Socialist Eva Morales stepped down as the president of Bolivia on the 10th of November 2019 after the head of the army demanded his resignation. The resignation was preceded by protests against ‘election irregularities’ after a report by the Organisation of American States (OAS) claimed that the incumbent president had won the elections the month before through unfair means.
Subsequently, Jeanine Áñez was installed as the interim president of Bolivia, in what was widely regarded as a coup. Eva Morales was forced to flee the country as a consequence of the persecution he faced. The protests against the coup attracted the use of lethal force and led to the death of many protesters.
Declassified UK has now reported that the British embassy in La Paz, the seat of Government in Bolivia, was quick to support the coup in order to secure its access of Lithium, or ‘white gold’. Bolivia has the second largest Lithium reserves, a metal that is used in making batteries.
Evo Morales had chosen a Chinese consortium in February 2019 as its strategic partner in a new $2.3-billion lithium project focusing on production from the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salars. The coup regime, after it came to power, said that the deal was under scrutiny and it was ‘hoped’ that it could move forward under ‘right conditions’.
Declassified UK reported that one of the projects co-funded by the UK Embassy between 2019-20 was meant to “optimise Bolivia’s lithium exploration and production (in the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salars) using British technology”. This particular project moved forward swiftly following the coup.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the main funder of the project, authorized its abstract on the 25th of November, two months after the coup. The IADB told Declassified UK in a statement, “The implementation of [grant] activities are conducted in close coordination with designated government authorities and their technical teams.”
The report says that the Foreign Office of UK refused to tell them whether the British Embassy’s $5000 contribution towards the Lithium project was made following the coup in November 2019. According to documents obtained by the media outlet, the objective was to “design and implement a satellite data-based application that can optimise exploration and exploitation of large/best lithium sources in the Coipasa and Pastos Grandes salars in Bolivia”.
Satellite Applications Catapult (SAC) was to implemented the project, an Oxford-based organisation “helping organisations harness the power of satellite-based services”. A third of SAC’s funding comes from the UK Government, the report said.
Furthermore, two days after the IADB’s final approval for the project, the UK Foreign Office transferred £33,220 to SAC as “programme spend”. While the department refused to tell the media outlet if it was for the lithium project, the IADB told them, “Coordination with the British Embassy has been particularly cooperative in search for synergies”.
In March 2020, four months after the coup, an “international seminar” was organised by the British Embassy in partnership with coup regime’s Ministry of Mining, attended by more than 300 officials of the global extractives sector. The keynote presentation was delivered by a British company, Watchman UK.
Foreign Office documents stated as per the report, “Watchman UK and other consultancies are now in line to offer services in this important field to a number of Bolivia mining companies who wish to achieve win-win solutions to their controversies with indigenous inhabitants and towns located in the area of influence of their activities”.
Evo Morales had blamed the USA and other international actors for the coup. Wikileaks cables had demonstrated that the US Embassy had worked with his opposition in order to oust his government. After his electoral victory in October 2019, the Washington based OAS cited “an inexplicable change” that “drastically modifies the fate of the election” for its now discredited report.
Declassified UK has reported that the OAS relied on inputs from the British Embassy for its discredited report. An alliance of civil society organisations, funded by the British Embassy, “coordinated an operation for citizens’ observation of the elections in 2019”.
The report reveals that the embassy’s preparations for the elections were unprecedented. 30 Bolivian journalists, trained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) which the embassy spent £9,981 on, were trained on “verification techniques and pre-planning an election on coverage that is balanced, accurate and free of polarisation”.
The TRF claimed that it was training the journalists on “practical skills and tools to recognise fake news and attempts to influence the electorate with false information” ahead of the elections in Bolivia.
When elections were held again in October 2020, Evo Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo secured a comprehensive victory winning 55% of the votes. Bolivia’s new president Luis Arce declared the country had ‘reclaimed’ Democracy.