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Was the coup in Bolivia a "lithium coup"? Lithium is a key raw material for the emerging renewable transition, needed for EVs & battery storage. I've spent the last year researching lithium in South America & globally, I have thoughts about the lithium coup argument. A thread 1/
I agree the term "coup" is correct. But I am less convinced that the *motivation* for the coup was Bolivia's vast & mostly untapped lithium reserves. The "lithium coup" argument: Morales' resource nationalist policy provoked foreign investors& US gov. allies to destabilize him 2/
Why am I not (yet) convinced? Morales' lithium policy (state-led resource nationalism) isn't new: it has been in place for a decade. So why a coup now? In other words, lithium policy doesn't explain the timing of events; balance of class& political forces seems more relevant 3/
2nd the lithium coup argument assumes that lithium is scarce & investors/ powerful states will do anything to get it. But lithium isn't scarce in geological terms, or w/r/t demand. Right now there is a glut of lithium, prices are low, investment is likewise depressed 4/
Why is there a glut? Bc the policies that green capitalists are hoping will generate a consumer market for EVs/ storage & therefore demand for raw materials like lithium either haven't been implemented yet (US, Europe) or have been recently phased out (Chinese EV subsidies) 5/
In fact, several lithium companies are scaling back production or stockpiling reserves in the hopes of putting upward pressure on prices and/or in the event that when aforementioned policies kick in, they will increase demand & likewise prices 6/
Now, this simplifies things a bit: the glut of lithium isn't all high-quality enough for use in EVs, is more suited for smart phones or laptops. But the idea that lithium is scarce or so valuable that a coup would be staged to acquire it just doesn't add up for me 7/
This isn't to say that private capitalists won't benefit from potential transition to neoliberal& revanchist regime- they prob will. But cui bono isn't always cui planned it. Last thing: the coup *did* happen a week after Morales cancelled contract w German lithium firm ACISA 8/
The contract was a joint venture w state-owned YLB to industrialize lithium at Uyuni. But he cancelled it not bc he didn't want foreign capital involved-he negotiated& wanted the contract-but bc protesters in Potosí-where Uyuni is located-were dissatisfied with royalty levels 9/
It seems to me that the cancellation was a bid to renegotiate the contract. Morales & other leftist govs in region have used successfully this tactic in a variety of extractive sectors, resulting in higher state takes, and sometimes more spending on local communities 10/
Happy to be wrong about this. Would love to hear from @vijayprashad @bretgustafson @nick_w_estes @GregGrandin @james_m_wilt @JJABlair @rmbalcazar and others who I have heard make this argument/ engage in this debate.
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