My ouster was all about lithium, Bolivia's Morales says
By Gabriel Romano
A photograph dated Oct. 29, 2009, shows a pilot plant for the production of lithium carbonate in the Uyuni Salt Flat, a dried-up sea bed that stretches over a more than 10,000 sq. kilometer (some 4,000 sq. mile) area, in southwestern Bolivia. EPA-EFE FILE/Javier Mamani
By Gabriel Romano
La Paz, Dec 18 (efe-epa).- While former President Evo Morales insists that he was ousted in a coup staged by foreign economic interests from the United States and other countries out to grab Bolivia's lithium reserves, there does not appear to be much evidence here that Washington was seeking to take control of what is known in this Andean nation as "white gold."
Morales, who was granted political asylum by Argentina, said in a press conference Monday in Buenos Aires that he was ousted in a "lithium coup" and blamed the United States.
"Because the United States was left out, that's where the problem started," the 60-year-old Morales, who resigned on Nov. 11 amid pressure from the armed forces and initially fled to Mexico, said.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, was referring to the fact that US companies were not allowed to participate in projects aimed at developing the lithium industry, while firms from China and Germany were given the green light.
Interim President Jeanine Añez's administration, for its part, has accused Morales of sedition and terrorism.
On Wednesday, the Attorney General's Office issued an arrest warrant for Morales.
Arturo Murillo, who serves as Añez's interior minister, posted a photo on Twitter of the document, which orders that Morales be arrested and brought before the special prosecutor's office investigating corruption to "give his statement."
The Argentine National Migration Administration, meanwhile, confirmed that Morales, who arrived in Buenos Aires on Dec. 12, was granted "refugee" status in Argentina.
Last Thursday, Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Sola said that Morales's status protected him from "any possibility of extradition."
In the bidding for a contract to develop Bolivia's large reserves of lithium, which is used to manufacture batteries for a range of electronic devices, including cell phones, Germany's ACI Systems beat out five companies from China, one from Russia and another from Canada for one project.
ACI Systems received a contract to build a battery factory, but the company's deal with a Bolivian state-owned firm was later annulled.
China's Xinjiang Tbea Group beat out several other Chinese companies, as well as firms from Spain and Germany, for a contract to build a lithium carbonate plant.
In another round of bidding, which was later annulled, 26 companies competed, but just two were from the United States and one of those firms was partners with a Bolivian corporation.
Morales had previously said that Russia, India and Turkey were also interested in Bolivia's lithium reserves, but he did not mention the United States until after he resigned.
On Nov. 10, the Organization of American States (OAS) released a report recommending that a new presidential election be held due to the irregularities in the Oct. 20 vote that Morales won.
After the opposition disputed the election's outcome, Morales said a new vote would be held.
Morales, who was seeking a fourth term in office and had served as president for nearly 14 years, resigned under pressure from the security forces.
The former president said during Monday's press conference that he had been ousted in a "coup d'etat" that he blamed on the opposition, police and armed forces working with the OAS, an institution that he said supported coups.
"Two things hurt about this coup: they murdered comrades, but they are also killing the economy," the former president said.
Morales said he would not be a candidate in the next presidential and urged the interim government to hold "free, clean and transparent elections."
Bolivia's Potosi region is home to the largest certified lithium reserves in the world. EFE