Bolivia slams Japan mining firm for 'plundering' resources

AFP, La Paz — Bolivia's foreign minister accused a Japanese mining subsidiary Sunday of "plundering" natural resources in the South American country while exploiting lead and silver, amid a dispute between the firm and local farmers.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told local media that San Cristobal, a company owned by Japanese trading giant Sumitomo, "doesn't pay a cent" for its consumption of some 600 liters (158 gallons) of water per second for its metal mining operations.

The company is "a multinational that steals our natural resources, plundering tonnes of minerals every day but does not pay" for its water usage, he told La Prensa newspaper.

Choquehuanca lamented that previous governments passed legislation favorable to foreign mining concerns, and said the administration of socialist President Evo Morales was working to change the laws.

San Cristobal's offices in the region of Lipez, 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of the capital La Paz, were seized Friday by locals.

According to its website, San Cristobal produces about 600,000 tonnes of lead and silver concentrates per year.

The minister's comments came two weeks after Tokyo business daily Nikkei reported that Japan was planning to offer economic aid to countries rich in rare metals that could be used in environmentally friendly cars -- beginning with Bolivia.

The newspaper said Japan was looking to offer tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of dollars) in loans as early as May to help build a 100-megawatt geothermal power plant in Bolivia.

Bolivia is believed to hold about half of the world's deposits of lithium, which is used in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars.

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