Atacameño communities stop the Indigenous Consultation for the SQM-Codelco agreement in the Atacama Salt Flat 

Four of the five communities closest to the lithium extraction operations in the Salar de Atacama arrived at the headquarters of the community of Quitor, where the initial meeting of the 2031 to 2060 contract between the companies was called, to express their disagreement with the way in which the process has been carried out. They point out the lack of transparency and scarce participation of the indigenous peoples.

Last Tuesday, the communities located on the south side of the Salar de Atacama, disrupted the beginning of the indigenous consultation process organized by the Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO) (Chilean Economic Development Agency) regarding the contracts with the mining companies SQM and Codelco.

Already in January of this year 18 communities mobilized against the pre-agreement announced in December 2023, denouncing the lack of prior consultation. Shortly thereafter, in April, the communities of Socaire, Peine, Toconao and Camar, all located in areas affected by SQM’s operations, decided to suspend their participation in the negotiation table between the company, Codelco and the Council of Atacameño Peoples. They argued the lack of adequate criteria to consider the greater impact suffered by their communities due to their proximity to the mining company. 

The meeting, scheduled for that day at 9 a.m., was intended to be the first of three sessions to define the planning process with the communities. However, due to the demonstration it had to be rescheduled. According to La Tercera, CORFO said that they will soon define the dates for resuming the process. 

The community member of the Ayllu de Cucuter, Edwin Erazo, who attended the meeting, stated: “the methodology for this consultation was ready in less than two months. So it is an order from above that the state wants to comply with. Basically, the consultation is a mere formality so that they can sign the contract and exploit the salt flat until 2060, without even knowing how healthy the salt flat really is”.

Irene Cruz, from Socaire expressed her disagreement with the process: “We do not agree with this consultation, because historically they have a debt with Socaire, which has not been paid and they continue to pass over us, so Socaire does not feel protected, it feels alone. Today we do not have drinking water, we do not have sewage, we do not have basic services”.

Cruz also highlighted the agricultural problems due to the effects of mining, “our agriculture has not been prosperous and we know that it is because of the minerals that are falling through this particulate matter in suspension. We do not have the resources they have. We only have our wisdom and that is why today we are making ourselves heard here. We as a culture do not want to die, we want to continue living and remain in time and continue maintaining what we have inherited.

Another community member from Socaire, 50 years old and who has lived all her life in the territory, added: “We are already thinking that soon we will practically cease to exist, because they are going to extract all the water in our area. So our legacy for future generations will disappear, nothing will be left, because we will lose our agriculture and livestock, which is what people live on here”. 

“In school they teach us to always enter through the door and what we are unhappy about is that this Codelco mining company unfortunately entered through the window and that is not the right way,” commented another community member (45 years old) from the same community.

Rosa Ramos, president of the Business Association of Lickanantay Atacameño Indigenous Tourism , mentioned the social impact of mining: “In the end we are all affected, because when mining arrived it took away the father and the eldest son, and the woman had to take on double roles in her home; and as a result, money arrives, and alcoholism arrives. Mining has historically destroyed our social fabric”.

The Lickanantai communities demand a genuine and participatory consultation that truly considers their needs and concerns, protecting their rights and their environment before proceeding with any additional contract that impacts the Salar de Atacama. For Ramón Balcázar, member of the Plurinational Observatory of Andean Salt Flats, these facts show that “despite the fact that SQM spares no effort to hide its corrupt and unsustainable practices behind publicity campaigns and non-binding participation processes, in the face of the extension of its operations in the Salar, the popular rejection of the mine is resounding. The installed myth of responsible mining and the “good neighbor” simply does not hold up.” 


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