Archive for October, 2009

Bolivia may support Peru’s campaign against regional armaments build up

October 29, 2009

Isabel Guerra

According to Bolivia’s Ambassador to Peru, Franz Solano, his country has “open doors” for listening to Peru’s proposal on regional disarmament.

“Bolivia’s doors are open to analyze this proposal, in the frame of peace, brotherhood and development of the peoples,” ambassador Solano told the press.

He also said that Bolivia is a country that loves peace and does not like any arms buildup in South America. Bolivia would always support initiatives to reduce excessive arms expenses and boost the fight against poverty, Solano declared.

However, international press reported recently that Bolivia made a major purchase of military equipment worth over US $100 million dollars.

Peru is currently promoting a campaign against arms buildup in the region.

Source: Living in Peru


CLIMATE CHANGE-BOLIVIA: Climbing a ‘Dead’ Glacier

October 29, 2009

By Franz Chávez

CHACALTAYA, Bolivia, Oct 28 (IPS) – The rapid disappearance of glaciers and the subsequent exhaustion of water sources are pushing indigenous communities in the Bolivian highlands even further into poverty, Bolivian experts told IPS, adding that an increase in awareness about climate change is desperately needed.

Global warming has led to the loss of snow and ice in the Andes mountains, said Carmen Capriles, head of the climate change unit in the Bolivian branch of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

She spoke with IPS during a visit to Chacaltaya, a mountain 30 km from La Paz whose peak reaches 5,530 metres above sea level.

Chacaltaya is an example of a “dead glacier.” Until a decade ago, it was still the world’s highest ski run. But adventurous skiers from around the world can no longer bomb down its slopes.

The glacier finished melting away earlier this year, and Chacaltaya is now an expanse of grey and brown rock and soil.

But when around 100 activists and reporters climbed the mountain last weekend in an activity organised by Bolivian NGOs as part of the international global grassroots campaign against climate change, we were caught off guard by an unusual spring snowstorm, which quickly covered the roof of the only shelter on the mountain, while snowflakes landed on our faces and clothing.

“It’s a miracle from heaven,” said the president of the association of tourism journalists in Bolivia, Jorge Amonzabel, who is a defender of the environment as well as a skier.

Around 20 local organisations took part in the activity as part of the campaign, which takes its name from 350 parts per million, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere considered by researchers like NASA scientist James Hansen and Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as a safe upper limit to avoid a climate tipping point.

The campaign wants the December climate change summit in Copenhagen to adopt a new treaty that would set a 350 ppm target for CO2 concentration.

A snowstorm in late October (which is springtime in the southern hemisphere) is unusual in Bolivia and could be attributed to climate change, said Amonzabel, as he gazed at the world-famous ski run, now just an expanse of rock and earth, with a mixture of shock and sadness.

Bolivia is highly vulnerable to global environmental, social and economic changes, said Capriles.

The food security of highlands communities is facing a serious threat, she noted, because drought has reduced the harvests of potatoes and grains, and hay for livestock, while the increasingly infrequent periods of low temperatures are a hurdle to freeze drying potatoes as “chuño”.

This staple food item is prepared by freezing the potatoes overnight, dehydrating them by squashing them flat and laying them out on rooftops to dry in the sun.

Traditionally, subsistence farming families in rural areas of Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, have sold their surplus crops at market to be able to pay for other necessary goods and services. But now they are forced to sell what little they grow, which leaves them without food, said Capriles.

Psychologist Daniela Leytón, head of gender issues with Latin America, said that instead of being mere spectators of global warming, Bolivians can become “active in a country that is vulnerable due to its high levels of poverty, where physical effects are visible, like the melting of the snows of Chacaltaya.”

“We have the chance to mobilise and channel our demands in an effective manner,” she told IPS.

Leytón said women feel the effects of global warming because of their traditional roles and the discrimination and poverty that affects them disproportionately. That is why she became part of a movement that, as well as defending women’s rights, is urging the world to take action to fight climate change.

Women in low-lying areas in eastern Bolivia now know ahead of time that in January and February, they will be forced by the floods to leave their homes and move to areas that are not necessarily suitable for living.

The activist underscored the creativity of women heads of households who are fighting malnutrition by producing and preserving healthy, safe protein-rich foods in solar cookers and driers.

Capriles said the Chacaltaya glacier did not only suffer the impact of rising temperatures but also of the extraction of ice for use in ice cream and butcher shops in the nearby city of El Alto, which is basically a vast working-class suburb of La Paz.

Luis Tórrez, an engineer who specialises in climate change and urban development, recommended that housing be redesigned to adapt it to events like storms and mudslides, since in his view the world will continue to use fossil fuels for many more years. (END/2009)

Source: IPS

Bolivian President Inaugurates Copper Plant

October 29, 2009
LA PAZ – President Evo Morales inaugurated a state-run metallurgical plant in Bolivia’s highlands that will produce 3,600 tons of metallic copper, part of his administration’s plans to reactivate the Coro Coro mining project.

