The lithium curse: why Bolivia has failed to turn minerals into gold – by Sarah Esther Maslin (The Economist/1843 Magazine – May 30, 2022)

Bolivians thought green energy would make them richer. Now locals worry they’ll be exploited again

The mountainous region of Potosí in southern Bolivia was one of the richest places in the Spanish Empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries more than half the world’s silver came from one mountain in the region. Potosí’s barren landscape has yielded plenty of other riches since then, including aluminium, lead and zinc.

In the 19th century a British company built a railway line to carry minerals from landlocked Bolivia to the Chilean coast, from where they were shipped to Europe. Potosí, home to a rail junction that connects La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital, with Chile and Argentina, remains an important transport hub.

Yet little of the wealth generated in the soil of Potosí over the centuries has stayed in Bolivia. Potosí is the poorest part of Bolivia, which is South America’s second-poorest country. More than two-thirds of Potosinos live in houses made from mud bricks or earth.

In the rainy season, when red clay turns to mud, the area’s unpaved roads become impassable. Its residents lack adequate health care and schools: a quarter of women still give birth at home; nearly 40% of adults only ever attended primary school and nearly 20% have never been to school.

For the rest of this article: