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In Jujuy they enabled mining in areas of communities that were not consulted. The assemblies denounce environmental impact and water risk.
"White gold", they named lithium, a mineral used in cell phone batteries, computers and electric cars. Scientists, officials, businessmen and journalists call to exploit this "natural wealth" present in the salt flats of Jujuy, Salta and Catamarca. But they do not bear in mind that indigenous communities live there with rights over those territories and neighbors who reject mining due to its environmental and social impacts.
Lithium exploitation is part of the extractive model, along with metalliferous mega-mining (gold, copper, silver, lead, among others), agribusiness, oil and forestry. Although it is often advertised as “clean energy”, its extraction implies overconsumption of water sources and the use of polluting chemicals.
The Chief of Staff, Marcos Peña, announced last December that there are 63 lithium mining projects. According to its management report before the Chamber of Deputies, Salta has 29 projects, Catamarca and Jujuy have thirteen each. They are followed by San Luis (five), La Rioja (two) and Córdoba (one).
“Since 2010, the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet) has been working on the industrialization and use of lithium. The elimination of withholdings on mining and the reimbursement of exports are measures that help boost lithium production, ”said Marcos Peña.
In Salta the Salar de Rincón mine (of the Canadian Enirgi Group) and the Centenario-Ratones mining project (of the French Eramet) are advancing. The Olaroz lithium exploitation works in Jujuy, in the hands of the Australian Orocobre, together with Toyota and the Jujuy government. The Caucharí project of the companies Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile and the Canadian Lithium Américas is also advanced. Governor Gerardo Morales traveled the second week of January to the United Arab Emirates, where he disclosed to businessmen the advantages it offers for mega-mining.
One of the greatest centers of resistance is found in the Salinas Grandes (Jujuy and Salta), the place of life, work and culture of the Kolla and Atacama indigenous peoples. “We don't eat batteries. Without water there is no life ”, they explain from the Table of Native Peoples of the Laguna Guayatayoc and Salinas Grandes Basin, made up of 33 indigenous communities.
The communities provided expert reports that confirm the contamination in the exploration phase. They highlight the validity of Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labor Organization) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, by which indigenous communities must be consulted for any action that could affect indigenous territories.
The communities started a legal case that in 2012 reached the Supreme Court of Justice, but the highest court ignored indigenous rights for formal reasons. The case is being processed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“For officials and businessmen the salt flats are a simple resource to exploit and obtain profitability. For us, indigenous peoples, our salt mine means life itself, ”warned Clemente Flores, from the Table of 33 communities. And he warned that the Kolla and Atacama People will resist any extractive advance on indigenous territories.
The “Salar del Hombre Muerto” lithium exploitation has been operating in Catamarca for two decades, in Antofagasta de la Sierra, in the hands of the American company FMC Lithium. Official data from the National Mining Secretariat recognize that Catamarca receives only 1.6 percent of the company's turnover from royalties. Of every 100 dollars that FMC Lithium takes of lithium (a non-renewable resource), it leaves only 1.6 dollars.
Governor Lucía Corpacci promotes the so-called “Tres Quebradas Project”, near Fiambalá (department of Tinogasta), in the hands of the Liex company (a subsidiary of the Canadian Neo Lithiu). In September 2016, the Catamarca Mining Secretariat granted the exploration permit. “As neighbors we were not informed, neither by the provincial nor local organizations, much less the public hearing required by the General Environmental Law 25675 was held. The Liex company is advancing in the area with the endorsements of the governments, strong support from the executive municipal (mayor Roxana Paulón) and with the support of the media ”, denounced the Assembly Fiambalá Despierta.
The Tres Quebradas Project covers 30,000 hectares located in the Salina de la Laguna Verde basin. It belongs to the area of the Catamarca Andes Mountains, in a glacial and periglacial environment.
From the Assembly, which is part of the organization Pucará (Catamarca Peoples in Resistance and Self-determination), they emphasize that Fiambalá is not a mining town, but an agricultural area, known for its vineyards, and in recent years for tourism (hot springs, dunes, mountains).
A crucial point of lithium mining is the overconsumption of water. Lis Sablé, from the Fiambalá Assembly, explained that Liex's environmental impact report lacks a hydrogeological study and that it was approved without having the inventory of glaciers and periglacial environment, as required by National Law 26,639.
Companies and the Government promise care for the environment, work and local development. With two decades of mining experience (Salar de Hombre Muerto and Minera Alumbrera), the Fiambalá Awake Assembly does not doubt: "We do not want lithium mega-mining in our territory."
By Darío Aranda