Latin America holds half the world’s lithium. How will increasing government control, foreign exploitation and a proposed Argentina-Chile-Bolivia alliance affect production?
Every day, 160km south-east of Antofagasta in Chile, some 2,500 miners don their overalls and head to the Escondida copper mine.
Meaning “hidden” in Spanish, the name Escondida comes from the mine’s main orebody, which does not outcrop on the surface but is concealed by hundreds of meters of overburden. Escondida is also the world’s largest copper mine, producing 2,904 tonnes of copper each day.
It is very much unhidden, as are Chile’s three other surface “supermines” (Collahuasi, El Teniente and Chuquicamata), which make up four of the ten largest copper mines worldwide. In fact, seven of the world’s ten most prolific copper mines are found in Latin America, with mines in Peru, Mexico and Panama joining Chile’s quartet.
Together, Chile, Peru and Mexico control 36.4% of the world’s copper reserves – and account for 40.8% of the highly-conductive metal’s global production. In 2021, Chile produced 56.25 million tonnes of copper from its 2 billion tonnes of reserves. This represents 26.5% of global copper production from Chile’s 21.3% of global copper reserves.
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