Salinas Grandes, Tuesday, June 13, 2023
To the Governor of the Province of Jujuy, Gerardo Morales
We are writing to you in order to respond to your public letter (via Twitter) last Sunday to Mr. James Cameron, regarding his statements in favor of the struggle of the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc in relation to lithium mega-mining.
For centuries this Basin has been our “home” and we and our ancestors have lived in harmony with its ecosystem, caring for and respecting the vital cycles of nature. We deeply regret that, despite having raised the fulfillment of our rights formally and informally, our communities were discredited when an international figure took an interest in our claims.
First of all, it is important to clarify that the person who voices our concerns and demands does not do so in a personal but in a collective capacity. Therefore, any individual reprimand or response only puts at risk a person who defends the environment in a region where defending nature makes her vulnerable, and in a country where stigmatization is the first form of violence.
Fortunately, nature defenders are now protected by the Escazú Agreement, which has already entered into force.
In your public response, you state that the rights of the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc have been respected and guaranteed by the province of Jujuy through consultation with some communities for the exploitation of lithium. It also suggests that information was provided and their consent was obtained. This is not so, Mr. Governor. There was never a process of prior and informed consultation with the communities of the Basin, as established by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (Law 24,071) and the Escazú Agreement (Law 27,566), despite the fact that both are part of the legal system in force in Argentina. On the contrary, we had to resort to provincial, federal and international instances, in order to be guaranteed the rights that the Government of Jujuy has systematically denied us for more than 13 years. In 2010, we had to go to the Supreme Court of Justice to order the provinces of Jujuy and Salta to enforce these rights. In March of this year, finally, the highest national court ordered the provinces of Salta and Jujuy to provide all the information related to the lithium exploration and mining authorizations granted in each of the provinces, as well as information on citizen participation, complaints and challenges against such permits. This information has not been provided to date.
We have also raised this claim before the UN and, after his visit to the country, the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, Dr. James Anaya, recommended that Argentina guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consultation in Salinas Grandes in his 2012 report to the UN Human Rights Council.
In the province of Jujuy, we have had to resort to the courts due to the unjustified denial of information that we requested regarding mining permits and mining claims planned in our territory. Based on the Escazú agreement, the environmental court of Jujuy stated that the provincial government did not comply with its duty to guarantee effective access to information and ordered that this information be delivered to us in a complete and integral manner.
However, we were only able to obtain incomplete information on the more than 32 mining projects planned in our territory and were not allowed access to the environmental impact reports.
Given the lack of response from the government of Jujuy to all our requests, in 2015 we developed a participatory Protocol for the implementation of prior consultation that we call Kachi Yupi. You may remember it, because eight years ago, when you took office as Governor, we invited you to the Basin and, in an assembly held in the community of Alfarcito, we raised our concerns about the refusal to implement it by previous governments. You yourself promised us that you would sign a decree to implement it.
However, eight years later, we are sad to see that this never happened.
We believe that, in no way, delivering a technical folder with environmental impact reports and exploration and exploitation work plans means the fulfillment of our rights, as you claim in your public letter. It is an offense for us to pretend that the right to prior, free and informed consultation to indigenous communities, recognized by our country, is reduced to the delivery of a folder. We therefore understand that this right has never been respected in our territory. If there really exists the will in the Government to guarantee the right to prior, free and informed consultation, as established by ILO Convention 169, it should be included as a right in the constitutional reforms that are being debated these days in the province of Jujuy. Unfortunately, as all the people of Jujuy know and are demonstrating in the streets these days, this process is being carried out behind closed doors, without consultation with any sector or with the indigenous peoples. Everything suggests that the right to consultation will not be part of the constitutional reform either.
You also state in your letter that mining development through evaporation has not caused ecosystemic alterations or loss of biodiversity. However, there are countless scientific, geological and hydrogeological studies that validate our claims, making it clear that lithium mining is a water mining that can cause enormous risks for the ecosystemic life in the water basins of the puna because they are endorheic basins. These are things that we know because we live there.
It is important for you to understand that the greatest impact of this extractive industry is the use of large quantities of water. There is no need to remind you that we are facing a major water crisis in our country and in the world. Just look at the unprecedented drought due to the impact of the use of large quantities of water to extract lithium. The water at the bottom of the basin is a huge high altitude wetland, a necessary water reserve for the entire province, impossible to replenish. In fact, although the figure may vary according to specific conditions, about two million liters of water are used per ton of lithium carbonate. This permanent pumping causes the rupture of the natural water balance, generating the risk of water stress, the possible salinization of fresh groundwater and the drying up of natural “water eyes”, which are the aquifer sources for the life of our communities, our small animals and the microbacterial species that feed the birds. The whole chain of life is endangered by lithium megamining in these territories. The risk for us is the displacement of our populations and the elimination of our culture, knowledge and ancestral knowledge. For us, water is life. We can continue to live without lithium, but not without water. We would also like to remind you that indigenous peoples make up only 5 percent of the world’s population and occupy less than a third of the planet’s territories, yet they are responsible for preserving 80 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity.
Finally, you state in your public response to Mr. Cameron that “it is not true that there is a destruction of culture; the companies have been respectful of the worldview and community practices, incorporating in their corporate culture the ancestral cultural capital of the native communities”.
Mr. Governor, for fourteen years we have been under pressure from government officials, both national and international, and also from representatives of very powerful transnational corporations whose sole objective is to extract the lithium found in our territory, without taking into account the rights of the communities that inhabit it. These pressures have changed our lives and force us to a continuous state of alert because we feel permanently threatened. Our fears of the concrete and real damage that may be done to Mamita Pacha have not been allayed by your government, quite the contrary.
This situation destroys the harmony of our community life and threatens to transform our culture. We want to live in peace, carrying out sustainable projects that are respectful of our customs and the Pacha, that allow us to continue living in this place respecting the land, water and life as our grandparents and many generations have done for centuries.
We take this opportunity, Mr. Governor, to ask you once again that your government listen to us and guarantee our rights. We are open and willing to meet with you, in case you believe that dialogue can serve to advance along this path for the good of all.
Indigenous Communities of Salinas Grande Watershed and Laguna de Guayatayoc