Jujuy, the exploitation of lithium and the custodians of nature

“The injustice that makes the earth and the poor cry is not invincible” (Pope Francis).

Almost a year ago, on August 14, 2022, we published in this medium, a note entitled “Lithium exploitation, a matter of State.”

When we talk about mining, like forestry or the riches of the sea, we are talking about the big issues about which we Argentines should find definitions and projects “in peace and in unity” because the future well-being of all depends on their resolution. our towns.

The teachings of the Church indicate that the exploitation of natural resources -a gift given by God to men for their administration- must be carried out contemplating two things: that said exploitation is aimed at obtaining wealth for the good of all and that said obtaining it is done with “care” in such a way as not to harm the environment or the populations of the place where it is carried out.

The exploration and exploitation of minerals is a complex activity that demands large investments. Hence, it is concentrated in a limited number of multinational companies.

In all cases, the extraction causes some modification of the environment and it is the price that must be paid in exchange for the benefits that its production, manufacturing, consumption and profits bring.

It is known that there are two models of exploitation: one is putting all the technical tools to make it efficient, avoiding damage to nature and the populations, agreeing with them the methods and the way to carry out said work through dialogue.

Another is to obtain the permission of the public authorities (governors and other authorities) to disembark in the place, take extreme measures to make production cheaper, undervalue labor and proceed to extract wealth. Nature is not taken care of, neither man nor the inhabitants of the place. Profit is prioritized.

After the mineral has been extracted in one way or another, without transformation or little transformation (for example, micronized purified lithium for the manufacture of electric car batteries), having caused damage or not, it is exported to customers (for example, automotive terminals in China or the United States) where, continuing with the example, lithium will be incorporated into the other elements that make up the electric car battery.

So mineral exploitation integrates a negative circle in the relationship between countries rich in natural resources, with primary and underdeveloped economies, poor towns, generally with corrupt officials and mega-mining.

That negative circle is overcome when countries reach a significant industrialization stage, where added value is added to mining exploitation, providing labor and accelerating and sustaining economic growth, increasing GDP and reducing inequality between countries.

The exciting title that says: “Lithium: Argentina will be the largest producer in the world, with 12 projects underway” (Florencia Lendoiro. Apertura Magazine) makes us happy for a moment, until the “model” is clearly defined. Being the largest “producer” in the world does not mean being an economically rich country. Much less to be able to aspire to have a high GDP per capita. Many Latin American countries would serve as an example, but the case of the Congo is often mentioned as paradigmatic and extreme.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the world’s leading reservoir and exporter of cobalt, the world’s largest producer of tantalum, the world’s fourth largest producer of copper, the world’s seventh largest producer of tin and gold, from where the largest amount of diamonds in the world, however, being one of the countries on the planet with the highest mineral production, it has one of the lowest GDP per capita in the world with 577.21 dollars/year. Of course, the colony first and the republic later could not or did not know how to create industries that will add value to so much mineral wealth that God gave them.

In the province of Jujuy there is a majority opposition to mining operations in general. Due to the destruction of the environment, damage to the landscape, damage to tourism and especially due to the issue of drinking water, which is significantly reduced by the way of extraction by mega-mining and open-pit mining, leaving without water for consumption to the population in general and especially to agricultural production, it is accepted that 2 million liters of water are needed to produce 1 ton of lithium, affirms the geologist Fernando Días from Jujuy. All this in exchange for a scarce hiring of local labor and meager economic benefits that it leaves both the province and the nation.

The indigenous, in addition, and mainly, are opposed for cultural reasons. The wounds to the earth are rejected based on the beliefs of the peoples, their identity, their worldview and spirituality.

Media from our country and abroad and experts and provincial observers affirm that the convulsion that is taking place in the province of Jujuy is not due to a police issue such as roadblocks and that Decree 8464 of the EP of that province modifying the Misdemeanor Law has been nothing more than a resource that “masks” the true intention of the Executive and provincial legislature, which would be to “exclude” the most resistant segment of society, the lithium multinationals. And the protests are part of that peaceful resistance.

Related to this cause is the underlying ownership conflict in the territories belonging to the native peoples in whose bowels -those of their ancestral lands- is the mineral wealth that is intended to be extracted. Thus, the government and the radical legislators, from the Pro and from the Justicialista Party, by mutual agreement, promoted and carried out nothing more and nothing less than a reform of the Provincial Constitution. How was such a consensus reached? Is it perhaps a requirement of the lithium multinationals?

Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, in its articles 6, 7, 10, 15, 29 and 32, maintains that States must not only consult but also obtain the consent of the original peoples when it comes to any project that affects their habitat.

The art. 32 paragraph 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain free and informed consent. before approving any project that affects their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in relation to the development, use or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

The Argentine National Constitution, in its art. 41, enshrines “the right of every inhabitant to a healthy, balanced environment, suitable for human development and for productive activities…” and in its art. 75, paragraph 17 “recognizes the ethnic and cultural pre-existence, guarantees respect for their identity, bilingual and intercultural education, legal status of their communities, possession and ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy.”

National Law 25,675 in its articles 20 and 21 states that the authorities must institutionalize various forms of consultation in a mandatory manner… when the environment is significantly affected.

Faced with these great regulatory advances, the Jujuy reform intends to go back 500 years!

“In a strongly secularized world – says Pope Francis – indigenous peoples have much to teach humanity…”

“The cardinal principle of all religions is love for our fellow men and care for creation. I would like to highlight a special group of religious people, that of the indigenous peoples”, said the Pope on Friday, March 8.

His Holiness noted the role that indigenous peoples have in ecology and sustainability. “Although they represent only 5% of the world’s population, they care for almost 22% of the earth’s surface… they help protect approximately 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.”

“Indigenous peoples are the main defenders of Nature” says Pope Francis. From his worldview, man and water, land and living beings are closely linked. “Man is earth that walks…” he says with the poet in Laudato si. The relationship of love, respect and sacralization of nature is part of their identity and the life of their communities. The indigenous worldview tends to have an integrating vision of life and a comprehensive and inclusive conception of reality, present in principles such as “complementary opposites” (chaos-cosmos). Tunupa, the Quechua and Aymara god, has the mission of harmonizing “the cosmic order that is coupled to the chaos that is the earth, harmonizing it in the creative process” (Kush).

The bishops of Jujuy spoke in separate communiqués and regarding the conflict in Jujuy and the disappearance in Chaco, the Argentine Episcopal Conference under the presidency of Monsignor Oscar Ojea said: “In these days, we Argentines face each other again under the sign of violence . Faced with these facts that distress us, as pastors and as Argentines, we make our own the words of our brother Bishop of Jujuy: We must build bridges to cross to meet and not blow them up… Everything can be achieved through dialogue and everything is lost when the Word gives way to violence. The path of dialogue is tiring, but we must walk it and listen patiently, making room for the different voices of the actors in our social life.”

And he invites us all to participate in the celebrations for the Homeland and in celebration to raise “a plea for peace and justice that springs from the depths of our believing hearts.”

Keep reading:

Exploitation of lithium: a “question of State”

Jujuy, the exploitation of lithium and the custodians of nature