Last month marked two years since the bloody 2019 coup d’etat in Bolivia against the democratically elected government of Evo Morales. A recently leaked document has exposed the British state’s role in the coup that waged war against the working-class and indigenous people of Bolivia.
Upon observing the nature of this coup and the foreign forces behind it, it becomes clear that the interests of the British state in Bolivia lie in its lithium reserves. Lithium – a metal most heavily used in small electronic devices, such as smartphones, computers, and even electric vehicles, has an increasing necessity among the corporations that reside within the imperialist centre. Extraction in nations such as Bolivia is largely due to the fact that the majority of lithium reserves do not lie within the borders of Europe or North America – the world’s second largest lithium reserves lie in Bolivia.
The socialist MAS government of Bolivia headed by Evo Morales, which had peacefully remained in power for 13 years, made it a priority to nationalise the resource that makes their country the most rich, in order to fund social needs for the people.
Following this, the imperialist powers made it their priority to end the administration of the Evo Morales-led MAS government during the Bolivian elections. The Organisation of American States (OAS) (which the United States holds authority over) declared electoral fraud in support of the capitalist opposition – an allegation that has been proven false by numerous subsequent independent studies.
Despite these claims having no evidence, the endorsement by the OAS of the capitalist Bolivian opposition completely turned the tides as it signalled to the world that the United States foreign policy openly backed them. Following the endorsement, when the opposition truly began their attack, the Bolivian military leadership joined the Bolivian opposition to mount a coup with Jeanine Áñez. Only receiving 5% of the popular vote, and having the military and US-dominated OAS behind her, she became President on November 10th, declaring, “Thank God, the bible has returned to the Bolivian government.”
Statements like these were an echo of her earlier ones, such as, “I dream of a Bolivia without satanic indigenous rituals, the city isn’t made for Indians, they need to go back to the countryside!”
Despite this shockingly racist messaging throughout her campaign, along with her illegal seizure of power only made possible by military backing, the beginning of her presidential term was celebrated by the UK Foreign Office, who declared in a statement, “The United Kingdom congratulates Jeanine Áñez on taking on her new responsibilities as interim President of Bolivia.”
Days following her swearing-in, Áñez implemented a campaign of brutal suppression against the Bolivian people in order to reverse the achievements of the MAS government. The Bolivian people rebelled with strike action and peaceful popular resistance. The Áñez administration responded by ordering the military to massacre peaceful demonstrators in Sacaba and Senkata, an event which the UK Foreign Office never commented on.
The resistance of the Bolivian people was victorious and the imperialist puppet-government of Áñez was defeated. The MAS candidate Luis Arce succeeded her as president on the 8th of November 2020, with 55% of the popular vote and Evo Morales returned from political exile in Mexico shortly after. Áñez is now currently awaiting trial in prison for her role in the Senkata and Sacaba massacres.
In March earlier this year, Declassified UK revealed the extensive role of the British government in undermining Bolivian democracy and supporting the Áñez government.
The British government released a statement in early 2019 that outlined their commitment to green energy through a large investment in electric car development, stating that the lithium supply found in South America was key to their plans to have a carbon-neutral Britain by 2040 as the battery in electric cars require lithium. The key target was to exploit countries like Bolivia.
At the same time, Bolivia under Morales decided to sign a beneficial deal with a Chinese partner to survey potential lithium deposits – a move that infuriated the British state and capitalists who, according to the published documents, with representatives from the London Metal Exchange and UK Foreign Office met with the Bolivian lithium state enterprise known as YLB, alongside Argentinian and Chilean lithium capitalist groups, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. According to documents, the meeting was done in order to pressure the Bolivian government into a ‘Lithium triangle’ alongside Chile and Argentina, that supplies lithium for the benefit of capitalists in the London Metal Exchange.
The Argentinian Macri government, a government with British imperialist interests, was investigated and found guilty by the Acre administration in May this year for supplying arms to the Áñez regime. These arms would be used in the brutal suppression of anti-coup demonstrators. Notably, the United Kingdom lifted an arms embargo imposed on Argentina in 2018 and the move by Macri would’ve inarguably served British interests in the region.
Furthermore, the Declassified UK documents reveal that the British government was complicit in providing the OAS with false information that resulted in their decision to declare electoral fraud. The article by Declassified UK states that this data was collected by the British embassy who “spent £8,000 putting together an alliance of civil society organisations which ‘coordinated an operation for citizens’ observation of the elections in 2019…[this alliance became] an important input for the OAS mission report, which identified irregularities in the process’, the Foreign Office notes.”
This decision by the OAS, using false data by the British embassy, was later investigated and found to be incorrect even by the imperialist’s most-loved paper: the New York Times.
The British ambassador to Bolivia during the coup government, Jeff Gleiken, stated that “Many are looking for new markets in the world and Bolivia can be an opportunity to grow… Due to the political changes in Bolivia, a more open environment for foreign investment is perceived and I believe that this will open new doors to companies that want to share their technology, their products and make alliances with different companies.” Gleiken was also an important figure in organising a meeting of 12 British companies in Bolivia, the largest gathering of British corporations in the country’s history.
Gleiken further stated that “The previous government was not very in favour of foreign investment. So, with the changes that we are going to see, it will be easier to enter the market and do business…The demand for lithium is growing and Bolivia must take advantage of that opportunity.” The British demand for green energy, was paid for by Bolivian blood in Sacaba and Senkata.
The Áñez government (undeniably put in power with aid from the British imperialist state) sought to act in the interests of the forces that put her racist and far-right ideology in government. Following the seizure of power, Áñez began to hint at the possibility that the previous deals with the Chinese partnership would be cancelled, and instead began to support working with the British corporation ‘Satellite Applications Catapult’ to explore and extract from Bolivia’s lithium deposits (offering the location of the same deposits that were offered to the Chinese partners). This action was backed by US banking investments and funding from the UK embassy and Foreign Office.
Áñez’s support for US and UK finance capital has unsurprisingly deprived the Bolivian people of natural resources and wealth. The pursuit of green energy, while a necessary pursuit, has become an imperialist policy that drowned the global south with the blood of its citizens. However, the Bolivian people are an exceptional ideal to look up to as they succeeded in their struggle against the interests of finance capital and win back their national sovereignty. Our only hope can be to learn from their successes and apply that knowledge to our own states in order to seize the economic forces for the benefit of working-class people.
Berkan Çelebi, is a member of the YCL’s Derbyshire branch