Morales said his government has succeeded in “modernizing” that mine in the western province of La Paz and will be able to export “3,600 tons of high-purity electrolytic copper per year.”

The president, a socialist and Aymara Indian, said the Comibol state copper corporation has invested $18.5 million in the plant, which currently has 160 workers.

Comibol said it plans to recover its initial investment in about five years.

“The first stage of reactivating Coro Coro is complete and now we have to keep going,” Morales told hundreds of miners gathered at the installations of the plant, whose output is expected to rise in the short term to some 5,000 tons per year.

According to Morales, 55 percent of the plant’s total profits will be “for the state and the Bolivian people” and the remaining 45 percent for the company that invests in a future expansion of the project.

Russia, South Korea and Japan have expressed interest in importing copper cathodes, the Bolivian leader said, adding that the first buyer will be selected at the beginning of 2010 in a bidding process.

“This doesn’t end here. This is the first stage, what we’ve started with our own money. To go further we need partners,” Morales said, noting that South Korean firm Kores has signed a deal to invest in another larger plant in that same location.

The South Korean firm, which is partnering with Comibol, expects the amount of copper produced at the other facility will be between six and eight times greater than that of the plant inaugurated Tuesday.

The government said Kores will initially invest $10 million in copper development, but that that total could rise to as much as $200 million over the next couple of years.

Tuesday’s inauguration will lead to the resumption of copper exports, which had been halted since 1987 due to the shutting down of companies’ operations by “the neo-liberal governments,” the president said, employing a slur used by leftists to describe advocates of free-market, laissez-faire economic policies.

“(That) happened due to a lack of consciousness and logic on our part and since 1986 we had to fight some 20 years against the neo-liberal (laissez faire) power, but we (won the presidency) and began recovering and reactivating Coro Coro,” Morales said. EFE

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

Bolivia looks abroad to help tap lithium riches

October 29, 2009

A dozen 600-liter barrels full of metal brine sit on a warehouse floor ready to be shipped abroad for analysis, the first step in Bolivia’s quest to exploit vast lithium deposits in the sprawling Uyuni salt flats.

Bolivia has half of the world’s known reserves of lithium — a key mineral used especially in rechargeable batteries, as well as everything from cell phones and laptops to electric cars.

With demand for lithium expected to boom in coming years, Bolivia — one of the poorest countries in South America — is sitting on something potentially more valuable than a gold mine.

The lithium is found in Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world.

Bolivian officials say there are 100 million tonnes of lithium under this desolate, 10,000 square kilometer (3,900 square mile) tourist attraction near the border with Chile, 3,650 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level.

The state-run Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol) is sending the samples to the French Bollore Group, Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, and South Korea’s Korea Resource Corporation (KORES) to study the mineral composition of the salt flats.

Each barrel that leaves Uyuni contains lithium, along with potassium chloride, potassium sulphate, boric acid and magensium chloride, in different proportions which, in the initial stage, are obtained via evaporation.

Under the tough salty surface there is an ocean of brine where the lithium is found.

Miners reach the briny layer by drilling a hole and sinking a tube with an opening 15 centimeters (six inches) in diameter, five-200 meters (16-650 feet) below the salty surface.

Officials say the Uyuni’s natural beauty will not be harmed by the drilling because the holes are covered up once the brine is removed, heavy machinery flattens the site, and rain eventually erases all traces of human activity.

Marcelo Castro, director of the state-run Lithium Pilot Plant, located on the southern edge of the salt flats, estimates there are a good 100 million tonnes of lithium at the site.

Lithium extraction “is not only important for Bolivia because of the economic resources it will generate, but for the whole world, because being a source of clean energy it will help mitigate global warming,” Castro told AFP.

He will be in charge of getting the pilot plant, currently being built at a cost of six million dollars, up and running.

Next year it is expected to produce some 40 tonnes a month of lithium carbonate, a compound used in medicine, the generation of energy, glass and construction materials.

The government plans to sink 300 to 400 million dollars into the project’s initial phase. Castro said that cost will be covered “100 percent” by the government.

The second phase involving the production of lithium metal will require an 800-million-dollar investment which it is expected the Japanese, Korean and French concerns will back through investment and cooperation agreements.

The final phase of the project calls for manufacturing lithium batteries, for which there is no dollar estimate but which necessarily will rely on foreign capital, technology and market outlets.

Bollore and mining partner Eramet in September made a 1.2 billion dollar investment offer to carry out the project, including building a lithium battery factory.

Despite all the foreign investment the lithium project requires, Bolivia said it expects to keep at least a 60 percent ownership.

“The industrialization of these salt flats is strategic” in nature, said Comibol’s mining expert Saul Villegas.

