Evo Morales, former President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and President of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, was a special guest of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) during festivities marking the 212th anniversary of Mexico’s independence. The other international guests included John and Gabriel Shipton, father and brother of journalist Julian Assange; family of the late farmworker and activist César Chávez; Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara; and former Uruguayan President “Pepe” Mujica.
On September 15 Morales witnessed President Andrés Manuel López Obrador calling out the cry for independence. In addition to the traditional “¡Viva México!” of the heroes of independence, AMLO yelled, “Death to corruption! Death to racism! Death to classism!”
The former President of Bolivia also stood on a balcony of the National Palace, where he received a standing ovation from the thousands of people attending the festivities. The next day, Morales was just a few yards away from the Mexican President when AMLO called for a five-year worldwide truce.
During his short visit, Evo Morales gave me a few minutes of his time to talk about Mexico, Latin America, lithium, and the present and future of our region.
After meeting with the Mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, Morales met with me at his hotel. He was in a hurry since his flight back to Bolivia was departing in a couple of hours. He gave a rushed greeting, sat down, took a breath, and while he was getting settled, I thanked him for taking the time to answer my questions.
Not one minute into the interview he said that he is in Mexico because he was invited by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
-Let’s cover that first, Evo. You are here precisely by invitation of President López Obrador. You were one of the big-name special guests to attend the Independence Day festivities. You were present when he issued the Cry of Independence—actually two events—the “cry” the night of September 15th, and the parade on September 16th, when President López Obrador gave a speech before a military parade, calling for a worldwide truce. The night before he had also called out “Death to Racism! Death to Classism!” etc. What do you think of all that?
-Andrés, the President of Mexico, is Andrés. This president has long been very humanistic, in solidarity, committed to poor families and their social programs. I met this President at his inauguration, and he greeted me saying, “my indigenous brother,” or something like that. After the coup d’etat he saved my life, he helped me, he helped us to return to democracy, along with other presidents such as the president of Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, President [Ernesto] Samper, [José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero, even the President of Paraguay. And now I have been invited alongside my brother, Pepe Mujica. He invited me together with Julian Assange’s father and Che’s daughter, Aleida Guevara, and other guests. I am honored to participate and attend the Independence Day activities in Mexico.
On September 15th he surprised us by yelling “Death to racism! Death to Corruption! Death to Classism!” That is a strong message, but also a message of integration. I continue to think that some day we will have a plurinational Americas, of peoples for the people. Not America in the sense that the Americans say: “All of Latin America is the backyard of the United States.” What did we hear from the US Southern Command two or three weeks ago? They are concerned about Lithium. But what is more, they consider Latin America to be a neighborhood of the United States. It pains us to still hear these kinds of messages in the 21st century. There are new leaders, such as my brother Andrés with his proposals. We heard an interesting message, a proposed [global] truce to avoid conflict, and above all, the financial crises that are leading the United States to use NATO to intervene militarily and surround Russia, provoking that armed conflict.
-And in that speech, Evo, President López Obrador said that he proposes a five-year worldwide truce “to address the major, serious economic and social problems that afflict and torment our peoples.” The proposal, which he says Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will formally present to the UN, “seeks the immediate suspension of military actions and provocations as well as military and missile tests.” It would seek to form a committee to foster dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, for which he even said he would propose the inclusion of Pope Francis and Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, and on behalf of the UN, Secretary General Antonio Gutérrez.” What message does this send outside Mexico?
-First, it shows that our brother and President of Mexico is concerned about the situation with food and energy, that he is concerned with life and humanity. It is a good proposal deserving of our admiration. In fact, it surprised me and I think it surprised everyone, the idea of a truce with mediators from India, Pope Francis, the United Nations, and surely Mexico would also be with the initiative. We salute it and support it and hopefully the whole world will listen to it. I wish that NATO would stop attacking and encircling countries when they do not submit to the empire—that is the underlying issue. I heard that there was a big meeting today with China, India, I’m not sure whether it is with Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Hopefully it will go well and some light will be shed on how to attain peace, but with social justice.
-I think that these invitations President López Obrador is extending to you and other people are important. He might not have been able to do so four years ago when he came into office, but things have changed regionally. What is your assessment of the role that Mexico is playing in the region with all these issues you have put on the table, including at the global level?
-I feel that there is a democratic rebellion underway throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Two, three years ago there was the Lima Group to overthrow [Nicolás] Maduro. Where is the Lima Group today? Who made up the Lima Group? The former presidents of Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and particularly of Colombia.
-Now they are all gone…
-There is no more Lima Group. Look, after we founded UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) with [Hugo] Chávez, with Lula [da Silva], with [Rafael] Correa, and with [Néstor] Kirschner and other presidents (I very much regret that some parties have become submissive to the Empire), the Lima Group was able to, I would say temporarily, paralyze UNASUR. But together with [Hugo] Chávez and Fidel [Castro] we created CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). But [Barak] Obama and other U.S. presidents responded to this integration proposal by organizing the Pacific Alliance to maintain the policies of the Washington Consensus or the FTAA.
Now I am wondering, where is the Pacific Alliance? These institutions or organizations that only serve to uphold U.S. policies have been defeated with this democratic rebellion.
-Such as the OAS [Organization of American States]…
-Of course, but in addition, imagine it! I am almost certain that our brother Lula will win (in Brazil) in next month’s election; plus Mexico—that is a great strategic alliance for all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. It gives us great hope.
Fifty or 60 years ago, at least, we saw how Cuba was expelled from the OAS. Then countries were afraid of getting expelled from the OAS. Now it is a source of dignified pride to leave the OAS. We have a responsibility to relaunch CELAC in order to truly ensure integration—but not just of heads of state—of their peoples.
-Speaking of Latin America, I want to explore this further because some people call it the second cycle of progressive governments. Others talk about some unique characteristics. The truth is that there is a trend, not only in their discourse, but also in their actions, that are clearly anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist. We see this with the victory of Gustavo Petro together with Francia Márquez in Colombia. It is important that figures like yourself pointed out that the two of them together made the victory possible, not just Petro. We also have elections in just a few days in Brazil and we see Lula da Silva with great chances of returning. How do you perceive today’s Latin America?
-First, all of the doctrines of empire have collapsed. Where is the Cold War? Where is the War on Terrorism? Why am I saying this? Now, parties of political movements, social movements with socialist tendencies and principles, with communist doctrines, are getting elected to the presidency. This did not exist before; it was only Cuba.
Terrorists… for the Empire, who are the terrorists? Social movements. I recall in 2002 U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha telling people “Don’t vote for Evo Morales; Evo Morales is an Andean Bin Laden and the coca growers are the Taliban.” He said, “Don’t vote that way, if you vote for Evo, there will be no aid or investment.” What a lie! In 2005 government expenditure was US$1.6 billion. In the last years I was in office before the coup, we programmed more than US$8 billion in government expenditure.
So we “terrorists” are now presidents. [Gabriel] Boric was a student leader; Pedro Castillo who was a rural patrolman or “rondero” and a leader of the teachers’ union, is now president. It was hard, but we won. I feel that the U.S. doctrine is falling to pieces. Look, some of our brothers even took up arms for their liberation 200 years after the founding of their republics, and now they are presidents, such as Daniel Ortega and Gustavo Petro. And some of us organize in social movements and some even took up arms, which I don’t support so much, but the people make it right and time will tell. But what is the danger that I see? When the Empire is in decay it resorts to violence. I do not want to think this but it is what happened to Cristina Fernández a few weeks ago. When the Empire loses its hegemony, it resorts to weapons. For that reason, I think we need to take advantage of this moment to armor ourselves, so that right-wing governments submissive to imperialism never return.
-At another point in time, talking about U.S. interference in the region was viewed as conspiracy theory, a myth, although how they orchestrate destabilization and coups d’etat has been extensively documented. We saw the social uprising in Chile; in Brazil they were liberating Lula but at the same time they were cooking up a coup d’etat in Bolivia. It is now three years since that coup. What is your view of the recovery of democracy in Bolivia, and what are the specific challenges of a right-wing which, as we have seen, has not given up its attempts to destabilize a democratically elected government, in this case, the government of Luis Arce?
-I look at the consciousness of the people. The MAS-IPSP (Movement Toward Socialism-Political Instrument for Sovereignty of the Peoples) has a political, economic, and social agenda beyond the bicentennial. The MAS-IPSP is the largest movement in the history of Bolivia, and it is headed by the indigenous movement. We in the indigenous movement have inherited our history; we have inherited the struggle going back to colonial times. We were threatened with extermination and hated during the days of the Republic, even though we engaged in a political movement to liberate all of Bolivia. I remember perfectly well that in 2005 our platform was based on three points: politically, the re-founding of the nation through the Constitutional Assembly; economically, the nationalization of natural resources and also basic resources; and socially, the redistribution of wealth. We made a lot of history in a short period of time. But there, the underlying theme, sister journalist, is that in addition to being gringos against Indians, the coup was against two things. First, it was against our economic model. The Empire does not accept new economic models that are better than the economic model of neoliberalism as dictated by capitalism. So, it was against our economic model.
And what was the basis of our economic model? The nationalization of our natural resources, but it also started with their industrialization, above all, the industrialization of lithium. You as a journalist know how many messages and evidence there was that the United States caused a coup d’etat over lithium. England had financed the coup over lithium. Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, acknowledged his interests in the Uyuni Salt Flats and there was a coup d’etat.
What is happening should unite all of us much more. It is not only over lithium, over petroleum, over gas, or over natural resources. This is the struggle of humanity. Who do the natural resources belong to? Private parties to loot them for their transnational corporations? Or to the peoples of the world to exploit them for our States, for our governments? Of course, we need to tap into our natural resources while caring for the environment.
-Talking about the United States, Evo, you point out that the coup against you was to get the lithium, something that has been demonstrated, and this is nothing new for the United States to come after the natural resources of Latin America. But the people of Mexico are much more interested in this now that the López Obrador administration has decided to create its own company to industrialize lithium. In early August we read the news that the Bolivian and Mexican governments were trying to establish a partnership, not to sell lithium as a raw material—which is what the major powers want—but a partnership, essentially, to industrialize lithium. What did all of this mean for your administration and particularly what role did it play in the coup d’etat?
-I am a witness to that. In 2010 I was invited to visit South Korea. The job of the president is to do good business for the people. We signed some big agreements and they invited me to look at a new lithium battery industrial plant, which was beautiful. I asked them how much it cost, and the answer was “US$300 million.” At that time, our reserves were growing and we had US$10, US$11 billion in international reserves. I thought, “I can guarantee the US$300 million.” I told the Koreans, “We can build a plant just like it in Bolivia and I can guarantee the investment.” They said, “No, no, no.” And I have many other such memories. That was when I realized that, unfortunately, the industrialized countries only like us if we guarantee raw materials for them.
So then what did I do with Alvaro [García Linera], the vice-president? We started with laboratories, with a pilot plant in the great lithium industry. We hired experts for the laboratories. By the time we did the pilot plant, the young people had already learned and we had a beautiful project. And we decided that foreigners could not be involved in the extraction. Regarding markets, there are agreements and there is no problem.
-(Evo leafs through various media reports around the time of the coup d’Etat against him in 2019 and reads off some of the headlines.)
–Where is that article? November 20, 2019, a few days after the coup d’Etat, “Coup in Bolivia Smells of Lithium,” first-hand report. “Trump Applauds Departure of Morales under Pressure from the Army.” Unfortunately, then the military commanders turned. “Why might the United States be behind the coup in Bolivia?” Senator Richard Black explains that it is over lithium. “U.S. Senator assures that the United States intervened over Lithium.” And that is why the owner of Tesla, the electric car company, said, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” This shows who financed the coup mongers in Bolivia. Last year it was reported, “United Kingdom supported the coup in Bolivia to access its ‘white gold,’” lithium. And they had invested, they had financed it; it was not just their verbal support. That is why in the days of coup the British ambassador was in continuous meetings with the opposition, with the coup plotters.
We have a gold mine here, “The price of lithium went up from US$4,450 per ton of lithium carbonate in 2012, to US$17,000 per ton in 2021,” last year. [Now,] in just a ten-year period it has reached US$78,000 per ton of lithium carbonate!
-In this regard, what message can you send to the government and people of Mexico, thinking that one of the paths chosen has been to nationalize lithium?
-I salute my brother President and the government of Mexico for saying that the lithium belongs to the Mexican people. I understand that it has now been nationalized. How beautiful it would be if Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile were together on this. But in Chile it is totally in private hands; in Argentina, hopefully they can recover it. But in Bolivia and Mexico we should form a strategic partnership to industrialize our lithium.
And I remain convinced, sister journalist, that some countries of Latin America will become powerhouses in something, and we could become lithium powers, with tremendous prices. And they are going to continue to go up. Each of us and our governments have this task. I celebrate the fact that President “Lucho” Arce of Bolivia met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico. The technical teams are at work. They were asking me what technical people we have. We must share work experiences. We have good technicians; we have learned a lot. We have to come together to launch our industrialization of lithium, but it must be led by our governments. A State controlled by the people, not the usual way of turning it over to transnational corporations; we do not agree with that. In our experience, the nationalization of our natural resources and of strategic companies, helped us change the image of Bolivia quite a bit.
-And, finally, Evo, I do not want to let you go without saying that I saw your arrival in Zacatecas, where you were given a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Zacatecas. We can now call you “Dr. Evo.” Tell me about it.
-Last year they invited me to come and receive some recognition. This year, with this invitation from President Andrés Manuel, I decided to take advantage of my visit to go to Zacatecas. Thanks to the Autonomous University of Zacatecas I was able to meet with the social movements, the peasant Indigenous movement, teachers, some political parties, and also the governor of Zacatecas. The recognition that I received is for the social movements and the Indigenous movement in particular. Without them, I would never have become president, and I thank the university and several comrades for taking this initiative. We talked quite a bit and I visited a mining area. In addition, it is a very interesting colonial town and we have a good relationship. I hope I never lose those relationships of so much trust, to open them up to humble people. Thank you very much.
-Thank you so much for your time, Evo. We hope that you will come back for other occasions, and more often. Thank you for this dialogue.
Alina Duarte is a journalist and Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA.
This interview was edited by COHA Director Patricio Zamorano.
Translation by Rita Jill Clark-Gollub, COHA Assistant Editor/Translator
[Main photo credit: Alina Duarte]