In a tweet back in may by Kawsachun News, a video shows indigenous natives of Bolivia standing up for what’s been happening to them in this industry. “Authorities from Chayanta, Norte Potosí say Bolivia’s lithium is being ransacked from the indigenous people,” the caption read. Today, for the natives in Potosí, lithium is the new silver.
Authorities from Chayanta, Norte Potosi say Bolivia's lithium is being ransacked from the indigenous peoples. pic.twitter.com/S1NQJED1C0
— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) May 24, 2020
In the video embedded in the tweet, the native took a stand for her beautiful people, a stand for the people of Potosí Villa Imperial de Potosí, where Native American workers were forced to work in the silver mines for silver that they never saw. Not only did they never get access to this wealth, but they were also enslaved. The history for this region is brutal and the people suffered terribly. The colonizers forced the natives into slavery to mine the silver.
Native American Slaves Died For Silver
Many died from the harsh conditions they were forced to endure as well as from natural gases. Whether it was pneumonia or mercury poisoning, those involved in the refining process died. In fact, their deaths were so numerous that the colonizer requested African slaves from the Madrid Crown to help mine the precious metal. Although this was back in the 1600s, today, to an extent, it appears that lithium is the new silver for the descendants of those who survived, and they are not about to allow a repeat of history.
“How much is lithium? How much of our money/resources has been exported from Potosí? And us? Potosí, what about us? We’ve been receiving nothing. How is it that the U.S. has been enriched? Spain has been enriched? But Potosí, Bolivia — what about us? Look at how our people are suffering. Here, the poverty is lamentable. Here, is entirely too much poverty. Brother reporter, maybe we have never been far enough inside (the community) the (standard of life) is regrettable but we will defend lithium because lithium belongs to Bolivia. Lithium belongs to Potosí. It belongs to the native indigenous peoples,” she said.
Lithium Mining In Potosí
The Harvard International Review published an article on the Lithium Triangle, an area in South America where Bolivia meets with Chile and Argentina. This area is rich in lithium. Bolivia is actually home to the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, which has massive lithium deposits. In 2008, Bolivia’s Vice President, Álvaro García Linera, said that this would relieve 40% of the citizens living in extreme poverty. The goal would be to teach them science and technology fields, but this hasn’t really come to fruition.
The Bolivian government and a German firm, ACI Systems Alemania, created a joint venture to invest $1.3 billion for the industrial use of lithium. However, this partnership is not helping the local population and they are not seeing any benefits of the work being done near their homes. Many of the unskilled indigenous workers don’t have access to well-paid jobs. The jobs that have been offered are few and this situation has led to recent protects in Potosí, where Salar de Uyuni is located. The protestors demanded higher royalties and a greater allocation of the revenue from the lithium mining. Instead of granting them this, however, the Bolivian government canceled the joint venture.
While Native Americans in South America are struggling as international corporations mine their lands without giving them benefits, it should be noted that out of the world’s top five lithium producers, only one has a human rights policy. Livent Corporation states that it is “committed to the protection and advancement of human rights.”
What Can Be Done To Help?
When you take in information such as what I presented, one would ask what is the point? Not in a negative sense but in a sense that says, “What do you want me to do about it?” In other words, there is always a reason for sharing a story. Education is key and one can learn about where the things that you consume come from.
In this case, the average American may not be able to do anything, unfortunately. Sign a petition, tweet or post, donate to a charity that you hope helps those impoverished in countries like Bolivia, which was one of the poorest Latin American countries up until 2014. You could buy your EVs or other products that require lithium batteries from companies that don’t source materials from countries that don’t care about the rights of their own people. I think one of the best ways consumers can help is by demanding that their products be made with supplies that do not infringe upon the human rights of the people where those materials are sourced. When consumers have a demand, corporations listen and do what it takes to meet that demand. Even if you do that, though, you may help them in the long run, but not the here and now.
One organization that focuses on human rights is Minority Rights Group International, and Bolivia is one of the countries on the list that it helps.