“We want to develop a real, state-controlled industrial line that provides social and economic benefits to the country, not just high profits for foreign companies.”


Bolivia: The myth of the Saudi Arabia of lithium

October 29, 2009

Bolivia produces no lithium, though it is sometimes called “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” because its still-untapped salares are thought to contain nearly 50 percent of the world’s estimated lithium reserves.

Bolivia: The myth of the Saudi Arabia of lithium

Lithium can be obtained in small quantities in the form of lithium chloride (LiCl) from just about anywhere in the world, but concentrated deposits — called salares — are found only in a few places. Salares result when pools of salt water, which contain LiCl, accumulate in basins that lack drainage outlets, allowing the water to gradually evaporate and leave dense layers of salt behind. Underneath the dried salt layer is a layer of brine — groundwater with a high concentration of LiCl in solution. It is this brine that is highly prized as a source of lithium.

For a lithium deposit to be commercially viable, it must have a large amount of lithium that is not contaminated with too much magnesium, and it must be in a location where natural evaporation will concentrate the watery solution where LiCl is normally found. Factors that contribute to increased evaporation include low air pressure found at high altitudes, low precipitation, frequent winds, high temperatures and exposure to solar radiation.

Thus, commercial lithium deposits are found along volcanic belts in the earth’s desert regions. The process of harvesting LiCl exploits the same natural process that initially created the salt flat — evaporation. Brine is pumped from beneath the crust into shallow pools on the surface of the salt flat, where it is left to bake in the sun for about a year. During this period, the LiCl becomes more concentrated as the brine is reduced by solar radiation, heat and wind.

To be used in a lithium battery, however, the LiCl must first react with soda ash to precipitate lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), which can then be processed into metallic lithium for use in making a battery’s cathode. This usually takes place at off-site chemical processing plants, making it necessary to transport the lithium by tanker — something that becomes economically viable only after the lithium solution is sufficiently concentrated. Thus, the rate at which the water evaporates is quite important for economical harvesting of lithium, and it also influences the size (and therefore the environmental footprint) of the solar ponds required to achieve economic concentrations.

After the lithium is extracted, it must be processed for use in batteries, and only a few producers have the required capital and capacity to manufacture lithium batteries. Currently, most companies that can supply lithium-ion batteries for vehicles are joint ventures between auto manufacturers and technology firms. Of these, seven are based in Japan, two are in the United States, two are in Korea and one is in China. These few producers rely on even fewer suppliers for the components — primarily the anodes, cathodes, separator and electrolytic salt — of lithium-ion batteries. The most specialized step in the process is the production of the electrolytic salt used in lithium-ion batteries. That salt (lithium hexafluorophosphate) is produced only in Japan at two complexes, one in Okayama prefecture and the other in Osaka prefecture.

An estimated 70 percent of the world’s LiCl deposits are found in South America. Chile is the world’s largest producer of LiCl — not only because Chile already has highly developed mining, transport and processing infrastructure, but because its climate and geography are favorable for the evaporation that is central to producing lithium.

The Salar de Atacama is located in the Atacama Desert, which receives almost no rainfall and has high winds, low humidity and relatively high average temperatures. Together, these features make the Salar de Atacama the second-driest place on earth, after Antarctica.

Argentina has the world’s third-largest estimated lithium reserves. Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto’s average elevation is nearly twice that of Salar de Atacama, but what it gains in altitude it sacrifices in net evaporation. Though its evaporation rate is only about 72 percent of Atacama’s, Salar de Hombre Muerto is still commercially successful because costs are low and are further offset by the sale of recoverable byproducts like boric acid.

Bolivia produces no lithium, though it is sometimes called “the Saudi Arabia of lithium” because its still-untapped salares are thought to contain nearly 50 percent of the world’s estimated lithium reserves, most of which is found within the brines of the vaunted Salar de Uyuni. Attention to Bolivia’s reserves has increased strongly in recent years, with South Korea, Japan and France showing particularly strong interest (China is rumored to be interested as well). However, having a resource does not mean it can be brought to market at a reasonable cost.

Uyuni’s higher rainfall and cooler climate means that its evaporation rate is not even half that of Atacama’s. Achieving the necessary concentrations is further complicated because the lithium in the Uyuni brine is not very concentrated, and the deposits are spread across a vast area. Uyuni also has a high ratio of magnesium to lithium within the brine, which means the magnesium must be removed through an expensive chemical process. This is something Chile has handled with relative ease, but Uyuni’s deposits have three times the magnesium concentrations of Atacama’s, making investment in Bolivia’s deposits much less economical.

