The Saga of Fidel, the Bolivian President’s Illusory Secret Son

He doesn’t exist. At least, he seems not to.

*** Local Caption *** Evo Morales
*** Local Caption *** Evo Morales

Here’s what we know about Bolivian President Evo Morales’s son, Fidel: He was raised in secret. He may have cost his father a fourth term in office. His mother is in jail. And he doesn’t exist.

At least, he seems not to. No one has been able to confirm that he’s real, and plenty of evidence points to the fact that he isn’t.

The confusing saga, which reporters have called a real-life telenovela, began in February, just before a referendum to decide whether Morales could run for a fourth term. In the run-up to the crucial vote, Bolivian journalist Carlos Valverde reported that Morales had been in a relationship from 2005 to 2007 with a woman named Gabriela Zapata, who went on to serve as a top executive at the Chinese engineering firm CAMC, which had won almost $600 million in contracts from the Bolivian government. Morales acknowledged the relationship and denied any wrongdoing. He also admitted that he and Zapata had a secret child together, who he said died shortly after birth in 2007, a year after Morales took office.

Gabriela Zapata in La Paz, Bolivia on February 26, 2016. 

In the face of increasingly diverse opposition, Morales lost his fourth-term referendum by a slim margin, despite continued popularity. The revelations about his relationship with Zapata couldn’t have helped.

In late February, Zapata was arrested in an investigation into her apparent influence peddling. That’s when things started to get weird, even for a presidential sex and corruption scandal. Zapata’s aunt, Pilar Guzmán, standing outside the La Paz prison that held her niece, told reporters that Zapata’s child with the president hadn’t died after all: He was alive, well, and named Fidel. A lawyer told reporters that the boy had been named for Fidel Castro.

“That child lives; I have held him in my arms when he was four-months-old,” Guzmán said on local TV, as reported by the Buenos Aires Herald. “I travelled to Cochabamba [a city in central Bolivia] and looked after him.”

If his son was indeed alive, Morales said in a statement the following day, it was news to him. “I want to tell you that if he is alive, well firstly it is a great joy for me, it is like a blessing in the end, if he is alive,” he said. “I ask myself why since 2007 did they hide him from me? For what reasons did they distance me?”

In the same statement, he asked to meet the boy. “I hope in the coming hours they’ll bring me the child,” he said. “I want to assume my responsibilities.”

Zapata said no. The president got a court order. She presented someone who was “neither the child of Gabriela Zapata nor that of Evo Morales, and even less so the joint child of the two,” Valverde told the BBC. She did not consent to DNA tests. Earlier this month, the court said that it had verified the “physical non-existence of the child.”

The saga continues. On Tuesday, Valverde, who originally reported the story, recanted his previous revelations, and said the child never existed in the first place. He said that the family has passed off another child as Zapata and Morales’s.

Despite the reversal and the court ruling, Zapata is sticking to her story. The child, she insisted Tuesday, was real.

Photo credits: SPENCER PLATT/Getty Images; JORGE BERNAL/AFP/Getty Images

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @bsoloway

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