Indigenous Argentineans Resist Becoming “Sacrifice Zone” for Ecocolonialism

Salinas Grandes-Laguna de Guayatayoc is a area positioned within the province of Jujuy, within the north of Argentina. The 33 Indigenous communities that dwell across the space belong to the Kolla and Lickan Antay (Atacama) Indigenous individuals. These territories are high-altitude lakes of salt and minerals that kind a closed basin usually surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, which communities contemplate sacred protectors. The Kolla and Lickan Antay (Atacama) individuals have been residing within the space from time immemorial, harvesting salt, planting quinoa, elevating camelids like llamas, and most just lately making a residing off their small entrepreneurial vacationer and craft companies.

Nonetheless, if it was not for the truth that Salinas Grandes possesses huge reserves of lithium and different minerals, Western audiences would most likely not have ever heard of those territories. Lithium is a vital part of the batteries that energy our laptops, cellphones, and more and more our electrical and hybrid vehicles. Around 60 percent of the world reserves of lithium are positioned in an space that extends throughout the borders of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. The mining business has dubbed this space, slightly uncannily, “The Saudi Arabia of Lithium.”

Because the world reserves of oil and pure fuel strategy finitude and the results of local weather change turn out to be extra palpable, the demand for lithium-ion batteries has grown exponentially. In line with the U.S. Geological Survey, international lithium manufacturing went from 34,000 metric tons in 2012 to 100,000 metric tons in 2021. In different phrases, the “resolution” to international warming within the World North comes all the way down to electrifying the financial system, on the whole, and switching our present fuel automobiles for electrical vehicles. Though there isn’t any doubt that we have to decarbonize the financial system and finish our oil dependence as quickly as we will, the proposed resolution dangers repeating and intensifying the outdated colonial dynamics of extraction and dispossession which have outlined Latin American economies from 1492 onwards.

Since 2016, I’ve been accumulating testimonials from members of the 33 communities that encompass the Salinas Grandes basin within the context of a digital humanities undertaking named The Transandean Lithium Venture. Probably the most putting traits of those testimonials lies in the truth that the members of those communities contemplate the salt lake — or as they name it, the “salar” — a residing being. For Veronica Chávez, a member of the group of Santuario de Tres Pozos, the salar isn’t just an amorphous mass of water, salt and minerals, however slightly a member of her circle of relatives. For that reason, when the mining corporations started drilling the salt crust, and she or he noticed all of the grime and the “damaged veins of water,” she skilled ache in her physique.

As a result of lithium mining requires hundreds of gallons of water to separate lithium from magnesium and different minerals by way of evaporation, I requested members of those communities what would occur if the sources of water had been depleted, and the salt flats dried up. The prospects of such an ecological disaster had been, with out exception, unfathomable for members of those communities. Clemente Flores, a pacesetter of the group of El Moreno, as an example, responded that it will be troublesome for me to grasp. After which he added that it will be the equal of “shedding a limb or the top.”

As is clear in these quotes, the Kolla individuals don’t see themselves above the salar, however slightly on equal footing with it. The truth is, they see their territory as a textile wherein they’re solely a thread together with animals, vegetation, the salt flats, the mountains and volcanoes. In 2015, confronted with the specter of lithium mining of their territory, they put collectively a doc titled “Kachi Yupi” (traces of salt in Quechua). Along with describing their ancestral relation to the salt and the salar within the doc, they demanded nationwide and provincial authorities to respect Conference 169 of the Worldwide Labor Group (ILO) and Article 75, Part 17 of the Argentinean Structure. These two legal guidelines grant the communities the correct of a free, knowledgeable and former session earlier than authorizing any actions, together with lithium mining, of their territory. It’s price noting that Argentina is a signatory of Conference 169 of the ILO, and, since 2018, the South American nation can be a signatory of the Escazu Settlement, which grants particular protections to the surroundings and environmental defenders reminiscent of these Indigenous communities in Latin America.

Regardless of all these protections and the need of the communities to defend their territory, the strain to authorize lithium mining within the territory of Salinas Grandes has not ceased over the previous decade. Within the case of Argentina, a federal nation no less than formally, these authorizations rely upon the provincial governments. Gerardo Morales, the governor of the province of Jujuy since 2015, has been an open supporter of public-private partnerships to take advantage of lithium and different minerals in Jujuy. In line with a gaggle of leading researchers at the University of Buenos Aires, these public-private partnerships, removed from being an achievement for Argentina, “would be the clear affirmation of the over-exploitation of its nature, of outsourcing of earnings whereas an ‘infertile surplus’ is seen to go by, [and] the condemnation to an unequal alternate throughout the framework of inexperienced colonialism.”

