Bolivia's Evo Morales sworn in for third term as President

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks after he was sworn in for a third term in office, at the congress in La Paz on Jan 22. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks after he was sworn in for a third term in office, at the congress in La Paz on Jan 22. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LA PAZ (AFP) - Mr Evo Morales was sworn in Thursday for a third term as President of Bolivia at a ceremony in the country's national assembly and vowed to sharply reduce poverty.

As thousands of supporters cheered outside, the country's first indigenous president took the oath of office with his left fist raised "on behalf of the Bolivian people and equality for all human beings."

Mr Morales, in office since 2006, was re-elected in October with 61 per cent of the vote. His new term ends in 2020.

In an inaugural speech, the 55-year-old former coca grower boasted of having ended Bolivia's dependence on the United States in his first nine years in office, and said he would reduce poverty to single digits by the end of his term.

"Here, the gringos don't give orders, the Indians do," he said.

Aided by a booming economy, Morales' first two terms were marked by sweeping nationalisations of the country's oil and other natural resources.

He imposed state control over strategic industries like telecommunications and electric power, all the while tangling with Washington.

He kicked out the US ambassador and the US Drug Enforcement Agency in 2008, and ended Bolivia's long relationship with the US Agency for International Development in 2013.

With natural gas exports to neighbors Brazil and Argentina filling his coffers, Mr Morales spread the bonanza among the country's poor.

But he faces an altered economic outlook as he takes office this time around.

"Now, he'll have to govern in context of falling oil prices and consequently lower natural gas prices, which is to say without the economic boom that characterised the nine previous years," said Mr Carlos Torzano, an independent analyst.

Mr Morales has already warned his team to brace for a crisis.

"We are going to continue growing, because international prices help but are not the sole sufficient and necessary condition for growth," said Economy Minister Luis Arce.

Bolivia projects 5.9 per cent growth this year, a gain similar to 2014. The country's economy grew 6.8 per cent in 2013.

With control of the national assembly, Mr Morales should have a free hand to undertake reforms, possibly including a constitutional amendment to allow him to run for a fourth term.

At a news conference on Monday, however, Mr Morales said he had never thought about changing the Vonstitution to open the way for another term in office.