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Bolivia's New President Promises to Fight Corruption - 2001-08-08

Bolivian Vice-President Jorge Quiroga Ramirez was sworn-in as the country's 62nd president, Tuesday. An engineering honors graduate from Texas A&M University, the 41-year-old politician replaces his mentor, Hugo Banzer. The 75-year-old Mr. Banzer was forced to step aside after being diagnosed with advanced cancer, in early July. Mr. Quiroga has only a year before elections. In the short time available, he faces the tough tasks of finding a permanent solution to a number of social disputes and of restoring the country's ailing economy.

Mr. Banzer formally resigned as Bolivia's president during his annual Independence Day address to the nation, Monday. During the speech, it was apparent chemotherapy treatment had taken its toll on the former soldier's appearance. Mr. Banzer excused himself from office, saying his treatments will be risky and difficult. He said he was no longer able to govern the way he wished.

With Bolivia's economy in decline, and crime rates rising, public confidence in the government is at a low ebb. The public remains skeptical the change will make a difference. In a recent poll, 58 percent of those polled said a change in presidents would make no difference.

Tuesday's brief swearing-in ceremony was followed by a one-hour speech from the new president. Mr. Quiroga hit out at what he says are the country's three major ills: corruption, poverty and economic decline. Promising to do two year's work in one, he outlined an ambitious program of institutional improvements. Describing corruption as a "possession in the nation's soul," he promised to end government corruption.

Despite cynicism from some observers, a measure of the new president's negotiating skills has already emerged, with the formulation of a new political pact between his coalition government allies. This will allow Mr. Quiroga to govern unimpeded by the normal political power-sharing deals.

Despite the short time available to him, Mr. Quiroga promises his will be no caretaker government. The new president inherits a tired and directionless government that has spent the last three years failing to take sufficient initiatives to prevent some of the worst civil unrest the country has seen since restoration of democracy in 1982.