Milei: Elon Musk ‘extremely’ interested in Argentina’s lithium

The president's comments on Mirtha Legrand’s television show apparently favoring the US government and US companies over the provinces have caused outrage

Javier Milei said in a television interview on Saturday that tech mogul Elon Musk, the United States government and US companies are “extremely interested in lithium,” seemingly favoring Tesla’s CEO and foreign companies over Argentine provinces in the development of the country’s key strategic resource.

“Argentina needs a legal framework that respects the right to property,” Milei said during the dinner show with iconic television host Mirtha Legrand. He was joined at Legrand’s table by Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, defending his mega-decree and privatization of state-owned companies.

Lithium carbonate (LCE) is the essential raw material for the batteries of Tesla electric cars, one of Musk’s flagship companies. Argentina is the fourth largest lithium carbonate producer in the world after Australia, Chile, and China, with three commercial projects in operation: Fénix in Catamarca province and Salar de Olaroz and Olaroz Cauchari in Jujuy. The country is set to rise to third place in a few years, more than tripling its current production by 2026

The relationship between Javier Milei and Elon Musk began when the libertarian began to profile himself as a presidential candidate and started to exchange compliments with the South African-born magnate through his social network X (formerly Twitter). Musk was invited to Milei’s inauguration, which he did not attend, and there is a chance he will visit Argentina in 2024

Milei’s comments caused a furor on social media as many interpreted them as an open invitation for foreign companies to take charge of Argentina’s lithium resources to the detriment of local industry in the provinces.

“Mr. President: lithium does not belong to Elon Musk, nor the US, nor the ‘interested’ companies,”  said economist Hernán Letcher on X  “If you want to respect the right of ownership of lithium, start by mentioning the provinces that, according to the Constitution, own those resources.”

Besides lithium, there is another point of interest for Musk in Argentina — Starlink, his satellite internet company. In the global map showing its availability, Argentina is categorized as “coming soon” with the pop-up text “starting Q2 2024.” When Milei announced the mega-decree, which outlined mass deregulation of services among its many reforms, the president mentioned the company directly: “Deregulation of satellite internet services to allow the entry of companies such as Starlink.”

You may also be interested in: A mega-decree with an uncertain fate

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