…Even with its massive reserves, Bolivia has never built a lithium mine.
‘Lithium Is the Hope’
“Lithium is the hope not only for Bolivia but for all the people on the planet,” says Morales, who, according to polls, was probably elected to a second term in elections yesterday.
If Morales gets his way, he will upset a market now controlled by two publicly traded companies: Princeton, New Jersey-based Rockwood Holdings Inc., which is 29 percent owned by Henry Kravis’s KKR & Co., and Santiago-based Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile SA, or Soquimich.
These two companies produce about 70 percent of the world’s low-cost lithium from a salt flat in Chile, just across the Andes from Bolivia.
Investors are wooing President Morales to be partners in building a Bolivian mine. French billionaire Vincent Bollore, South Korea’s LG Corp. and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. and Sumitomo Corp. offered to join with Morales in the project. They’re already helping the government at no cost to design the mine.
So far, Morales has rebuffed outside investment, saying he wants to keep lithium in government hands to provide local Indians with jobs. Morales says he may change his mind if Bolivia can’t raise the $800 million it would cost for construction of a mine and processing plants.
‘Like Saudi Arabia’
“If the Bolivian state had the money, it would invest it,” he says. “If the state doesn’t have cash, then we’re going to look for investment.”