The economic outlook for Latin America is not great. Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the region was already losing momentum and multilateral organizations and analysts were warning that governments would have to change their policies if they were to boost development.
Lithium represents an opportunity to turn the region’s prospects around. A mineral with high electrical conductivity, it is essential for producing the batteries that will enable the world to cut its dependence on fossil fuels and migrate to cleaner renewable energies. Bolivia has the largest reserves in the world. The Bolivia-Argentina-Chile ” lithium triangle” accounts for 63% of the planet’s reserves. Peru and Mexico are in possession of a further three million tons or thereabouts. Lithium is, for big investors, the brightest star on the Latin American map.
The energy transition has come at a time when nationalism is on the rise in these countries. In recent months, efforts have been made to bring production under state control, a move that many citizens favor. Many others oppose it because of environmental concerns. Lithium is called “white gold” because of its market value and its silver hue. In English it is known as “white oil,” a subtle but telling difference. For Latin Americans, lithium is a precious mineral like gold and silver, both of which have been exploited in their region since colonial times. But in Anglo culture the mineral is viewed as an enhancer, a natural resource that will be transformed into something else, a step in the value chain.
The price of lithium on the international market rose approximately 80% in 2021, according to a Bloomberg index. Just four years ago, another analysis by Bloomberg predicted that by 2040 more than half of all car sales in developed countries would be electric vehicles. However, a more recent study by the consulting firm KPMG, published in November last year, cut this forecast by 10 years. According to KPMG, 52% of car sales will be electric by 2030. More than 1,100 auto industry executives in 31 countries estimated that the sector will undergo a “radical transformation” in the next five to 10 years.
The world is moving rapidly in this direction and the need for lithium feels urgent, as if the window of opportunity could close at any moment. For years, Chile has depended on private investment to extract and process the mineral. Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, who leaves office on March 11, announced the award of two production quotas of 80,000 tons of lithium each to two companies last month, one funded by Chinese capital and the other by Chilean capital. The announcement was controversial as the leftist president-elect Gabriel Boric won the election with a plan to create a national lithium company and implement a “new governance” of the salt flats containing the mineral’s reserves. Boric also promised that all communities in Chile, regardless of their location, would have access to water, a necessary resource for mining. Piñera’s contracts are now in legal limbo after being suspended by an appeals court.
The days of the current model might be numbered in any case. On February 1, Chile took an initial step toward nationalizing some of the world’s largest copper and lithium mines as Congress approved a proposal to give control to the state. The vote was part of the process of drafting a new Constitution. Currently, the Constitution prohibits the nationalization of these resources.
In Mexico, where reserves have the potential to exceed the US Geological Survey’s estimates of 1.7 million tons, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has proposed something similar. As part of a bill to reform the energy sector, López Obrador is planning to nationalize lithium and create a state institution to control its processing. Unlike Chile, lithium production in Mexico has been limited to a single contract with a Chinese company, which to date, has not extracted a single gram of lithium carbonate. Experts point out that the government does not have the resources to create a state-owned company. Mexico is, therefore, idling in another kind of limbo.
In Peru, Pedro Castillo’s government is seeking to modify an existing contract with the Canadian company American Lithium Corp so that the mineral is exported with added value, according to a pro-Castillo lawmaker’s statements to local media. In other words, the state wants companies operating in Peru to do more than just extract and refine the lithium for export, but to also invest in factories to transform the lithium into a product with a higher market value, generating more and better-paid jobs.
Argentina is, to some extent, the exception. There, exploration rights are in the hands of the provinces and President Alberto Fernández’s government has sought to promote the country’s reserves worldwide. In 2020, Fernández set out to increase annual lithium carbonate production by 700% to 230,000 tons by the end of this year. This will require an investment of more than $1 billion by the private sector. During Fernández’s visit to China at the beginning of February, government officials revealed that Argentina is negotiating with the Chinese to establish new investments, including plans to set up a battery factory.