Bolivia also lacks established infrastructure, and any serious investments in Uyuni would require extensive spending upfront on infrastructure development. Combined with the highly unwelcoming investment climate in Bolivia, there is no guarantee that the country will be able to attract the massive investment necessary to develop its reserves, despite the rise of global interest in lithium. It will be difficult for the Bolivian government to achieve its goal of becoming a center of lithium processing. This is not to say that Bolivia could never be a major lithium producer, but in the short- to medium-term, Chile will continue to dominate global lithium markets.

Many of the articles used the phrase, “The Saudi Arabia of lithium,” when describing the nation, although a few stories correctly referred to Bolivia’s neighbor Chile by that sobriquet. Despite its potential, Bolivia has yet to start producing any lithium. Bolivia’s potential is “very exaggerated,” says Eric Norris, global commercial director of the lithium division of US-based chemical producer FMC. “People are interested in Bolivia because of the size of its deposits, but if Bolivia does not enter the lithium market, it will have no impact.”

There is plenty of the metal elsewhere, Norris notes, whether in the rest of South America, Australia or Asia. Nor does US-based Rockwood Holdings, the parent of Germany-based lithium producer Chemetall, think Bolivia is the end-all. “We believe there are substantial, proven reserves at other existing sites to supply the expected growth in demand that is likely to be created by the introduction of EVs,” says Timothy McKenna, vice president, investor relations and communications, for Rockwood. Further, Rockwood expects that lithium from the large batteries used in EVs will be recycled, creating an additional supply source.

Chile provides 61% of lithium exports to the US, with Argentina providing 36%, says the US Geological Survey (USGS), with Chile having estimated reserves of 3m tonnes, and Argentina about 400,000 tonnes. Bolivia’s reserves, however, are projected at about 5.4m tonnes. The Andean areas between Bolivia, Argentina and Chile are referred to as the Lithium Triangle. At the 2009 Lithium Supply & Markets conference, held in Santiago, Chile, in January, global lithium reserves and resources were estimated at nearly 30m tonnes, with 7.6m tonnes from mining, and 17.6m in continental brines. Other lithium producing countries include Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Portugal, Serbia, the US (in Nevada) and Zimbabwe.

Lithium production via the brine method is much less expensive than mining, says John McNulty, analyst at global bank Credit Suisse. Lithium from minerals or ores costs about $4,200-4,500/tonne (€2,800-3,000/tonne) to produce, while brine-based lithium costs around $1,500-2,300/tonne to produce. Melting snow from the Andes Mountains runs about 130 feet (39.6 meters) underground, into lithium deposits, then gathering into pools of salt water, or brine. The brine is pumped out from under salt flats such as Chile’s Salar de Atacama, and spread among networks of ponds where the desert sun and high altitude provide a beneficial environment for evaporation.

It takes about a year for the brine to reach a lithium concentration of 6%, when it is shipped to a plant to be purified, dried and crystallized into lithium carbonate, which then is granulated into a fine powder for battery makers. Lithium stores a very large amount of energy for its volume, which makes it perfect for electronics. In a mobile phone or PDA, there is about one-tenth of an ounce (0.284g) of lithium in the battery. But EV batteries are projected to contain about 20lbs (9kg) of lithium. Lithium sells for roughly $1/kg, or $3/lb.

The major producers, called the “Lithium Three” by analysts, are Rockwood/Chemetall (with reserves in Nevada and Chile), FMC (Argentina) and Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), based in Chile and 32% owned by PotashCorp of Saskatchewan and 2% by Japan’s Kowa. Basically, none of these companies appear interested in Bolivia. “It is well-known that Bolivia has large deposits of lithium,” says McKenna. “However, there are practical barriers to developing these deposits.”

UK-based consultancy Roskill Information Services says the ratio of magnesium to lithium is much higher in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni than at the Salar de Atacama in Chile, the Silver Peak operation in Nevada, or in Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto, which will lead to higher extraction and processing costs. The Bolivian salar is also at a much higher altitude, resulting in less efficient evaporation. Then there is Bolivia’s limited infrastructure, compared with that of Chile, Argentina or the US. “Any developer would have to factor the cost of these barriers into development and eventual production,” says McKenna.

Also, the Salar de Uyuni floods seasonally – compared with Chile’s Salar de Atacama, which has about one inch of rain every 13 years – further diluting the brine. But Bolivia’s biggest problem may be Bolivia itself. “Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, should not expect the derailment of oil-fueled vehicles to deliver an instant economic shot in the arm,” warns US-based Latin America-focused think-tank Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) research associates Andy Blair and Adam Bloom.

Bolivia has ruled out selling lithium as a raw material. Leftist president Evo Morales and his administration think that partners are welcome, as long as they use the lithium in Bolivia. In other words, partners must build battery factories and possibly EV/HEV assembly lines there. At a press conference in March, Morales said: “The state doesn’t see ever losing sovereignty over the lithium. Whoever wants to invest in it should be assured that the state must have control of 60% of the earnings.”

