Between the 14 and 15 of January, an interdisciplinary and intercultural gathering was held in the community of Alfarcito, Jujuy, between the Indigenous Communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc and various collectives of lawyers, artists, writers, researchers and activists.
The gathering was co-organized by the Aerocene Community, with the Action Collective for Ecosocial Justice (Colectivo de Acción por la Justicia Ecosocial), the Mirá Socio-environmental Collective, the Geopolitics and Commons Study Group (Grupo de estudio Geopolítica y Bienes Comunes), the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers (Asociación Argentina de Abogados/as Ambientalistas), lawyer Alicia Chalabe, writers Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, Claudia Aboaf, Graciela Speranza and curator Inés Katzenstein. The agenda of activities included artistic activations and workshops on the urgent keys for a just Ecosocial Transition from the global South and the centrality of the Rights of Nature in the defense of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna Guayatayoc basin.
A first cut of the film Pacha, 2020 directed by Tomás Saraceno and Maximiliano Laina, was screened. It documents the flight of Aerocene Pacha, which floated in January 2020, without fossil fuels or lithium batteries, with the message “Water and life are worth more than lithium”, written with the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc. Aerocene Pacha broke 32 world records recognized by the FAI and became the most sustainable flight in history. Pacha is a never-ending film that will continue to be expanded and modified in continuous dialogue with the communities, the changing situation in the Salinas Grandes, and the evolution of local and global strategies in the face of the environmental crisis.
An aerosolar sculpture of the Aerocene community floated again on Sunday, this time with the
message: “In complementarity, we take care of the water. Guayatayoc – Salinas Grandes Basin, Argentina”, written by members of the local communities present. Like Aerocene Pacha, the sculpture floats only with the energy of the sun, without fossil fuels or lithium batteries, creating an image of a future for eco-social justice.
Representatives of the indigenous communities of the area affected by the advance of the lithium industry over their territories attended the meeting to share their experiences, denounce the multiple violations of their rights and articulate different forms of resistance.
During the workshops, the national situation was discussed with national and regional representatives, referring to the economic, social and environmental problems associated with large-scale mineral extraction. Different approaches to the issue were addressed together with the communities, which debated how to continue their resistance processes and strengthen their internal organization to guarantee human and environmental rights in the region.
We are running out of time. Faced with the worsening of the climate crisis and the urgency of the energy transition, our first message is: We no longer want to be a sacrifice zone. We need the transition, but we cannot accept just any energy transition, such as the one that is currently trying to be imposed on the peoples of the South through lithium mining, which amplifies social, ethnic and environmental inequalities. We must listen to the voices of the territories, in defense of water, salt flats and our common goods.
Verónica Chávez, President of the Community of Santuario Tres Pozos, emphasized their communities struggle due to the effect the water mining process has in their region:
“We are here because we are committed to defending the territory. This is not something that we have only been doing for two years, one year, but we have been involved in this struggle for approximately twelve years. This struggle continues…”
“…And well, what we are saying is that they should respect Convention 169 because we have never been consulted. Prior, due and informed consultation. So why are we saying no to lithium? Because of water, it is the whole issue of water. Because water has no barriers or borders. We are not asking the government for anything. We are not even asking the government to give us a job, we are saying that we want to live in peace, like our grandparents did.”
Lali Chalabe, lawyer for the Salinas Grandes Communities, recounts the struggle in the Salinas Grandes Territory, and the importance of respecting the decisions of the communities:
“This is a territory that resists. That is the reality. And it resisted before, during and after. Because that’s how it started eleven years ago, it’s a long struggle. There has been everything. And as in all relationships there are conflicts, there are arrangements, there are organisations that have fought, that have turned against each other. But this is a territory that resists and what has happened is that at the time they have said we want to defend it, we want to defend our territory because this is where we live, this is where our children were born, this is where our parents are, this is where the water is, this is where everything is…”.
“Many years ago, that’s where it all started, when they went and said we want to buy the mining claim, the women from the Tres Pozos Sanctuary and the women from the cooperatives found out and said we’re going to call Rosario and ask her what can be done. And well, she called Agustina and Agustina called me and that’s when we started and we said, well, what can we do? You remember the assembly we held in Tres Pozos, which was huge, there were a lot of people. And they got together with the people from Salta. So the important thing in this whole journey is that the decision was made by you and the decision will always be yours”.
Enrique Viale, Founder of the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers, focused on the detrimental consequences of destroying natural habitats through the water-mining process:
The vision of the indigenous peoples is key to break the false consensus that has been created in recent times. This notion that lithium is the new ghost that is going to save Argentina”. The member of the Action Collective for Ecosocial Justice continued, “The vision of nature as something only to be exploited is what has created the crisis we are in.
“…The two most important ideas that counteract these notions are those of Buen Vivir and the Rights of Nature. They build bridges between past and future, between social matrix and ecological matrix, new forms of relationship with human beings and with the Pachamama. It leaves in disuse the anthropocentric paradigm and passes to one of sociobiocentric character. The human being as part of nature.”
