NEW YORK (AP) — It took him a while to loosen up, but Bolivian President Evo Morales got the last laugh on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Morales strode up to the stage Tuesday to whooping and applause — and one shout of “Evoooo!” — from the audience at Comedy Central’s Emmy award-winning fake news program.
Looking a bit stiff and speaking through a translator, Morales did not seem at first to understand some of Stewart’s jokes, delivering serious responses. But he gradually relaxed under gentle questioning from Stewart and a crowd that delighted in the leftist leader’s indictments of Western capitalism and appeals for social justice.
Morales, a fierce nationalist, has at times had tense relations with Washington. His appearance on the late-night show, known for its liberal leanings, was a highlight of his visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting.
“Your story is remarkable. How does a farmer, a poor farmer with a high school education become the first indigenous president of Bolivia? It’s an amazing journey,” Stewart asked.
“We all have rights, as I understand it,” said Morales, an Aymara Indian who has moved to nationalize Bolivia’s oil and gas industry and is seeking a new constitution that would grant more power to his Andean nation’s indigenous majority.
“Professionals and intellectuals are not the only ones who can be presidents,” he said. “Indigenous people can also be president.”
“In Bolivia,” Stewart deadpanned, leaning forward conspiratorially. “In America, it’s a little rigged.”
Morales has reveled in several public appearances during his New York trip. He is the second head of state to appear on “The Daily Show,” according to the network. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf appeared in September 2006.
Morales, who rose to prominence as the leader of coca growers, often rails against U.S. global dominance, much like his close allies Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
On Monday, however, he found a friendly audience at New York’s Cooper Union institution, where he declared capitalism “the worst enemy of humanity,” drawing cheers from about 200 students, some waving small Bolivian flags. On Wednesday, he will address the U.N. General Assembly, where last year he dramatically brandished a coca leaf.
Back home, Morales has faced political turmoil. Violent protests have prompted an assembly rewriting Bolivia’s constitution to call a monthlong recess in hopes of rescuing the stalled process.
But when Stewart urged Morales to discuss his reforms, the president got free reign to extol his successes and drew wild applause with nearly every example. He finished with a flourish.
“Please don’t consider me part of the axis of evil,” Morales said to a roar of laughter from his host and audience.