Recent events give hope for a resurgence of the left on the continent. Morales points to recent electoral victories in Peru, Chile, Colombia, as well as Lula’s soon expected return to the Brazilian presidency. “These times are coming again,” he says. “We have to work to consolidate these democratic revolutions, for the benefit of humanity. I have a lot of hope.”
Evo Morales, ex-president of Bolivia, talks about his uphill battle against the U.S. empire, which is trying to stifle any resistance globally.
From Rubicon’s World Desk
[This article published on 8/2/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Der Ungebrochene.]
Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, with only six years of schooling under his belt and derided by the elites of the time for his illiterate language in 1998, wrote one of the continent’s most impressive socialist success stories during the 13 years of his presidency. In 2019, a U.S.-launched coup threw him out of office. The coup regime under Jeanine Áñez administered Bolivia until new elections in October 2020, which were again won by Morales’ ruling MAS party. In an interview with British investigative journalist Matt Kennard, the ex-president talks about his partly successful efforts to break the continent’s once poorest country out of its dependence on the United States.
By Matt Kennard
When Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was overthrown in a British-backed coup in November 2019, many believed his life was in danger. There have been many such cases in Latin American history where a freedom fighter was eliminated by vengeful imperial powers. The legendary resistance leader Tupac Katari, who like Morales belonged to the indigenous Aymara tribe, was quartered by the Spanish in 1781 – with the help of four horses to which his arms and legs were tied.
238 years later, a few days after the coup against Morales, Bolivia’s self-appointed interim president, Jeanine Áñez, appeared in Congress waving a giant leather-bound Bible. “The Bible has returned to the government palace,” she announced. Her new regime immediately whipped through Decree 4078, which gave the military immunity for all actions “in defense of society and maintenance of public order.” That meant a green light. The following day, 10 unarmed protesters were massacred by security forces.
Morales had gone underground when the coup seemed inevitable. Along with his vice president, Alvaro García Linero, he fled to El Trópico de Cochabamba, a tropical area deep in the Amazon rainforest in central Bolivia that formed the heartland of his Movimiento al Socialismo party and its indigenous base.
Before officially resigning, he flew to the remote Chimoré airfield, whose access roads had been blocked by local coca farmers. The leaves of the coca plant form the raw material for cocaine, and the airfield was a regional strategic base for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the period prior to Morales’ presidency. By 2008, Morales had banned the DEA from Bolivia and converted the base into a civilian airfield. Coca cultivation declined soon after. A few days after Morales and Linera arrived at El Trópico, Mexico’s leftist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent a plane to rescue them and fly them out of Chimoré. Obrador later said the Bolivian army fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at the plane shortly after it took off. Apparently, the British-backed coup regime wanted the deposed president – who had served for 13 years – dead. Morales says today he owes his life to Obrador.
Morales is back in El Trópico today, but under greatly changed circumstances. After a year under the “interim government,” democracy was finally restored in October 2020, and Morales’ ruling MAS party won elections anew. New President Luis Arce, Morales’ former economy minister, came to power, and Morales returned triumphantly from exile in Argentina. He traveled much of the country on foot and then settled in El Trópico. He recently moved into a house in Villa Tunari, a small town-it has a population of just over 3,000-about 20 miles from the Chimoré airport.
To get to Villa Tunari from Cochabamba, the nearest major city, takes four hours in one of the minibuses that leave every 10 minutes. You also pass through Sacaba, the place where the regime massacred the 10 protesters, a day after assuring the military of impunity.
As the minivan penetrates deeper into El Trópico, the importance of Morales and the MAS party becomes more apparent. The corrugated iron-covered shelters that are home to the world’s poor increasingly feature murals on the side showing Morales’ face. Soon his name in capital letters – EVO – is everywhere. So is the word MAS.
Tunari itself is a traditionally indigenous town, a tourist destination surrounded by national parks. Since the restoration of democracy, the tourist industry has also recovered. Because El Trópico is the backbone of support for MAS and Morales, it was subject to repression at the time of the coup government. For quite some time, ATMs everywhere did not work-an attempt by the Áñez government to isolate the region. Today, however, Tunari is bustling with life again. Along its main axis, well-attended fried chicken and fish restaurants line up. Buses wait steaming at the bus station, and hotels and hostels can be found in the side streets. A raging, sepia-colored river stretches along one side of the city. It looks like a typical Latin American backpacker stopover.
