Survey | Bolivia

72% of Bolivians want to nationalise lithium production

A majority of Bolivians support the government’s plan to take control of lithium production. But the plan has yet to bear fruit

A very large landscape area is divided into many rectangular fields of the same size. The fields are turquoise and white.

The Bolivian government wants to drive forward the country's industrialization by mining lithium, as here in the Uyuni salt desert, and producing batteries from this valuable metal

Since 2008, the Bolivian government has wanted to develop its own production of lithium batteries. This effort is based not least on the collective trauma of a country whose resources were first claimed by colonial powers and, more recently, by foreign corporations. A majority of the population is in favour of this nationalisation, but implementation is slow. For more than a decade now, the dawn of the state-owned lithium industry has been heralded. But so far, only a few pilot plants are operating. Setting up real production facilities seems to be a big challenge and key questions about distribution and infrastructure remain unresolved.

Although the government always refers to Bolivia’s long-standing mining tradition, it ignores the fact that lithium-extraction processes are fundamentally different from other mining methods. Moreover, the lithium industry also poses dangers. These include intensive water consumption in areas that are already very dry, as well as the socio-economic consequences for the Aymara and Quechua peoples who live in these regions. And the outlook is not bright, not least because of a number of dubiously implemented consultation processes within the framework of the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, accusations of governmental corruption and widespread political discontent.

Source: Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica (CELAG)