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Bolivia's President Morales vs CNN: A Controversial Interview

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales likes to keep his distance from the international television network CNN. President Morales, a left-wing peasant leader who has ruled the country since 2006, has accused CNN of being the “the spokesman of imperialism” in the region.

However, Ismael Cala, a popular TV presenter from the network's Spanish-language channel CNN en Español, somehow managed to arrange an interview with President Morales.

Public opinion was divided after the interview was aired on August 13, 2013.

Initially scheduled for August 8, 2013, the interview was unexpectedly cancelled at the last minute. Cala had already arrived at the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Bolivia's capital:

Three months ago my team arranged an exclusive interview with president Morales for August 8. They confirmed. We travelled there and inside the Palace [the interview] was cancelled.

Later the same day, Cala stated in local media [es] that “in [his] career, [he would] never arrange a meeting with President Evo Morales again”.

His statement provoked a public reaction [es] from President Morales:

“A veces usan nuestro nombre para figurar en los medios de comunicación como ese señor Cala, habría que averiguar de dónde viene y porque se escapó de Cuba [...] que actitud tan cobarde la de ese periodista”.

Sometimes they use our name to appear in the media, like Mr Cala has done. We will have to check where he comes from and why he escaped from Cuba. [...] That journalist has such a cowardly attitude!

President Morales also explained why the interview was initially cancelled:

“Porque yo he suspendido una entrevista quejándose publicamente, a mi no me pueden obligar a hablar en cualquier medio de comunicación, quiero que sepan compañeros porque suspendí la entrevista, cuando nos entrevistan ese periodista quería editar, entonces cuando editan, direccionan a su antojo”

Complaining publicly because I have cancelled an interview… I cannot be forced to speak in any media outlet. I want you to know why I cancelled the interview: after the interview that journalist wanted to edit us. When they edit, they change the meaning at will.

In spite of the many twists and turns, the interview eventually took place on August 10 and was broadcast on August 13 during the prime time evening show Cala on CNN en Español (the show can be watched in full via this link [es]).

Photo of President Evo Morales and CNN presenter Ismael Cala, shared on Twitter by @CNNEPrensa

Photo of President Evo Morales and CNN presenter Ismael Cala, shared on Twitter by @CNNEPrensa

National media followed the interview closely and shared fragments during night shows. CNN is only available for cable TV subscribers, which reaches 25% of Bolivian households according to a recent poll. Nevertheless, Bolivian netizens were very active and commented via social media during and after the TV show.

The first part of the interview was very tense, with President Morales visibly irritated and Mr Cala trying to defend himself. As the show went on, the tension decreased and the questions flowed more smoothly towards topics of national interest and non-controversial issues.

Netizens from Latin America were divided in their opinions after the show.

For some, like blogger Esteban Morales, the interview was a wasted opportunity by President Morales to display a different image in the region. He states on his blog [es]:

Más allá del libreto repetitivo del discurso oficial, por el que no nos hemos enterado de absolutamente nada nuevo, hubo algo que me ha llamado poderosamente la atención. Evo estuvo, desde el principio hasta el final de la entrevista, a la defensiva. Pasivo agresivo a ratos, quiso quince minutos después de iniciada la entrevista ganar la posición dominante – demasiado tarde, una entrevista no es como el fútbol, o se gana la mano superior desde el arranque o se está condenado – y, aunque Cala fue muy respetuoso incluso cuando fue insultado por su entrevistado, el Presidente dio la sensación permanente de comportarse como un niño caprichoso, fatigado, impaciente y dispuesto a patear el tablero en cualquier momento. Su lenguaje corporal fue especialmente elocuente: incómodo, cambiando de postura en una silla que parecía muy dura, con señales claras de agotamiento.

Beyond the repetitive script of the official speech, from which we have not learned anything new, there was something that caught my attention. From the beginning to the end of the interview, Evo took a defensive stance. Passive-aggressive at times, he wanted to gain the dominant position fifteen minutes after the interview started- too late, an interview is not like a football match [...]- and, although Cala was very respectful even when he was insulted, the President gave the constant feeling of behaving like a petulant child: tired, impatient and ready to step out of the box at any time. His body language was particularly eloquent: uncomfortable, shifting positions in a hard-looking chair, with clear signs of exhaustion.

On the other hand, many blogs such as La Voz de San Joaquin see the interview from a different angle [es]:

La televisora norteamericana CNN en español, bautizada como Cadena Más Mentirosa (CMM), quedó en ridículo en entrevista que le realizó al presidente de Bolivia, Evo Morales, quien obligó a su interlocutor Ismael Cala a no poder manipularlo, como acostumbra a hacer ese medio de prensa. [...]
[Evo Morales] expresó además claramente que la citada televisora siempre ha representado los intereses imperialistas de Washington, no solo en Latinoamérica, sino internacionalmente.

The American broadcaster CNN en Español, baptised as “Most Untruthful Channel”, was ridiculed in the interview with the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who did not allow his interlocutor Ismael Cala to manipulate the show, as that media outlet tends to do. [...]
[Evo Morales] also stated clearly that the TV channel has always represented Washington's imperial interests, not only in Latin America but internationally.

In a rather less militant position, Twitter user Andrei Millán (@AndreiMillan) [es] backs up President Morales:

Interesting interview by Cala with Evo Morales, who acts with great suspicion against American media, and rightly so.

Some praise Cala's patience and moderation, while others celebrate Morales’ determination and authority against “imperialist” media.

However, Bolivian journalist Mery Vaca (@meryvaca) [es] argues what could reflect the general perception after the show:

Evo and Cala: Two egos of that size will not fit on a screen as small as a TV.

This post was proofread in English by Georgi McCarthy.

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