Bolivia’s Evo Morales heads home after socialist president sworn in

FILE PHOTO - Former Bolivian President Evo Morales looks on during a visit to a group of Argentinian priests called "Curas en la Opcion por los Pobres" (Priests in the Option for the Poor) and the Bolivian community of the humble neighbourhood of Isla Maciel, as part of the Three Kings' Day, or the Feast of the Epiphany, in Buenos Aires, Argentina January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Matias Baglietto

Bolivia’s former longtime leader Evo Morales was preparing a return to his country on Monday after a close ally and member of his MAS socialist party was sworn in as president.

Morales, who left Bolivia under a cloud last November after international observers cited irregularities in an election giving him a fourth term in office, said the prospect of his return filled him “with happiness.”

“Today is one of the most important days of my life, to be returning to the country that I love so much fills me with happiness,” he wrote on Twitter.

Morales, who led Bolivia for almost 14 years as the first indigenous president, was due to cross the border from Argentina where he has been living in exile at 9 a.m. ET before heading to his rural stronghold in Chapare.

Around 2,000 supporters, including members of Argentine social and political groups, were waiting at the La Quiaca crossing on Monday morning to see him off. They waved the flag of the Argentine indigenous people, and played music on traditional instruments, according to NYK Daily reporters.

On the Bolivian side of the border, in Villazón, a far larger crowd was gathering to welcome their exiled leader home.

Luis Arce, 57, was sworn in as president on Sunday, was inaugurated in a ceremony in the highland city of La Paz, in front of heads of state from Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Spain, as well as senior officials from Chile, Iran and the government of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

The introverted former economy minister, feted as the architect of Bolivia’s rapid growth under Morales, vowed to “defeat” the coronavirus pandemic, “put an end to fear” after deadly electoral violence last year and generate growth following the blow dealt by COVID-19 lockdowns.

He has said that former president Morales will play no role in his government.

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