LA PAZ, Bolivia – Leftist coca grower Evo Morales, a fierce critic of U.S. policies who helped topple two of his predecessors in deadly street uprisings against Bolivia's ruling elite, was inaugurated Sunday as the nation's first Indian president.
The former llama herder and leader of Bolivia's coca growers union raised his fist in a leftist salute just before he swore to uphold the constitution during the ceremony in the ornate Legislative Palace.
Morales wept and bowed after he was presented with the yellow, red and green presidential sash — the colors of the Bolivian flag. Outside, tens of thousands of people, led by brightly dressed Indians, cheered and blew on cow horns as fireworks crackled overhead.
They then sang the national anthem amid shouts of "Evo! Evo!" in support of Morales, a farmer's son who has promised to lift one of Latin America's poorest countries out of the misery it has endured since the 16th-century Spanish conquest.
Morales said his election marks the beginning of the end to hundreds of years of discrimination and repression of Bolivia's Indian majority.
"I wish to tell you, my Indian brothers, that the 500-year indigenous and popular campaign of resistance has not been in vain," Morales declared.
He also said he would "change history" but "without vengeance," and his government would serve all sectors of Bolivian society.