China seizes Bolivian lithium

China Bolivian lithium

Bolivian lithium interests the US, but it has already been delivered to China by the MAS government when the two superpowers are about to clash over Taiwan.

Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, the dispute over natural resources confronts the powers for control of new technologies, in this case, lithium-ion batteries for almost everything, starting with electric cars.

In January, the Bolivian government signed a contract with the Chinese companies CATL BRUNP & CMOC (CBC), which must deliver a report this month on the conditions under which they will carry out the “direct production of lithium” in the gigantic salt lakes, or “salt flats” of Uyuni and Coipasa.

It is estimated that there are 21 million tons of lithium in these two salt lakes that receive the waters of the closed altiplano basin, which qualifies them as the largest reserves in the world.

Mrs. Laura Richardson, head of the Southern Command of the United States Army, said last week that her country is watching with concern how “adversary” powers are exploiting the reserves of the South American “lithium triangle “: BoliviaArgentina and Chile.

The followers of Evo Morales, and himself, immediately reacted with harsh criticism of Mrs. Richardson, stating that Latin America has ceased to be a “colony” of the United States.

On the other hand, the side of President Luis Arce has not said a word on this issue, thus that side reinforces the claim that Morales is primarily responsible for the contract with the Chinese.

According to the complaints from Arce’s side, the wife of former foreign minister Fernando Huanacuni, from the Morales administration, was an employee of the Chinese company that ended up signing the contract. Huanacuni has admitted it and now accompanies Morales in campaign events for the 2025 elections.

The theme, although with global scope, has been incorporated into the fights of the masistas. Morales supporters say one of Arce’s sons was also playing a role in negotiations with the Chinese.

The truth is that the Bolivian salt lake lithium project has entered a dispute between the great powers. Mrs. Richardson also mentioned the lithium exploitations of Argentina and Chile in the Defense Commission of the House of Representatives.

The Bolivian project is very delayed compared to the exploitations carried out by Argentina and Chile in their own salt flats. These two countries appear in international statistics for large exports of lithium carbonate, the raw material for making batteries for electric vehicles.

In 1990 Bolivia signed a contract with the North American Lithco Corporation for the exploitation of lithium, but the government at that time had to cancel it due to protests by the inhabitants of the department of Potosí.

Potosinos argue that they are tired of mineral wealth being exploited and people not benefiting. The silver Cerro Rico has been mined since 1545, first by the Spanish, but the department remains the poorest in the country.

The Morales government set out to create its own technology for the exploitation of lithium, but the chosen method, evaporation, turned out to be a failure, in which the State invested 930 million dollars, according to figures released by The Economist.

Now, the executive of the company Yacimientos de Lithium Bolivianos (YLB), Carlos Ramos, admits that the evaporation method, which is applied successfully in Argentina and Chile, is not appropriate for Bolivian brines, because it only recovers 30% of the lithium.

In view of this, the MAS government decided to use the “direct exploitation of lithium” and for that, it called the interested companies. Eight were presented, including one from the United States, but the one chosen was from China.

The problem is that the potosinos do not agree with the contract. They ask that the department have greater participation in the income that the company generates. But they also do not accept that it is the company chosen by the government. A challenge that will be very difficult for La Paz.

Ms. Richardson also mentioned gold mining by the Chinese, who have partnered with Bolivian cooperatives to work in rivers in the Amazon region, where they are damaging the land and water with excessive use of mercury.

Chinese construction companies had millionaire contracts in the government of cocalero Morales.

And the Russians are advancing in the construction of a nuclear center in the city of El Alto.