It can be said that there is no useful mineral that is not found in Bolivia, from which, once upon a time, mainly silver and gold were extracted. Currently it is the tin that constitutes the main economic resource of the country, which is in second place among those that produce it (after the Malacca peninsula). Silver is mined to a small extent and mostly as a second product of the tin ores with which it is found. In the past, tin was produced only by a few mines near Potosí and Arque, as it was generally given almost no value. But the great applications it found in modern industry caused its price to rise sharply, and from 1895 onwards tin mines multiplied rapidly, especially in the departments of Potosí, Oruro. La Paz and Cochabamba. The veins of tin minerals have a power of up to 3 meters: in most cases they are cassiterite, containing 55 to 65% metal. The main mines include those of Colquechaca, Uncía, Aullagas, Pulacayo, Ayoma, Potosí, Huanchaca (department of Potosí), Pasna (department of Oruro), Arque (department of Cochabamba), Inquisivi, Araca (department of La Paz). The Uncía deposit is the most important: the mines are equipped with modern machinery and plants: Bolivian total production undergoes considerable fluctuations annually, but, overall, it is increasing as can be seen from the following figures (quantity of metal produced, in thousands of tons): 1912, 22.6; 1913, 26.3; 1914, 22.0; 1915, 21.4; 1916, 20.7; 1917, 26.8; 1918, 29.3; 1919, 27.5; 1920, 29.6; 1921, 28.5; 1922, 29.0; 1923, 30.1; 1924, 32.5; 1925, 33, 4; 1926, 30.1; 1927, 36.3. For Bolivia 2016, please check softwareleverage.org.
One can say that, roughly, the tin produced by Bolivia constitutes a little less than 1 / 2 of the global product. It is exported to the United States, Great Britain and, to a lesser extent, France, via Chile (ports of Arica and Antofagasta).
For silver, Bolivia has long been in third place in world production, but while some deposits were depleted, many mines were abandoned after the price of that metal fell sharply. Silver abounds throughout the plateau: the still active mines of Potosí, Oruro, Pulacayo and Huanchaca are world famous. Production undergoes very strong fluctuations from one year to the next, generally with a tendency, for now, to decrease. In 1926, 168,000 kg were produced. of silver, and in 1927, 93,000. With the improvement of the means of transport, and above all with the influx of greater capital, in many of the abandoned mines (which are estimated at several thousand) exploitation will probably be resumed: especially if the value of the
There are two main gold zones: one begins in the NW., In the province of Muñecas, and then extends towards the SE., In the provinces of Larecaja, Yungas, Inquisivi and through the department of Cochabamba ends in that of Santa Cruz; the other begins in the province of Lípez and then heads towards Santa Cruz via Tupiza and Cinti. The gold district with the highest yield is that of Río Suches. It is estimated that Bolivia’s current gold production is approximately 550 kg. yearly, mostly from native gold.
The exploitation of copper is increasingly important, frequent in the Western Cordillera (provinces of Pacales, in the department of La Paz, of Carangas, and in that of Oruro). The richest are the Corocoro mines (Pacajes), which had a great development after the opening of the Arica-La Paz railway to traffic and after the increase in value of this metal at the beginning of the world war. Annual production is around 18,000-20,000 tons of ore, from which 5000-6000 tons of metal can be obtained, and is mainly exported to the United States.
It seems certain that oil abounds in the Eastern Cordillera. In the province of Caupolicán, between the Beni and its tributary Madidi, according to geologists Otto Weltk and Ellis Jansson, there is an oil area of about 2 million hectares. Another large oil area occupies part of the Pacajes province. But the largest is that which, starting from Yacuiba, on the Argentine border, extends north towards Villa Montes, Charagua, Cabezas and Santa Cruz, and in which some wells are already in operation. Many concessions have been made by the Bolivian government: on the whole, however, we are still at the stage of exploration.
Notable for the local demand, but secondary to the world economy, is the production of zinc, lead and aluminum. Important is instead that of tungsten minerals (ferberite, wolframite, scheelite, huebnerite), excavated above all in the Quimza Cruz mountain range (Cochabamba department) and in Atocha (Potosí), and bismuth (2nd place in world production), which it is extracted to the east of Lake Titicaca (Larecaja province), to the SE. of Oruro, in the prov. of Cinti and between Uyuni and the Argentine border. The importance of minerals for the country’s economic life is well demonstrated by the fact that they represent 90 to 95% of total exports.
Apart from the extractive industries, and apart from the domestic ones, the other industries have almost no importance. The modern type of textile industry is represented by a single wool mill (La Paz); small and primitive establishments are also found in Oruro, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Uyuni (covered with vicuna). Most of the fabrics needed by the country are imported from Peru. Some progress has been made in recent years by the cabinet-making, shoe-making industries, etc. There are, of course, numerous factories for soap, candles, cigars and cigarettes, liqueurs, sugar, beer, etc. Important tobacco factories have Sucre and La Paz. A characteristic small industry of Potosí is that of silver filigree works.