's constitution to allow him to run for a second term, as have other South American leaders. Morales faced two more-conservative challengers, Manfred Reyes Villa, a former governor, and Samuel Doria Medina, who made a fortune in the cement business. Reyes Villa, the stronger challenger, contended during the campaign that Morales was bent on accumulating more and more power, Reuters said. "What's in play in this election is democracy," he said. Bolivia's economy is expected to grow nearly 3 percent in 2009 despite the global economic downturn, the continent's most robust growth rate, Reuters said.

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