The image presented to foreign players in lithium sector, regarding economic, political and social environment in the South American Lithium Triangle is usually very simplified. It paints a picture of stable and growing Chile, Argentina getting back on track with its technocratic leader and regional enfant terrible Bolivia with its populistic – and hence by definition labelled as business unfriendly policies. More detailed analysis of socio-economic and political situation in these countries rarely reaches lithium industry decision makers and analysts. The Chinese quest for dominance in lithium and battery sector best reflected by a series of bold acquisitions and investment, concluded or attempted is also rarely discussed in a wider geopolitical context of changing US foreign policy, particularly in relation to Latin America and in context of frantic attempts to regain a level playing field by large Korean and Japanese corporations. We aim to fill-in this gap and re-examine some of those commonly hold perception and believes by taking a more macro view and providing a reader with better understanding of local realities.
Chile’s flawed image of stable democracy
Since it’s embrace of democracy in 1990 Chile became a model of development – politically and economically for its South American peers. Yet with rising inequalities, as illustrated by growing Gini index (Chile outranks Nigeria and is in top 25 of most unequal economies) and wide disenchantment with politics embodied by falling voting turnout rates (In 1989, 86 percent of voters cast a ballot. In last election only 46 percent did, with decline in turnout especially among poorer parts of society – who traditionally were more likely to vote left). Chile’s image has been tarnished. Future also remains uncertain. On one hand we have a right-wing president, detached from liberal society being in favor of extended abortion rights, stricter environmental protection measures and rights for sexual minorities. On the other, leftist government promising to curb corruption in which elites drawing its power from the time of Pinochet have been involved – failing to deliver while the left’s leader family member gets entangled in land dealing scandals.