Gastón Chillier, member of the Action Collective for Ecosocial Justice, stressed the importance of exploiting existing resources and legal strategies such as the right to prior and informed consultation, in order to maintain a just system of living:
“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an opinion in Colombia where it established that human rights cannot be respected if a healthy environment is not respected. This relationship is linked and has an impact on many rights found in constitutions…”
“…The main one is the right to life. Without a healthy environment there is a threat to the life of all of us. Then the right to housing and, particularly, the right to territories. On the other hand, there is also a violation of the right to participate in cultural life or the right to food. And it is essential to highlight the violation of the right to water, to the integrity of people, to health and the right to collective property. All these rights are also protected in one way or another by the continent’s judicial system. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says that there is a collective right to property that has a relationship with their cultural identity and a property different from individual property.”
Maristella Svampa, researcher of the Action Collective for Ecosocial Justice and Mirá Socio-environmental Collective, explained the socio political effects circling lithium and its mining proces:
“What we do have are directions, values, narratives. And we cannot give that up. The researcher, who was present during the flight of Tomás Saraceno’s Aerocene Pacha aerosolar work up in 2020, continued: We cannot continue to be spoken for by the global north, we are the ones who have to design our own transitions…”
“…We have our own voices and we have to use them for local intercultural dialogues. And she adds: We must have imagination, which art often provides us with, to think of other possible futures, in what kind of society we want to live in.”
Bruno Fornillo, researcher and member of the Geopolitics and Commons Group, detailed the international pressure, focused on the United States and China, for a greater extraction of lithium:
“In Argentina we are the country that is in the worst conditions, and that is the reason for the level of advance of the companies that come. They leave nothing here and take everything, they declare a lower price, they sell themselves…”
“…In La Rioja it has just been demonstrated that it is possible to suspend all concessions. The instance of rethinking what we are going to do with lithium is necessary and should be done throughout the country, with all concessions.”
Melisa Argento, researcher and member of the Action Collective for Ecosocial Justice and the Geopolitics and Commons Group, detailed how companies operate in the region:
“There are processes in the communities, socio-environmental impacts of the salt flats, legal tools and policies for the defense of the salt flats and high Andean wetlands. The promise of development around lithium as a star mineral, like the white gold, or the Saudi Arabia of lithium…”
“…This pact makes it very easy for companies to intervene in the territories. The first step is the Environmental Impact Studies that are carried out by scientists paid by the companies themselves and under the guidelines defined by the companies themselves. At the same time they define what contributions they make to which communities and fragment the regional community and the vision of the basin.”
Dr. Graciela Sperenza, essayist, narrator and screenwriter, emphasizes the collaborative nature of the meeting, and the combined and effective use of artistic practice as a form of education and activism:
“The children were able to see other works by artists who opened the dialogue with nature and drew inspiration from those works. They also imagined figures in pictures of clouds, drew them and gave them voice. A fish twelve “I’m swimming”; “The lion says -my tooth hurts-“. Children’s imagination is a good ally of art…”
“…In the discourse of politics, economics and sometimes even in that of science, a crass realism reigns, incapable of imagining the future. But it is precisely in art that this impoverished notion of realism is least at home. Art reveals the limits of imagination and makes realistic fantasies that at first sight are impracticable: flying without fossil fuels, as in the flight that Tomás Saraceno and Aerocene made possible in Salinas Grandes.”
Writer Claudia Aboaf tells a brief history of lithium: from the Big Bang to the Big Crash:
“Now let’s talk about Nature as a subject of rights, but above all about lithium and its right to remain in the rich soup. Of the mystery of lithium, that cosmic residue, the supposed savior in the energy transition for a post-fossil world that never arrives anyway. And the mining companies of the north that, upon arrival, run into the guardians of the puna, full of cosmic visions…”
“…Also of the intelligence of the mineral kingdom, of the chemical code of lithium that retains the energetic memory but also of mirages, of consumption, of capitalist voracity. Of common goods. Of water and the desertification of the territories, let us talk about its lack. Let’s talk about a world excited to always remain the same. And of Veronica, the community leader, who greets the Pacha in the morning and asks for help in the afternoon to the Mamita Salina so that the mining companies do not come.“
Writer Gabriela Cabezón Cámara describes encounters, exchanges, shared spaces thoughts:
“We chatted, we took part in the workshops, we learned about their calm cosmovision, woven with the earth as life itself is woven and, it is almost unbelievable given the voracious ferocity they have faced for more than five hundred years, so resilient. We hear about the apus: the protective hills that are, for them, as animated as we are. Before you think that such thinking is magical, remember that we are spoken daily about “the markets” as if they were gods…”
“…There is no doubt that the apus are more vital than the markets. We ate exquisite stews. We shared plates, cutlery, jokes. We looked at the stars: dead of cold, at night the temperature drops a lot, we sat with our backs to the few lights of the town and there the glittering milky way, so full of stars and curved that, as Bruno Fornillo perceived before everyone else, we felt the form of vault of the sky as those in the past would have perceived it, before luminous pollution, or the other. As it is still perceived by the people who live in territories that have not yet been completely destroyed by the West, which never tires of spitting out the bones of everything it swallows. We saw nebulae. The southern cross as an inescapable sign. Shooting stars. We all wanted to see some: our own, everyone’s, whatever. We saw them. And then we went into Saraceno and his team’s house to sing and dance together. How do you tell the story of an encounter between, until hours before, strangers or almost strangers? How do I tell you that bridges flowed between each and every one of them?”
