Bolivia's Morales shuffles Cabinet amid protests
September 9, 2008 - Forbes (AP)

LA PAZ, Bolivia --- President Evo Morales shuffled his Cabinet on Monday, changing five ministers including the energy portfolio at a time when his government is facing protests from provinces seeking greater autonomy.

In a ceremony at the presidential palace, Morales swore in Saul Avalos as energy minister, replacing Carlos Villegas who moved over to head the Development Planning Ministry.

Susana Rivero left the Rural Development Ministry to head the Production and Small Business Ministry. Carlos Romero took over the rural ministry. Jorge Tapia replaced Walter Selum as health minister.

Morales said the changes "respond to the need to assure production, especially of food."

Avalos is an economist and high-ranking member of the ruling Movement To Socialism party.

Bolivia's unions and social movements had asked the president to shuffle his Cabinet to help advance his agrarian reform project and efforts to implement a new consitution, both of which are fiercely resisted by the opposition.

But Morales left the most important Cabinet posts - the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs and the presidency - unchanged.

Since last week, Morales' opponents have blocked roads and occupied public buildings in the provinces of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando to demand the government return regional shares of oil and natural gas income diverted to fund a pension for the elderly.

Four provinces in the energy-rich east are seeking greater autonomy from Bolivia's leftist government, which wants to use the energy revenues to redistribute wealth and promote the nation's indigenous majority.

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