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Bolivia and its Lithium: Can the ‘Gold of the 21st Century’ Lift a Nation out of Poverty?

Bolivia and its lithium – it is an emerging tale that has begun to capture the interest of journalists and the public alike. The New Yorker, the New York Times and other top-level journals have all come to Bolivia to examine what it means when the most impoverished nation in South America sits atop of what could be one of the most important sources of mineral wealth in the coming decades. With more than half the planet’s known lithium reserves, Bolivia may hold the keys to the future of the electric car, and just at a time when its President has declared that the nation, not foreign corporations, will control that development and make the profits.

But obviously, it is a story far more complicated than that. There are serious environmental questions, significant uncertainties about the future demand for lithium, and doubts about Bolivia’s capacities to pull off such an ambitious project.

Today the Democracy Center is proud to announce a major new study: Bolivia and its Lithium: Can the ‘Gold of the 21st Century’ Lift a Nation out of Poverty? Authored by Rebecca Hollender and myself, with a great deal of help from the entire Democracy Center team, the study is based on extensive field work and more than fifty interviews with scientific and economic experts, environmental organizations, community leaders in the Salar de Uyuni region, and some of the main government officials overseeing lithium development.

As with all our Democracy Center investigations, our aim with this new study is to take a complicated issue and make it as understandable as possible to a wide audience and, as before, we are making the report available for free here in both English and Spanish.

Read “Bolivia and its Lithium”

We invite you to read either the full report, or if you prefer a much more brief executive summary:

Read the full report in PDF here.
Read just the executive summary in PDF here.
Read either the report or the executive summary in Spanish here.

Join Us for our Public Launch of the Report in Cochabamba

If you are here in Cochabamba this week, join us Thursday evening for our public launch of the report:

When: Thursday, May 13 – 6:30pm

Where: The CESU Auditorium, Calle Calama #0235, at the corner of Calle Nathaniel Aguirre

Admission: Free

Note: Copies of the printed report will be available at this event for 10Bs.

Table of Contents

· Executive Summary

· Introduction: Bolivia and the Paradox of Plenty

· Part 1: Lithium – The Superhero of Metals:

A look at lithium and its many uses, at the emerging markets for lithium and questions about that market’s long-term prospects.

· Part 2: The Race for Bolivia’s Lithium:

An examination of the region where Bolivia’s lithium resides, of the key actors in Bolivia’s lithium chase and at the Bolivian government’s plans to exploit and export lithium.

· Part Three: The Challenges Ahead on Bolivia’s Lithium Highway

An analysis of the most urgent challenges that face Bolivia and its dreams of exploiting its lithium to its best advantage: the economics, potential environmental impacts, the threat to communities, and the capacity of the Bolivian government to manage its program.

· Conclusion: Can Bolivia Beat the Resource Curse?

Note: The Democracy Center’s report on Bolivia and lithium was funded by a grant from the Wallace Global Fund, a longtime funder of the Center’s work. For those interested in knowing about that foundation (based in Washington), here is the Web site. The Democracy Center is solely responsible for the content of the report and, as is always the case, no funder of the Center is ever given an advance reading of any of our materials or is allowed to modify what we write.

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