Bolivia’s Lithium Production Disrupted by Protests

Protestors in Bolivia’s lithium rich Potosi region have blockaded a key processing plant near the Uyuni salt flats, demanding better benefits for local communities and larger royalties from extraction of the battery metal. Uyuni holds one of the world’s biggest deposits of lithium, the price of which has soared during the global efforts to electrify transportation. The protesters have threatened the government with an indefinite strike if Potosí does not receive more public works projects and royalties for lithium.

“Unfortunately there are authorities that have tried to generate a kind of division,” protest groups say. Local organizations further say that they “want the development of our department of Potosí, and of our region, because as a region we have given our resources in the past and we are going to continue giving our lithium.”

Potosi, which centuries ago hosted huge silver mines, has long butted heads with the central government over who should benefit from its riches. That is one reason Bolivia has long struggled to develop lithium commercially.

The unrest could jeopardize the government’s push to develop lithium projects and make batteries, including through a recent deal with a Chinese consortium led by the world’s biggest battery maker CATL.

Local authorities pledged to try to ease the tensions, saying “We are going to redouble our efforts as authorities … so that this mobilization is lifted,”

“We have a twenty-year window of time to take advantage of this resource and industrialize it in the country,” Ramos, Head of state-owned lithium company Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) said.

“The window of time is definite. We have to exploit it now.” Ramos added.

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