A Conversation with Evo Morales

5 July 2019 — Internationalist 360°

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Bolivian President Evo Morales will travel to Russia on an official visit on July 11. The Eurasian country is an important strategic partner for Bolivians, Morales told Sputnik in an interview. The president also revealed what he thinks of Donald Trump, how to solve the Venezuelan crisis and how he envisions Bolivia over the next two decades.

What issues do you plan to discuss with Putin during your official visit to Moscow?

Bolivia, not only as a state, but also as a people, have great confidence in the president of Russia and in all the people of Russia. We have ideological convergences, programmatic convergences, convergences in international law, convergences on the subject of human rights. Therefore, the work of the foreign ministries for this bilateral [meeting] is important for Bolivia, but also for Latin America. My great desire is for Russia’s presence in Latin America. We all promote this as social movements. Also as anti-imperialist political movements. In this meeting, as always, it is the obligation of states, governments and presidents to conduct successful business for our countries. May we both win. May Russia win, may Bolivia win. But at this juncture Bolivia needs more from Russia than Russia needs from Bolivia.

What role do you think Russia plays in the world and in the Latin American region?

Russia is a country that seeks balance within international powers. Russia avoids military interventions. Russia, as a state and as a people, is always with international law. Therefore, relations with Russia are important, not only with Bolivia but also with the inhabitants of the planet.

Why do you think some countries don’t like the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, or his politics?

I would say that there are some governments but, nevertheless, the peoples of the world feel that Russia’s presence in the political arena is a balance between states and fundamentally between peoples.

Russia is a country that guarantees the non-intervention of the United States in any country in the world. We are convinced, especially as members of social movements, that the US system and model is no guarantee for life or for humanity. They do not want competition from any country in the world.

However, Russia shares its way of governing and above all its technology, as well as certain powers. While in the United States there are no such policies capable of considering humanity. That makes a profound difference. That is why Russia is so important to the world.

What do you think about Russia’s and Bolivia’s prospects in the technical-military field? Is Bolivia interested in buying Russian weapons?

Yes, because of recommendations from the members of the Air Force, in particular, there is a lot of interest in acquiring Russian military technology. For example, in aviation. But also in matters of service to the Bolivian people. There is a commission which is working – and we hope there will be good results – on this transfer of technology.

In 2018, for example, we put aside the T-33 training planes and now the Air Force is asking me to replace them with Russian planes. That much will also depend on the technical aspects, but there is also a high degree of confidence. In some Latin American countries there are many Russian planes. This will depend on the work of the relevant committees.

You have already been to Russia. What is your most touching memory of that time?

On my first visit I was impressed by the reception and the organization. And then again later when I took part in the summit of gas-exporting countries (FPEG). I had a long talk with brother President Putin. And during the last [visit], on the occasion of the World Cup, there was a bilateral meeting. There we agreed to make progress on a number of important issues. Now we are going to finalize them with this trip.

Bolivia has greatly reduced extreme poverty. How did you do it?

First, a political refoundation of Bolivia. Economically, by nationalizing or recovering our natural resources in strategic companies. Also turning the aspects of services such as water, energy and telecommunications into the universal human right that they are, and not a private business. And finally the redistribution of wealth. The State provides income bonuses and some subsidies for the poorest families.

These policies, programs and projects have allowed us to reduce poverty from 38.2% in 2005 to 15% in 2019. We are very encouraged. We now have a plan for the bicentennial in 2025. We would like to have fewer than 5% extreme poverty.

Now Bolivia is the only country whose economy is experiencing stable growth. How do you see Bolivia in five years? How can the country’s economy change within that time?

We are a great country and we want to be much greater. We have to become better. And fortunately the new economic policies accompany economic growth. After nationalizing, we began to industrialize. For the first time, the state is providing service by investing in neighbouring countries. For example, in the power lines in Argentina. Now we are going to install gas to homes in southern Peru. We plan to install a gas pipeline to Paraguay. We also plan to send our frozen gas or LNG to Peru and to other continents such as Asia, China, India… We fortunately have good relations with these powers. So Bolivia has a very promising future. Our process of change for the people has a secure future.

Is that why now is a time of industrialization with foreign investments?

So far, state investment. Now we have foreign partners. Partners from private companies, as well as partners from State to State to industrialize our natural resources, as well as in agriculture.

And under what conditions do these partners collaborate?

The partners [own] minority shares, as always. But any foreign investment is guaranteed by the Constitution. Because through the new refounding constitution we proclaim a plurinational state with a plural economy. So that protects us to guarantee internal or external private investments.

What are the most important tasks or objectives for you and a candidate in this year’s presidential elections?

The first task is to expand the productive apparatus. And how will the productive apparatus be expanded? More investments in the energy sector to export energy.

The second is the industrialization of natural resources, such as lithium. We have already begun as a state. Now we have partners to expand the industrialization of lithium. Third, hydrocarbons and petrochemical plants. We have begun. When we started, only natural gas was exported and LNG was imported. Now we are exporting to Peru, to Paraguay to parts of Brazil. But we guarantee almost 90% of the Paraguayan market. We have commenced exporting LNG, we are exporting urea to Brazil, we are exporting potassium chloride, from the lithium industry.

And thirdly, my challenge, fundamentally, as I come from the most humble families, to continue reducing poverty. I don’t want there to be poor children as there were in the 1960s and 1970s. That is my great wish.

Russia and Bolivia talk a lot about a lithium-related agreement. Are we close to signing this agreement or are there problems?

The agreement is well advanced. We want to concretize these advances between Bolivia and Russia so that Russia, either through a private Russian agreement or as a Russian state, becomes a partner of the Bolivian people.

Does Bolivia currently have a strategic lithium alliance with any country?

Germany and China also would like to participate in some of the plants. We do not have any other partner country.

What are you proud of?

First, of having left the past. Of having buried the colonial state. Now we have a plurinational state. To have abandoned that beggar state, a begging people. Now we have a dignified and sovereign people. We also have our own identity.

And above all, we are proud of our economic growth. Of the 13 years of administration, six have been the first in economic growth in South America. These are data from international organizations. Never before had Bolivia been first in something. If it was first in something in South America, it was only in poverty and corruption issues. Previously [it was said] that Bolivia was the world corruption champion. And we have that corruption. We are struggling and we have zero tolerance for the corrupt. These advances have allowed Bolivia to be better than before.

What economic growth do you expect this year?

I want to reach 4%. Hopefully it will be much more than 4%.

How, in your opinion, will the situation in Venezuela develop?

The problems of Venezuelans must be solved by Venezuelans. We do not accept any interference. But beyond that, interference by the United States has failed. The coup failed. The economic blockade must be confronted. I salute and admire the Venezuelan people, who despite the economic problems and the economic blockade continue to defend Chavismo and the Bolivarian revolution.

Surprising, then. I very much regret that they [the UA-OAS] appointed Juan Guaidó as president. That is like during colonial times, with the viceroy. It is no way to administer states. It is not that the empire or the OAS that have to recognize Guaidó, but rather that his people have to recognize him. But since they do not recognize him, everything is going badly for the North American empire.

So we must all commit ourselves to restoring cooperation. It is good that there is an open agenda among Venezuelans in the political, democratic, social and economic fields.

What is the U.S. playing with Venezuela?

I feel that these provocations that come from the North American empire are at an end. If they have not been able to dominate other countries, except perhaps Libya, then they fail in other continents. Perhaps the United States would like to retake Latin America. But, despite the right-wing governments, what did Latin America say? That it does not accept intervention in Venezuela. And this is another failure, and with so many attempts at intervention and so many coups [the United States] has failed. Then this will not be the way. And once again I want to say that Venezuelans should solve their problems as Venezuelans.

And what do you see as the way out of the situation in Venezuela?

I say again: dialogue.

Do you think the United States will dare to intervene militarily in Venezuela?

They tried and failed. A military intervention is not going to have the support of South America. All of us in South America agree in jointly rejecting any intervention.

Could a meeting between Maduro and Trump help resolve this situation?

Of course, there should be political will. I heard it said that Maduro wants to meet, but Trump does not agree. Any election with Maduro’s participation would solve the problem in my opinion. But the United States asks for an election where Maduro will not participate. It is hardly democratic.

Will you discuss the situation in Venezuela with Putin?

In private meetings, we always touch on evaluations of important issues, such as the world political environment. Who better than talking to Putin, in any case, not only about Venezuela, but about the whole world. Because that is our duty. Bolivia will always attend the great proposals that Russia has through its president Vladimir Putin and we are interested in discussing political issues.

Is there any possibility that you might meet with Trump?

I have never considered it. It would be desirable, but not definitive.

What is the United States wrong about? What is it wrong about in Latin America?

The American people are not mistaken, but their president and their policies are wrong. He thinks he owns the world and he is wrong. He thinks that he is the one who is going to rule the world and he is wrong. He thinks that all the countries in the world are his colonies and he is totally wrong. They have to reflect deeply on the political and social situation of the whole world.

What is your opinion about the wall that the United States is now building?

We would never accept that. We are committed to universal citizenship. We all have the right to live anywhere in the world, according to our needs, according to the scope of our effort and commitment to work. And according to the production capacity that any human being has.

What advice would you give Trump?

That he would respect the peoples of the world and any bilateral relationship of mutual respect and joint benefit to our peoples.

At the end of June, the G20 summit ended in Japan. In this edition, world leaders have discussed trade wars, sanctions and the problems experienced by the world economy. How do you see the development of that economy? Is it possible that the situation will worsen with more sanctions, restrictions and trade wars?

The peoples of the world are facing the crisis of the capitalist system, including the food crisis and the environmental crisis. And unfortunately some powers are failing to live up to their responsibilities. This is distasteful to me. How can we possibly agree that the United States has not ratified a treaty on the environment? How can we agree that the United States has not ratified a treaty on human rights? If anything is to be recommended to Trump, it is that he be more humane with the peoples of the world and as a state ratify all human rights treaties and environmental treaties, as well as the Paris Agreement. But he has not even acknowledged that. So we are confronted with a government that wants to dominate the world.

You start work at five in the morning and finish very, very late. When do you rest?

[He laughs] We rest! Rest is important. But I still think that being president-elect is a very sacred and noble mandate of service, effort and sacrifice. Very few of us are elected president, and I am well aware that in that borrowed time we have as elected officials, everything must be done for the good of our people.

What is happiness to you?

Happiness to me is living well. And my enormous satisfaction is having turned more than two million Bolivians into a middle class. That is the result of management. That encourages us enough to continue with social programs for the good of humanity.

Do you have a dream that you haven’t had time to achieve and that you hope to do later?

I am almost certain that, at this rate, Bolivia, 15 or 20 years from now, is going to be an economic power. I would like our country, together with our private citizens or as a State, to be investing in the country, sharing what little we have for the good of humanity.

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