Bolivia - Mining
Bolivia, the fourth-largest tin producer, has traditionally been a mining country—mining was the country's top industry—producing antimony, bismuth, copper, gold, lead, silver, tungsten, and zinc. It had large reserves of gold, lithium, iron ore, natural gas, and petroleum. Nonfuel minerals provided 5% of GDP in 2000. After two years of low commodity prices, the value of mining production increased by 2.5%, to more than $431 million in 2000. Bolivia exported $429 million worth of minerals, a 7.1% increase from 1999; minerals contributed 41% of export earnings in 1999, and 43% in 1998. Zinc was the third-leading export commodity in 2002; gold ranked fourth. Silver, tungsten, bismuth, lead, copper, and asbestos were also exported.
Production totals for 2000 were: zinc, 149,134 tons; gold, 12,001 kg (14,444 in 1998, a result of low gold prices, which delayed progress on a number of projects); silver, 433,592 kg; tin, 12,464 tons, for a value of $67,657,000 (14,802 tons in 1996); lead, 9,523 tons (18,608 in 1997); antimony, 1,907 tons (down from 6,488 in 1996, a drop caused by depressed world prices); tungsten, 382 tons (582 in 1996); rough amethyst, 320 kg (122 in 1997); hydraulic cement, 1.3 million tons; and arsenic, 318 tons (437 in 1999). Inty Raymi's Kori Kollo gold and silver mine, north of Oruro, produced 8,656 kg of gold and 21,567 kg of silver and alloys. The richest and most productive alluvial gold deposits were located in Challana and the Kaka, the Mapiri, and the Tipuani River valleys, in the northern area of La Paz Department. The Porco lead-silver-zinc mine, with a 1,500 ton per day capacity, reportedly had 4 million tons in probable reserves at a grade of 11.2% zinc, 0.7% lead, and 107 grams per ton of silver.
A potential zinc-silver mine at San Cristobal (owned by Andean Silver) could become the world's largest open-pit silver mine, the third-largest zinc mine, and the lowest-cost producer of silver and zinc. During its first five years, it was anticipated to process 40,000 tons per day (rising later to 60,000 tons per day), from which would be produced 746 tons per year (24 million ounces per year) of contained silver, and 250,000 tons per year (560 million pounds per year) of zinc-in-concentrate. With proven and probable reserves of 240 million tons of ore, the mine had an expected life of at least 17 years. In 1998, the US company Golden Eagle announced a gold discovery at Cangalli, with reserves of 199,000 tons (6.4 million ounces). Rich gold and copper deposits have been discovered in the Precambrian Shield, in the eastern lowlands, competing with the traditional western highland region. Iron deposits have been discovered, and large salt deposits were found near Lake Poopó.
For two centuries following the discovery of silver at Cerro Rico de Potosí, in 1545, the area that became Bolivia was the largest producer of silver. Cerro Rico was protected as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization site, making the use of expensive backfill mining techniques necessary to maintain the mountain's shape. New studies at the base of the mountain estimated 3.3 million kg of silver in its gravel bed channel deposits.
Tin production began around 1870, and surpassed silver in value by the beginning of the 20th century. Before 1952, 80% of the nation's mineral production was in the hands of three mining companies: the Patiño, Hochschild, and Aramayo interests. In 1952, it was expropriated, and turned over to the Mining Corp. of Bolivia (Corporación Minera de Bolivia—COMIBOL), a government enterprise. Tin used to account for more than half of mineral exports (54.2% in 1968); in 1973, tin accounted for 38.5%, largely because of the increasing importance of crude petroleum and other mineral exports. The 1985 collapse of the international tin market was a major blow to the economy, with tin representing 29% of export earnings. Siglo XX, at Llallague (south of Oruro), once the world's largest tin mine, closed in 1986.
Bolivia's tradition of state-owned monopolies has been a highly politicized topic; the government's capitalization plan became a way to bring Bolivia the benefits of privatization, without entirely turning over state companies to private investors. Mining codes enacted in 1991 allowed foreign firms to operate with fewer restrictions and replaced royalties with a 30% tax on profits. By 1994, privately owned commercial mines became the dominant producers, responsible for 52% of the value of all mine production. In 2000, the medium-sized mining sector was responsible for 59% of the value of mine production; the small-sized mining sector accounted for 36%; and COMIBOL's share was 2%, down from 25% in 1997, and 51% in 1985. Starting in 1999, companies looking to invest in the minerals sector were granted a deferral on value-added tax and customs duty payments, representing a savings of up to 20% on investment project costs. The large number of available prospects and a new mining code have encouraged mineral exploration in the country.