Electric car manufacturers looked on with interest at recent political events in Bolivia, a key source of raw materials for their products.
The Andean nation is home to at least a quarter of global lithium reserves, or roughly 5.4 million tons of extractable material. The world’s largest deposit, the Uyuni salt flat, is to be found in Bolivia and can be seen from Space. Lithium is the key material required in the production of high efficiency batteries and as such will be essential in any coming future of electric cars.
Recent figures presented by Geotab, which provides data analytics to fleet car operators, suggest that among Londoners looking for a new car 76% would consider going electric compared to 57% for the rest of the UK. 23% of Londoners fully expect their next car to be electric.
Bolivia’s socialist president Evo Morales was toppled in a military coup on 10th November after weeks of right wing protests at alleged irregularities in his latest re-election. Morales, as well as well over half of his country, is indigenous and as its first indigenous president had sought to represent the interests of their typically poor rural communities. His measures to do this included providing the locals of Bolivia’s lithium areas some control of the ‘white gold’ underneath their feet through a new constitution passed in 2017.
While Bolivia’s lithium deposits are vast and potentially transformative, a variety of technical and financial difficulties have held them back from full exploitation. In particular, the electric car industry has not experienced the take off in production many lithium extractors had hoped for and still only represents 0.7% of car manufactures worldwide. As a result, many lithium miners over invested and are stuck with unprofitably low commodity prices.
It is unclear if lithium had any bearing on the coup supporters plans which mostly seem to be motivated by a deeply radicalised hatred of Morales and his movement. Protestors chanting ‘kill the Indian’ were common in the days before the coup and in the days since the Wiphala flag, which represents the indigenous population of Bolivia and Morales gave equal status with the national flag, has been widely burned. Members of one of the lead groups among the protestors, the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, openly display Nazi salutes and the Swastika.