Pía Marcheggiani, from the Fundación de Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, spoke about the environmental struggle from the perspective of the law that is taking place in the Territorio de las Salinas Grandes y Cuenca de Guayatayoc:
“The communities of Salinas and FARN have filed an environmental action in the Court, which is totally paralysed because of everything we know, the difficulties for the Court to decide and take charge of the question of rights with a favourable opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, which says that there is original jurisdiction. We recently won a lawsuit against the province of Jujuy for environmental information with information on thirty projects and requests in this territory…”
“…On the Jujuy side, we are missing Salta. Well, and other issues that I will leave aside. But the point I wanted to bring up here was to recover, in a way, that there is a shared history where lawyers, non-lawyers and a lot of people committed to the Salinas struggle brought ideas and the horizon was always to have… to be creative, to use the law as a political tool of social struggle to defend the territory, the territory understood as the whole space. It is not the Salina or the lagoon, it is the way of life in the whole Basin with all the sub-basins.”
Don Luis Quipildor, Alfarcito community member, stressed that there are communities and ecosystems that only demand that their rights are respected:
“What we need to be known, nationally and internationally, is that there are a lot of people living in this territory. And we just want our right to work and live well, as our parents and grandparents did, to be respected. To maintain the continuity of the struggle it is fundamental to be able to maintain the traditions of our grandparents…”
“…We no longer have goats, we no longer have stubble, we no longer plant as much. And that’s when the government says: “what do they want the land for?” And that’s what we have to keep in our young people. Not to sow on a large scale or to pretend to have large estates. But to maintain and survive, to defend our right to tradition.”
During the afternoon, curator Inés Katzenstein, writer Graciela Speranza and artist Tomás Saraceno led art workshops with children from the communities present, to share imaginaries and forms of expression, and explore art and creativity as a means of attuning to the colors, shapes and textures of the environments we inhabit. Saraceno led the workshop “Drawing in the air”, which takes up and renews the practice of reading the messages drawn in the sky to read possible futures, resorting to the phenomenon of “pareidolia”: the impulse that leads us to recognize significant patterns in random information. What do we see in the clouds? What latencies are contained in their waters? What do children, those who will continue to live with the repercussions of today’s consumption and extractivism, imagine when they travel, with their feet on the ground and their heads in the sky, accompanying the clouds in constant movement?
The final public activity featured writers and activists Gabriela Cabezón Cámara and Claudia Aboaf, from Mirá Socio-environmental Collective, who say:
“There is not just one world. There are millions. And each one is the fabric of the stories and the territory. To tell the stories of a community in a territory is to give an account of its cosmovision. In the wonderful couplets, in small stories, in marks around the lagoon, in the entire basin. Poetry is woven with the sacred Apus. The grandson lives the time of his grandmother, when the water eyes were wild and now in this story they are plundered by the mining companies. Within the plot of stories and territory, is the life of these communities and their fight.”
The writers invited members of the communities to share and write short poetic texts based on the ancestral memory of the peoples of the region, their daily experiences and their bond with the land and salt. They were also invited to make drawings and small visual works that encouraged people to portray the social and cultural landscape experienced at the gathering and to understand the artistic units such as couplets, personal stories or memories as part of a memory to be maintained, nurtured and recovered.
Elina Alejo, Emiliana Alejo, Laureana Alejo, Cesar Alejo, Abril Ayala, Marcos Barconte, Waldemar Barconte, Lucía Cash, Sebastián Cazón, Verónica Chávez, Mariana Delgado, Alejo di Risio, Joaquín Ezcurra, Clemente Flores, Maximiliano Laina, Mai Lumi, Laura Lumi, Manuela Mazure Azcona, Florencia Montoya, Armando Morales, Alejandro Ortigueira, Omar Quipildor, Florencia Quipildor, Orlando Quipildor, Lucas Quipildor, Guillermo Quipildor, Horacio Quipildor, Luis Quipildor, Jorgelina Quipildor, Próspero Sarapura, Iber Sarapura, Monza Sarapura, Gastón Sarapura, Gabriela Sorbi, Lucas Ulecia, Nazarena Vercellone.
Ecosocial Justice Action Collective (CAJE), FARN – Environment & Natural Resources Foundation, Mirá – Ecofeminist and Socio-environmental Collective, AADEAA – Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers
Document on free, prior and informed consultation. Elaborated by the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc.