|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Bolivia’s President for Launch of International Year of Quinoa
Quinoa was “food for life” and its 7,000-year history was proof people never had to go hungry, Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales Ayma, told correspondents today at a Headquarters press conference as part of the launch of the International Year of Quinoa.
Mr. Morales thanked the United Nations and the many countries that had supported the idea for the International Year, which, he said, “helped indigenous peoples feel we are not alone”.
The Bolivian Government, with the backing of Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), had spearheaded the initiative, approved by the General Assembly in 2011. Following that, in 2012, Mr. Morales was named Special Ambassador to FAO for the Year’s observance.
The proposal recognized that Andean indigenous peoples, through their traditional knowledge and practices of living in harmony with nature, had protected and preserved quinoa as a food for present and future generations. Its cultivation was considered one way to meet the challenge of feeding the world population, as it had the potential to contribute to combating hunger and malnutrition.
Mr. Morales discussed the grain’s sometimes-shaky history, saying that while it had been so important for so many thousands of years, it had almost become a “condemned” crop and attempts had been made to put an end to its production. Now, the United Nations was interested in spurring its production to fight poverty.
Describing the product, he said quinoa was resistant to frost, it did not require much water and, in stark contrast to many other products on Bolivia’s high plains, such as maize and potatoes, quinoa was a key to survival.
Saying it was “always good” to have an opportunity to explain what had helped the Bolivian economy, he described recent developments by Bolivians to improve the economy. Even lawyers and workers from the transport sector had left their jobs to grow quinoa, he said.
Replying to a question about the potential problems arising from the grain’s popularity, such as the risk of excluding the poor in local markets, Mr. Morales agreed that quinoa production was growing and that the price had increased. However, he did not share the view that quinoa’s prices would preclude consumption by indigenous Bolivians. His early years as a farmer, until 1990, gave him confidence that it would be possible to meet the demand for the grain, both domestically and in the international market.
To a question about some large multinational companies having tried to block the International Year, he said he had enormous differences with the capitalist system, adding that when there was competition there was poverty and unfairness. Fortunately, some world leaders had been made to understand that complementary policies were important to fight such multinationals. His main difficulty with the capitalist system was the colonization of so-called developing or underdeveloped countries, especially in Latin America. “When we started to recover our own natural resources, only then through nationalization of fossil fuels did Bolivia’s economy start to recover.”
He went on to compare the surge in the country’s income since he had become President, owing, in part, to oil revenues. Such economic resources, he said, enabled the country to meet the people’s demands. However, problems remained, he noted, pointing in particular to sabotage from the United States and Canada of Argentina’s wheat. Since no incentive was provided to the wheat growers, “we were actually eating North American bread”. Now, production had started to improve.
The economic policies of certain countries and multinational corporations set conditions, he said, and when they felt like it, they left people without food. Those corporations were being used as an instrument of capitalism at the behest of the United States Government, which only led to poverty and hunger. Fortunately, even while basic services were in private hands in Latin American and elsewhere, Bolivia’s Constitution held that those services were a human right.
That position, he said, had improved the country’s economic situation. More than 1 million Bolivians had been able to emerge from extreme poverty, and in a short time and through deep-seated change, the Bolivian economy had risen up. For the first time in the country’s history, it now had “value added” for its natural resources, especially fossil fuels. Whereas raw materials had previously been exploited, now investment was growing. Imagine how much the neo-liberals had stolen from Bolivians, due to the imposition of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which he called “the economic arm and the economic instrument of the [United States]”.
He explained that since 1940 Bolivia had had a fiscal deficit, but since the oil industry was nationalized in 2006, it no longer ran at a deficit. The practice of borrowing money to pay salaries had also come to an end. No one had thought such results were possible, he said, describing programmes, reserves, and growth in the private banking sector. Previously, loans were for services and trade, and not for the productive sector. Now, credit was extended through the private banking system and a 30 per cent annual interest rate was now at single digits, enabling poor people to pay off their debts and loans.
If one just looked at the income generated by oil and the 7 million people with bank accounts, they would see it was nothing like the past, “where peasants kept money under their pillows and under their beds”, he said.
Shortly after he became President in 2005, he said he had traveled with a French farmer to see what they did. The man had pressed a button on his car and opened the garage with a remote control. He had never seen that before. He saw the farmer’s shower, his lights, his phones — “all of this on a farm”. “We did not have running water or electricity, not to mention cars and telephones — what kind of farmer is this?” It was like another world. He wondered when that would happen for Bolivia, and, he said, “in a very short time, we’re getting there”.
To additional questions, he said that if the transnational companies wanted to be Bolivia’s partners, they were welcome, but they “cannot be our bosses or pillage our natural resources”. That was occurring in Africa, and he urged them to get back their natural resources and sovereignty, as that would change their national economies.
He described failed investment plans in the three national airports, saying that the companies involved were harvesting money, not investing it. The manager of one particular company earned $18,000 per month. “That’s what I earn in nine months,” the President said. The airport terminals remained very small, and with the economic upswing, a lot of people wanted to travel, but that was not possible. If companies wished to invest, he could now guarantee they would recover their investment.
Asked whether it would be possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goal on poverty eradication by 2015, he said as long as there was capitalism, there was always going to be poverty and injustice.
Mr. Morales was asked several more questions, ranging from what one correspondent called the “Iranian nuclear problem with the Americans” to the situation in Syria. On the Iranian issue, he said some Powers had no moral authority to speak about nuclear weapons. Internal conflicts were provoked by capitalism and those conflicts, in turn, served as a pretext for military intervention. Anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist Governments fomented internal conflict to justify intervention. Bolivia did not believe in war. Everyone upheld the value of democracy, but there was no democracy at the United Nations. It was not possible for all Member States to be subjected to the Security Council.
“What Security Council?” he asked. “It was an in-security council for mankind around the world,” he said, adding that would have to be discussed at another time.
He also pointed to the blockade against Cuba, saying that all the countries in the world, except two, were in favour of lifting it, so why not enforce those resolutions? Israel and the United States rejected it, and all countries were subjected to their will. “What democracy?” he repeated.
He also discussed a pending issue between Bolivia and Chile concerning maritime passage, saying that if “the sea issue” was resolved and if Bolivia regained its sovereign passage, then it would be possible to work with the Chilean people and Government.
Concerning Syria, he said the Syrian people should lay down their arms, resume their lives, and serve their country. He had a very different view from United States President Barack Obama who, unfortunately, was indirectly financing the conspiracy. “Without the [United States], we’re better off,” he said, adding that with the little experience and information he had, he knew that developed countries known as “Powers” would never allow countries to develop and improve their situations.
Responding to several questions about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he said he had much respect for both him and Fidel Castro, who had helped Bolivia to consolidate change. Both leaders, he said, had told him to look after himself and get enough rest. Now, he saw they had not done that for themselves. He hoped President Chavez, who had been part of once-in-a-century changes, would soon be serving his people, at the helm again of the Bolivar revolution in Venezuela.
* *** *For information media • not an official record