It’s no wonder that Bolivian President Evo Morales is mockingly referred to as “Ego” Morales by his critics: He has just built a $7.1 million museum to glorify his life story. And that may be one of his least scandalous ego trips.
Morales, a Venezuela-backed authoritarian populist who has grabbed near-absolute powers since he was elected in 2005, personally presided over the Feb. 2 inauguration of the museum built in his home village of Orinoca. It is named the Museum of the Democratic and Cultural Revolution, but everybody in Bolivia knows it as “Evo’s museum.”
The modernistic building, built with government funds, exhibits a life-size statue of Morales, portraits of him with world leaders, honorary doctorates from various universities – despite the fact that he never finished high school – soccer shirts worn by him or given to him by famous soccer players, and boyhood mementos including the trumpet he played as a child.
It is Bolivia’s “biggest and most modern museum,” Culture Minister Vilma Alanoca told reporters. Morales himself dedicated the museum with tears in his eyes, proclaiming: “This date will mark history. This museum is the patrimony of all who struggled for the liberation of our people.”
As if it weren’t obscene enough to spend $7.1 million for a self-aggrandizing museum in one of the world’s poorest countries, the village of Orinoca is in a remote area of the Altiplano highlands, and has only 900 inhabitants, of whom 90 percent live in poverty, according to a Feb. 3 Associated Press report.
The new museum is only the latest of Morales’ ego trips. Last year, Bolivia’s Ministry of Communications published a book of poems dedicated to the president, written by students and their teachers.
The booklet, titled “The Process of Change in Verse,” came out shortly after the release of a hymn in praise of Morales, written by army officers. It was reportedly played in several military barracks, although the military high command clarified in a statement that it’s not an official song.
In 2014, the ministry of communications distributed a number of copies of a children’s book titled “Little Evo’s Adventures,” glorifying the president’s childhood. The book’s short stories included “Little Evo goes to school,” “Little Evo plays soccer” and “Little Evo and the three-color donkey.”
But Morales’ most scandalous – and important – ego trip is his blatant disregard for the rule of law as he tries to stay in office indefinitely.
According to the Bolivian Constitution, the country’s presidents can serve only for two consecutive terms. But Morales co-opted the Constitutional Tribunal to allow him to run for a third term in 2014, and last year held a referendum to allow him to run for a fourth term in 2019.
Unexpectedly, despite using massive state resources, sending top opposition leaders into exile and writing the referendum’s question in a way that most favored him, 51.3 percent of Bolivians voted “No,” and Morales lost the Feb. 21, 2016, referendum.
Now, Morales is trying to invalidate the referendum, claiming that the opposition had won because of false news reports, and is seeking new ways to reform the constitution to be able to run for a fourth term. He was recently quoted by the daily La Razon online as saying – using a soccer analogy – that the 2016 referendum was only “the first half” of the game and that there will be a “second half.”
When asked by reporters whether he’s violating the constitution, Morales repeats the same mantra he started using when I interviewed him when he first ran for office: that his critics are racists paid by the CIA to conspire against Bolivia’s first Indian president and his revolution to restore the dignity of Bolivia’s Indian majority.
My opinion: baloney. Morales has been playing the race card for too long. It may have sounded convincing to some when he first took office, because Bolivia’s election of an Indian president was long overdue.
But 11 years later, and after repeated violations of the constitution, allegations of massive corruption, repression of his political opponents and ego trips paid for by Bolivian taxpayers, his defense sounds increasingly hollow. Yes, Bolivia may want to elect an Indian leader in 2019, but it’s not Morales.
Andres Oppenheimer can be contacted at email@example.com.