Lithium production is set to start this month, with finished product ready for export early in 2011. This will be extremely interesting, namely, because few countries as poor as Bolivia have tried to develop complex mining operations without foreign technical assistance. We’ll also see if actual production will make investment via a foreign partnership more attractive to big mining conglomerates. Something to keep an eye on.
There’s really no explaining this:
If you don’t want to end up bald or gay, don’t eat chicken, says Bolivian President Evo Morales. Speaking at an environmental conference this week in Cochabamba, Bolivia, (officially titled the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth) Morales told attendees in an inaugural address that chicken producers inject female hormones into the fowl, “and because of that, men who consume them have problems being men.”
Thousands at the conference reportedly laughed — perhaps nervously — when Morales made the statements. He also said hormone-injected chicken causes young girls’ breasts to grow prematurely, according to Noticias 24.
He also noted that hormone injection in chickens causes baldness, “a sickness in Europe.” What’s really amazing is Evo is marginally more sane than his opposition.
But going forward, the center of lithium influence is likely to shift to Bolivia, since vast reserves lie beneath its Salar de Uyuni salt flats. For the United States, this could be a problem: the Morales government remains hostile to U.S. concerns, and there is potential for instability given serious rifts in Bolivian politics. (emphasis added by Yglesias)
As Yglesias says, “[t]his mostly strikes me as an example of how the American foreign policy establishment’s ability to gin up ‘threats’ to our national security is really impressive.” It goes a bit beyond that, as if we wanted to improve our relations with Bolivia and Morales, we easily could.
But first, I think Yglesias does not frame the problem well. He argues, essentially, we shouldn’t worry because we have money, and since we have money, it’s a done-deal we’ll get a slice of the lithium. On the world commodity markets, I think that’s true. But if we want to get in on the extraction of lithium, and view that as a national security prerogative, I don’t think Bolivia will magically open the gates for us. Just in Asia, we are competing with China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea for lithium extraction rights. Yglesias likens the Bolivia/lithium issue to the Venezuela/oil issue, but there are key differences between the two. Neither the U.S. nor Bolivia are dependent on lithium the way the U.S. and Venezuelan economies are dependent on oil. This gives room for the both countries to shape the contours of the relationship and the economic structure of lithium extraction. If we don’t get our act together, I think it’s likely Bolivia will award contracts to states they are friendly with. For example, a state like China, who is working with Bolivia on creating a satellite. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to buy lithium, as it will be an internationally traded commodity, but our mining businesses will miss out and our national security apparatus might deem it prudent to have a hand in the extraction process.
Implicit in this conversation is the fact that the Morales government will keep tight control over any foreign venture extracting lithium. For our businesses to have a shot at getting in at the ground level, we need better bilateral relations with Bolivia. In a few easy steps America could drastically improve our relations with the Morales government, who is almost certain to win reelection, and gain a foothold for U.S. companies in any lithium extraction. There’s two things to keep in my mind. First, that Morales rise to power was a reaction to the failure of Goni’s presidency. And in the atmosphere where a president has fled the country for safe haven in the U.S. after riots and protests, the refusal of the U.S. to extradite the man to face charges in Bolivia makes anti-U.S. rhetoric an easy (and successful) electoral strategy. Second, the costs of bad relations with the U.S. hurts Bolivia a lot more than it hurts us.
In no particular order, these are a few actions that would directly improve U.S. relations with Bolivia at little cost to us:
- Reinstate our ambassador, like we did with Venezuela.
- Reinstate ATPDEA trade preferences for Bolivia, which is the only Andean excluded from the arrangement now.
- Extradite Goni back to Bolivia.
The point is these are all relatively painless actions for the U.S. and would buy goodwill with Morales, yet we refuse to do so. It’s almost as if we are trying to keep Morales mad at us, by deliberately sticking it to Bolivia. I’ll take CNAS’s national security blog post as an invitation for a Nirvana video, too:
Over at Abiding in Bolivia there’s a good post about how Evo predicted that the American conservative penchant for right-wing military coups might one day threaten Obama. I’m sure if a military coup took down Obama, it’d be completely constitutional as well.
The original Newsmax column calling for a military coup was taken down on the site, but Andrew Sullivan reposted the article.
Many times I respond to criticism (from people not all that familiar of Bolivian politics) of the Bolivian people for electing Evo by explaining that the opposition is not exactly the sort of people you vote for. Manfred Reyes Villa, who’s the second most popular opposition candidate, has picked a vice-presidential candidate to run with, and, well, he gets points for surprising people. The candidate is Leopoldo Fernández, and, he’s in jail. I last mentioned him because The Economist failed to mention that he’s in jail for allegedly orchestrating the massacre of over 20 indigenous people who supported Evo Morales. I wonder who is advising Villa, because picking this candidate, who’s in jail, not only makes it a bit harder to campaign, but might turn some people off, being that Fernández is in jail on charges of massacring over 20 people. Morales can easily turn people off, especially non-indigenous, but the opposition is also clearly insane.
Seriously. By the United Nations. Pachamama must be very proud. And, honestly, I’d like to be named world hero of something.
Via IKN, we see the latest polls from Bolivia. The big takeaway is Evo is going to win in a landslide and that the opposition is badly divided. It upsets people that Evo has focused much of his energy on improving the lot of Bolivia’s many indigenous communities. That was part of the push for the new constitution that came into effect this year. And Evo upsets Americans because he is a buddy of Chavez and gets carried away with anti-imperialism rhetoric. But the fact of the matter is that he has the support of a clear majority of the population, and I’ve never read anywhere that recent elections in Bolivia have been marred by fraud.