The British Embassy as a “strategic partner” of the coup regime.
I arrive in Tunari late on Saturday afternoon, after a long flight to Cochabamba and the four-hour ride in a minibus. The interview with Morales is scheduled for Monday, but when I activate the Wi-Fi on my cell phone after arriving, I find a bunch of text messages from his assistant. Morales has almost finished his day’s business and wants to give the interview later that evening, in two hours. And it will be at his house.
Morales is known for his work ethic. Shortly thereafter, my colleague who will be filming the interview (3) comes to pick me up. In the middle of a tropical downpour, the water seeming to fall en masse like bricks, we take a tuk-tuk into town and sit sipping coffee under a tarp, waiting for the assistant to call. Eventually the call comes, and we board another tuk-tuk and drive through remote streets until we are standing in front of the walls of a nondescript house. A woman comes out to let us in. We go into the living room, where the only inventory is two sofas. As I find out later, I am the first journalist to be allowed to interview Morales in his house.
I got the interview because I had written an investigative article in March 2021 revealing the United Kingdom’s support for the coup that cost Morales his office. The British Foreign Office released 30 pages of documents dealing with British Embassy projects in Bolivia. According to the documents, it appears to have hired an Oxford-based company to optimize the “exploitation” of Bolivia’s lithium deposits in the month after Morales fled the country. It also shows that the British Embassy in La Paz acted as a “strategic partner” of the coup regime, organizing an international mining conference four months after Bolivia’s democracy was overthrown.
The story quickly spread throughout Bolivia. Foreign Minister Rogelio Mayta summoned British Ambassador Jeff Glenkin, showed him the contents of the article and demanded comment. The British Embassy in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, issued a statement claiming Declassified was running a disinformation campaign, but provided no evidence.
An alternative economic model
Local journalists told me that Morales often mentions the article in his speeches, so I will start with this. “It was only last year that we learned from the media that England had also participated in the coup,” he reported. “This was a blow to our economic model because that economic model has produced results,” he says, adding:
“It’s an economic model that belongs to the people, not to the empire (1). One that doesn’t come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but an economic model that comes out of social movements.”
“When we came to power in 2006, Bolivia, economically and according to development indicators, was the bottom of South America and the second worst country in the double continent.”
In the 13 years of his administration that followed, Bolivia experienced its most stable period since the declaration of independence in 1825, achieving unprecedented economic success that was even recognized by the IMF and World Bank. Crucially, this success also translated into unprecedented improvements for Bolivia’s poor classes. “During the first six years, we had the highest economic growth in South America, and that was due to the nationalization policies that emerged from the social movements,” Morales recounts. He was part of the “pink tide” of leftist governments that existed in Latin America in the 2000s, but his economic model was one of the most radical of all.
On his 100th day in office, Morales nationalized Bolivia’s gas and oil deposits by ordering the armed forces to occupy the gas fields and giving foreign investors 6 months to meet his demands or leave the country.
Morales believes it was this nationalization program that led to the Western-backed coup against him. “I remain convinced that the empire, or capitalism/imperialism, cannot accept that there is an economic model that is better than neoliberalism,” he tells me.
“The coup d’état was against our economic model (…); we showed that another Bolivia is possible.”
Morales says the second phase of the revolution – after nationalization – was industrialization. “And the most important was lithium,” he stresses. Bolivia has the world’s second-largest deposits of lithium, a metal needed for batteries that has become a hot commodity with the burgeoning trend toward electric cars.
A visit to South Korea
Morales recalls a formative trip to South Korea he made in 2010.
“We talked about bilateral agreements, investment, cooperation. They took me to a lithium battery factory. Interesting. South Korea wanted lithium from us, the raw material.”
Then Morales says he asked the factory how much it had cost to build the plant. They said $300 million. “Our foreign reserves were growing,” he reports. “At that moment, I said, ‘I can guarantee 300 million. Let’s build a factory just like this in Bolivia. I’ll guarantee your investment.’ But the Koreans said, ‘No, no,'” Morales recalls.
