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“For the Communities of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc Basin, Buen Vivir (Good Living) is the process of community life in fullness in our territory. It is being oneself with the community from its own roots. Achieving Buen Vivir implies knowing how to live and then knowing how to live together.”

This document contains the work completed in the territories of the communities of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc Basin. We have organised this document in order to build a path of resistance and political action using our own lives within a challenging context – due to current frameworks and policies that are functional to dispossession – in a horizon for Good Living “Sumak Kawsay”, in which our actions are proposed as tools, strategies, production and revaluation of ancestral knowledge and experience. They are political-organisational alternatives that have their greatness in their communal realisation and their power in perseverance. This is different from the reality that is presented to us in development models and plans that do not dialogue with what we are: that do not take into account the history and realities of our community, and our needs and potential.

Faced with this common reality, in our meetings, assemblies, gatherings, community workshops, debates, reflections and political struggles, we have created a proposal to develop a Free, Prior and Informed Consent and Consultation Procedure for our Indigenous Communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc. This is in accordance with the current legal framework in Argentina, especially Article 75, paragraph 17 of the National Constitution, ILO Convention 169 – National Law No. 24071 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The aim of this document is to present the path we have taken to confront the territorial conflicts that we are experiencing in our region; proposals that go in a different direction from our Andean cosmovision, threatening the balance of the Pachamama. We believe in participation and consultation as mechanisms for the creation of integral and community policies. (…)

Why do we call it Kachi Yupi?

We created this document once we reached a consensus, following many discussions and debates. We consider this to be a tool for our community for defending our rights, families, culture, identity and our Pachamama. We have agreed that this is only our first step forward, a very important one and one that has cost us a lot of work, but this is not definitive or ever-lasting, because the process in our communities is constantly changing and/or evolving. We believe that over time and as conditions change, we will make adjustments, updates and improvements so that it can function as the tool we imagined and conceived it to be, and in this way, add to the communities that are like-minded to this document.

Why do we think of salt footprints? Because this document is rooted in the deepest part of our identity, in the heritage of our grandfathers and grandmothers, in the vestiges of their struggle for our territory, in the signs left by their feet, in the marks left by history, in the traces of their learning and knowledge, in the deep and lasting impression of their culture.

In turn, a footprint represents a path to follow, a guide for the passing of people and animals, a furrow along which we must follow. In this document we intend to provide a footprint, as a community conduit, through which we channel our right to participation, consultation and free, prior and informed consent. In this way, we continue our ancestors’ legacy of defending the lands and territories to which we are intimately connected.

How do we elaborate Kachi Yupi?

In our lives as part of a community, we are used to performing different tasks known as “minka”, that is, a shared work in which we all join our efforts to benefit the community or one of its members. This is how we prepared this document, in a communal and joint process, agreed upon by all the actors in our communities. (…)

The first step was to agree on what the objectives were going to be and we defined a general one in assembly (…):

  • To analyse the international standards of the right to participation, consultation and free, prior and informed consent, progressing in the definition of common criteria and specific provisions, and providing elements for the elaboration of a possible document/protocol for special consultation for these communities.

In order to achieve this objective, we also consider the following to be necessary:

  • Continue the process of communication between the communities of the Assembly of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc in order to agree on joint work strategies to strengthen the struggle for the respect of indigenous rights.
  • Strengthen basic knowledge in relation to Indigenous Law and the right to participation, consultation and free, prior and informed consent in particular, as tools to demand the effective application of the rights of indigenous peoples recognised at the constitutional level and in international treaties (and concordant ones).
  • To learn about the experiences of other indigenous communities in the struggle for the respect of their fundamental rights, especially the right to consultation, analysing the actions implemented and proposing other measures to improve them.

Given that we are the only ones that could define the contents of Kachi Yupi, (due to our customary law, cosmovision, culture and context), we held various meetings in the communities’ territories. Each meeting held at Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc defined concepts and criteria throughout 2014 and part of 2015. (…)

As we progressed we were detecting and recording the similarities and agreements of the different communities. We presented every difference that surfaced in meetings, so we could discuss them and reach an agreement. (…)

Lastly, in a general assembly with all the communities of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc, the document called “KACHI YUPI – SALT FOOTPRINTS / PROCEDURE OF CONSULTATION AND PRIOR FREE AND INFORMED CONSENT FOR THE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES OF SALINAS GRANDES AND LAGUNA DE GUAYATAYOC”, was approved. Kachi Yupi collects the conclusions of the whole process, from an indigenous perspective.


Our culture / development model

In a press release issued by the Indigenous Peoples’ Committee of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guyatayoc on 11th of March 2011, we stated:

“… during the past year, we have begun to be silent witnesses of a new activity in the region, nobody has informed us of anything despite the rights that require us to be consulted (National Constitution, Article 6 of ILO Convention 169). We found out through rumours and the media that lithium had been discovered in the subsoil of the salt flats of the Puna of Salta and Jujuy. All the announcements made by the government spoke of the importance of this new venture for the national and international economy. However, no one said anything about how this new exploitation could affect the communities and our territory: the salt flats, the springs, the pastures, our livestock, the Pacha, our customs and beliefs, and so on. In short: our whole life…”.