At the start of October, the government-run Bolivian Mining (Comibol) revealed its plan to invest about $400m to build a lithium carbonate plant at Salar de Uyuni. The facility’s capacity is projected at 20,000 tonnes/year, roughly 30% of current global supply. Bolivia says the site will be producing by 2014, but the government wants total control of the resource, and has turned away any offers for partnership.

Construction was started on a smaller processing facility in March 2008, and Bolivia says the plant will be completed by the end of 2009. The cost of this unit has risen from its initial estimate of $5.7m, to $8m, and was delayed by two months because of the lack of workers, as well as bad weather. At a Madrid press conference for his September visit with King Juan Carlos of Spain, Morales said: “Companies that respect Bolivian norms will be welcomed. We’re looking for investment, be it from private or state sector. We want partners – not owners of our natural resources.” In 2006, Morales nationalized the oil and gas industry, something that has made foreign gas companies stop investing there.

And with lithium, investors have been burned before in Bolivia. In 1990, US-based Lithco had planned to invest $46m in Salar de Uyuni, but hunger strikes and massive protests forced the company out, despite pro-capitalism former Bolivian president Jaime Paz Zamora’s protests. Lithco eventually set up operations at Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto, and eventually became part of FMC.

COHA warns that “processing raw lithium carbonate into lithium-ion batteries will be a protracted task due to Bolivia’s anemic economy.” Bolivia’s recent history has been tumultuous. A series of military coups from 1978 to 1980, and then a major economic crisis in the mid-1980s “shattered” the country, says COHA. The economic crisis culminated in 1985 with an inflation rate of 24,000%, which effectively crippled the government and raised the country’s foreign debt to $3bn, “over which Bolivia is still struggling to recover.”

And if Bolivia could solve its infrastructure and debt problems, would anyone still want their lithium? “The Bolivians are spending about $400m on the plant by the salar, but FMC, Chemetall and SQM can increase capacity at a fraction of that cost,” claims FMC’s Norris. Each of the Lithium Three can add roughly 25% more capacity with a $40m-50m investment, says Credit Suisse’s McNulty.

Bolivia forgets that growth to date has been driven by consumer electronics. “As of today, lithium is not being used in the vehicles on the road,” points out Norris. “These cars, while scheduled, are all under development.” 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.

With China’s capacity, including Tibet’s, adding another 10,000 tonnes/year of production capacity by the early 2010s, and several Canadian companies entering the market, “oversupply might be a more pressing question than lithium availability,” says the firm. During the Deutsche Bank Alternative Energy Conference in June, Rockwood CEO Seifi Ghasemi noted that the world had “more than adequate” lithium production capacity to reach the auto industry’s goals regarding batteries. “If the US market were 100% converted to EVs, the Salar de Atacama lithium resource in Chile could supply market needs for at least 100 years. At the 10% market penetration level, the Salar could satisfy market needs for 216 years.”

The Atacama resource is shared between Rockwood and SQM. And then, at the start of October – when Bolivia made its announcement about lithium production – SQM dropped a bomb when the company said it would be reducing prices by 20% for lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide to drive demand growth “in what we believe is an attempt to gain share,” says McNulty. SQM is also increasing capacity by 40,000 tonnes/year.

US bank BB&T Capital Markets managing director Frank Mitsch says: “While this lack of discipline bodes unfavorably for the competitive landscape,” SQM’s actions drive “long-term development of the lithium market.” “We believe SQM may be seeking to forestall new production capacity from being developed,” says David Begleiter, analyst at Germany’s Deutsche Bank.

SQM has flooded the market before. In the late 1990s, lithium prices approached $4,000/tonne, and lithium from mining operations, as opposed to brine operations, became economically viable. These producers were starting to enter the market when SQM flooded it, forcing prices down to roughly $1,400/tonne, effectively driving the new producers out. Given the weak economy and capacity expansion, the lithium market “is way oversupplied,” emphasized McNulty. “Pricing in the near term will be under significant pressure.”

Demand before the global recession had been growing at about 5–7%/year, but in 2009, the lithium industry contracted by about 30%, says Norris. However, “we see demand returning to those pre-2009 levels in another couple of years, with new applications, including car batteries, driving growth.”

Traditional markets will only see single-digit growth long-term, cautioned McNulty during Credit Suisse’s early October EVs conference call. He predicted that the lithium industry would enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.2% from 2009-2015. But incremental demand connected to lithium-ion batteries in EVs will push the CAGR from 2009-2020 to 10.3%, he noted.

“Currently, demand for lithium from automobiles is essentially zero,” said McNulty during the conference. “But by 2015, demand from EVs will be about 10,000 tonnes, expected to increase to 81,000 tonnes by 2020.”

