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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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?

Agreeing on borders

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

One of the most important events for anyone interested in 20th Century Bolivian history is the Chaco war, (1932-1935) fought between Bolivia and Paraguay over suspected oil resources in their border region.

As in many previous conflicts that Bolivia was involved in, it ended with the country losing land (approximately 75% of the Chaco region went to Paraguay).  In 1938 a truce was signed in Argentina, but this was not really the end of the subject as many Bolivians were not happy with the result.  It remained a topic as sensitive as the loss of the coastline to Chile.

Recently the topic has resurfaced, and Bolivia and Paraguay have signed an agreement to finalise the border – more than 70 years after the end of the conflict.

It could be compared to a similar situation between Germany and Poland.  Their common border was agreed in Potsdam in 1945 and is known as the “Oder-Neiße-Border“.  A formal agreement between the GDR and Poland was made in 1970, and to avoid any discussion on its validity it was confirmed in the 4+2 agreement on the re-unification of Germany in 1990.  A final contract between the states was signed in 1992.

On the other side of Bolivia, another border project is being discussed: a 150km tunnel to link Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean.  As much as I like the idea, it does sound like rather a big undertaking for those two countries.  And because of the area it is in, Peru would have to agree as well.

Morales ends hunger strike

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

One of the main German news programmes reported last night that President Morales has ended his hunger strike.  He has good reason too, as the Bolivian senate has now approved his electoral reforms, meaning that he can re-elected in December and remain in office until 2015.

Some last-minute bargaining tactics meant that he had to make some concessions himself, but in return he can introduce the collection of biometric data to allow for digital fingerprinting after the election.

A president on hunger strike

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

I had to look twice at the headline on the BBC News website yesterday: “Bolivian leader on hunger strike”.  Surely they didn’t mean Evo Morales?

They did.  But then, there are not many other Bolivian leaders that get reported on the news here.  President Morales has gone on hunger strike until the Bolivian senate passes a new law.

It all sounds a bit crazy and certainly something that I would not expect to happen in Europe.  Can you imaging Gordon Brown or Angela Merkel going on hunger strike to get their respective parliaments to pass new legislation?  Or indeed any of their predecessors?

So what’s it all about?

Well, if I understand everything correctly, then the law should reform some of the electoral boundaries within Bolivia.  Now, when a country like the United Kingdom reforms their electoral boundaries an electoral commission takes into account social developments such as the number of people living within a given area.  It then makes recommendations to parliament as to the changes.  Ideally this happens in the middle of a Government’s term of office, so as not to affect the outcome of any elections.

In Bolivia’s case, the changes appear to be along ethnic lines and already the media is predicting that President Morales would stand to benefit in future elections from the changes.

The electoral boundaries should be drawn up to make elections as fair as possible, and the elected members of the senate have a responsibility to make that this is the case.  Trying to force the senate into approving those boundaries beyond their will surely has no place in modern democary?


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