While Argentina is moving up a gear, Bolivia appears to be taking its time. Because of the unparalleled size of its reserves, this is the country that investors have the keenest eye on, but the mineral has already generated conflicts. In 2019, President Evo Morales announced that the German company ACI Systems would invest nearly $1.3 billion to exploit a large slice of its lithium reserves. Just weeks later, a major political crisis paralyzed the negotiations and Morales was forced to flee the country.
In July 2020, a Twitter user confronted Elon Musk, head of leading electric vehicles manufacturer Tesla, claiming that the “US organized a coup in Bolivia” just so that Musk could have access to the country’s lithium. “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it!” replied the entrepreneur in a tweet that soon disappeared; the only remaining record of it are screenshots in newspaper reports. The quip gave Morales the perfect hook to link the control of lithium to his administration’s demise. Last year, during a visit to Mexico, the former president argued that the mineral should be in the hands of individual countries rather than the private sector. “We decided, as a country, to industrialize lithium,” he said in statements in which he also criticized Tesla. “We hired experts… and we started the great industry and then came the coup. American congressmembers have recognized that the coup was over lithium.”
In November 2020, Luis Arce, an ally of Morales, became president of Bolivia and embarked on a different approach. First, he organized a public event, a kind of fair, to attract domestic and foreign enterprises interested in investing. Subsequently, eight companies from the US, China, Russia and Argentina were selected and allowed to pilot test the extraction technology. In April, a technical group from the state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos is expected to decide which companies should receive contracts. Among the factors to be considered are mineral recovery percentage, environmental impact and community protection, explains Diego von Vacano, a professor at the Texas A&M University in the US and an informal advisor to Luis Arce’s government.
According to Von Vacano, the technical group is independent and made up of professionals in the field, two indigenous women and two men. Lithium mined from brine, as is the case in Bolivia, has a lower impact on the environment than lithium mined from solid sediment, as is the case in Mexico. However, it is still mining, which affects the ecosystem. “Bolivia does not want to repeat the mistakes that have been made; for example, the damage to the environment seen in Chile,” says Von Vacano.
While Argentina is moving up a gear, Bolivia appears to be taking its time
“Throughout the history of colonialism, specifically with regard to mining, literature often describes mines as dead or uninhabited landscapes, devoid of life – a concept that in Latin is called terra nullius, or, no man’s land,” says Thea Riofrancos, an associate professor of political science at Providence College, Rhode Island, in the US. “In fact, that’s not the case.” Riofrancos recalls the first time she visited Chile’s reserves in 2019. “I was amazed by the desert in many ways,” she says. “The salar [a salt-encrusted depression] is like a grayish-white expanse that stretches as far as the horizon and seems endless. There are flamingos, and, if you’re lucky, you can see beautiful birds of prey.”
The Atacama Desert in Chile is incredibly arid and has high levels of ultraviolet radiation. According to a group of academics, it is “one of the harshest environments on Earth” and could hold the key to surviving global warming. In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in November, a group of 27 scientists advocated preserving the desert to conduct scientific research, pointing out that “as a natural laboratory, Atacama is unparalleled for studying plant adaptation to extreme environmental conditions.”
Historically, the southern hemisphere has provided the global economy with its raw materials, though its people have not benefited, says Riofrancos. “The case of Bolivia is extremely dramatic because the origins of Spanish imperialism lie in the Potosí mines,” she explains. “The country has provided the world with minerals from silver to tin, as well as natural gas and agro-exports and now the prospect of lithium.”
Perhaps that is why the Arce administration is handling the progress of the pilot program with discretion. Bolivia’s Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy did not respond to questions from EL PAÍS about the estimated potential of this industry in terms of gross domestic product. Revenues will be subject to price fluctuations on the international markets, which is why there is already talk in Argentina and Bolivia of creating a lithium cartel similar to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which imposes production quotas to prevent oil prices from plummeting.
