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Bolivia: A hidden treasure in the salt flats of Uyuni could liberate Bolivia from poverty

By Angie Washington

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UYUNI, BOLIVIA — Who can resist the thrill of a treasure hunt? Be it on the big screen or in the bindings of a pirate adventure book, the timeless idea of buried treasure captivates the imagination.

Here in Bolivia the hidden stash takes a non-traditional form. Instead of pirates hunting gold, pearls and diamonds, scientists and investors race to exploit the virtues of lithium hidden in the largest salt flat of the world (10,582 square miles).

As oil and gas reserves dwindle, new fuel sources emerge to fill the need. Batteries powered by lithium pose a smart alternative. While many inventors around the world seek to create the most economical version of the electric car, they share one thing in common, the lithium battery.

Uyuni Salt Flats.jpg

International interest turns to the land-locked country of Bolivia. The salt flats of Uyuni, on the western front of the nation, draw Japanese, Chileans, Argentineans, and others to propose an agreement beneficial to all involved.

In a thorough report about this new venture in the nation of Bolivia, the writers and editors of Upside Down World touch on the touchy issues surrounding the advantages and disadvantages of the current plans in an article entitled ‘Bolivia and it’s Lithium – Can the Gold of the 21st Century Lift a Nation Out of Poverty‘.

With a history of abuses in the extraction of natural resources, void of any consideration to the people of the nation, the current administration, leery of being taken advantage of, refuses to open the doors to any foreign companies. This may change after sufficient data gathered from the mini production plant set up by the Bolivians on the edge of the salt flat can help them make efficient policies for good relations with outside industries.

The estimated total cost to set up a well-run processing plant to extract the lithium and create an exportable product reaches close to one billion dollars. In its struggling state, the economy cannot sustain such an investment. Foreign funding must aid the endeavor. Time will tell how the government treads this treacherous path.

Controversy surrounds this opportunity. For example, the tourist industry in that region. How would the principle money-making industry be affected by the lithium plant?

People come from around the world to experience the otherworldly beauty of these salt flats. What about the environment as well? Could this natural beauty survive the contamination of the chemicals and other necessary improvements associated with the lithium industry? Unfortunately, the branch responsible for providing reports concerning the ecological impact is undermanned and lacks funding.

Uyuni Salt Flats view from a pertified island.jpgThe President Evo Morales hopes to placate both the established tourism groups and the progressive lithium groups. Millions of dollars have already been poured into the construction of an airport for Uyuni.

Talks between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina about a cooperative to process the lithium have begun. Since 85 percent of the world’s lithium reserves are hidden in these three countries this move of solidarity makes sense for the protection of the economy.

One can only hope that the lithium treasure hunt ends in providing wealth to the most impoverished nation of South America.


Learn more about Angie

Angie Washington lives with her husband and five kids in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the heart of South America. This has been her home since 2001. They run an orphanage called the House of Dreams and have a church called Christ Nation.


She believes faith without coffee is dead, enjoys laughing out loud, and collects cacti and kaleidoscopes.

Angie not only lives life to the fullest but it would probably be an understatement to say her life is full — full of children, full of love and full of the unpredictability that goes with living in another country.


Luckily, Angie shares her daily adventures at her blog “the @.” Readers can also follow her on Twitter at “atangie.”


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