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Archive for September, 2009

Bolivia’s lithium reserves

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Did you know that half of the world’s lithium reserves are in Bolivia?  I discovered this little-known fact on the Radio 4 programme “From Our Own Correspondent”.

It may well be that Bolivia is sitting on a gold mine, with future technological developments requiring ever more lithium, there is talk of Bolivia having a similar role to play to that of Saudi Arabia in the oil industry.  The question is: will the country benefit as a whole?

This is not the first time that Bolivia has been the main supplier of a particular commodity – much of the world’s silver originally came from the cerro rico in Potosí.  It is said that during the time that Bolivia was a Spanish colony, enough silver was shipped back to Spain to build a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean!  The colonial powers literally depleted the country of a rich resource, even using slave labour to remove the silver from the mines.

In recent years there have been discussions about the way contracts with neighbouring countries or multi-national companies were negotiated – often benefiting a few but not the population as a whole.

So will it be different with lithium?  Are the salt flats of Uyuni in danger or being exploited?  And are the people of Bolivia in danger of losing another precious resource?


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