“We are working against the clock,” says Von Vacano, who adds that “it is urgent to push lithium faster” because, otherwise, investors will look to sink their money into other countries. The revenue gained from lithium can be plowed back into local communities as is done in Norway and Qatar, Von Vacano points out. “This can be very positive. It can be a royalty model that benefits not only the regions of Potosí and Uyuni but also the rest of the country. This is money that can be used for education and health. It could transform the country completely.”
Twenty victims of pedophilia denounce the Society of Jesus of Bolivia for covering up rapes | International
A pedophilia scandal is cornering the Society of Jesus in Bolivia. Half a year after the publication of the diary of the late Spanish Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas, in which he admitted to having abused dozens of Bolivian children while his superiors looked the other way — and which triggered a series of accusations against a dozen priests in the Latin American country — a group of victims on Tuesday brought legal action against the Roman Catholic organization for covering up the abuse, for protecting pedophile clerics and for silencing the victims.
The plaintiffs, former students at several Jesuit-run schools who suffered sexual assaults between 1972 and 1995, had already independently brought complaints against their attackers months ago. Now, they have filed a class action suit against the current provincial of the religious order in Bolivia, Bernardo Mercado, “as the highest authority” of the institution. The plaintiffs are accusing the Society of Jesus of being the author “by omission” of the crimes of rape of minors, since for years officials were aware of the sexual abuse that was going on and did nothing to stop it. This is the first class action complaint by victims against the order in Bolivia.
Although the Bolivian penal code indicates that pedophilia crimes expire four years after the victim has reached the age of majority, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, José Luis Gareca, argues that the cases of pedophilia committed by the Jesuits and their cover-up are “crimes against humanity,” which have no statute of limitations as per the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of the United Nations. “Article 7 of this statute establishes that crimes against humanity must have been committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack and must be directed against a civilian population, as happened in the case of the plaintiffs,” says Gareca.
The complaint, filed in the Cochabamba Prosecutor’s Office, is based on the investigation that this newspaper carried out on the diary that Pedrajas, known among his students as “Pica,” wrote between 1964 and 2006. In its pages he wrote repentantly about the sexual assaults he had committed against at least 85 children and how several senior officials of his order looked the other way when he told them what he had done. He also explained that they protected him when several victims reported the abuses they suffered.
Some of these former provincials (the highest position of the Jesuit order in Bolivia) are Ramón Alaix and Marcos Recolons, both Spaniards who, like Pedrajas, traveled to Bolivia as missionaries. Recolons, in addition to being a close friend of Pedrajas, as noted in his diary, held a high position in the Vatican between 2004 and 2008. In total there were seven superiors and a dozen other clerics who, according to the memoirs of Pedrajas, covered up the crimes.
The original story about Pedrajas was followed by other reports of new victims who accused other Spanish Jesuits of pedophilia at several schools, but mainly at the Juan XXIII school of Cochabamba, where Pedrajas was the principal for two decades and where more of his victims have surfaced. But there were other schools in Oruro, Santa Cruz and Sucre. In some of these cases, those affected said that they told various officials and superiors of the order about what was going on, but that, far from being listened to, they were threatened and punished. The accused Jesuits are Antonio Gausset (a deceased Spaniard), Luis Tó (a deceased Spaniard who in 1992 was transferred to Bolivia after a conviction for abusing a girl in Barcelona), Alejandro Mestre (a deceased Spaniard who became archbishop of La Paz and president of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference), Jorge Vila (a deceased Spaniard and founder of the humanitarian association DNI), Lucho Roma (a deceased Spaniard), Carlos Villamil (a deceased Bolivian and deputy principal at Juan XXIII), Francisco Pifarré (who also served as principal at Juan XXIII) and Francesc Peris (a Spaniard who taught at Juan XXIII in 1983, also accused of abusing girls in Barcelona until 2005). The Jesuit order, both in Bolivia and in Spain, never reported the cases to the authorities when these were first brought to their attention.
