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  • Evo Morales launching new development projects in the department of Potosi.

    Evo Morales launching new development projects in the department of Potosi. | Photo: ABI

Published 19 June 2019

Bolivia's Evo Morales isn't exporting the raw material to the Global North, but industrializing the metal to sell on the international market.

Through state-led investments, Bolivia is making large strides in industrializing the country’s natural resources, namely lithium.

During a new announcement Tuesday, Bolivian officials said the state has the reserves and capacity to produce up to 400,000 lithium batteries per year. The announcement signals a departure from the country's exportation of raw materials and the industrialization for the international market.  

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Juan Carlos Montenegro, an official at Bolivia’s nationalized energy company, Bolivian Oil Fields (YPFB), announced Tuesday that the company will soon be able to produce up to 400,000 lithium batteries per year, in partnership with the German firm, ACI Systems GmbH.

Lithium is expected to become an extremely important material in manufacturing over the coming years as it's a component part of electric cars, aircraft, batteries, cell phones and even medicines. Bolivia has huge reserves of the maleable metal in its iconic Salar de Uyuni salt flats in southern Potosi. Bolivia is thought to have 43 percent of the world's known natural resource supplies.

However, Bolivia’s leftist government under President Evo Morales is not simply exporting the raw material to the global north for high-end manufacturing, as has been the case throughout much of the colonized Latin American region for decades. Morales's administration is determined to industrialize Bolivia and has invested huge amounts to ensure that lithium is processed within the country to export it only in value-added form, such as in batteries.

Evo has also turned around the nation's natural gas industry that used to export the raw material and import refined gas for cooking and heating. Since Morales took office in 2006, the now state-owned YPFB exports refined gas to Argentina, Peru and Paraguay, meaning far larger revenues for the public purse. 

Bolivia has known of its large lithium reserves since the 1970s, but failed to capitalize on the mineral during the neoliberal era. The pro-government group, La Resistencia, says this was caused by "economic instability, lack of political decision and subordination to the United States." The group says that Morales has brought about the change to how lithium is handled.

"Bolivia is now the fastest growing country in the region, has political, economic and social stability for almost a decade and ... has the political will to continue growing and developing its productive base using the Bolivian economic model," La Resistencia said. 

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