Video: "¡Evo Si!"
Photographer Evan Abramson offers a different take on Bolivian leader Evo Morales and his indigenous supporters
At first glance, Plan 3000, a satellite shantytown outside Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, does not scream opportunity. Its unpaved main road, faintly lit by the erratic electricity, is cratered with caramel-colored puddles, and a stench from open sewers hangs in the humid air. But standing next to his tropical-fruit-juice cart, William Martinez, an indigenous Bolivian with a thatch of black hair and broad shoulders, says it offers more promise than his hometown of La Paz. The administrative capital and its most famous resident, President Evo Morales, Martinez says, seem increasingly distant and out of touch. “The president has resentment toward the middle class, the mestizos,” Martinez told me. “Instead of governing for a whole country, he is governing only for the indigenous class and has brought racism with him … We don’t want to march [with him], we want to work.”
Since his landslide win in 2005, Morales has championed the country’s indigenous majority (some 55 percent of the population), particularly his own Aymara group, which suffered discrimination and lacked political clout for centuries. But as he has consolidated power among the patchwork of indigenous groups in the western highlands, Morales has deployed a rhetoric studded with racial references aimed at his opposition, which is led by wealthy, mostly white businessmen and concentrated in the lowland eastern region that includes Santa Cruz. “He had the chance to be the Mandela of Bolivia, but instead he chose to be the Mugabe,” said Luis Eduardo Siles, a columnist and former congressman in La Paz sympathetic to the opposition. “He has renewed ethnic divisions as an ingredient of his political success.”