Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Sea of Change

Tiwanaku, Bolivia - On the two-lane road from El Alto to Tiwanaku, cars, autobuses, and pick-up trucks were filled to capacity as passengers proudly waved the multi-colored flag of Bolivia´s indigenous communities. In the countryside of this part of the highlands small houses made of brown mud bricks are surrounded by acres of short grass and shrubs. From time to time along the roadside painted in blue, we see "Evo¨ or ¨MAS¨ and writings of support.

We arrive in the town of Tiwanaku, an archaelogical site more than 7,000 years old, that is usually an hour drive from La Paz, but today it takes almost an hour and a half as thousands have descended upon this town to celebrate the indigenous history and significance of Evo Morales.

The characteristically unpredictable weather has brought a slight drizzle and before we can cross a shrub-filled field to reach the boundaries of the ancient ruins, the sky is dropping hail and clouds of thunder have echoed loud enough to set off a car alarm in the distance.

Amazingly the spirits of the people around us are high as impromptu vendors have laid out blankets or set up stands to sell their wares. The crowd was predominantly indigenous people in their varied colorful shawls, ponchos, skirts and pants. There was even a contingent of indigenous police officers identified by their maroon ponchos and black short-brimmed hats.

While waiting for more than two hours for Evo to complete the traditional Aymaran ceremony, families sat together on the ground eating meals, women braided hair and young children slept swaddled in heavy color-infused blankets.

After the private Aymaran ceremony that preludes his official inauguration tomorrow evening in La Paz, Evo emerged from the ancient Incan ruins of Tiwanaku to the adoration of thousands of indigenous people from all over the Americas.

Wearing a traditional red robe of sheeps wool and standing barefoot, he completed the cleansing ceremony by receiving his final blessings from Aymaran elders before waving to a crowd that chanted "Evo, Evo".

Morales descended from a top a hill to stand in a squared archway of the earthen ruins. There he addressed the crowd speaking of brotherhood, unity and democracy. He spoke of an end to discrimination and equality and the need for other countries to respect the sovereignty of the Bolivian people.

After his fifteen minute speech, indigenous representatives from Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Cuba, and the United States demonstrated their support and respect by bestowing blessings and presenting Morales with gifts. In a sign of how much negativity the United States invokes from the indigenous community in Latin America, when an indigenous representative from the U.S. was announced, the crowd gave mixed reviews, very few cheered and many even booed.

Against the background of the Andean mountains, flags and banners waved above the mass of people. Most pronounced was the multi-colored flag of Bolivia´s indigenous communities as well as the blue, white and black colors representing Morales´s Movement Towards Socialism or MAS party.

Supporters from all over Bolivia flew the national flag and colorful banners that identified community groups and localities. Some flew the face of Che Guevara, others the name of Fidel Castro, which read ¨Fidel es nos¨or ¨Fidel is us¨. The sounds of drums, flutes and chanting could be heard throughout the crowd as people celebrated the rise to power of Bolivia´s first indigenous president.

The official press is giving a count of more than 10,000 people. We estimated the crowd to be at least 12,000.

Morales returned to La Paz, about 44 miles northwest of Tiwanaku, on Saturday night to meet with foreign government officials. The official transition of power from current President Eduardo Rodriguez will occur tomorrow afternoon at the Plaza de Murillo.