Juan Evo Morales Ayma has been President of Bolivia since 2006. Born in a mining village in Bolivia's western Oruro department, Morales claims to be the country's first fully indigenous head of state. He is the leader of the Bolivian political party "Movimiento al Socialismo," which goes by the Spanish acronym MAS. The group's aims include transferring more power to the country's indigenous and poor communities, and when Morales took office he pledge to reduce poverty, ease restrictions on coca farmers, re-nationalize the country's energy sector, fight corruption, and increase taxes on the wealthy. He was elected to a second term in January, 2009 with a 63% majority.
Question: The new Bolivian constitution has declared the country a secular state. Why?
Evo Morales: It is religious freedom, religious faith. In Bolivia there are Catholic, Evangelical, Methodist, Baptist churches, and so on. In Bolivia there are indigenous religious beliefs like the rite of Pachamama Mother Earth, which shows us that Mother Earth is our life, we are born out of the Earth we live on the Earth and return to the Earth. With our goddess, the Pachamama, and it is not possible to continue having a monopoly of religious faith, only Catholic. We have therefore adopted the new constitution as a secular state where all religious beliefs will be respected.
And as president I have an obligation to meet with the leaders of Catholic and Evangelical churches, as I have close relations with the Methodists and the Salesians, but also I have the right to meet with the Pope.
I am Catholic but I want to say something to the Catholics. Thank you for some of the bishops who live in rural areas, and are still Catholic. These bishops of the Catholic churches still pray for the poor, and pray for their president who works for the poor, while the leaders of the Catholic Church only defend oligarchy. Now I'm much more convinced that the hierarchy comes from the monarchy, and that the hierarchy stays apart from the oligarchy. So the oligarchy is hurtful to the majority in Bolivia.
These days a father, a bishop named Eduardo Perez Iribarne, a Spaniard who heads the Radio Fides presented a documentary, a film about the priest Luis Espinal, who was killed by the military dictatorship. He gave his life for the poor, his life for the truth, his life for justice. Because of that I am still a Catholic. Absent those people I would not be Catholic any longer because of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
Recorded September 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman