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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Bolivian leader declares war on poverty
President Quiroga at swearing-in ceremony
The new president has to make a quick impact
By Andrew Enever in La Paz

Bolivia's new President, Jorge Quiroga Ramirez, has pledged to wage war on poverty as he takes over the reins of power.

At 41, Mr Quiroga - formerly the vice-president - is one of the youngest presidents in Bolivia's recent history. He was sworn in as the country's 62nd president on Tuesday.

He replaced his mentor General Hugo Banzer, who was forced to stand down after being diagnosed with advanced cancer in July.


We are ready for the battle against the economic crisis, corruption and poverty

Jorge Quiroga
But time is short for the new incumbent, who has only one year in office before the next general election, in which he is not permitted to stand.

Standing ovation

Greeted first by cheering crowds in the town plaza and then by a standing ovation from a hall full of dignitaries, 'Tuto' Quiroga became the first president since 1896 to be invested in Bolivia's administrative capital Sucre.

He then addressed the nation, describing his priorities for the coming year.

"We are ready for the battle against the economic crisis, corruption and poverty," he said.

Reform

Top of his list of priorities is to implement an ambitious programme of institutional reform which, Mr Quiroga promised, will end political patronage and the impunity of corrupt officials.
Hugo Banzer waving as he leaves
Hugo Banzer leaving for more cancer treatment

In particular, he hit out at political appointments in public office, announcing to the sound of loud applause that he would introduce a transparent selection procedure based on "intelligence, dedication and honesty".

Mr Quiroga also promised that his government would work tirelessly to aid the nation's poor, particularly through the development of a more direct democracy.

He spoke about the important contribution that international debt relief would make in the second half of this year. He also pledged to use his good standing among the world's multilateral organisations to access other sources of financial assistance for the country.

But he also made an appeal for Bolivia's poor to play their part in getting the nation back on its feet.

"We have seen five months of blockades and protest - what we need now are five months of work," he said.

Technocrat

Commentators have pointed out that Mr Quiroga will be the country's first president born after Bolivia's 1952 revolution, marking a generational shift in Bolivian politics and opening the way for new thinking.

Woman peasant with baby
Poor Bolivians are hoping for a change
US-educated, Mr Quiroga has a more modern, technocratic approach to politics and may yet offer the kind of fresh approach Bolivia needs.

He will also be able to surround himself with like-minded, technically able people, following the decision by the other parties in the ruling coalition to allow him to choose his own cabinet.

But while Mr Quiroga may have fewer political compromises to make than his predecessor, the short time he will have in office could yet prove to be too restrictive.

"Twelve months is a very short period in which to reactivate an economy," commented economic analyst Napoleon Pacheco. He also pointed out that as vice-president Mr Quiroga in the last two years led the formulation of four unsuccessful economic reactivation plans.

Optimism in Bolivia is at a low ebb, with a lack of growth and rising unemployment hitting many sectors of society.

"We still cannot see hope because we are suffering the effects of this acute economic crisis," said Albert Camacho, head of the COB, Bolivia's trade union federation.

Hope

Mr Quiroga has identified this lack of hope as the key issue to overcome and is planning to use his more open communicative style to break down barriers.

Concluding his speech, the new president said "the only thing that can stop our progress in this new century is our chronic pessimism carried over from the last".

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"He inherits a country classified as the poorest in South America"
See also:

08 Aug 01 | Americas
New president takes over in Bolivia
07 Aug 01 | Americas
Bolivia's new president takes charge
27 Jul 01 | Americas
Bolivian president to resign
07 Jul 01 | Americas
Bolivian president's cancer spreads
30 Jul 01 | Americas
Timeline: Bolivia
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bolivia
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