“It was then that I realized that the industrialized nations were only interested in Latin America for the raw materials. They didn’t want to give us the added value.”
It was at that point that Morales decided to industrialize Bolivia, undoing half a millennium of colonial history.
The usual imperial dynamic that kept Bolivia in poverty was for rich countries to extract raw materials, process them into products in Europe, which at the same time helped industrialize Europe, and sell the finished products expensively in Bolivia.
Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) salt pan contains a pool of brine exceptionally rich in lithium (2). (Anouchka Une, Wikimedia Commons)
With the country’s lithium reserves, Morales was determined to do otherwise. They would not be satisfied with mining lithium, but would also manufacture the batteries themselves. Morales refers to this as “value creation.” “We started with a laboratory, of course we had to hire international experts,” he reports.
“Then we built a pilot plant. We put $20 million into the project, and today it works. Every year it produces 200 tons of lithium carbonate and lithium batteries in Potosi.”
Potosi is a city in southern Bolivia that became the center of the Spanish Empire in Latin America after gigantic amounts of silver were discovered there in the 16th century. It is estimated that in this so-called first city of capitalism, up to 8 million indigenous people died in the mines of Potosi’s Cerro Rico (rich mountain), where they mined for silver destined exclusively for Europe.
“We had a plan to build 42 new (lithium) factories by 2029. It was expected to make $5 billion in profit. Profit!”
“But then came the coup,” he reports (4).
“The U.S. said China’s presence is not allowed, but (…) having China as a market is very important, the same with Germany. The next step was Russia, and then came the coup.”
“And only last year we found out that England was also involved in the coup – all because of lithium.” But, Morales says, his people’s long struggle to control their own wealth is not unique.
“This struggle is not just raging in Bolivia or Latin America, but worldwide. Who owns the natural resources? To the people, under control of their state? Or are they privatized under the control of a multinational corporation that has a free hand to plunder?”
Partners or bosses?
Morales’ nationalization program put him on a collision course with powerful transnational corporations that had grown accustomed to traditional imperial dynamics. “During the 2005 election campaign, we said that if the corporations want to be here, they can do so as partners, or as providers of services, but not as bosses or as owners of our mineral resources,” Morales recounts.
“We take a clear position with the multinationals: we talk, we negotiate, but we don’t submit to dictates.”
As an example, Morales cites hydrocarbon contracts signed by previous governments:
“In these contracts – which were drafted by neoliberals – it literally says: ‘The rights holder acquires the rights to the product at the entrance of the well.’ Who is this rights holder? The transnational oil company. They want to own the oil from the entrance of the well.”
“The companies tell us that as long as it’s in the ground, it belongs to the Bolivians, but once it’s extracted, it no longer belongs to the Bolivians. Once it’s out of the ground, the multinationals have a vested right to it. And that’s why we insisted on the regulation: mined or not, it belongs to the Bolivians.”
“The most important thing is that now, out of 100 percent of the revenue, 82 percent is for Bolivians and 18 percent is for the corporations. Before, it was 82 percent for the corporations, and 18 percent for the Bolivians, and the state had no control – how much was promoted, in what way – nothing.”
It’s been an uphill battle, Morales adds, and some companies have left. “We respected their decision to leave,” Morales said.
“But we insisted that any legal claims would have to be made in Bolivia, rather than going to CIADI. That was also a struggle we had to fight, to negotiate all the claims at the national level, because that’s a matter of sovereignty and dignity.”
CIADI is the Spanish acronym for ICSID, “International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.” International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes). Although a little-known branch of the World Bank, it is the most important supranational forum where corporations can sue states for imposing rules that the investor believes violate his rights. In reality, it represents a system that often allows corporations to override or ignore sovereign state decisions – or extract huge compensation payments.
Under this “arbitration” system, a British company sued Bolivia. In 2010, Morales nationalized Bolivia’s largest utility, Empresa Eléctrica Guaracachi. The British electricity investment firm Rurelec, which indirectly owned 50.001 percent of the utility, cited Bolivia before another investor-state arbitration board, this time in The Hague, seeking a $100 million settlement. Bolivia was eventually ordered to pay Rurelec 35 million, and after further negotiations, the parties agreed to pay just over 31 million in May 2014. Rurelec celebrated this outcome with a series of press releases on its website. “My only downer is that it took so long to reach agreement,” the fund’s CEO said in a statement.
“All we wanted was a peaceful negotiation and a handshake with President Morales.”
Empire sets conditions
Since the beginning of the Monroe Doctrine anno 1823 – in which the U.S. claimed all of the Americas as a zone of influence – Bolivia has largely been under U.S. control. This changed for the first time when the Morales government took office. “As a state, we want diplomatic relations with all countries in the world, but based on mutual respect,” Morales clarifies.
“The problem we have with the United States is that any relationship with them is always conditional.”
“It’s important that trade and bilateral relations are based on mutual benefit, not competition. And we found some European countries willing to do that. But most importantly, we found China. Diplomatic relations with them do not come with conditions.”
“For example, with the U.S., if you wanted to join their economic plan, the ‘Millennium Challenge Corporation’ (MCC), you had to privatize your natural resources in return.”
This MCC was a project of the George W. Bush administration that wanted to run development aid more like a business. Led by a CEO, it is funded with public money but can operate autonomously and has a board of directors like a company, with businessmen who know how to make money. The “aid contracts” that are signed with countries come with political strings attached. “China doesn’t impose such conditions on us, nor does Russia and some countries in Europe,” Morales adds. “That’s the big difference.”
Regime change made in the U.S.
A glimpse of the way the U.S. government used to view Bolivia is permitted by the following private conversation Richard Nixon had with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, in June 1971:
Kissinger: We also have a huge problem in Bolivia. And …
Nixon: I understand. (U.S. Secretary of Commerce) Connally was talking about that. And what do you propose to do?
Kissinger: I have instructed (CIA Deputy Planning Director) Thomas Karamessines to prepare an operation as soon as possible. Even the ambassador there, who has always been a softie, is now saying if we don’t put the military there, it’s all going to go down the drain.
Kissinger: Monday it’s going to start.
Nixon: And what does Karamessines think it will take? A coup?
Kissinger: We have to see what we can do, in what context … In two months they want to throw us out of the country. They’ve already done that with the Peace Corps, a major asset. But now they also want to expel (the U.S. Information Agency and) military personnel. And I don’t know if we can even think about a coup, but we have to find out what the situation is there. Before there would be a coup, we would …
Nixon: Remember, we let the damn Bolivians have the tin.
Kissinger: Well, that can always be reversed. And then …
Nixon: … let’s undo that.
The “huge problem” in Bolivia of which Kissinger spoke was Juan José Torres, a socialist leader who had come to power the previous year and had set his sights on the country’s independence. The U.S. coup came two months after the above conversation, and military General Hugo Banzer was installed. Torres fled into exile and was assassinated five years later, in 1976, in Buenos Aires by Operation Condor – a CIA-backed right-wing terrorist network then operating throughout Latin America. Torres was the last leftist president in Bolivia before Morales.
Brits throw a party
Back to the 2019 coup in Bolivia. The British government lavishly supported it and welcomed the new regime, full of praise for the potential it opened up for British companies to make money from the country’s mineral resources, especially lithium. On Dec. 14, 2019 – three weeks after the British-backed regime carried out another massacre of protest demonstrators – British Ambassador Jeff Glekin even hosted a Downtown Abbey-style English tea party. There were Victoria bisques.
“We complain that the British celebrated at the sight of dead protesters,” Morales said. “But that’s been our history since the European invasion of 1492.” And explains:
“I used to hold certain European nations in high regard for their self-liberation from monarchies. But oligarchy went on and monarchy and hierarchies, and we want nothing to do with that.”
According to Morales, the new millennium “is a millennium of people, not of monarchies, hierarchies, oligarchies. That’s our struggle.”
Referring to the British, he finds, “‘Superiority’ is so important to them, the ability to dominate. We are simple, poor people, that’s the difference. It is reprehensible that they lack any sense of humanity, of brotherhood. Instead, they are prisoners of their dominance strategies.”
About the relationship with England, he said:
“There are deep ideological, programmatic, cultural and class antagonisms, but especially in terms of principles and beliefs.”
“There are countries that, because of their state principles, always tend to oppress, isolate or condemn and marginalize sisters and brothers when they speak of truth and defend life and humanity. I cannot accept this.”
I report that when I contacted the UK Foreign Office about my original research, they simply said, “There was no coup” in November 2019. What does Morales have to say about this?
“It’s incomprehensible how a European country (…) can seriously claim in the 21st century that this was not a coup d’état, it doesn’t make sense.”
“This is a deeply colonial way of looking at things. They believe that some countries are owned by other countries. That God put them in this place and so the world belongs to the U.S. and the British. And that’s why the rebellions and uprisings will continue.”
Morales saw from childhood the result of his country being considered the property of other countries. He grew up in extreme poverty, with four of his six siblings dying as children. He worked as a “cocalero” (coca picker) at an early age and became politicized by America’s “war on drugs.” He gained national prominence after being elected leader of the coca growers’ union in 1996.
An intimidation tactic
When WikiLeaks began publishing diplomatic dispatches in 2010, it brought to light an extensive campaign by the U.S. Embassy in La Paz to topple Morales’ government. Many had suspected as much, but the dispatches showed clear U.S. ties to the opposition.
I ask Morales about Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has now been in Belmarsh maximum security prison for four years for bringing these and other U.S. imperial operations to public attention.
“Sometimes the empire talks about free speech, but deep down they are enemies of free speech,” Morales comments.
“The empire, as soon as someone tells the truth (…) at that moment the retaliation starts, just like with Assange.”
He adds, “Some people (…) stand up against these measures because they think it is important to defend life, equality, freedom, dignity. Then comes the retaliation.” – “I salute and admire all those who speak the truth for the sake of people’s liberation,” Morales said.
“The detention of our friend (Assange) is an escalation, an intimidation measure, so that all the crimes against humanity committed by the different U.S. governments don’t come to light. All the interventions, all the invasions, all the looting.”
He continued, “Former CIA agents and DEA agents are also participating in this rebellion, telling the truth about the United States. Retribution always comes.” – “The truth is, this will not stop, it will continue,” Morales elaborates.
“To our brother (Assange), I send our respect and admiration. I hope that there will be more revelations so that the world can be informed (…) about all the criminal activity in the world.”
Morales believes that information and communication are the most important issues today for the “people who have no voice.” He is currently working to build independent media in Bolivia. “It’s hard for people with few means of communication to communicate,” Morales says.
“We’ve been able to gain some experience, especially in El Trópico. We have a radio station that the whole nation can’t receive, but it’s often heard and followed by the right-wing media.”
Above all, they hope to find points of attack against Morales. “How nice it would be if people had their own media channels,” Morales continues, “that’s the challenge people face. The existing media that belong to the empire or to the right wing of Bolivia, and it’s like that everywhere in Latin America, they defend their interests (…) and are never on the side of the people.” And further:
“For example, when the right wing makes a mistake, it is never exposed, it is covered up, and they protect themselves. The (corporate) media serve to protect the big corporations, their lands and their banks, and they want to humiliate the peoples of Bolivia, the ordinary people of this earth.”
Latin America has long been the global center of democratic socialism. I ask Morales if he has hope for the future. “In South America, it’s no longer the time of Hugo Chávez, Lula, (Néstor) Kirchner, (Rafael) Correa,” he advises. Together, these progressive leaders have worked to integrate Latin America and the Caribbean, through organizations such as the “Union of South American Nations” (UNASUR) in 2008 and the “Community of Latin American and Caribbean States” (CELAC) in 2011.
“We have been slacking, but now we are on the road to recovery,” Morales commented. Recent events give hope for a resurgence of the left on the continent. Morales points to recent electoral victories in Peru, Chile, Colombia, as well as Lula’s soon expected return to the Brazilian presidency.
“These times are coming again,” he says.
“We have to work to consolidate these democratic revolutions, for the benefit of humanity. I have a lot of hope.”
“In politics, we must ask ourselves: are we with the people or with the empire? If we are with the people, we build a country; if we are with the empire, we make money. If we are with the people, we fight for life and humanity; if we are with the empire, we support the politics of death, the culture of death, interventions and the plundering of the people. This is what we must always ask ourselves as people, as leaders: are we at the service of our people?”
