Bolivia profile

President: Evo Morales

Bolivian President Evo Morales The election of Mr Morales represented a major shift for Bolivia

Socialist leader Evo Morales, a figurehead for Bolivia's coca farmers, was elected in 2005, in a major historical shift for his country. Describing himself as the candidate "of the most disdained and discriminated against", he was the first member of the indigenous majority to be elected president of Bolivia.

He was re-elected with a convincing majority over his conservative opponents in December 2009; his party also gained two-thirds majorities in both houses of parliament.

Mr Morales made poverty reduction, the redistribution of wealth, land reform favouring poorer peasants and public control over Bolivia's oil and gas resources his main priorities. He has nationalised much of the energy sector.

The president draws his support mainly from the poor indigenous majority, concentrated in the western highlands. Middle class voters and the eastern provinces, where most of the resource wealth lies, worry that his policies are too radical.

In 2009, voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution drafted largely by Mr Morales' supporters, despite strong - and at times violent - opposition, mainly from in the eastern provinces.

The new basic law accords more rights to the indigenous majority, gives greater autonomy to the states and enshrines government control over key resources. It also allowed the president stand for a second five-year term in a row.

He courted further controversy in 2013 by obtaining supreme-court approval for a law to allow him to stand for a third term, on the grounds that the new constitution was passed in the middle of his first term which therefore did not count.

In 2011 Mr Morales' popularity had plummeted after he scrapped fuel subsidies only to perform a U-turn in response to protests, pushed ahead with a controversial Amazon road project and was then accused of excessive force against indigenous demonstrators protesting against the plan - a charge he denies.

Punished

Voters punished Mr Morales in elections to choose Bolivia's top judges in October, with about 60% spoiling their ballots.

Himself a former coca farmer, Mr Morales defends the traditional uses of coca leaf among the indigenous population, as distinct from its use as the raw material for cocaine.

His promise to relax restrictions on growing coca irritated the US, which has bankrolled the fight against drugs in the country. In 2008, he ordered US drug enforcement officials to leave Bolivia.

He has also alarmed the US by forging strong links with Venezuela's left-wing firebrand president, Hugo Chavez.

Born in 1959, Evo Morales is an Aymara Indian from an impoverished family. In his youth he was a llama herder and a trumpet player. The former coca grower lost the 2002 presidential election to the conservative, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

He succeeded caretaker leader Eduardo Rodriguez, who took office in June 2005 when President Carlos Mesa resigned amid mass protests demanding the nationalisation of the energy sector.

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