Bolivian President: New $36 Million Presidential Palace 'Not a Luxury'


by Frances Martel

Leftist President of Bolivia Evo Morales is spending lavishly on a new 29-floor presidential palace, complete with heliport and chambers designed for indigenous ceremonial rituals. "This is not a luxury; it is to serve the people," Morales insisted, though many objected to the outrageous expenditure.

The BBC reports that Morales, the nation's first president of indigenous descent, signed a contract to begin construction on the new palace on Friday, fully embellishing the contract signing with an indigenous celebration. The building will be "inspired by the architecture of the Tiahuanaco civilization of pre-Hispanic Bolivia" and "include a heliport, a centre for indigenous ceremonies and a 1,000-seat auditorium."

Morales announced the project as a way to replace the current presidential palace, which he objected to because it was "full of European symbols and felt as small as a mousehole."

The "mousehole" boasts three floors, extensive courtyards both in and outside the main structure, and luxurious rooms for both business and the President's living quarters. The sixteenth century building, nicknamed "The Burnt Palace" because of a fire in the 1800s, has witnessed more than 200 violent changes of government in the past two decades.

"This is not a luxury," Morales said of the new construction, dubbed "The Great House of the People." "This is to better serve the people... the current palace is a rat's nest to me and will remain as a museum of the Colonial State," he explained. While Morales did not specify how he would reconcile the construction of a heliport with pre-Colombian Andean architecture, the single head of state did joke about it: "My grandfather abducted my grandmother on horseback and my wish is to abduct via helicopter."

The nod to non-consensual marriage is one of many references to the kind of upbringing Morales experienced, one which he has used often to garner votes from Bolivia's largely indigenous population. Most controversially, Morales signed into law legislation that would allow children as young as ten to work, citing the importance of child labor in developing "a social conscience."

The news of this new construction follows Morales' election to an unprecedented third term, sometime that has alarmed many Bolivians who fear that Morales may wish to propel himself towards a lifetime term of ruling over Bolivia, as his ally Hugo Chávez did in Venezuela. Morales received stern warnings from the majority-leftist Organization of American States to not violate the constitution of his nation, warnings he rapidly dismissed as "meddling" by the United States "empire."