Juan Evo Morales Ayma has been President of Bolivia since 2006. Born in a mining village in Bolivia's western Oruro department, Morales claims to be the country's first fully indigenous head of state. He is the leader of the Bolivian political party "Movimiento al Socialismo," which goes by the Spanish acronym MAS. The group's aims include transferring more power to the country's indigenous and poor communities, and when Morales took office he pledge to reduce poverty, ease restrictions on coca farmers, re-nationalize the country's energy sector, fight corruption, and increase taxes on the wealthy. He was elected to a second term in January, 2009 with a 63% majority.
Question: How will the increasing demand for lithium affect Bolivia's economy in the coming years?
Evo Morales: Lithium is like a beautiful lady, very much sought and pursued, especially in Bolivia. There is data indicating Bolivia has the largest reserves of lithium in the world.
Our policy is clear: that the state takes advantage of this natural resource, giving added value. But if the state has no capacity to invest in lithium, it will look for partners—not owners of lithium. The best partners would be national firms. But if we can't find a national company that we can partner with to industrialize lithium, private companies will enter the market.
We welcome private investment, but any company or national firm will be a partner of a venture where the result will go mainly to the Bolivian people. Of course, any investor is entitled to recover their investment and take profits. But be assured that these new functions with our partners will also be reinvested in our country for the benefit of the Bolivian people. The idea, as the central theme, is that any exploitation of lithium needs to be done in a way that respects the environment.
Recorded September 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman