Evo Morales, former president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and president of the Six Federations of the Cochabamba Tropics, is in Mexico at the invitation of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Morales was one of the special international guests joining festivities for the 212th anniversary of Mexico’s independence.
John and Gabriel Shipton, the father and brother of the journalist Julian Assange, respectively; the family of campesino leader and activist César Chávez; Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara; and former Uruguayan President “Pepe” Mujica also accepted invitations.
Morales witnessed the Independence Cry issued by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on September 15, the tradition that concludes with the president shouting “Viva Mexico!” three times in succession. The Independence Cry (or Cry of Dolores) is a homage to the heroes of Mexico’s independence, and was followed by AMLO’s proclamation of “death to corruption! Death to racism! Death to classism!”
The former Bolivian president appeared on the balcony of the National Palace, where he was applauded by thousands of people who attended the festivities. The next day, Morales heard the Mexican president issue a call for a five-year period of world peace.
During his brief visit, Morales made time to discuss Mexico, Latin America, lithium, and the present and future of the region.
After meeting with the head of the government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, Evo Morales received us. He came running in because his flight back to Bolivia was set to leave in a couple of hours. He greeted us hurriedly, sat down, took a deep breath, and in those few seconds before the interview I thanked him for his time.
We began the interview, and the first minute hadn’t even passed when he pointed out that he is in Mexico thanks to the invitation of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Alina Duarte: That’s what we’re going to do first. You are here, Evo, precisely at the invitation of President López Obrador. You were one of his great special guests to be at these national holidays. You were present on the day of the Cry of Independence, for two moments, both “the cry” on the night of September 15 and, in the parade on the 16th, where President Andrés Manuel made a speech … issuing a call for a worldwide truce. On the night of the cry he said “death to racism” and “death to classism,” among other things. What are your impressions of all this?
Evo Morales: Andrés, president of Mexico, is Andrés. For a long time he has been a very humanistic president, supportive, committed to humble families, with his social programs. And I met the president in his possession, he greeted me, “Indigenous brother”… After the coup d’état, well, he saved my life, he helped me, he helped us recover democracy alongside other presidents such as [those of] Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba; President [Ernesto] Samper, [José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero, even the president of Paraguay. And now I am invited, along with brother Pepe Mujica, he has invited me along with Julian Assange’s father and Che’s daughter, Aleida Guevara and other guests. It is an honor for me to be participating and to see the national holiday of Mexico.
On September 15 he surprised us, he shouted “death to racism, death to corruption, death to classism.” It is a strong message, but also a message of integration. I keep thinking about how one day, we can have a multinational America, from the people, for the people. It is not America as the Americans say, “the backyard of the United States, all of Latin America.” Two or three weeks ago, what did the US Southern Command say? It is worried about lithium, but other than that, Latin America is [considered] a neighborhood of the United States. It still hurts us, in the 21st century, to hear these kinds of messages. There are new leaders, as well as brother Andrés with his proposals. We hear interesting messages, a truce to avoid conflict and above all, the financial economic crises that this military intervention of the United States with NATO is causing to surround Russia, and there they caused this armed conflict.
Precisely in that speech, Evo, what President López Obrador said is that it is a proposal for a five-year world truce “to address the great and serious economic and social problems that afflict and torment the people.” This proposal, which Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard says will be formally presented to the UN, “seeks the immediate suspension of military actions and provocations as well as military and missile tests.” He would seek to create a committee to promote dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, in which, he even said, if he accepted, Pope Francis would be there, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, would also be there, and also, on behalf of the UN, the secretary general, Antonio Guterres. What message does it send from Mexico?
First, brother president of Mexico: worry about the food and energy situation, worry about life, about humanity. It is worthy of admiration and it is a good proposal. Really, it has surprised me and I think it has surprised the whole world, a truce with mediators from India, Pope Francis, the United Nations. Surely Mexico will also be included in the initiative. We salute, support, and only hope that everyone can listen. Hopefully, NATO will stop attacking or surrounding countries when countries do not submit to the empire. That is the underlying issue. Although I had information that there was a big meeting today, between China, India, perhaps Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Russia. Hopefully, there will also be some light shed on how to seek peace, but with social justice.
And I think this is important, including these invitations that President López Obrador makes to you and to other people. Perhaps they could not have been done four years ago, after he became president, but things have been changing regionally. What is your assessment of the role that Mexico is playing within the region with all these issues that you bring to the table, even to the world?
I feel that there is a democratic revolution throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean. Let us ask—two, three years ago there was the Lima Group to defeat (Nicolás) Maduro—where is the Lima group? Who was the Lima Group composed of? With former presidents of Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, especially Colombia.
Now all of them have been falling…
Now there is no Lima Group. Look, after we founded UNASUR [the Union of South American Nations] with Chávez, with Lula, with Correa, and with Kirschner and other presidents—I am very sorry that some parties have become submissive to the empire—I would say they momentarily paralyzed UNASUR. However, with Chávez, with Fidel, we created CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), but faced with this integration proposal, Obama and other presidents of the United States organized the Pacific Alliance to continue with the Washington Consensus or with the FTAA.
Now, once again I ask myself, where is the Pacific Alliance? These institutions or organizations that are only there to support the policies of the United States, they have been defeated by this democratic revolution.
Like the OAS…
-Sure, but besides that, imagine! I am almost certain that comrade Lula (in Brazil) will win the elections next month, plus Mexico: it is a great strategic alliance for all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. It gives us a lot of hope.
50, 60 years ago, at least, we saw how Cuba was expelled from the OAS. Afterwards, nations were fearful of being expelled from the OAS. Now, they can be rather proud to withdraw from the OAS. We have a responsibility for how to relaunch CELAC to really ensure integration, not only with heads of state, but with their peoples.
Speaking of Latin America, I want to continue insisting on this issue, because some call it the second cycle of progressive governments. Some talk about some peculiarities. The truth is that there is a tendency, not only in the discourse, there are very clear anti-neoliberal, anti-imperialist actions, and in this sense we have already seen the victory of Gustavo Petro in Colombia along with Francia Márquez, and that is important, because I think that only characters like you have highlighted that it was the two of them who made that victory possible, and not just personalizing it in Petro. But we also have elections in just a few days in Brazil, and we see Lula da Silva with a great chance of coming back. How do you see this Latin America of today?
First, all the doctrines of the empire have fallen. Where is the Cold War? Where is the war on terror? Why do I say this? Now, political parties or movements, social movements with tendencies, with principles, with communist and socialist ideals, are now presidents. That wasn’t there before, it was just Cuba.
Terrorists… For the empire, who are the terrorists? The social movements. I remember in 2002, the United States ambassador, Manuel Rocha, said “don’t vote for Evo Morales, Evo Morales is an Andean Bin Laden and the coca growers are the Taliban… Don’t vote like that, if you vote for Evo there won’t be cooperation and investment.” What a lie! In 2005, public investment was $1.6 billion. In my last years of administration before the coup, we put aside more than $8 billion in public investment.
So, we “terrorists” are now presidents. [Gabriel] Boric, who was a student leader; Pedro Castillo, president, campesino patrolman, teacher leader, and now president, with difficulties, but oh, how we won. I feel that this North American doctrine is falling apart. Even, look, some brothers took up arms for the liberation, 200 years after the founding of the republic, are now presidents: Daniel Ortega and now Gustavo Petro. And those of us who organize ourselves socially, and some even took up arms, which I don’t share so much, but whether the people agree with it, time will tell. But what is the danger that I see? When the empire is in decline, it resorts to violence. I don’t want to think that, but it is the situation of Cristina Fernández a few weeks ago. When the empire loses hegemony, it resorts to arms, and therefore everything that is happening must not only be seen from the point of view of success—it is successful of course—but take advantage of this moment to protect ourselves, so that right-wing governments, subjected to the empire, don’t come back.
At another time, speaking about the influence of the United States in the region was taken as a conspiracy, as a myth, although it is widely documented how they orchestrate destabilization and coups. We lived through a social explosion in Chile, in Brazil they were freeing Lula, but at the same time a coup d’état was taking shape in Bolivia. Three years have passed since the coup. How do you perceive the recovery of democracy in Bolivia, and what are the challenges, specifically, with a right-wing that we have seen has not yielded in these attempts to destabilize a democratically elected government, in this case that of Luis Arce?
The MAS-IPSP (Movement Towards Socialism-Political Instrument for the 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 at its head is the Indigenous movement. The Indigenous movement is the heir of history, heir of the struggles of colonial times. They threatened us with extermination, those hated ones in the times of the Republic…
I remember perfectly that in 2005, our program was based on three points: politically, refoundation through the Constituent Assembly; economically, the nationalization of natural resources and of basic resources; and in the social, the redistribution of wealth. In a short time, we made a lot of history. But there, the underlying issue, journalist sister, is that the blow, apart from being from the gringo to the Indian, has two sides. First, to our economic model—the empire does not accept new economic models better than the economic model implemented under neoliberalism, under the mandate of capitalism. So it went against our economic model.
And what was the basis of our economic model? The nationalization of natural resources, kicking off industrialization and, above all, the issue of lithium. You as a journalist know how many messages, and evidence there is, about how the United States staged a coup over lithium. England had financed the coup over lithium. The owner of Tesla, Elon Musk, recognizes the interests in the Salar de Uyuni, and they staged a coup.
What is happening should unite us all much more, not only because of lithium, because of oil, because of gas, because of natural resources. It is the struggle of humanity. Natural resources, whose are they? Of the private sector, through the looting of the transnationals? Or of the people, through the instrument of our states, of our governments? Of course, we must take advantage of natural resources while taking care of the environment.