The group of victims recalls in the complaint that the Society of Jesus itself has acknowledged in several statements published in recent months that it knew about these abuses and that it did nothing about it. “We recognize that, in the past, some actions in this regard have not corresponded to the dimension of the crime perpetrated. For this reason we must ask for forgiveness. But it would be useless to recognize it if we do not act now to meet the circumstances,” says one of these statements. The first action by Jesuit leaders was to provisionally remove eight priests who held the position of provincial: five who held the position during the years in which Pedrajas committed the abuses, and another three who did so after his death. The Society of Jesus states that there is an ongoing internal investigation into all such cases of abuse.
For the plaintiffs, says their lawyer, the silence imposed by the order and the impunity with which the pedophiles acted “has given rise to an institutional conduct of criminal permissiveness” in which hundreds of children fell “into the clutches of sexual predators and pedophiles who took it upon themselves to write diaries, take photos and film their victims.” They also emphasize that civil justice “can in no way be replaced by the canonical law” that to date the Church uses to internally manage many of these cases, and where the aggressors typically purge “‘their errors’ via confessions and transfers to new locations to evade criminal sanctions.”
Several investigations underway
The tsunami caused by the publication of the Pica case forced the Bolivian Episcopal Conference to launch a general investigation of past cases of pedophilia. The Bolivian president, Luis Arce, wrote to Pope Francis requesting from the Vatican all the files on cases of pedophilia committed by clerics in Bolivian territory. This request is still waiting to be fulfilled. In May, Arce also presented a bill in the Bolivian Legislative Assembly to eliminate the statute of limitations on pedophilia crimes and to create a truth commission to investigate all past cases. This initiative is still undergoing parliamentary processing. Meanwhile, the Bolivian Senate has created another investigative committee exclusively focused on cases of pedophilia by members of the cloth in that country.
The Bolivian Prosecutor’s Office is still investigating both the attacks committed by Pedrajas and those reported in recent months. Prosecutors already have a copy of the diary and internal documentation of the Society of Jesus that was found after the police searched several offices of the order in La Paz, where its headquarters and some of its offices are located.
EL PAÍS launched an investigation into pedophilia in the Spanish Church in 2018 and has an updated database with all known cases. If you know of any case that has not seen the light, you can write to us at: email@example.com. If it is a case in Latin America, the address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Assessing The Potential of The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) Against China’s Belt And Road Initiative (BRI)
(THE VOICE OF EU) – In a recent address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the newly unveiled India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) as a transformative force poised to shape global trade for centuries. While the IMEC undoubtedly presents a significant development, it’s vital to scrutinize its potential impact compared to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The IMEC was jointly announced by US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Delhi. Designed to fortify transportation and communication networks between Europe and Asia via rail and shipping routes, the project not only holds regional promise but also reflects a strategic move by the US in its geopolitical interests, particularly concerning China.
However, the IMEC faces a formidable contender in the form of China’s BRI, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.
Despite facing some headwinds, including a slowdown in lending due to China’s economic deceleration and concerns raised by nations like Italy, Sri Lanka, and Zambia regarding debt sustainability, the BRI remains a monumental global undertaking.
With investments surpassing a staggering $1 trillion and over 150 partner countries, the BRI has transformed from a regional initiative to a near-global endeavor.
Comparatively, the IMEC may not immediately match the scale or ambition of the BRI. While the US, Japan, and the G7 nations have introduced similar initiatives like the Global Gateway and Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, none have achieved the expansive reach or influence of the BRI.
The emergence of these projects over the past five years, however, demonstrates the BRI’s pivotal role as a catalyst for global economic growth.
Viewing the IMEC solely through the lens of opposition to the BRI may not provide a comprehensive understanding of its potential.
Instead, the IMEC contributes to a broader trend of transactional partnerships, where countries engage with multiple collaborators simultaneously, underscoring the complex and interconnected nature of global trade relations.