Source: evwind

Bolivia to Start Producing Lithium Car Batteries in 2018

October 29, 2009
LA PAZ – Bolivia plans by 2018 to begin producing lithium batteries for use in electric cars, according to a plan outlined on Wednesday by the Andean nation’s deputy minister of Science and Technology.

Roger Carvajal told a press conference that President Evo Morales’ government has settled on a basic strategy for exploiting the vast lithium deposits in the Uyuni Salt Flats.

He discussed the plan on the eve of an international forum in La Paz on the industrialization of lithium.

The U.S. Geological Survey says that Uyuni, a 4,000-square-mile expanse in southwestern Bolivia some 12,000 feet above sea level, holds roughly half of the world’s 11 million metric tons of proven and probable lithium reserves.

Morales will inaugurate the conference in La Paz on Thursday before traveling to Uyuni to inspect construction of a pilot plant to produce lithium carbonate, the main component of rechargeable batteries used in laptop computers, cell phones, iPods and digital cameras.

The plan detailed by Carvajal also calls for Bolivia to begin producing lithium carbonate on a commercial scale in 2013.

While Chile, Argentina and China already produce lithium carbonate, their cumulative output is insufficient to meet global demand and Bolivia hopes to fill that gap.

Morales’ administration is demanding that foreign companies vying for access to the Uyuni deposits partner with the government to produce electric-car batteries – for which lithium, the lightest of all metals, is a crucial component – and even build an electric-car factory in the country.

Among the companies that have expressed interest are France’s Bollore, Japan’s Sumitomo and Mitsubishi and South Korea’s Kores and LG.

Those firms have agreed to join Bolivian professionals on a scientific advisory committee that is studying Bolivia’s lithium potential. EFE

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

Changing the World from a Bicycle

October 29, 2009

By Luis Baez and Pedro de la Hoz

The first time we spoke with Evo Morales in La Paz on a cold night in the austral winter of 2008, one of us, after finding out the birth date of our host, mentioned: “That same day in Havana Fidel summoned the people to create the Revolutionary National Militia.” The Bolivian President nodded, and after a short silence added: “That means I’m also a militiaman.”

Fifty years after his birth, on October 26th 1959, Evo will surely “celebrate” his birthday embroiled in one of his regular rounds. He will get up at four o’clock in the morning, dispatch the first items an hour later and be immersed in a whirlwind of work until well into the night.

Maybe he will travel to some part of Bolivia to inaugurate a facility, supervise a program, talk with residents, correcting outlooks, righting wrongs, and envisioning new possibilities for his people.

Since January 2006, Evo has been the President of all Bolivians. He won the presidency with more than 53% of the vote and was ratified by a referendum in August 2008 by an overwhelming majority.

Since the elections held on December 6th, the very first to be conducted under the new State Political Constitution, no other candidate seems capable of defeating him. In favour of Evo, there is an unprecedented trail of developments in the history of his country in terms of social justice, production incentives, education and health. He has restored the dignity of a people who have at last managed to benefit from all the profits coming from the exploitation of hydrocarbon and mineral resources. And the dignity of the descendants of the original settlers-Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and some thirty-indigenous ethnic communities -, who along with his government have gone from long suffered invisibility and denial to collective leadership participation.

Senator Antonio Peredo, who is also a policy analyst in the media, commented:

“At this moment I cannot see any consistent, serious figure, other than Evo, because the only program on the Right is to go back in time. The only program they hold is that U.S.  accepts us, that the D.E.A. again faces up to the coca growers, that nationalization is fine in theory but why nationalize if we have no capital and surrender our natural resources to the lowest bidder, and other old ideas like that. The opposition has run out of arguments. They cannot tell the people that they will keep the changes, and the people are convinced that the right path is to change and the only one who can do that is Evo Morales. “

This does not mean that such a path is clear. On the contrary, there are hovering manoeuvres and threats. In an exclusive interview, Juan Ramon Quintana, Minister of the Presidency, offered his views: 

“When you think of the great enemy, one must be careful to remember that the enemy does not have the virtue of political transparency, but the cunning of not offering itself as the great opponent and uses third parties. I could say that our opponents are politically palatable because they are incapable of producing an alternative project to the one we have. They are opponents ashamed of their reality, they have no identity, not even a doctrine of their own; their proposals are the result of external speculations, so they follow a script given them; therefore, they do not concern us much. What worry us are the great enemies of this Revolution:  once there were the transnationals until we hit them. Later they shifted to political secessionist projects but bit the dust. Today they are harassing us from the shadows, but we know who is behind this. Of course, they are using all unimaginable methods to undermine this process and, clearly, there was a prefecture civic coup; and then, they shifted from that coup attempt to a separatist terrorist coup adventure. I warn that that could lead to suicidal adventures. 

Evo received one great birthday present on the eve of the ALBA Summit held in Cochabamba last weekend. Comrade Fidel’s reflection entitled “A Nobel Prize for Evo” offered Cuban and world readers a very accurate profile of the Bolivian President’s merits.

On another night of confessions, Evo told us that sometimes he dreamed of Fidel, and as he had learned from his ancestors, the dreams were premonitions. We asked him to recall the first time he met the Commander in Chief: 

“It was at a ceremony held in Havana in 1992, he said. With the help of several friends I got together the money to buy a one-way air ticket to Havana. I travelled to Havana to visit Cuba and meet Fidel. I delivered a three-minute speech and Fidel was chairing the meeting. I did not get to greet him, but later I learned that he had noticed me. The return trip was complicated. I got a ticket to Lima, where I arrived with one dollar in my pocket and I exchanged it into Peruvian sols. Fortunately, a Peruvian friend, Juan Rojas, lent me a hundred dollars to cover the leg back to Bolivia. ” 

What about later?

“I have had several meetings with Fidel. He is the wise elder brother, whose basic principle is solidarity and the struggle for dignity and justice. Fidel is the best doctor in the world. You have to see how he cares about others’ health, and he is also a great teacher. I feel that Fidel is the Commander of the liberation forces of America.”

The day Evo was elected as the head of his union in the Chapare coca plantations – previously he had been sports secretary and later, and still is, chairman of the six Union Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba – he did not have the money to travel by bus to the assembly being held in Villa Tunari.

“I went by bike, he told us, and it was several miles away. I was riding along and thinking at the same time. Ideas were sprouting in the air. I thought that the world could not go on like that, very few having a lot and the majority having nothing. It became clear to me that our struggle would be anti-imperialist.” 

In the international arena, Evo has built up an impressive reputation for his diaphanous positions and ethical verticality in the defence of the dispossessed and Mother Earth. He has even earned good assessments from politicians, as was the case with former U.S. president Bill Clinton. According to an EFE news agency report on  May 16th  2006, he was asked during a press conference in New York what he thought about the nationalization of hydrocarbons and the situation in that South American country. Clinton responded in turn with a question: “What if I were a Bolivian miner who works 60 hours per week and has to feed four children, who have no prospect of progress?” Who would you vote for? ” 

Evo also regards Hugo Chavez as a brother. Chavez is reciprocal. At the recent bicentenary commemoration of the libertarian outcry for freedom in La Paz, he said:

“I see Evo stronger than ever, more clearly than ever, much more a leader than ever. Support him!  Do not listen to those voices of the oligarchy, which seeks to demonize him and confuse the people every day. (…) Join him with love and map out and build the great Bolivia of the 21st Century.”

Many things in this world amaze Evo. His supreme values are openness, honesty, decency and respect for the elderly. He does not stand for vanity or lying. He enjoys listening to various opinions before acting. In Cuba, he told us in confidence, he would just make one personal plea: “Let Silvio come to sing here.”

Source: Granma Daily

Latin America’s economic rebels

October 29, 2009

Ecuador and Bolivia are achieving remarkable growth because they reject conventional economic wisdom

Among the conventional wisdom that we hear every day in the business press is that developing countries should bend over backwards to create a friendly climate for foreign corporations, follow orthodox (neoliberal) macroeconomic policy advice and strive to achieve an investment-grade sovereign credit rating so as to attract more foreign capital.

Guess which country is expected to have the fastest economic growth in the Americas this year? Bolivia. The country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was elected in 2005 and took office in January 2006. Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, had been operating under IMF agreements for 20 consecutive years, and its per-capita income was lower than it had been 27 years earlier.

Evo sent the IMF packing just three months after he took office, and then moved to re-nationalise the hydrocarbons industry (mostly natural gas). Needless to say this did not sit well with the international corporate community. Nor did Bolivia’s decision in May 2007 to withdraw from the World Bank‘s international arbitration panel, which had a tendency to settle disputes in favour of international corporations and against governments.

But Bolivia’s re-nationalisation and increased royalties on hydrocarbons has given the government billions of dollars of additional revenue (Bolivia’s entire GDP is only about $16.6bn, with a population of 10 million people). These revenues have been useful for a government that wants to promote development, and especially to maintain growth during the downturn. Public investment increased from 6.3% of GDP in 2005 to 10.5% in 2009.

Bolivia’s growth through the current world downturn is even more remarkable in that it was hit hard by falling prices for its most important exports – natural gas and minerals – and also by a loss of important export preferences in the US market. The Bush administration cut off Bolivia’s trade preferences that were granted under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, allegedly to punish Bolivia for insufficient co-operation in the “war on drugs”.

In reality, it was more complicated: Bolivia expelled the US ambassador because of evidence that the US government was supporting the opposition to the Morales government, and the ATPDA revocation followed soon thereafter. In any case, the Obama administration has so far not changed the Bush administration’s policies toward Bolivia. But Bolivia has proven that it can do quite well without Washington’s co-operation.

