What About Bolivia?
On Sunday, as the left-wing Movimento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism) came roaring back to power in Bolivia, one of the world’s most talked about American billionaire entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, became a target for some on Twitter. Bolivian socialists led by Evo Morales were ousted last year after a rightwing group supposedly backed by the US government successfully challenged him in the presidential run-off. This resulted in interim president Jeanine Áñez’s appointment. Morales resigned after 13 years in office.
So far, so very Latin American. But where’s the Musk connection?
In July Musk had tweeted “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it”, giving fuel to a conspiracy theory that lithium, a chemical element integral to Tesla’s electric car business, was the motive behind Morales’ downfall in November 2019. In Bolivia, this was seen as a ‘confession’ on Musk’s part of a role in a “lithium coup” – an apparently dastardly plan to gain access to prized lithium reserves in Bolivia, one of the world’s largest. Everywhere else, though, this was just seen as a conspiracy theory – a leftwing one, for a change. Musk, in fact, later said his companies get their lithium from Australia.
Ok, but is any foreign entity involved in Bolivia’s lithium business?
Sure. And it’s the usual suspect these days – China. Currently, only a small fraction of Bolivia’s 9 million tonnes of lithium gets mined. The country’s state lithium company — Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos Corporation — tapped a Chinese consortium led by Xinjiang TBEA Co Ltd, for lithium projects estimated to be worth $2.3 billion. China is the biggest global consumer of lithium, and, as per Reuters, it will need “800,000 tonnes of the metal per year by 2025 to support its booming electric car industry.”
But, hey, even India is in the game, even if in a small way.
India gained access to Bolivia’s lithium reserves when President Ramnath Kovind visited the country in April 2019. Agreements between YLB and Khanj Bidesh India Ltd were signed. Those agreements, as ET Auto reported at the time, “is supposed to form the backbone” of the FAME policy and “will also give a substantial push to India’s ambition to have at least 30% of its vehicles run on electric batteries by 2030.”
One last thing. Do we have lithium?
Yes, a small reserve. It was discovered in Mandya earlier this year; 14,000 tonnes capacity. India will need lot more than that if e-cars are to become the next big thing.