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Alfarcito Encounter 2023

water and life are more
valuable than lithium

Intercultural and interdisciplinary meeting
in Jujuy rejected the lithium advance

An interdisciplinary and intercultural gathering was held between January 14 and 15 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. 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.

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.

Indigenous peoples and their traditional ecological knowledge are considered essential to global efforts to combat the climate emergency. Although indigenous peoples represent only 5% of the world's population, they inhabit 22% of the Earth's surface and are guardians of 80% of the planet's biodiversity. Their land management ensures sustainability, their agricultural practices minimize emissions from deforestation, and their adaptation strategies can be used to cope with climate change. However, this traditional knowledge - and the resource-based livelihoods of indigenous communities - are threatened by the advance of extractivist capitalism. And he adds: Today, at any given moment, there are 1.3 million people in the air, releasing more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. In a world facing a climate emergency, the dream of flying has become a nightmare. It is in this dystopian context, in which collaboration, partnerships and the pooling of knowledge in the face of the environmental crisis is essential, that in 2015 Aerocene emerges: an era, an interdisciplinary community, an open initiative that constellates knowledge and cultures to collectively create tools, implement and support environmental projects for ecosocial justice!

The native peoples of
Salinas Grandes y Laguna de Guayatayoc

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.

An intercultural dialogue of knowledge
around the star mineral

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.

Verónica Chávez, President of the Community of Santuario Tres Pozos

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.

Don Luis Quipildor, Alfarcito community member, stressed 

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.

Enrique Viale, founder of the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers, emphasized 

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 making the most of existing resources and legal strategies such asthe right to prior and informed consultation:

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 lawyer and former executive director of the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) went on to enumerate, "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, introduced four key points to understand the social and political context around lithium

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. Here they leave nothing 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.

The researcher, who has beenvisiting the region for almost a decade to learn about and make visible the real impacts of mining in the territory also added:

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.

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 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 allyof 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.


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.

Luis Quipildor

Ernestina Alejo

Verónica Chávez

Guillermo Quipildor

Maristella Svampa

Quique Viale

Gastón Chillier

Mel Argento

Bruno Fornillo

A team of environmentalists, lawyers, artists,
writers, film-makers, researchers and activists