Despite the promise of former president Evo Morales, Bolivia has not yet managed to industrially manufacture batteries with lithium from the Uyuni salt flat for export.
A dispute between two sectors of the department of Potos√≠, whose deposit is considered one of the largest in the world, has led the current transitional government to change the manager of the state-owned company Yacimientos de Litio Boliviano (YLB) three times in just two months.
That is one more effect of the acute political crisis in Bolivia, which led to Morales‚Äô departure from power on 10 November. The new government ‚Äď which must be elected in August ‚Äď will have to rethink the country‚Äôs plan for its lithium, whose exploitation interests several Chinese companies.
To complete the cycle from exploitation to industrialisation, the Evo government formed a joint venture with Germany‚Äôs ACI Systems for the production of lithium hydroxide, a compound¬† used to manufacture batteries. The Potos√≠ Civic Committee (Comcipo), which brings together concerned citizens, rejected it, arguing that it was not beneficial to the region or the country.
Faced with social pressure, Evo broke that partnership on 3 November 2019, a week before leaving power.
The government of interim president Jeanine √Ā√Īez has so far not defined how to industrialise the mineral. For now, she is seeking to minimise the negative impact of a lawsuit with the departed German company.
Meanwhile, at least two citizen groups ‚Äď the Southern Civic Committee as well as Comcipo ‚Äď were pressuring the government before the pandemic to participate in the debate on how to make resource exploitation benefit the local populations.
‚ÄúTruthfully, everything is uncertain. With the way they are changing the manager so often, it is not possible to go forward with anything. What we must do is wait for the elections and the new government,‚ÄĚ said Marisol Cabrera, a member of the residents of Uyuni, who rejected the appointment of Juan Carlos Zuleta, the previous YLB manager, at their last demonstration in La Paz.
She was in Uyuni the second week of February following activities carried out by the new manager Gunnar Valda Vargas at the YLB plants and local populations.
The presidential elections, which were scheduled for 3 May, have been postponed until August due to Covid-19.