Yet, realizing the IMEC’s aspirations demands meticulous planning and execution. A comprehensive action plan is expected within the next 60 days, outlining key governmental agencies responsible for investments, allocated capital, and implementation timelines.
Establishing a streamlined customs and trade infrastructure is equally critical to facilitate seamless transit, a challenge highlighted by the Trans-Eurasian railway’s 30-country passage through Kazakhstan.
Navigating geopolitical complexities between partner countries, particularly the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, poses another potential hurdle.
Ensuring these nations maintain a unified strategic vision amid differing priorities and interests requires careful diplomatic coordination.
Furthermore, the IMEC will compete directly with the Suez Canal, a well-established and cost-effective maritime route.
While the IMEC may enhance relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it could potentially strain ties with Egypt, prompting critical assessments of the project’s economic viability.
Beyond trade and economics, the IMEC ambitiously aims to incorporate diverse sectors, from electricity grids to cybersecurity.
This multi-dimensional approach aligns with discussions held in security forums like the Quad and, if realized, could significantly contribute to a safer, more sustainable global landscape.
As we contemplate the potential of the IMEC, it is with hope that the lofty ambitions outlined in New Delhi will culminate in a tangible and positive transformation for the world.
Safe Mobility Initiative Faces Challenges In Delivering On Its Promises For Latin American Migrants
In June, the United States introduced the Movibilidad Segura, or Safe Mobility, program, a new immigration initiative aimed at expanding legal routes for refugees and migrants from South and Central America.
The program’s objective is to reduce irregular migration and strengthen transportation and communication links between the Americas. While the intentions behind Safe Mobility are commendable, its execution has faced several challenges, leaving thousands of applicants in limbo.
For many hopeful migrants like Eliezer Briceño, a 40-year-old Venezuelan residing in Ciudad Bolívar, Colombia, the application process has proven to be a complex and tedious endeavor.
Briceño’s experience highlights the technological barriers that applicants face, emphasizing the need for reliable internet access and suitable devices for successful registration.
Unfortunately, these prerequisites pose significant challenges for those without adequate resources.
The overwhelming response to the program has led to the temporary closure of the website in Colombia, further complicating the application process. With quotas quickly filled during the limited application periods, the backlog of hopeful migrants has grown, exacerbating the frustration and uncertainty surrounding Safe Mobility.
Of the nearly 29,000 applicants from Colombia, less than 1% have progressed through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) as of August 28. This statistic underscores the significant delays and challenges faced by applicants. Eliezer Briceño, like many others, anxiously awaits news about his application status, armed only with a receipt indicating a forthcoming call.
Safe Mobility, while a response to the migration crisis in Latin America, is one of several initiatives addressing the challenges faced by millions of displaced individuals.
Its collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) demonstrates a multi-lateral effort to find solutions to the region’s complex humanitarian, political, and economic issues.
However, the program’s operational secrecy, with undisclosed office locations, underscores the challenges faced by its administrators.
The need to protect both applicants and program staff from potential overcrowding and disruptions mirrors the situation in Tapachula, Mexico, where large groups of migrants have sought assistance, albeit without violent incidents.
The interview process for Safe Mobility applicants introduces another layer of complexity, marked by confidentiality agreements.
While applicants are required to sign agreements consenting to share personal data with program partners, the imposition of non-disclosure clauses appears unusual and unprecedented.
The UNHCR argues that confidentiality is crucial for the protection of individuals in need of international refuge.
The uncertainty persists even after interviews, as those rejected receive prompt notifications while others remain in a state of perpetual waiting. The apparent randomness of selections and the lack of clear communication only heighten the frustrations of applicants.
As Safe Mobility nears the midpoint of its announced six-month pilot period, questions about its effectiveness and future persist.
While the initiative addresses a critical need, its slow start and operational challenges highlight the complexity of addressing the migration crisis in the Americas.
Cooperation from multiple nations, alongside initiatives like Safe Mobility, will be essential in finding lasting solutions to this pressing global issue.
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