Sunday, August 13, 2006
Dinner with Evo Morales
I was taken aback when Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, invited me for dinner at his residence, at the end of our meeting in his office on 10 August 2006. I was aware of his unconventional and informal style and casual dressing. Still, I was surprised by his hosting a dinner in my honour at short notice, on the same evening after our meeting.
He had invited his Vice President and a Minister also for the dinner besides our Ambassador Warjiri, who has established a personal rapport with him. The food was simple, as was his personality. His dress was casual in office and at home. His striped red colour sweater has become a trade mark and is a best seller in the market. Sparks appeared in his face whenever football was mentioned. He plays even now and had broken his nose last week during a game.
Evo Morales is keen to learn and adopt to the contemporary affairs. He is not fanatic or extremist as portrayed in the western media. His agenda is basically domestic. As the first native Indian to be elected as the President, he is sincere and commited to his historic responsibilty to uplift the lives of the Indians, who form sixty five percent of the population. This is true of many of his cabinet colleagues and party members. They have formed a new constituent assembly to draw up a new constituition to protect the rights and dignity of Indians. The president of the Assembly, Sylvia Lazarte, whom i met in Santa Cruz is a crusader for the rights of the indigenous population. She wants to study the Indian constituition and learn from our affirmative action.
As an Indian himself, Evo Morales claimed that India was his second fatherland. He expressed admiration for India and invited Indian companies to enter the Bolivian market which offers opportunities in oil and gas and mining. He has just awarded a 2.3 billion dollar project to Jindal Group for iron ore mining and steel project. El Mutun, the iron ore mine, is one of the largest in the world with a reserve of 40 billion tons. The Bolivians are keen to import from India products such as tractors, mining equipments, agro machinery, defence equipments, helicopters, pharmaceuticals and consumer and industrial products.
I was cautioned about the altitude sickness in La Paz which is 14000 feet above sea level. I had heard stories of a golfer who fell dead in the tenth hole of the Golf course and an Indian Ambassador who collapsed while trying to walk briskly after getting down from the plane. The advice given to me was;
Come poquito, bebe poquito y duerme solito
Eat less. drink less and sleep alone.
Now I know why I did not see smile in the faces of the men in La Paz!!. I survived with a dozen cups of mate de coca ( coca leaf tea ) every day. I guess I would not have passed if there was a doping test. Another advice i had to follow was to walk slowly and avoid any sudden movement.
Ooops.. I had survived to enjoy the Santa Cruz city of Bolivia which is a contrast to La Paz. The advice there was to do more of everything which was denied in La Paz. I was there during the weekend which was buzzing with revellers in the bars and night clubs. Santa Cruz is the commercial and entertainment capital.
I played nine holes at the Las Palmas Golf club. I had lost four balls to the strong wind, which carried them over to houses and water. I dared not go near the water which has two meter-long crocodiles.
Arvind Sharma our Honorary Consul General in Santa Cruz is one of the most active in economic diplomacy. He has extensive contacts at all political and commercial levels and promotes Indian business. He was one of the five hundred Indians who had gone there around 1990 and bought land for agriculture. While a few are still holding land, others have shifted to business or come back to India after not succeding in the agri venture.