But, Governor Morales is doubling down on this undertaking to take advantage of lithium in Jujuy towards the need of the Indigenous communities and the recommendation of no less than one sector of the scientific group. On October 11, the overall secretary of Jujuy known as for a digital public session (decree 5772-P-2010) to touch upon an open bid that closed on November 28, to authorize lithium mining partnerships between JEMSE (a public firm owned by the province of Jujuy), and personal mining corporations considering exploiting lithium in Salinas Grandes and different territories.

The digital public session clearly violates all of the legal guidelines and agreements signed by Argentina within the final decade. To start with, the open session was solely open for public remark for 20 days (October 11-31). So as to add insult to damage, the feedback may very well be made solely just about, and the documentation might solely be consulted on-line. This isn’t a coincidence. Governor Morales is aware of all too nicely that a lot of the communities within the Salinas Grandes basin would not have high-speed web connections, or web connection in any respect, to take part within the remark classes or to seek the advice of the documentation on time to take action. As well as, the feedback within the digital classes are non-binding and the research of ecological affect might be commissioned by the mining corporations themselves. Later, the businesses must current the outcomes of their research of ecological affect in entrance of the Provincial Unit of Mining Environmental Administration (UGAMP). This unit is generally built-in by state and provincial authorities with a report of favoring the pursuits of mining corporations. Indigenous communities have solely a restricted function within the course of. Nobody exterior the approved members of the UGAMP can remark or take part within the vetting course of. The session, briefly, is rigged in favor of the mining corporations and the plans of the criollo elite.

On November 19, a lawyer representing the Indigenous communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc offered an attraction of authorized safety within the regional court docket of Jujuy. On December 1, there was a public listening to in stated court docket. Accompanied by their attorneys, three members of the Indigenous communities offered arguments towards lithium mining of their territories. Nonetheless, the province of Jujuy has already granted lithium permits to 3 corporations. The names of those corporations are in a sealed envelope that might be opened on December 12. In different phrases, the choice has already been made, and the authorized course of appears to be solely a façade to guard the financial extractive mannequin that feeds the power transition within the north.

Members of the Indigenous communities of Salinas Grandes block the route between Argentina and Chile to protest lithium extraction in 2018.
Members of the Indigenous communities of Salinas Grandes block the route between Argentina and Chile to protest lithium extraction in 2018.

Some within the U.S. imagine that we will resolve the local weather disaster by shopping for Teslas and putting in photo voltaic panels on the roofs of our homes. Sadly, issues are extra difficult. The truth is, the power transition narrative within the U.S., Canada and the European Union purposefully underestimates our new dependencies on lithium, uncommon minerals, copper, cobalt, and different supplies which are largely positioned in locations like Salinas Grandes, Argentina. It’s a fantasy to imagine that the transition to a inexperienced financial system might occur with out renouncing our exorbitant charges of power consumption. Failing to take action will make us complicitous of human rights abuses and ecological destruction within the World South, and shortly sufficient, additionally in poor communities of colour right here, for lithium extraction is already set to happen in Indigenous lands in Nevada and within the Salton Sea in California.

Testimony of Alicia Gabriela Alba from Lipán, Salinas Grandes, addressing the impacts of lithium extraction in her group. Courtesy of Luis Martín-Cabrera by way of the Transandean Lithium Venture

One factor is evident, although: The Indigenous communities of Salinas Grandes mustn’t pay the worth to resolve an issue they haven’t created. Once I first interviewed members of those communities, I believed that the exhaustion of water sources of their territories would quantity to a cultural genocide. But, the extra I listened to their testimonials, the extra I grew to become satisfied that the results are far deeper and extra disturbing for them. As a result of the Western distinction between tradition and nature is inoperative for these communities, the transformation of their lands right into a “zone of sacrifice” will quantity to a “terricidio” (earthcide), the tip of a approach of figuring out the land/nature (epistemicide), the tip of an ethnic group (genocide) and the tip of an ecosystem (ecocide).

In brief, as a result of the demand for lithium originates right here within the overdeveloped societies of the World North, we’ve got an moral obligation to keep away from being half, as soon as once more, of a brand new chapter of colonial dispossession, one which comes wrapped across the feathers of the brand new inexperienced financial system — ecocolonialism — however that will in spite of everything have the identical pernicious results on Indigenous communities like those in Salinas Grandes.

If you wish to signal a petition in help of the indigenous individuals of Salinas Grandes Laguna de Guayatayoc click on here.