The mountain of Cerro Rico overlooking the city of Potosí, Bolivia
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA–At the time of my last writing, I was heading from Cochabamba to Potosí. This time, I’m in La Paz—in Nuestra Señora de la Paz. I arrived this morning by bus to encounter the snowed mountain peaks that flank this vertiginous city. More road and more mountains.
I spent the past two weeks in the city of Potosí and the small but mighty town of Uyuni. I spoke with journalists, chemical engineers, local union organizers and several miners who continue to dig deeper and deeper into the Cerro Rico of Potosí. I used to see Cerro Rico as a living reminder of this country’s troubled natural resource history. That mountain single-handedly funded the Spanish colonial enterprise for centuries. But after spending an evening inside one of the mines, I now think it’s a more of a living reality. Today, it funds the meager existence of a small group of men who work in the dark so their children can live in the light.
These are some of the unknown complexities I’ve been learning about along the way. I guess it’s something one should expect from this type of research.
Just last week, I met a man who is quietly working in the chemical labs of a local university in Potosí. He’s trying to perfect the lithium-extraction process. He has been alienated from the “official” lithium “national strategy,” but believes that he can contribute and change the economic future of this country. There’s a lot of dignity in his work. There’s a lot of dignity in every Bolivian I’ve met in my travels.
Tonight I had dinner at a Cuban place in downtown La Paz in honor of my NYU friends who are on the island right this moment. Cheers to them and their projects.
Posted by Juan Víctor Fajardo – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU
Just a cool bus and a bicycling man in Cochabamba, Bolivia
The Plurinational State of Bolivia holds the key to the world’s energetic future. Tucked away under the salt flats of Uyuni, in southwestern Bolivia, lies the largest lithium reserve on the planet. Lithium, a metal now known as “the gold of the 21st century,” is the number one candidate to power the electric cars of tomorrow. Some experts say it will quickly become the most coveted metal in the world, which explains why carmakers and governments from around the globe have suddenly fixed their gaze on Bolivia.
But even before Bolivia was a sovereign nation, it has been the extraction site of one resource wealth after another. First it was the silver-rich Cerro Rico in Potosí. Then it was tin followed by oil and natural gas. At every turn, Bolivia has exported highly valuable resources to the benefit of foreign investors and to the detriment of its own struggling economy. Today, the question on everyone’s mind is: will lithium become yet another chapter of this troubled story? That’s precisely the question I’m trying to answer in my travels. Continue reading