Morales then addresses the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “I think it’s time, given the problems between Russia and Ukraine, to have an international, worldwide campaign that first clarifies that NATO, at the end of the day, simply represents the United States.”
– “Or better yet, a campaign to disband NATO. NATO does not guarantee humanity or life. I don’t accept – indeed, I condemn – how they could exclude Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. After the U.S. interventions in Iraq, Libya, in so many countries in recent years, why was (the U.S.) not expelled from the council? Why didn’t anyone ask this question?”
“We have deep ideological differences with the policy that the U.S. is pursuing through NATO. It is based on interventionism and militarism.”
And, concluding the theme:
“Between Russia and Ukraine, they are looking for an agreement, but (the U.S.) continues to fuel the war, the U.S. arms industry, which lives on war, and they provoke wars to sell their weapons. This is the other reality we live in.”
The Water Wars
Morales is the most successful president in Bolivia’s history – and one of the most successful in Latin America’s history. The period of his presidency is perhaps the most successful long-term experiment with democratic socialism in history anywhere. Therein lies a danger to imperial powers, who have long warned of the threat posed by a successful example. It declared an end to 500 years of white rule in Bolivia and ushered the country into the modern world. The new 2009 constitution “refounded” Bolivia as a “plurinational” state in which indigenous peoples were allowed to govern themselves. It created a new Congress, with seats reserved for even the small indigenous groups, and recognizes the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the Roman Catholic Church.
“How could the Indians – or the social movements – lead a revolution?” asks Morales, alluding to Bolivia’s traditional white elite and their imperial masters.
“A democratic revolution, based on the voices of the people, that amplified popular consciousness and even reached the government?” – “Even today there are people who believe ‘we must dominate and rule over the Indians.’ You can find this mentality inside Bolivia. ‘They are slaves, they are animals, we have to exterminate them.’ To overcome this mentality is our struggle.”
On the way back to Cochabamba, a bustling indigenous city that is Bolivia’s fourth largest, I am reminded that this epic struggle began right here. In the early 2000s, the “water wars” raged in Cochabamba after the local water company was privatized and the American corporation Bechtel drastically raised prices and even banned rainwater collection. Tens of thousands of protesters fought street battles with police for months. Bolivia’s coca farmers, led by a little-known congressman, Evo Morales, joined the protesters in demanding an end to the U.S.-funded program to destroy their coca plantations.
After months of protest and activism, the Bolivian parliament was ready to roll back privatization in April 2000. It was the beginning of a revolution. Five years later, the people seized power and reversed 500 years of colonial rule in Bolivia.
But even in 2022, the danger is not over. The U.S. and Britain, along with their local elites, continue to work to bring Bolivia under control. But in this country with a majority indigenous population, they seem to have found an equal opponent.
Morales reports that building union power was the basis for the democratic revolution. But the crucial step, he says, was getting into government.
“Gaining political power allowed us to close the U.S. military base. We expelled the DEA from the country, we expelled the CIA from the country. By the way, the U.S. ambassador who enabled the 2008 coup (attempt) through his conspiracy and financing, we expelled him too.”
And, after a pause:
“We don’t just talk about anti-imperialism. We practice it.”
Matt Kennard is senior investigative journalist for the online newspaper Declassified UK. He was a staff member and later director at the Center for Investigative Journalism in London. Follow him on Twitter at @kennardmatt. For more information, visit: declassifieduk.org.
Editorial Note: This text first appeared in full text under the title “Evo Morales: UK Role in Coup That Ousted Him” at Consortium News. It was translated by the Rubicon volunteer translation team and proofread by the Rubicon volunteer proofreading team.
Sources and Notes:
(1) “The Empire” is a common paraphrase in Latin America, always referring to the United States.
(2) The Salar de Uyuni is located at an altitude of 3,600 meters and has about twenty times the area of Lake Constance.
3) The resulting video can be found, for example, at https://consortiumnews.com/2022/07/15/evo-morales-uk-role-in-coup-that-ousted-him/.
(4) The author fails to mention that Morales also accuses Tesla CEO Elon Musk of complicity with the coup plotters. In the video, this passage can be found starting at minute 5:30.