NEW: Evo Morales says he's dedicating his victory to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez
"We thank the Bolivian people for this new triumph," President Evo Morales says
An exit poll says Morales won a third term with 61% of votes
Morales is a leftist leader who was once a union leader for coca farmers
Incumbent Evo Morales declared victory in Bolivia’s presidential vote Sunday.
Official results have not been announced, but a national exit poll placed Morales in the lead with 61% of the votes. Victory would mean Morales, of the Movement for Socialism party, would lead the country until 2020 in his third consecutive term as President.
“We thank the Bolivian people for this new triumph,” Morales told a crowd of cheering supporters in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, vowing to make his country the energy capital of South America.
“This democratic triumph of the Bolivian people is dedicated to all the people of Latin America and of the world who fight against capitalism and against imperialism,” he said. “This triumph, brothers and sisters, is dedicated to Fidel Castro (and) dedicated to Hugo Chavez, may he rest in peace.”
Morales, 54, is the South American country’s first indigenous President. Four other candidates were vying for Bolivia’s presidency in Sunday’s vote.
As vote tallying began, analysts said that victory was likely for the leftist Latin American leader, given his performance in the polls before the election and Bolivia’s economic growth since he took office.
“The distance between Evo Morales and the rest is so great, that obviously I don’t expect a surprise,” economic analyst Carlos Toranzo told CNN en Español. “Most voters are in favor of Morales because they want the economic boom of recent years to continue.”
Morales, a former union leader for coca growers, won his first election with a campaign that promised a government focused on the needs of the country’s poor.
But as an ally of Chavez, opponents have accused him of using the system to concentrate power.
Last year, a court ruled that he could run again, deciding that his second term in office was his first under the country’s new constitution.
This time around, he ran under the slogan, “With Evo, we’re doing well.”
Since Morales took office, the country has seen economic growth while many of its neighbors have struggled. Last year, the GDP grew 6.5%, according to government statistics.
But some Bolivians say they haven’t seen the economic boom cause much of a benefit for their pocketbooks.
The normally bustling streets of Bolivia’s capital were quiet Sunday. Voting laws prohibit cars from driving on election day
Voters told CNN en Español that security and economic issues were key as they cast their ballots.
“Bolivia has transformed impressively. I was walking on the streets, talking with the citizens, and all of them are informed. All of them want to vote,” said Alvaro Colom, a former Guatemalan President who’s heading a mission of election observers from the Organization of American States.
Voting went smoothly Sunday, with no major reports of irregularities, Colom said.
Morales enjoys widespread popular support at home but has run afoul of some U.S. officials with his outspoken criticisms of capitalism and U.S. drug policies.
When he first ran for office, he declared himself a “nightmare” for the United States.
In 2008, he expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from Bolivia. Last year, he kicked out the U.S. Agency for International Development, accusing the agency of meddling and conspiring against his government.
He told a convention of farm workers in 2011 that he feared U.S. authorities would try to plant something on his presidential plane to link him with drug trafficking.
Amid rumors that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden could be on his presidential plane last year, authorities in several European countries refused to let the aircraft land to refuel on its way from Moscow back to Bolivia.
Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the United States for leaking classified documents, wasn’t on the plane, but Morales had said he would be willing to give him asylum.
CNN en Español’s Carlos Montero reported from La Paz. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet reported and wrote from Atlanta. Journalist Gloria Carrasco and CNN’s Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.