Evo, speaking of the United States, you point out that the coup d’état against you was fundamentally and provably about lithium. This antagonism is not new: the United States comes for the natural resources of Latin America. However, in Mexico the people will be much more interested in this now that the Mexican government, the administration of President López Obrador, has decided to create its own company for the industrialization of lithium. At the beginning of August, we read the news: the Bolivian government and the Mexican government were seeking to form an alliance to prevent the lithium from being sold as a raw material, as the great powers want, so they might instead work together to fundamentally industrialize it. What did all this mean for your administration and, particularly, for the role it played in the coup?
I am a witness to this. In 2010 I traveled at the invitation of South Korea and as always, the president’s task is to carry out good business for his people. We signed great agreements, and I was invited to see a new lithium battery industry. Lovely, beautiful. I asked how much it cost? “$300 million.” By then, our reserves were already growing, we already had $10, $11 billion in international reserves. At that moment, I thought, “I can guarantee $300 million.” I told the Koreans, “let’s build a twin company in Bolivia,” I can guarantee the investment. They responded, “no, no, no.” So, I can comment on many memories I have. That’s when I realized that, unfortunately, the industrialized countries only want us so that we can guarantee them raw materials.
So what did we do with Álvaro [García Linera], vice president? Started with laboratories, with a pilot plant in the large lithium industry. For the laboratories we hired experts. For the pilot plant, the young people had already learned, we had a good project. And we decided that foreigners could not participate in the extractive part. On the subject of markets, there are agreements, there is no problem.
What did the headlines say? On November 20, 2019, days after the coup: “the coup in Bolivia smells of lithium”—first-rate information. “Trump applauds the departure of Evo Morales after pressure from the army.” Unfortunately, the commanders then challenged: “Why would the United States be behind the coup in Bolivia?” Senator Richard Black explains that it is because of the issue of lithium: “US senator assures that the United States intervened for lithium.” And the worst thing is this, the owner of Tesla, the electric car industry: “We will coup to whoever we want, deal with it.” He showed who financed the coup plotters in Bolivia. We reported this last year: “The United Kingdom supported the coup in Bolivia to access its ‘white gold,’ lithium.” And Musk had invested, he had financed, it is not only his verbal support. No wonder the British ambassador, in the days of the coup, was constantly in meetings with the opposition, with the coup plotters.
Here we have a gold mine, “the price of lithium rose from $4,450 a ton of lithium carbonate in 2012, to $17,000 in 2021,” last year. In 10 years it has reached $78,000 per ton of lithium carbonate!
And in that sense, what message can you send both to the government and to the Mexican people, considering that one of the decisions they have made has been to nationalize lithium?
I salute the brother president, the government of Mexico. Lithium is the heritage of the Mexican people. I understand that it is already nationalized. How nice would Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, Chile be together. But in Chile, it is totally privatized, in Argentina the same. Hopefully, they can recover it. But in Bolivia and Mexico, we must make a strategic alliance to industrialize our lithium.
I remain convinced, journalist sister, that some Latin American countries will hold power in something, and we can be a force on the issue of lithium, with its tremendous prices. And it will continue to grow. It is the task of each one of us, of our governments. I salute that President “Lucho” Arce of Bolivia and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico have already met last week. There is technical work to be done. They were asking me what technicians we have. We have to share work experiences. We have good technicians, we have learned a lot. Join together to launch the industrialization of lithium, through the heads of our governments. State under the control of the people, not, as always, handed over to the transnationals—we do not share that. And in our experience, the nationalization of natural resources, as well as of strategic companies, has helped us a lot to change the image of Bolivia.
And finally, Evo, I don’t want to say goodbye without saying that we saw you arrive in Zacatecas, where you received an honorary doctorate from the University of Zacatecas. We can now call you “Doctor Evo.” Tell us about it.
Last year, they invited me to give me an award. This year, we took advantage of this visit, this invitation from President Andrés Manuel to visit Zacatecas. Thanks to the Autonomous University of Zacatecas we met with the social movements, the peasant Indigenous movement, teachers, some political parties, and with the governor of Zacatecas, and this recognition is for the social movements, the Indigenous movement in particular. Without them, I would not have been president, and I thank the university, several colleagues who have taken initiative. We talk a lot, we have visited a mining area. Besides that, Zacatecas is a very interesting colonial city and we have good relations. We hope not to lose these highly trusting relationships, and to open them up to humble people. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for your time, Evo. We hope you will come again on other occasions, more often. I thank you for this dialogue.
Alina Duarte is a journalist and senior researcher at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA.
This interview was edited by the Director of COHA, Patricio Zamorano.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Alina Duarte is a Xochimilco (Mexico) born journalist and senior researcher at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA. In her twitter account she defines herself as an Independent Journalist & Militante nuestramericana, anti-imperialism •Xochimilca•Feminista•Senior Research Fellow at @COHAofficial
Alina Duarte#molongui-disabled-linkJune 15, 2022