- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

TIWANAKU, Bolivia — At the sacred ruins of a powerful pre-Inca civilization, a colorfully clad Evo Morales sought the spiritual energy and blessings of his Andean ancestors yesterday, the eve of his inauguration as Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

The 46-year-old Aymara Indian walked a path — which was swept with coca leaves and which traveled among Tiwanaku’s pyramids and temples dating from 700 A.D. — in the company of spiritual leaders.

They dressed him in a red tunic like the ones used by the priests of Tiwanaku 1,000 years ago and a four-cornered cap and bestowed on him a staff of command representing the 36 nationalities of Bolivia’s indigenous majority.

Amid shouts of “Jallalla Evo” (“Long live Evo”), the leaders performed rituals to energize the president-elect, and together they made offerings to Pachamama, Mother Earth, to thank her for the victory.

Mr. Morales had gone to Tiwanaku to pray to Pachamama before the Dec. 18 elections, in which the leftist won a surprisingly high 54 percent of the vote in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America.

About 10,000 Bolivians from all over the country descended on the revered ruins, the cradle of the Aymara people located 40 miles from the capital, La Paz, and 13,000 feet above sea level.

“Today begins a new era for the native peoples of the world,” Mr. Morales told the crowd in Spanish, urging his followers to help “end the colonial state and the neo-liberal model.”

The ritual was a mixture of Andean tradition and modern improvisation since the white elite has ruled Bolivia, a country of 9.4 million today, since the Spanish arrived 500 years ago.

Mr. Morales, a llama herder in boyhood who rose to prominence as leader of the coca farmers, will be sworn in today in Congress with an unprecedented 12 heads of state in attendance.

Tiwanaku is considered to be the greatest megalithic architectural achievement of pre-Inca South America, home to 20,000 inhabitants at its height. It melted into obscurity around 1200 A.D.

At dawn, under the heavy gray skies of the Andean highlands, Mr. Morales’ followers protected themselves in the multicolored indigenous flag, the ubiquitous wiphala, and blue scarves of his Socialist party. Community leaders, identifiable by their red ponchos, provided the first ring of security.

After years of turmoil and protests that toppled two presidents, hope for change fueled the festive atmosphere.

Despite centuries of oppression, only in recent years has Bolivia’s indigenous majority, made up of Aymara, Quechua and Guarani nations, organized itself politically.

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