- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, BoliviaPresident Evo Morales is campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize, reaching out to comrades of the international left in an effort that belies daily violence at home and a growing threat of civil war that has engulfed parts of Bolivia during his tenure.

As Bolivia’s first elected South American Indian president, Mr. Morales has gained an international following for his efforts to nationalize industries and redistribute land in a bid to remake his nation as a socialist state.

To push his Nobel ambitions, he has spent a lot of time traveling, meeting with world leaders and addressing humanitarian forums in which he has proclaimed, “Bolivia renounces war.”

Such pronouncements are sharply at odds with daily rioting and street battles that have forced a year-old constitutional convention to shut down, while prompting provinces from the eastern lowlands to talk of seceding.

Moreover, discontent with Mr. Morales appears to be growing, and opponents are fearful that his purported pacifism disguises ambitions to establish an authoritarian government based on Andean Indian ethnic supremacy.

Mr. Morales, who took office in January 2006, has said that his indigenous movement is seeking to “expel the white invasion of America that began with the landing of Columbus in 1492.”

Emilio Martinez of Bolivia’s human rights foundation warned that the nation is dangerously close to civil war, “thanks in great measure to the policies of Mr. Morales, which have fostered ethnic and regional divisions.”

As riots broke out in several Bolivian cities last week during a general strike that paralyzed much of the country, Mr. Morales met with his ambassadors at a resort on Lake Titicaca to map out a diplomatic strategy that includes campaigning for a Nobel Prize.

When Mr. Morales’ candidacy was announced by the First Congress of Anti-imperialist Indigenous People in Nicaragua in January, militants of his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party back in Bolivia were torching the palace of a provincial governor.

The Nobel campaign continued at an international meeting of leftist intellectuals in Bolivia in March, which was attended by Cuban Minister of Culture Javier Prieto.

Leaders of Spain’s influential Communist Party, called United Left (IU), have officially backed Mr. Morales and promoted him in European intellectual circles.

“IU is supporting the candidacy launched by the Indigenous Parliament of America” said the party, which calls Mr. Morales “an example of dignity, of struggle for justice and for peace.”

A ringing endorsement also has come from the president of the Center of Humanistic Studies in Moscow, Hugo Novotny, who backs Mr. Morales for his “posture against war and nonviolent methodology for the resolution of conflicts.”

Mr. Morales even has his own Web page where fans can add their voice to the Nobel campaign.

Mr. Morales has pledged to include his renunciation of war in a new constitution. However, the convention to write the new charter, which was established in July 2006, has thus far set off violent demonstrations highlighting Bolivia’s ethnic divisions.

“We believe that before he postulates himself for the Nobel Peace Prize, President Evo Morales should clear up various accusations for violations of human rights during his time in office,” said the Bolivian Human Rights Foundation.

The group is investigating reports that miners opposed to Mr. Morales’ nationalization policies were killed in the Andean town of Huanuni last year.

In another case, an anti-government activist in Cocha-bamba, a city in central Bolivia, was killed, presumably by pro-government thugs.

Some Morales supporters point out, however, that reports of the president’s human rights shortcomings pale in comparison with the records of some previous Nobel laureates, and they cite the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as an example.

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