January 23, 2006

Bolivia leader forms socialist, indigenous cabinet

By Mary Milliken

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Bolivia's first indigenous
president, Evo Morales, turned to fellow socialists, Indians,
grass-roots activists and women to form his Cabinet on Monday
and ordered them to root out corruption and adopt a new leftist
economic model.

The 12 men and four women were sworn in by Morales, some
pledging allegiance with a raised left fist, others with a hand
on their heart, and a few with both gestures. This was Morales'
first official act after his inauguration on Sunday.

"I want zero corruption, zero bureaucracy, no more 'come
back tomorrow'. People are tired of this," said Morales,
wearing the striped sweater that has come to symbolize his
informal style.

Morales excluded the technocrats that have traditionally
served in the governments of the ruling elite, preferring
instead to choose ministers close to grassroots movements.

He chose an Aymara Indian intellectual as his foreign
minister, a grass-roots leader to be in charge of water and an
energy analyst and journalist to over see the

"You must comply with the people's mandate, to
democratically change the neo-liberal economic model and
resolve structural and social problems," Morales said.

Morales and his Movement to Socialism party won 54 percent
of the vote in the December 18 election, the biggest margin of
victory since Bolivia's return to democracy in 1982.


Like other leftist leaders in Latin America, he capitalized
on voters' rejection of U.S.-backed free-market policies and
privatization that flourished in the 1990s but did little to
reduce poverty.

Bolivia is South America's poorest country with around
two-thirds of the population, mostly from the Indian majority,
living below the poverty line.

The new foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, is an Aymara
Indian intellectual, while new mining minister, Walter
Villarroel, comes from a mining cooperative and wore his hard
hat at the ceremony.

Abel Mamani, a leader from the combative city of El Alto,
will be in charge of water after he organized protests against
the French water company Suez for poor service.

For the all-important Hydrocarbons Ministry, which will
oversee an increase in state control over Bolivia's vast
natural gas fields, Morales chose energy analyst and journalist
Andres Soliz Rada.

Soliz Rada has traditionally defended the right of the 9.4
million Bolivians to have access to natural gas before
embarking on major export plans.

He will have the difficult job of renegotiating contracts
with foreign oil companies, including Spain's Repsol and
Brazil's Petrobras, that have invested $3.5 billion in Bolivia.

Morales has said he wants to nationalize the gas industry
-- a demand of the poor indigenous majority --but not
expropriate the companies' assets.

(Additional reporting by Carlos Quiroga)