Evo Morales coasted to victory in Bolivia's presidential elections, winning an unprecedented third term as voters rewarded the former coca grower for delivering economic and political stability in what has traditionally been one of South America's most ungovernable nations. Morales is now on track to become Bolivia's longest-serving leader consecutively in office, eclipsing 19th-century Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz, a founder of the republic who held power from 1829-1839. Morales received 60% of the vote against 25% for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, the top vote-getter among four challengers in yesterday's election, according to a quick count of voting stations by the polling firm Ipsos; Doria Medina conceded defeat late yesterday.
While known internationally for his anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, the 55-year-old coca growers' union leader is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia's natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses. Yet Morales has alienated environmentalists and many former indigenous allies by promoting mining and a planned jungle highway through an indigenous reserve. Morales promotes coca's traditional uses and claims zero tolerance for cocaine. But the US considers Bolivia uncooperative in the war on drugs and has halted trade preferences. In a victory speech, Morales dedicated his victory to Cuba's Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez: "It is a triumph of the anti-colonialists and anti-imperialists." (Read more Evo Morales stories.)