Associated Press
Sat, Jan. 21, 2006

Morales to seek blessing from Andean gods

Associated Press

TIAWANACU, Bolivia - In the ancient temple of a lost civilization far from the capital, Evo Morales will ask Andean gods for help and guidance Saturday on the eve of his inauguration as Bolivia's first Indian president.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on the archaeological remains of the Tiawanacu civilization that flourished around 5,000 B.C. near the shores of Lake Titicaca, 40 miles outside of La Paz.

There, Morales, a U.S. critic who won by a landslide on a leftist platform, will be blessed by Indian priests who consider themselves inheritors of this pre-Incan culture, which had no written language and disappeared mysteriously.

Morales will walk onto the Akapana pyramid, put on a red tunic with gold and black detail, and accept a baton from the priests that symbolizes his Indian leadership. Morales will then walk alone and barefoot into the Kalasasaya temple before emerging to greet the crowd.

Then it will be party time in the city of Tiawanacu, which prepared a cake, made from the local grain quinoa, large enough to feed 40,000 people. The decoration features Morales' face and the sacred Andean peak Illimani.

Back in La Paz, where dozens of presidents and dignitaries are expected to witness Sunday's inauguration, the highway leading from the airport has swarmed with workers hanging Bolivian flags, filling potholes, covering graffiti and repainting lanes. Some 10,000 volunteers joined a downtown cleanup.

During the official inauguration, Morales will follow a more modern tradition. He will be saluted with full military honors outside the Congress, and draped with the bejeweled medals worn by all presidents.

But the former coca growers' union leader arranged his own touch: Along with 8,000 police guarding the streets will be crowds of miners volunteering additional protection to Morales in a gesture of solidarity.

In another proletarian touch, Morales - who will be surrounded by dignitaries and heads of state dressed in suits and ties - plans to wear something more casual, although details have not been revealed.

"Most Bolivians don't wear a tie and I'm part of this majority," said Morales, who wore the same striped sweater to meet presidents and royalty on his preinaugural world tour. "It would bother me, it's so tight around your neck I would feel like I was being hung."

Many Bolivians also wonder if their new leader - who once promised to be "Washington's nightmare" - will make the traditional sign of the cross while being sworn in, or take the oath more rebelliously, with a raised fist, as his ally Edmundo Novillo, the new president of the house of deputies, did just days ago. The raised fist here can symbolize atheist beliefs or the leftist struggle.

A critic of U.S. foreign policy and close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Morales has promised to fight corruption, and improve the lives of the poor Indian majority by securing more profits from Bolivia's natural resources, including its vast natural gas reserves.

But he has also softened his rhetoric since his election victory, and said he even had a positive meeting with the U.S. Ambassador David Greenlee. "He told us it's time to flip the page to have good relations," Morales told the Associated Press on Friday. "He said we have to keep fighting drug trafficking and we'll keep supporting that work."

The U.S.-led war on drugs inadvertently helped bring Morales to power. The battle against coca eradication that he led helped mobilize Indian organizations already angered by poverty and political domination by a rich elite, feeding a broader movement.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed hope Friday that cooperation on fighting narcotics trafficking and other issues will continue.

Based on what direction Morales takes, "we'll make an assessment of what kind of relationship the United States and Bolivia will have," he said.