Pope and President Morales Discuss Rights of Weakest


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(17 May 10 - RV) On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI received the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Juan Evo Morales Ayma, in audience.

President Morales, dressed in his traditional style of Andean ‘chompa' jacket, was welcomed on his first visit to the Vatican by Pope Benedict in Spanish. The two men then retired to the Pope's library for a 25 minute private discussion.

A Vatican press communiqué released shortly after the meeting described the talks as a ‘cordial' and "fruitful exchange of views on issues relating to the current international and regional situation and the need to develop greater social awareness for environmental protection".

The Holy Father and the President then focused on some aspects of the situation of the South American country, in particular the collaboration between Church and State in education, health and social policies to protect the rights of the weakest".

Bolivia, has the lowest GDP per capita in South America, despite being rich in natural resources. Almost two-thirds of its people, many of whom are subsistence farmers, live in poverty

Officially termed the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the majority of its 10 million inhabitants are Aymara and Quechua speaking Amerindian natives. Locked high in the Andean Mountain range, Bolivia is bordered by Brazil to the North and East, Paraguay and Argentina to the South, and Chile and Peru to the West. Since declaring independence in 1809, it has struggled through periods of political instability, dictatorships and economic woes.

President Morales swept to power in 2006, the first elected President to win over 50% of the popular vote in an election that saw the participation of 84.5% of the national electorate for the first time ever. In a 2009 election he was reconfirmed as President increasing his consensus to over 64%.

Since becoming President he has brought the nations main gas and mineral industries under state control, and drafted a new constitution granting greater rights to the majority indigenous people.

According to a 2007-2008 Gallup survey 59% of Bolivians are Catholic, although a much smaller portion of the population participates actively in the life of the Church. Protestant denominations and traditional ethnic Incan religions are expanding rapidly.

At the end of the Monday meeting President Morales gifted the Pope wood-carved statuettes of two ‘campesinos' and a white alpacha wool scarf. The Pope in turn gifted the President a papal medal.