Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bolivia’s Dilemma: Development Confronts the Legacy of Extraction


From time to time we like to draw your attention to solid pieces written about Bolivia by some of our friends and colleagues. The new article by Linda Farthing on Bolivia's environmental challenges is an important read.

For those of you who don't know Linda, she has lived in Bolivia for many years and is co-author, with Ben Kohl, of one of the better recent books on Bolivia, Impasse in Bolivia. Her article below was also published in one of the best publications around for Latin American coverage, the NACLA reporter.

We are pleased to bring you this article and we thank both Linda and NACLA for granting their permission to let us post
a link to it here.

Jim Shultz

Bolivia’s Dilemma: Development Confronts the Legacy of Extraction

by Linda Farthing

As with so much else in South America’s landlocked and impoverished heartland, Bolivia’s natural environment excels in superlatives: It is home to the world’s largest salt flat (Salar de Uyuni in the southwest); the world’s highest navigable lake (Titicaca, straddling the border with Peru); and the second-largest high mountain plateau (the altiplano), after that of Tibet. The result is an often breathtaking landscape of magnificent snow-covered mountains surrounding windswept plateaus and lakes of an almost unimaginable deep blue, high valleys unfolding eastward into dense, vast jungles to the north, and open savannas to the south.

Less fortunately for both Bolivia’s environment and its people, the exploitation of the country’s considerable natural resources has also been nearly unparalleled: The country was once home to the Spanish colony’s richest silver and gold mine (Potosí); boasted one of the world’s richest tin mines (Siglo XX); and today has two of the world’s largest silver mines (San Cristóbal and San Bartolomé), an estimated half of world’s lithium reserves (Salar de Uyuni), the future largest iron ore mine (Mutún), and the second-largest proven gas reserves in South America (after Venezuela’s). It comes as no surprise that Bolivia’s history and environment have been dominated by relentless extraction.

Even since the 2006 election of indigenous president Evo Morales and his progressive government, the social pressure to satisfy the country’s immediate economic needs through extractive industries that destroy the natural environment—primarily natural gas, mining, and forestry—remains as strong as ever. Moreover, the government confronts a terrible legacy of ecological degradation. For despite a relatively low population density, about a quarter of the national territory, or 60 million acres, is environmentally degraded, with almost 17 million acres under threat, according to the Environmental Defense League (Lidema), Bolivia’s principal environmental coalition.1

Read the full article here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

All these environmental disasters happening in public land.
Perfect example of "tragedy of the commons."

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have often wondered why so many people are unconscious to environmental degradation. In Bolivia, it seems that there is a tendency to focus on a "politics of drama", divisiveness, indigenous romanticism, defecating on religion and church microphones, polemical accusations used just to get a rise out of people, of backstabbing and scapegoating at the expense of much more important issues like the environment.

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice article, linda. you are a legend.
though they happened on public land, private companies did the damage. nice comment 2nd anon.
democracies work slowly. but hopefully they work.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is not a democracy.... and progressive?....The Morales regime is just as corrupt as any of the previous... only less educated amd more ignorants.... crooks non the less

10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tambien the explotación de uranio es un peligro.
En Mayo 2009 un documento de la inteligencia de Israel acuso a Venezuela y Bolivia en que estaban conspirando con Irán para la explotación de uranio y de vender uranio para el programa nuclear iraní.

Ambos países negaron categóricamente la reclamación. Ministro Quintana denunciado públicamente las acusaciones y dijo “Creemos que (esa información) forma parte de la antología de la estupidez” y lo calificó como una “payasada”

Durante la asamblea de ALBA en Cochabamba, el presidente de Venezuela Hugo Chávez declaro que si, Venezuela estaba trabajando con Irán para la explotación de uranio.

Cuando es que nuestro presidente va declarar lo mismo, y la razón verdadera porque Irán le pago 280 mil dólares.

10:34 PM  
Anonymous cartouche d'encre said...

This is an excellent article. I usually don’t post on blogs but ya forced me to, great info.. excellent! I will add and bookmark your site.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The environmental destruction that is to come to the country makes me a sad bear =(

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A su juicio, la producción a gran escala de litio y su posterior utilización en la industria de baterías y automóviles a energía eléctrica será un gran beneficio para la región, para Bolivia y para el mundo que hace esfuerzos para cambiar la matriz energética de los automóviles “que está haciendo mucho daño al medioambiente y al planeta”.

Este proyecto es de toda Bolivia, de los potosinos, de todo el país y quizás de todos los trabajadores del mundo y de la humanidad porque ayuda a dejar de contaminar el medioambiente”, remarcó."

"La planta hidrometalúrgica de cobre de Corocoro tiene el propósito de convertirse en la “remediación” ambiental del sector, ya que descontaminará toda el área minera, al tratar las colas y los desmontes que dejaron las anteriores producciones hasta 1986, informó el director de Minería, Freddy Beltrán.

Indicó que los residuos que salgan de la actual producción de cobre (3.600 toneladas anuales), donde se aprovecha las colas y los desmontes, serán almacenados en diques de colas, que evitarán cualquier tipo de contaminación."

It's a tight line to walk, Correa in Ecuador also speaks out against NGOs and indigenous groups whose demands stifle development but asks Europe for billions to preserve a huge indigenous rainforest area bathed in petroleum.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent but long article which dismisses Bolivia's possiblities to benifit from extacting lithium

7:35 PM  
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7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lithium supplies from existing and expanded operations are more than sufficient to meet potential demand for 500,000 lithium-powered vehicles in 2015 and could meet demand for up to 2m lithium-powered EVs and HEVs in the same period, says US-based consultancy and financial services provider Gerson Lehrman Group."

I think its wrong to see any natural resource as being able to save the economy or end poverty, but the article underestimates the potential of lithium in several ways. As the above quote shows, the article is mostly a defense of the current lithium carbonate producers. Of course they don't want a new plant to go up which will immediately add 30% more product to the market. But they wouldn't be expanding their own capacity if they saw only moderate or temporary market growth, instead they would reap the higher prices.

The fact is, if the plant producing 30,000 tons of lithium carbonate is actually installed by 2013, then it will in fact produce a profit of several hundred million $ per year, which is not bad in itself. Bolivia can't control the whims of international capital or the big lithium companies (the producers of batteries, the owners of the technology, etc.) interest in transferring technology, but developing our own capacity first is a good idea.

And of course, if you consider how many tens of millions of cars are produced every year to run on gas, the article says that current production plus expansion could supply 2 million electric cars produced per year, but what about in 10 years when the numbers keep on growing?

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. I'm a bolivian Biology student and it's not the kind of information you get every day. This one is indeed, the challenge of the century, to protect ourselves from ourselves.
Going to pass the link to my colleages.
Thank you!

9:00 PM  

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