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Jujuy and Salta – Argentina

Commercial lithium extraction in Argentina began in 1997. Today, there are several active operations, while dozens more are in various stages of exploration, development and construction throughout the Provinces of Jujuy, Salta and Catamarca.

Four of these concessions are in the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc basin, where 33 Kolla and Atacama indigenous communities have come together to determine the future of their land, water and livelihoods.

Salinas Grandes and the Laguna de Guayatayoc

The Salinas Grandes salt flat is the largest in Argentina, and the third largest in the world, a popular site of tourism, and considered one of the country’s “seven natural wonders.” It is also part of the indigenous Kolla and Atacama peoples’ ancestral territory. They have built their lives around the region’s arid climate, harvesting salt, herding cattle and growing crops. 

The salt flat’s mineral-rich fossil water, or brine, sustains the life of microorganisms whose role in the broader ecosystem is still not fully understood. It also contains lithium, a highly sought-after component of lithium-ion batteries used primarily in electric vehicles.

Lack of consultation and resistance

After more than a decade of studying the impacts of lithium extraction, demanding their right to consultation, and resisting the nonconsensual incursion of lithium companies in their lands, 33 Kolla and Atacama communities have taken a strong and united stance against any lithium exploration or extraction. Part of this process has been documented by the communities themselves in a document named Kachi Yupi, which translates to “tracks in the salt” in Quechua.

In December of 2019 the communities, with the support of Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, filed an environmental protection action “to prevent the serious and irreversible damage of lithium and borate mining” in the [Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc] basin. Today these communities continue to fight for their land and water, alongside other communities threatened by lithium projects in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.

“We firmly decided that we will not accept prospecting, exploration and exploitation of lithium in the entire territory of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc basins, in accordance with our current legislation and our constitutional rights.”

—Clemente Flores, of the indigenous community of El Angosto, and a spokesperson for the Mesa de Pueblos Originarios de la cuenca de Salinas Grandes y la Laguna de Guayatayoc.

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