Ecuador‘s leftist president, Rafael Correa, is an economist who, well before he was elected in December 2006, understood and wrote about the limitations of neoliberal economic dogma. He took office in 2007 and established an international tribunal to examine the legitimacy of the country’s debt. In November 2008 the commission found that part of the debt was not legally contracted, and in December Correa announced that the government would default on roughly $3.2bn of its international debt.

He was vilified in the business press, but the default was successful. Ecuador cleared a third of its foreign debt off its books by defaulting and then buying the debt back at about 35 cents on the dollar. The country’s international credit rating remains low, but no lower than it was before Correa’s election, and it was even raised a notch after the buyback was completed.

The Correa government also incurred foreign investors’ wrath by renegotiating its deals with foreign oil companies to capture a larger share of revenue as oil prices rose. And Correa has bucked pressure from Chevron and its powerful allies in Washington to drop his support of a lawsuit against the company for alleged pollution of ground waters, with damages that could exceed $27bn.

How has Ecuador done? Growth has averaged a healthy 4.5% over Correa’s first two years. And the government has made sure that it has trickled down: healthcare spending as a percent of GDP has doubled, and social spending in general has expanded considerably from 5.4% to 8.3% of GDP in two years. This includes a doubling of the cash transfer programme to poor households, a $474m increase in spending for housing, and other programmes for low-income families.

Ecuador was hit hard by a 77% drop in the price of its oil exports from June 2008 to February 2009, as well as a decline in remittances from abroad. Nonetheless it has weathered the storm pretty well. Other unorthodox policies, in addition to the debt default, have helped Ecuador to stimulate its economy without running too low on reserves.

Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar, so that rules out using exchange rate policy and most monetary policy for counter-cyclical efforts in a recession – a significant handicap. Instead, Ecuador was able to cut deals with China for a billion-dollar advance payment for oil and another $1bn loan.

The government also has begun requiring Ecuadorian banks to repatriate some of their reserves held abroad, expected to bring back another $1.2bn, and it has started repatriating $2.5bn in central bank reserves held abroad in order to finance another large stimulus package.

Ecuador’s growth will probably come in at about 1% this year, which is pretty good relative to most of the hemisphere. For example, Mexico, at the other end of the spectrum, is projected to have a 7.5% decline in GDP for 2009.

The standard reporting and even quasi-academic analysis of Bolivia and Ecuador says they are victims of populist, socialist, “anti-American” governments – aligned with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba, of course – and on the road to ruin. To be sure, both countries have many challenges ahead, the most important of which will be to implement economic strategies that can diversify and develop their economies over the long run. But they have made a good start so far, by giving the conventional wisdom of the economic and foreign policy establishment – in Washington and Europe – the respect it has earned.

Source: Guardian

Bolivia Studies the Disabled

October 29, 2009

37La Paz, Oct 28 (Prensa Latina) The Bolivian government announced on Wednesday that as of November a scientific research will start to register people with disabilities in order to treat them through social politics implemented by the Plurinational State.

  Minister of Health and Sports Ramiro Tapia told Prensa Latina that the mission will be dubbed Moto Mendez, in tribute to revolutionary activist from Tarija Eustaquio Moto Mendez Arena, a new challenge to be undertaken with the aid of Cuban doctors.

Tapia explained that specialists of the Bolivian Armed Forces Military Health System will also join the quartets that will tour communities to make this diagnosis.

Tapia said his ministry secured all necessary conditions to receive a contingent of Cuban doctors expected to arrive in western Santa Cruz region on November 2 in order to start this solidarity mission two days later.

Cuban Ambassador to Bolivia Rafael Dausa said that this beautiful initiative was immediately backed by President Evo Morales during the 7th Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) held in Cochabamba on October 16-17.

Source: Prensa Latina

Fidel Castro Congrats Bolivia’s Evo Morales

October 28, 2009

Imagen activa

Havana, Oct 27 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro sent a congratulation message to Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, on the occasion of his 50th birthday, on October 26.

  In a letter posted on Tuesday in the Cubadebate website, Fidel Castro stated “today, October 26, is an encouraging date for all peoples of Our America.”

Prensa Latina is posting below the full text of Fidel Castro’s letter.

Dear Evo:

The Cuban Revolution reached victory on January 1, 1959. You were born on October 26 of the same year.

We have withstood aggressions from the most powerful imperialist power in history throughout 50 years since then.

You were born during those times, a man of humble birth. You studied in humble schools, developed your eminent intelligence, fought nonstop, and currently govern a country that is part of the admirable Aymara-Quechua culture of your ancestors.

I am pleased to congratulate you especially for your 50th birthday. Today, October 26, is an encouraging date for all the peoples of Our America.

Fidel Castro Ruz

October 26, 2009

Source: Prensa Latina