Hybrids & Electrics

Did Tesla Start Bolivia’s Coup in 2019?

This is a strange one, even for Tesla founder Elon Musk. Back in 2019 the President of Bolivia Evo Morales was ousted in a coup. Now, current President Luis Arce is accusing Musk of being involved in the coup. Arce thanked Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for granting asylum to Morales in a press conference. He went on to say that the reason Morales was overthrown was because of Bolivia’s lithium mines and Tesla

“There were statements by vice-presidential candidate Samuel Doria Medina who mentioned it would be very interesting if Tesla could come to Bolivia to industrialize lithium,” says Arce. “A few weeks later, a statement by a senior Tesla manager was known on social networks saying that they are going to carry out a coup where necessary.” Arce was the Minister of Finance between 2006 and 2017 in the Morales government.

Musk did as much as confirming the coup accusation in a Tweet last July

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, smiling and wearing a black moto jacket, arrives at the Axel Springer Award ceremony in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Tesla CEO Elon Musk | Getty

Tesla is the world’s biggest purchaser of lithium. Musk did as much as confirming the accusation in a Tweet last July. A Twitter user suggested organizing a coup in Bolivia to obtain lithium was not in the best interests of Bolivians. Musk tweeted back, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it!” OK, then.

Morales was in the process of nationalizing Bolivia’s lithium reserves. He would then grant a German company the rights to obtain the lithium to manufacture EV batteries. The plan was never executed because Morales and his government were overthrown according to El Sol de Mexico

Evo Morales former Bolivian President
Former President of Bolivia Evo Morales speaks during a press conference on October 23, 2019, in La Paz, Bolivia. President Evo Morales denied fraud and accused right-wing opposition of attempting a coup and therefore declared a state of emergency | Getty

RELATED: Do ‘Clean’ Electric Vehicles Have Dirty Secrets?

Musk visited Chile to urge officials there to allow more lithium deposits to be mined. Once Morales began the process of nationalizing the nation’s reserves it stopped Musk’s ability to put his South American deal together. Soon after, the coup began. Some called it a “Lithium Putsche.”

BBC Mundo published five reasons why Morales should resign

But in elections leading up to the coup, there were accusations of electoral crimes including falsification of votes. This was initially what led protesters to demand Morales resign. The largest paper in Bolivia BBC Mundo published five reasons why Morales should resign. 

Bolivian lithium mines
Aerial view of a concrete truck at the new state-owned lithium extraction complex, in the southern zone of the Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia | Getty

The five reasons were the audit of the votes, opposition from the military and police, continued protests, the radicalization of political opposition, and the citizens’ distrust of Morales’ reign. Never was there any mention of Musk or lithium. So the question is did Musk really participate in the coup in some way to get his hands on Bolivia’s lithium supply

In the face of the many other accusations and the comments in the press by Bolivians, it is hard to give it much credence. And it also seems like a shaky pursuit for an American company to interfere with foreign regimes and national resources. At this point, it doesn’t look like there is any traction behind the accusation.