Bolivian doctor with Sparta connection laments his country's plight
Even as Dr. Jose Ascimani Morales enjoyed his tour of Wisconsin on his 21-day trip to the U.S., which began in July, he worried about the future of his native home of Bolivia.
The 72-year-old gynecologist and university professor from Trinidad, Bolivia has been visiting his older sister, Rosa Hamilton of Sparta. They and their six other siblings were raised in the central South American country, where Dr. Morales and one other of his siblings are the only ones who still live there.
Three of their other siblings are deceased, while Hamilton and two sisters live in the U.S. Sitting at Hamilton's home last week, Dr. Morales, who speaks little English and talked through Hamilton as his interpreter, said the country's president, Evo Morales, has ushered in corruption and changed the constitution to enhance his power since winning his first election 15 years ago.
He says Evo Morales has control of the military and police and imprisons his detractors. It's a dangerous situation where politicians who ask for justice go to jail, he said.
Dr. Morales said the president has gagged the press and driven news reporters who oppose him out of the country.
According to Dr. Morales, Evo Morales came to power as a populist who railed against previous corrupt political parties in a country that was undergoing a rough economic period and a population hungry for change. He won his first election with 70% of the vote.
He was a friend of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba and has aligned himself with Russia and China. About three years ago Evo Morales held a referendum asking the country if they wanted him to remain in power. According to Dr. Morales, the vote didn't go his way, with 51% of voters saying they didn't want him as president.
Despite the president insisting he would abide by the results, he ignored the election and remains in power.
Dr. Morales said there is hope for his country, with widespread strikes taking place and opposition parties beginning to become more outspoken. He says he has loved ones who are involved with those parties and he worries for their safety. The next election is October 20, but Dr. Morales is not sure if President Morales will step down if he loses.
He says the latest poll shows Evo Morales has only a 36% approval rating.
Dr. Morales will return to Bolivia Wednesday, where he is semi-retired. He said the people of Wisconsin have been very kind and the state is beautiful and peaceful, a characteristics he hopes his own county will be able to maintain.