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BILLIONAIRE Tesla owner Elon Musk has come under fire after welcoming last year’s overthrow of Bolivian president Evo Morales in what was seen as a bid to obtain the country’s lithium reserves.
In response to a tweet on Saturday that accused the US government of forcing Mr Morales out, allowing Mr Musk to access Bolivian resources, he wrote: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”
Hundreds of Bolivia’s indigenous population were massacred following what was branded “a fascist coup” against Mr Morales, who is currently in exile in Argentina.
Bolivia has between 25 per cent and 45 per cent of the world’s known lithium reserves, an estimated 21 tonnes, most of which is in the Salar de Uyuni salt flat.
Lithium is a crucial component of the batteries used in Telsa vehicles and other electric cars, as well as computers and other equipment, and its value is set to rocket as sales of such vehicles increase.
According to the current Bolivian constitution, lithium can only be extracted and processed by Bolivians, but privateers are continuing to press for access to the country’s vast resources.
Efforts to obtain access to the precious metal, led by transnational mining companies based in the United States, Canada, South Korea and elsewhere, had failed prior to the ousting of Mr Morales.
He had instead struck deals with Chinese and Russian companies that would benefit Bolivia’s indigenous population.
Mr Morales branded the coup an “act of revenge by the United States, which never accepted the loss of control of the Bolivian lithium market in favour of Chinese and German companies.”
Washington was particularly angry at Bolivia’s plans to develop lithium production with China.
The total value of trade deals between the two countries grew from $75 million (£57m) to $2.25 billion (£1.72bn) between 2000 and 2014.
The coup administration led by Jeanine Anez immediately announced plans to invite transnationals, including Tesla, to exploit Bolivia’s lithium reserves.
A letter to Mr Musk from Foreign Minister Karen Longaric, dated March 31, said: “Any co-operation that you or your company can provide to our country will be gratefully welcomed.”
Mr Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and indigenous Bolivians have long warned against foreign exploitation of these lithium reserves, which are currently processed inside the country.
On Friday, a group of coca farmers warned of mass mobilisations unless the coup administration reverses its decision to postpone elections for a third time.
MAS is predicted to win the next presidential and parliamentary elections, which are now due in October, despite a court ruling barring Mr Morales from standing.
The government is trying to disband MAS to prevent it from contesting the polls.
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