UYUNI, Bolivia – Bolivian former president Evo Morales, who returned to his homeland this week after spending 12 months in exile in Mexico and Argentina, reiterated on Tuesday that he was the victim of a coup last year and said the Andean nation’s vast lithium reserves were the underlying motive.
Morales made his remarks at a press conference in which he spoke about the plans he had developed while in office to industrialize lithium, the main component of the rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that power electronic devices such as laptop computers and cellphones, as well as electric vehicles.
During the media event, in which he insisted on discussing that issue alone, the erstwhile head of state said the development of Bolivia’s lithium industry was put on hold during the one-year tenure of rightist interim President Jeanine Añez but will be resumed under Luis Arce, a former economy minister and Morales’ hand-picked successor, who won last month’s twice-postponed, re-run presidential election in a landslide and was inaugurated on Sunday.
The press conference took place at a hotel facing the famed Uyuni salt flats, where most of Bolivia’s lithium reserves are located. Uyuni is one of the stops of an 800-vehicle “caravan” that Bolivia’s first indigenous president, who governed the country from 2006-2019, is leading as part of his triumphant homecoming celebration.
The leftist Morales recalled that while in office, he held talks with senior South Korean and Japanese officials and offered to supply their nations’ industries with lithium-ion batteries assembled in Bolivia, but he said they were not receptive to the idea.
“After lots of meetings, I realized that the … industrialized countries only want us Latin Americans to guarantee them (supplies of) raw materials,” Morales said.
“The struggle of humanity is always for control of natural resources. Who do the natural resources belong to? The people, under government management, or private interests via plundering by the multinationals?” he added.
In that regard, “wherever the people are owners of their natural resources, they arrange military bases and interventions and even coups,” Morales said.
The ex-president continued that theme by recalling a Twitter exchange in July of this year involving Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of American electric car manufacturer Tesla.
A Twitter user who took exception to Musk’s contention that a new massive United States government coronavirus stimulus bill would not be in the public interest said the real blow to the interests of ordinary people was the US government’s “organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so you could obtain the lithium there.”
“We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it,” the business leader fired back flippantly.
“Tesla’s owner says he financed the coup just for the lithium. There’s a lot of concern in the United States over lithium, and this coup was for lithium. They don’t want us to add value to lithium as a state. They always want our resources to be in the hands of the multinationals,” Morales said.
The 61-year-old head of Bolivia’s ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party said he remains convinced that “in the future two or three countries will determine global lithium prices” and therefore urged the other Latin American countries to maintain sovereignty over their natural resources.
“We as Latin Americans all have to contribute” to the goal of narrowing the region’s science and technology gap, Morales said.
The press conference took place on the second day of his journey via convoy from Villazon, a southern Bolivian town on the border with Argentina, to the central department of Cochabamba.
Different events and rallies are planned along the route, which traverses his political stronghold.
The convoy kicked off a few hours after Morales walked on Monday across a border bridge linking Bolivia and Argentina, where the Bolivian political icon had lived in exile for 11 months.
Morales next will head toward the city of Oruro and is scheduled to make an emotional stop Tuesday in the hamlet of Orinoca, his birthplace.
His journey will conclude on Wednesday in Chimore, a coca-growing enclave near the central province of Chapare, where Morales rose to prominence as a coca-growers’ leader decades ago.
The Bolivian leader departed his homeland on Nov. 11, 2019, from Chimore via a Mexican air force plane and accepted an offer of asylum in the Aztec nation, where he stayed for around a month.
Morales had resigned a day earlier amid street protests and accusations by the conservative opposition that his apparent Oct. 20, 2019, first-round electoral victory (which would have given him a fourth term in office) was tainted by fraud.
Although he agreed to fresh elections after an Organization of American States audit found significant irregularities, the Bolivian leader was forced to step down once he lost the support of the armed forces.
Morales vehemently denied any wrongdoing and said, as did supportive leaders in different Latin American countries and beyond, that he had been driven out in a coup.
The ex-president, who spent 25 years in the public eye leading up to last year’s political crisis, now is planning to embark on a much more low-key existence.
He says he intends to settle once again in Chimore and resume his former work as a farmer of the coca leaf, which is the raw material for cocaine but in Bolivia can be cultivated in limited quantities for legal use in Andean religious rites and for medicinal purposes to counteract altitude sickness.