LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivia’s President Evo Morales appealed Monday for access to a son born out of wedlock to an ex-girlfriend who is now at the center of a corruption scandal shaking his administration.
Morales had previously acknowledged fathering a child with Gabriela Zapata during a two-year affair but claims she had told him the infant died shortly after birth.
In a twist worthy of a telenovela, though, Zapata’s aunt revealed last week that the child was not dead, but alive and well.
“I ask the family of Gabriela Zapata, to bring him to me, I am waiting, I want to hold him, if they will let me,” Morales said. “I have a right to see him, to know him, to care for him.”
The 28-year-old Zapata, meanwhile, is in prison on orders of a prosecutor investigating allegations she used her influence with Morales on behalf of a Chinese engineering group, CAMC, which obtained $560 million in government contracts.
She faces charges of money laundering, embezzlement and abuse of influence, prosecutor Edwin Blanco said Sunday.
Zapata, who until recently was a senior manager at CAMC, entered into a relationship with Morales in 2005 when she was 18 years old. Morales, who is 56, said it ended two years later.
He has said their child would now be 8 or 9 years old.
“Evidently there was a divergence over the death of the baby. I believed in the words and the information provided by the mother of my son,” he told reporters at the Quemado presidential palace.
“I don’t think they told me falsely that the baby had died,” he said.
He warned that if Zapata’s family did not produce the child, he would be obliged to go to the courts to demand an investigation.
A reporter’s bombshell disclosure last month of the previously unpublicized relationship set off an investigation into influence peddling just weeks before Bolivia was to vote on whether to change the constitution to allow Morales to run for a fourth term.
The February 21 referendum was the first electoral defeat for Morales, who has been re-elected three times and already is Bolivia’s longest serving president.
A congressional committee is investigating the contracts awarded to CAMC, and opposition members of congress have called for Morales and Zapata to testify.
Press reports have alleged that as a CAMC manager, Zapata wrote letters to government agencies seeking contracts on behalf of the Chinese contractor.
The opposition accuses Morales of favoring Zapata, and insists their relationship lasted at least until 2015, despite Morales’ denials.