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Evo Morales was born in 1959 in a small Aymara community in the department of Oruro, where he herded llamas as a child. He studied Spanish for the first time during a period of months with his family in Argentina when he was six years old. He attended high school and played trumpet in a band in Oruro, served in the national army, and in 1980 emigrated with his parents to the Chapare, where he soon began his rising career as a local leader and then coordinator of the coca-growers union in the department of Cochabamba.

In January 2002, the Hugo Banzer Suárez government decreed a “zero coca” policy aimed at eradicating 100 percent of the coca plantations in the Chapare. In protest, thousands of coca growers marched in the city of Chapare and engaged in confrontations with the police. During the violence, pro-coca demonstrators seized, tortured, and killed two policemen. Congress immediately moved to expel Morales, who was by this time a congressman from the new Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, during a rushed session that failed to prove his responsibility for the deaths of the policemen. Morales announced that he would return “as millions,” as Tupaj Katari is said to have announced he would do, before he was executed by the Spaniards. This episode backfired for his enemies and catapulted Evo and the MAS to new heights.

After achieving a startling 21 percent of the vote in the national elections of 2002, Morales returned in 2005 to win the election with 54 percent of the vote, a majority that democratic Bolivia had not seen since the early 1960s. His first inaugural ceremony was held at the ruins of Tiwanaku, on 21 January 2006, with tens of thousands of Indian “brothers and sisters” in attendance, including Indian representatives from across the continent. The next day, he gave an address, excerpted here, at his formal inauguration before Congress. In it, Morales raises up indigenous and leftist banners and displays some of the humility, combativeness, unorthodoxy, and ideological hybridity that marked the beginning of his presidency.

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