‘Extremely Insensitive’: Joke or Not, Musk’s ‘Coup’ Tweet Highlights Bolivian Democracy’s Peril

© AP Photo / John RaouxElon Musk founder, CEO, and chief engineer/designer of SpaceX jokes with reporters as he pretends to be searching for an answer to a question on a cell phone during a news conference after a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket test flight to demonstrate the capsule's emergency escape system at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.
Elon Musk founder, CEO, and chief engineer/designer of SpaceX jokes with reporters as he pretends to be searching for an answer to a question on a cell phone during a news conference after a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket test flight to demonstrate the capsule's emergency escape system at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. - Sputnik International
On Saturday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a comment that seemed to take responsibility for the November 2019 ousting of Bolivian President Evo Morales. While it’s unclear if Musk was joking, what is clear is that Bolivian democracy hangs in the balance as the coup government, behind in the polls, now seems to be trying to shut down the coming election.

Musk made a rare foray into US politics over the weekend by tweeting his disdain for another possible US government stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic distress. However, when another user challenged his ostensible commitment to what is “in the best interest of people” by alleging the US government overthrew Morales to benefit Musk’s electric car company, the Tesla CEO shot back the acrid response: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it!”

​Musk has since deleted the tweet, but before he could do so, Morales himself caught wind and posted a screenshot of the exchange, saying in Spanish it was “another proof that the coup was due to Bolivian lithium, and two massacres were the cost. We will always defend our resources!”

Sputnik reported in November 2019, while the events of the coup were still underway, that Bolivian resource nationalism under Morales, which attempted to reverse the centuries-long flow of wealth out of the country and into Western pockets, had in all likelihood provoked the right-wing coup against him and his party, Movement for Socialism (Movemiento al Socialismo, or MAS). Lucrative contracts for the mining of lithium and its processing into electric car batteries lay at the center of that dynamic, which brought Jeanine Áñez to the presidency as interim executive.

Patricio Zamorano, academic, international media analyst and co-director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Monday that with Áñez threatening to postpone upcoming elections for which she is behind in the polls, the danger to Bolivian democracy posed by standing up to US economic interests is severe.


Confession or ‘Insensitive’ Joke?

“We need to find out first if he was just being arrogant,” Zamorano told host Brian Becker. “We have to remember the character, the personality of this person. He’s eccentric, he’s always tweeting polemic situations, his Twitter account is always charged with crazy theories and false information, so yeah, we don’t know, really, if he was talking about a real thing.”

“But he was into something, because in fact Bolivia … they actually control, according to all the data collected, between potentially 25% - up to 40% - of the world’s lithium reserves. So they are really a major actor in the demand for lithium to basically create batteries, right? The kind of batteries that Tesla cars use,” Zamorano told Sputnik. 

“So, even if this guy from Tesla is joking, it’s extremely insensitive. We have to remember that the coup d’etat against Evo Morales caused a lot of death, a lot of death. People died because of this. We had two massacres, actually, and also hundreds of people were kidnapped, beaten, violence,” Zamorano said.

“Evo Morales closed the door to the access of US companies into Bolivian soil because he was trying to create real independence,” Zamorano noted, adding the country has many resources that are “extremely high in demand. Then [under] Evo Morales, they created this national law where lithium, for example, is part of the country [and] belongs to all Bolivians, and he opened the possibility of private investment or operation to other companies, especially from China and from Russia. So he was trying to change the balance of power from the US to other actors.”

“And that is at the heart of this statement by this millionaire making a joke about a coup, because it is true, though, that now under the de facto President Áñez, she is trying to open the door, now, to American companies. So very, very, scandalous.”

Zamorano noted that Morales’ government programs were aimed at the nationalization of all Bolivian resources.

“They did referendums - a lot of voices, actually, were represented in these decisions. We have to remember as well that Bolivia nationalized [natural] gas that was being sold extremely cheap before him, so he changed all the structure of public policies in a way that all these sectors - housing, health care, farmers’ activities - all that got more funds from the government,” he said.

“So we have to remember before the coup d’etat, Bolivia actually was one of the best countries in the whole continent in terms of economy: very stable, very good growth, a 5% average [GDP growth] every year. It’s very clear how this situation is going to change if this right-wing, conservative government stays in power and then starts basically opening business again to US companies.”

‘Something Fishy’ About Election Delay

Last Thursday, Áñez’s administration announced Bolivia’s third election delay, citing the country’s recent spike in COVID-19 infections as the cause. Originally scheduled for May 2020, the elections were then moved to September 6 and have now been pushed back another month to October 18.

Zamorano said he didn’t buy Áñez’s justification, noting that other governments, including the Trump administration, are making similar attempts to curtail democracy.

“Unfortunately, all of the countries are facing a similar situation. We have that situation here in the US, with voting rights being restricted because of the coronavirus; we can suspect there is something fishy about this, but unfortunately it is an actual issue,” he noted. According to Johns Hopkins University data, the South American country has recorded nearly 70,000 cases of COVID-19 and has suffered roughly 2,600 deaths from the virus. 

“It’s very hard for the MAS party, for Evo Morales’ party, to say that the delay is not because of the coronavirus. In that case, we don’t know if Áñez is taking advantage of that,” Zamorano said. “Why? Because Luis Arce, the MAS [presidential] candidate, is actually first in all the polls by far - more than 10 points. So if the elections took place this weekend, Evo Morales’ party will come back to power, no doubt about that.”

​Zamorano noted that, as in Venezuela, Bolivia’s opposition parties are “extremely divided” thanks to their diverging interests, meaning their forces are split between multiple candidates as MAS surges forward thanks to greater unity. This, he said, is “an advantage for Evo Morales’ intention to come back to power with his party. But it is very clear that the de facto government is not doing the right thing, trying to unify the opposition against Evo Morales.”

He further noted that across the region, nations struggling to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks, such as Chile and Brazil, should serve as warning signs for what might lie in store for Bolivia as well.

“We have to be very, very careful about what’s going to happen for the next six months, because of the political consequences for the lives of millions of Latin Americans,” he said.

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