Former Bolivia president Evo Morales has claimed he was forced from office by a US-backed coup aimed at gaining access to the South American country’s vast lithium resources.
The remarks came in an exclusive interview with AFP news agency on Tuesday, weeks after Morales resigned as president on November 10 following protests against his controversial re-election to an unconstitutional fourth term in a poll widely denounced as rigged.
Since then, Morales – Bolivia’s first Indigenous president – has claimed to have been the victim of a coup d’etat.
“It was a national and international coup d’etat,” Morales told AFP in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, where he has been living in exile since claiming asylum. “Industrialised countries don’t want competition.”
Morales said Washington had not “forgiven” his country for choosing to seek lithium extraction partnerships with Russia and China rather than the US.
“That’s why I’m absolutely convinced it’s a coup against lithium,” he said.
“We as a state had begun industrialising lithium … As a small country of 10 million inhabitants, we were soon going to set the price of lithium.”
“They know we have the greatest lithium reserves in the world of 16,000 square kilometres (more than 6,100 square miles).”
Bolivia does have the largest confirmed lithium reserves in the world but they are widely thought to be of poor quality and the country lacks the infrastructure to exploit them profitably.
Coup ‘prepared in advance’
As for his unconstitutional candidacy in the last election – Bolivian presidents are limited to two successive terms but Morales was going for a fourth – the socialist leader was unapologetic.
“We won in the first round,” he said, despite an audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) that found serious irregularities and security lapses in the voting process.
“So our participation was in no way a failure. But the coup d’etat was prepared in advance.”
Morales has been barred by right-wing interim President Jeanine Anez from standing in re-scheduled elections due to take place early next year, but for which no date has yet been set.
Having originally accepted asylum in Mexico when he first left Bolivia claiming his life was in danger, Morales has based himself in neighbouring Argentina since December 10.
His Movement for Socialism (MAS) party has named him campaign chief for the upcoming poll.
Morales said a new MAS candidate will be selected during a party assembly on January 15, which could be held in either Bolivia or Argentina.
Bolivia’s government has issued an arrest warrant for Morales should he try to return to his homeland.
Whomever the candidate is, Morales says he wants the next election to be monitored by foreign organisations.
“There needs to be an international mission, international organisations like the Carter Center, a committee of Nobel Peace Prize winners, Pope Francis, the United Nations, or some well-known global” organisation, said Morales.
“Despite so much defamation and persecution and still without a candidate, we’re still first in right-wing polls, which is surprising.
“If MAS wins the election, the results have to be respected. We’ll respect them.”
Morales was likely referring to a recent poll in Pagina Siete newspaper – a publication against which he ordered a criminal investigation in 2012, having accused it of being an instrument of Chile’s far right.
In that poll, Andronico Rodriguez, the 30-year-old coca growers’ union leader widely expected to be the MAS presidential candidate, came top with 23 percent, ahead of former president Carlos Mesa at 21.
Mesa was the candidate beaten into second place by Morales in October’s election.
‘Responsible for massacres’
One group Morales did not include in his observers wish list was the OAS, whose Secretary General Luis Almagro accused the socialist leader of being the orchestrator of a coup by standing in the last election despite being constitutionally barred from doing so.
Dozens of people were killed in clashes after the OAS audit’s findings were published.
“Luis Almagro deserves to be put on trial for being responsible for so many massacres and deaths in Bolivia,” said Morales.
Almagro has said Morales pleaded with him not to publish the audit’s results as he feared it would lead to civil unrest.