By Maximilian Heath
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Bolivia´s exiled former president Evo Morales on Sunday defended a call he made for the formation of armed groups, a recording of which was leaked on public radio.
Speaking exclusively to Reuters on Sunday night in Argentina where he is in exile, the defiant former president confirmed his was the voice in a recording played on Bolivian radio calling for creation of armed militias “as in Venezuela”.
He said people have a right to defend themselves if the new government was attacking them. He said he had not meant armed with guns and was referring to citizen defense groups that had always loosely existed.
“In Bolivia, if the armed forces are shooting the people, killing the people, the people have the right to organize their security,” he said in the interview with Reuters.
“We´re not talking arms, more like slingshots,” he said.
“In some times (these groups) were called militias, in other times they were called union security or union police and in some places it is called communal guard. It is not new.”
In the recording released by radio station Kawsachun Coca Tropico, Morales said he and his supporters had been “too trusting” ahead of last year´s presidential election, and should have had a “Plan B.”
“If between now and in a little while… I were to return (to Bolivia) or someone else goes back, we must organize as in Venezuela armed militias of the people,” Morales said in the recording. “We were too trusting. The blunder: we did not have a ‘Plan B’.”
Morales fled Bolivia in November after political unrest sparked by his controversial election win.
The former coca farmer led Bolivia for almost 14 years at the helm of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) coalition but left for Mexico in mid-November after being granted asylum there. He then moved to Argentina.
His departure followed intense pressure from the armed forces after the Organization of American States found “overwhelming” irregularities in the October presidential elections which he won.
He has since described what happened as a coup. At least 29 people died in clashes between police and protesters in the unrest, a significant number in Morales strongholds.
Bolivia´s interim president Jeanine Añez, a former senator and political opponent of Morales, said the recording showed that “peace, reconciliation and democracy were never options for him.”
“Given the intention of sowing terror and violence, they will only find the Bolivian people united, and in the face of threats, our deepest democratic vocation,” Añez tweeted on Sunday night.
In mid-December Bolivian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Morales´arrest over allegations of sedition and terrorism.
The charges related to accusations by the Añez government that Morales had organized road blockades. Morales has denied the claim.
Morales told Reuters in an interview in December that he would return to his home country by next Christmas, but he has ruled out running as a candidate himself in the next elections scheduled for May 3.
(Additional reporting by Monica Machicao, Danny Ramos and Sergio Santos Limachi Osco; writing by Aislinn Laing)