By Carlos A. Quiroga
With little to celebrate, the inhabitants of the mining city of Potosi, in southern Bolivia, lived on Monday its first day of full normality after four weeks of strikes and blockades that failed to twist the arm of Evo Morales leftist government.
Potosi suffers poverty in a poor country. City leaders say Bolivian governments in the last century have exhausted the riches of the department without having improved the lives of its inhabitants.
However, in this region there are still significant mineral deposits and, even better, the famous “Salar de Uyuni”, 12,000 square kilometers of salt flats considered the world’s largest reserves of lithium, is in Potosi.
Alongside the historic Cerro Rico, with its giant silver mine at over 4,999 meters above the sea level, the Andean city of Potosi was one of the richest cities in the western hemisphere for more than four centuries.
Cerro Rico is still the largest pure silver mine in the world, according to the American group Coeur Mining.
Coeur produces there silver bullion processing its own mineral and the production of thousands of independent miners that constitute the main workforce in the region.
Coeur forecasts to repeat this year in Potosi the 2014 production: about 6.0 million ounces of silver.
Another important activity is San Cristobal, an exploitation of zinc, lead and silver operated by a subsidiary of the Japanese Sumitomo group, which in 2015 exported more than 1,000 million.
Potosi believes that mining leaves very little to their coffers: only about 30 million in various taxes last year, when the value of the regional mining production exceeded 1,500 million.
This depleted department, with largely rural population, want to change the history with the emerging lithium industry, in which the government has begun a 1,100 million investment in the first phase of an ambitious plan aimed at producing lithium batteries and even electric cars.
Maybe the protest has not failed, maybe a change has begun, regional leaders say.