Only days before Evo Morales stepped down as Bolivia’s president audio tapes were published implicating opposition politicians, the US embassy and American senators in a coup plot.
Among those US senators mentioned in the leaked tapes by the Bolivian politicians seeking Morales’ ouster were Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, according to a report by Telesur.
It is believed that the US embassy in La Paz helped coordinate a deliberate campaign of street violence and media disinformation in order to destabilize the Andean country and force Morales to quit.
The whole scenario fits Washington’s standard-operating procedure for instigating coups or regime change against governments it disapproves of. Bolivia’s socialist president Evo Morales was in Washington’s cross-hairs for toppling.
What has happened in Bolivia is similar to the US-backed violent protests which earlier this year rocked the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Fortunately for Maduro, the Venezuelan military has remained loyal to the constitution and was not turned by Washington’s pressure.
Unfortunately for Morales, however, sufficient pressure was exerted on the Bolivian military and police. When those institutions called for Morales to step down on Sunday, he did so in order to spare his nation from further deadly conflict. “The coup mongers are destroying the rule of law,” said Morales, who was re-elected for a fourth term on October 20.
Several countries have denounced what they see as a coup against the democratically elected leader. Russia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina have all condemned the subversion of Bolivia’s constitution.
When Morales won the election last month, the Organisation of American States (OAS) alleged “manipulation” of the voting system. Such claims by the OAS were predictable because it has long served as a pro-Washington agency which is vehemently opposed to left-wing governments in Latin America. Critics call it a relic of the Cold War.
The organization has spearheaded international criticism of the Venezuelan government and served to whip up public disturbances earlier this year in that country which challenged the elected president, Nicolas Maduro. The orchestrated coup in Venezuela has since subsided over recent months.
Washington supplies the OAS with 60 per cent of its financial budget. It is, therefore, a tool for promoting US geopolitical interests across Latin America, as amply noted by the Grayzone.
Its meddling in Bolivia seems to have succeeded, unlike its failed attempts in Venezuela.
The allegations of voting fraud in Bolivia gave immediate fuel for street protests by rightwing groups loyal to opposition politicians. Those opposition factions are linked to the past oligarchic regimes which ran Bolivia before Morales came to power in 2006. Morales was the first indigenous president in a country which has traditionally been dominated by a ruling class associated with Spanish colonialists. His policies gained much international praise for lifting millions of Bolivians out of poverty, especially the indigenous people who had historically been marginalized by the ruling elite.
For the past three weeks, since the election result designated Morales as the clear winner, Bolivia has been convulsed by extreme violence. Protesters attacked members of Morales’ party, burning homes and offices and intimidating journalists from broadcasting the scenes of anarchy on the streets. It is reported that one of Morales’ family relatives was kidnapped at the weekend.
Given the reign of terror threatening to destroy the country, the president was compelled to relinquish power at the weekend.
The implication of US senators colluding with Bolivia’s rightwing opposition to create a climate of hate and fear is straight out of the same playbook for subversion that Washington has used most recently in Venezuela and in dozens of other countries around the world. The coup d’état that occurred in Ukraine in February 2014 leading to a takeover by neo-Nazi parties is just one other example.
The irony is that Washington and its European partners are consumed with accusations made against Russia for allegedly interfering in their political systems. US and European media relentlessly claim with scant evidence that Moscow is running “influence campaigns” to distort elections.
Just this week the New York Times has published yet another report in a recent series of reports alleging that Russia is cranking up interference and meddling in African states.
Meanwhile, the evidence is glaring that the US has just moved blatantly to destroy the democratic process in Bolivia, to terrorize a nation and blackmail its president to resign. Yet Western media dutifully turn off that narrative to keep chasing their fantasies about Russia. Another illustration of why corporate Western media are more accurately defined as propaganda channels, not news outlets.
After Morales Ousted in Coup, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia
The overthrow of the elected leader cannot be understood without a glance at the nation’s massive reserves of this crucial mineral.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was overthrown in a military coup on November 10. He is now in Mexico. Before he left office, Morales had been involved in a long project to bring economic and social democracy to his long-exploited country. It is important to recall that Bolivia has suffered a series of coups, often conducted by the military and the oligarchy on behalf of transnational mining companies. Initially, these were tin firms, but tin is no longer the main target in Bolivia. The main target is its massive deposits of lithium, crucial for the electric car.
Over the past 13 years, Morales has tried to build a different relationship between his country and its resources. He has not wanted the resources to benefit the transnational mining firms, but rather to benefit his own population. Part of that promise was met as Bolivia’s poverty rate has declined, and as Bolivia’s population was able to improve its social indicators. Nationalization of resources combined with the use of its income to fund social development has played a role. The attitude of the Morales government toward the transnational firms produced a harsh response from them, many of them taking Bolivia to court.
Over the course of the past few years, Bolivia has struggled to raise investment to develop the lithium reserves in a way that brings the wealth back into the country for its people. Morales’ Vice President Álvaro García Linera had said that lithium is the “fuel that will feed the world.” Bolivia was unable to make deals with Western transnational firms; it decided to partner with Chinese firms. This made the Morales government vulnerable. It had walked into the new Cold War between the West and China. The coup against Morales cannot be understood without a glance at this clash.
Clash With the Transnational Firms
When Evo Morales and the Movement for Socialism took power in 2006, the government immediately sought to undo decades of theft by transnational mining firms. Morales’ government seized several of the mining operations of the most powerful firms, such as Glencore, Jindal Steel & Power, Anglo-Argentine Pan American Energy, and South American Silver (now TriMetals Mining). It sent a message that business as usual was not going to continue.
Nonetheless, these large firms continued their operations—based on older contracts—in some areas of the country. For example, the Canadian transnational firm South American Silver had created a company in 2003—before Morales came to power—to mine the Malku Khota for silver and indium (a rare earth metal used in flat-screen televisions). South American Silver then began to extend its reach into its concessions. The land that it claimed was inhabited by indigenous Bolivians, who argued that the company was destroying its sacred spaces as well as promoting an atmosphere of violence.
On August 1, 2012, the Morales government—by Supreme Decree no. 1308—annulled the contract with South American Silver (TriMetals Mining), which then sought international arbitration and compensation. Canada’s government of Justin Trudeau—as part of a broader push on behalf of Canadian mining companies in South America—put an immense amount of pressure on Bolivia. In August 2019, TriMetals struck a deal with the Bolivian government for $25.8 million, about a tenth of what it had earlier demanded as compensation.
Jindal Steel, an Indian transnational corporation, had an old contract to mine iron ore from Bolivia’s El Mutún, a contract that was put on hold by the Morales government in 2007. In July 2012, Jindal Steel terminated the contract and sought international arbitration and compensation for its investment. In 2014, it won $22.5 million from Bolivia in a ruling from Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce. For another case against Bolivia, Jindal Steel demanded $100 million in compensation.
The Morales government seized three facilities from the Swiss-based transnational mining firm Glencore; these included a tin and zinc mine as well as two smelters. The mine’s expropriation took place after Glencore’s subsidiary clashed violently with miners.
Most aggressively, Pan American sued the Bolivian government for $1.5 billion for the expropriation of the Anglo-Argentinian company’s stake in natural gas producer Chaco by the state. Bolivia settled for $357 million in 2014.
The scale of these payouts is enormous. It was estimated in 2014 that the public and private payments made for nationalization of these key sectors amounted to at least $1.9 billion (Bolivia’s GDP was at that time $28 billion).
In 2014, even the Financial Times agreed that Morales’ strategy was not entirely inappropriate. “Proof of the success of Morales’s economic model is that since coming to power he has tripled the size of the economy while ramping up record foreign reserves.”
Bolivia’s key reserves are in lithium, which is essential for the electric car. Bolivia claims to have 70 percent of the world’s lithium reserves, mostly in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. The complexity of the mining and processing has meant that Bolivia has not been able to develop the lithium industry on its own. It requires capital, and it requires expertise.
The salt flat is about 12,000 feet (3,600 meters) above sea level, and it receives high rainfall. This makes it difficult to use sun-based evaporation. Such simpler solutions are available to Chile’s Atacama Desert and in Argentina’s Hombre Muerto. More technical solutions are needed for Bolivia, which means that more investment is needed.
The nationalization policy of the Morales government and the geographical complexity of Salar de Uyuni chased away several transnational mining firms. Eramet (France), FMC (United States) and Posco (South Korea) could not make deals with Bolivia, so they now operate in Argentina.
Morales made it clear that any development of the lithium had to be done with Bolivia’s Comibol—its national mining company—and Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB)—its national lithium company—as equal partners.
Last year, Germany’s ACI Systems agreed to a deal with Bolivia. After protests from residents in the Salar de Uyuni region, Morales canceled that deal on November 4, 2019.
Chinese firms—such as TBEA Group and China Machinery Engineering—made a deal with YLB. It was being said that China’s Tianqi Lithium Group, which operates in Argentina, was going to make a deal with YLB. Both Chinese investment and the Bolivian lithium company were experimenting with new ways to both mine the lithium and to share the profits of the lithium. The idea that there might be a new social compact for the lithium was unacceptable to the main transnational mining companies.
Tesla (United States) and Pure Energy Minerals (Canada) both showed great interest in having a direct stake in Bolivian lithium. But they could not make a deal that would take into consideration the parameters set by the Morales government. Morales himself was a direct impediment to the takeover of the lithium fields by the non-Chinese transnational firms. He had to go.
After the coup, Tesla’s stock rose astronomically.
This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. He is a Writing Fellow and Chief Correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He writes regularly for The Hindu, Frontline, Newsclick, and BirGün.
Exclusive Interview with Bolivian President Evo Morales
TeleSUR English on Nov 14, 2019
LIVE: Who’s behind the Bolivia coup? With Max Blumenthal, Aaron Maté, Ben Norton
The Grayzone on Nov 12, 2019
Los Archivos Bolivia: Elementos de un Golpe (playlist of the leaked audio tapes in Spanish)
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