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9958 - Lithium Mining and Socio-Ecological Inequalities

The global relevance of lithium as a strategic resource has grown considerably in the last couples of years. It is of key importance for the production of more efficient batteries, which are essential for the development of the electric car. Some 70 % of the world’s exploitable lithium deposits are found in the so called “Lithium Triangle” composed by the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia), the Salar de Atacama (Chile) and the salars of the highlands of northwestern Argentina (Salar de Hombre Muerto, Salar de Olaróz-Cauchari, Salinas Grandes, etc.). These are all extremely arid regions located at the periphery of the Nation State and mainly inhabited by indigenous people who interact closely with their natural environment. They perceive lithium mining not only as a threat but also as an economic opportunity. While the exploration in the Salar de Uyuni Bolivia is monopolized by the State, mixed, private-public enterprises exploit lithium since a decade in the Salar de Atacama. Exploration and exploitation of lithium in northwestern Argentina is driven by global mining companies. The three countries of the “Lithium Triangle” also differ regarding their legal frames, their legal praxis, the political context for extractivism and their inherent development models. However, they share similar contradictions between mining laws, environmental protection and indigenous rights. In the presentation the different inequality dimensions related to lithium mining will be addressed. Similarities and differences between the situation in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia will be analyzed.

Keywords: Lithium Mining, Socio-Ecological Inequalities, Andes

Author: Goebel, Barbara (Instituto Ibero-Americano, Germany / Deutschland)

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