Friday, February 03, 2006

Ambait ni Morales

Bolivian president gives teachers half his pay
Saturday, January 28 (

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- President Evo Morales cut his
salary in half and declared no Cabinet minister can
collect a higher wage than his own, with the savings
to be used to hire more public school teachers.

The move followed a campaign pledge to tackle
political corruption and restore honesty to the
government of South America's poorest country. But
critics called it a propaganda ploy that will do
little to help the needy.

Five days into his leftist government, Morales
announced Thursday his salary would be $1,875 a month
and that his Cabinet would also have their salaries
capped at that figure.

"I ask for (the ministers') understanding and efforts
to try to meet this demand, not for Evo but for the
people," Morales said.

He said the savings would be used to hire more
teachers, adding: "We need 6,000 new teachers and
there is only money for 2,200."

Morales' predecessor earned $3,900 a month. The
yearly savings of $24,300 is about enough to pay the
annual salaries of seven experienced teachers, rent a
middle-class apartment or buy a new Ford Focus in

Street protests by teachers, miners and Indians have
ousted two of Morales' predecessors since 2003,
uprisings fueled by indignation against wealthy

In December, voters elected Morales by a landslide
after he promised to tackle corruption and poverty.
He was inaugurated Sunday.

Restaurant waiter Jose Maria Oropeza applauded the
cuts. "It's a good sign that he's putting his salary
on the line so that the country can begin improving,
and not only his salary, but all the Cabinet
ministers," Oropeza said Friday.

But he said daunting problems remain.

"The poverty rate here is high and no one can deny
that. But with this government, I hope that things
will start improving," he said.

Critics said the salary cuts were a superficial
gesture that would not begin to address Bolivia's
deep-seated poverty.

Ruben Costas, governor of Santa Cruz in the country's
eastern business hub, called the cuts "demagoguery,"
saying good leadership and social programs matter
more than the president's paycheck.

In addition, some officials complained they might not
be able to maintain homes in far-flung districts
while working in La Paz.

Since taking office as Bolivia's first Indian
president, Morales has also overhauled the armed
forces and announced an investigation into a decision
last October to let the United States destroy 28 of
Bolivia's shoulder-launched missiles.

"Morales is acutely aware of the symbols, both in
terms of the indigenous identity of the country and by
setting the standard for cutting salaries," said
Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in

"But now the test is can he follow through?" Shifter
said. "Ultimately, he will face real decisions."

Other leaders have introduced salary cuts. In January
2002, Ecuador's President Lucio Gutierrez took a 20
percent voluntary pay cut to $5,120 monthly. A year
earlier, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo announced
he would cut his pay to $12,000 a month after critics
denounced a plan for an $18,000 monthly salary.
Protests were so loud he had to cut it again to

Riordan Roett, professor of Latin American studies at
Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced
International Studies in Washington, said Morales'
media-savvy steps showed he was a "much more assertive
chief executive" than many thought.

He noted that Morales began by naming a Cabinet heavy
with Indians, social leaders and women, then shook up
the military, promoting officers who will be loyal to
the new leader.

Roett said these are "decisions that play out very
well in the streets with the poor."

But bigger issues are yet to come, including
implementation of Morales' promise to nationalize
Bolivia's natural gas reserves.

"He has done things in the short term that will
bolster his support, by moving on salary cuts," Roett

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