(…) As members of Andean cultures, we seek Buen Vivir rather than strategic development or individualistic economic growth. This is only possible if there is a harmonious relationship with Pachamama, if participation is strengthened, if identity and cultural diversity are protected, and if we regain control of our territories and our lives. Our model seeks to create conditions for a harmonious and happy life. Following this logic, it is not possible to take a partial view – but a holistic one. “Pacha” is space, time, matter, spirit and also transcendental projections. Moreover, human life has meaning as long as it develops together with others. From this philosophical and spiritual framework, the indigenous communities of the Basin territory uphold a concept of development related to our deep sense of identity.

Our Communities and the Salt Flats

(…) Many of us work or have worked in the salt flats (…). The salt flats as they are known are part of our culture and identity.

From this perspective, salt is not an economic resource, but a “living being”: it has a blooming cycle, just like sowing. In the months of October and November of each year, the “sowing” takes place through the construction of pools; fro

m December until February – rainy season – the salt is “raised” in the pools; the “harvest” takes place from March until May; from this month the salt is transported to the facilities where it is fractionated for its commercialization. In August, asking for a good year for the salt and our territories, an offering is made to Pachamama, always in the same place, with the offering of coca leaves, food, drinks and the “sahumada” with coba. This is how the salt cycle is renewed, with a periodicity identical to the agrarian phases of the Quebrada, Puna and the Andes. The production is full of rituals, practices and secrets that reproduce a cultural identity pre-existing the State.

The communities hold a wealth of knowledge regarding the use of salt learned from the elders, such as the recognition of different types of salt (as food for human beings, for animals and medicine for different ailments) (…) The rational management of salt has been an ancestral conception of the communities, avoiding its uncontrolled extraction. (…)

There is also an affectionate, family-like relationship with the whole environment. Wild animals such as the puma or the fox give us signs of what the year will be like, whether it will be rainy or dry. Through their blooming, the wild plants warn us what the weather will be like. The weather itself is a family, it is common to hear that the hailstorm punished some crops and not others, because “it has its way”. This spiritual relationship with the natural environment must be respected, and any intervention must be done in conversation and respect for this culture.

The organisation of Communities in the territory

Although each indigenous community in the Basin has its own structure, in 2010, when faced with the advance of lithium mining companies, we began a process of coordination and uniting in order to address the implications of the activity. The emerging organisation led to the creation of the Assembly of Communities, which meets monthly to discuss different issues related to problems in the community, as well as a space to share our reflections and spiritually. (…)

Each Committee meeting is held in different communities within the territory of the Basin. This is where we reflect, learn from each other and decide the next steps that should be taken. (…)

We have also established a Mesa Chica, an executive and coordinating body that will make decisions, composed of fifteen people from different communities in the five areas of the Basin territory: Route 11, Route 52, Route 79, Tumbaya Department and Route 75 (see map). From these spaces we have taken on the commitment to defend our territory and the community rights of indigenous peoples.


The salt process / the consultation process


In accordance with our cultural identity and the reality of our community, and given that many of our communities live, work and interact with the salt, we have chosen to exemplify it as a characteristic of our identity and relationship with the Salinas Grandes.

Preparation of Tools

Before harvesting the salt, the working tools are prepared: shovels, pickaxes, axes, barges, quelaya (black) goggles and canvas bags. ood and drinks are also prepared to challar the tools. These consist of chicha, alcohol for yerbiau, piri and tijtincha.

The challada ceremony is held in a sacred place where it will always remain for future generations. During the challada, the tools and the workers are covered with coa-coa, coloured wool and their hands and feet are placed crosswise so that they are not caught by the soil and so that the work is successful.

Nowadays the work is undertaken with the intervention of machinery and hand tools are also still used.

Preparatory stage

From a community perspective, it aims to train and acquire knowledge in the defense of rights, the existence of the protocol and its validity, and the implementation of strengthening and organizational mechanisms. This should be an ongoing task.

Regarding the rest of society, it refers to the creation of strategies so that the State and companies recognise the protocol (a form of publicity for the project, actions, and places) and how to implement it, i.e. promoting of the document itself.

Construction of pools 

Like in all Andean activities, the challada is also held at this stage. Then places where the pools will be built are looked for; this must be a clean place where not too much mud can enter.

The dimensions of the pools are 4 x 2 m, with a depth of 60 cm and a water height of 30 cm.

For the construction, the salt is broken towards the contour of the measurements with a pickaxe, an axe and a chisel, and the dirty part is removed from the pools and left at the side. Nowadays it is realized with a backhoe machine, and the measurements are 10m x 1m, with a depth of 60 cm and a water height of 30 cm.

A salt cutter is used to cut along the contour of the measurement, and then the first piece of rubble is removed by hand so that the machine can work on it later. Once all the rubble has been removed with the machine, the pools are manually aligned and leveled.

Design of the Process

This would imply a first contact or meeting with representatives of the government, the company and the community (through the Assembly of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc Basin). Considering the project or specific measures includes the identification of the relationship between the actions of the project exposed to consultation and the rights that it will affect for us.

It would culminate in the Assembly whose objective is to approve the design of the consultation process by answering

a series of questions, applying the protocol to the specific case: how it will be, when it starts, where and who will participate in each stage. This is when the date of the next assembly would be defined, in which the actual consultation will begin.

Salt blooming 

When it rains in the summer, the salt flats fill with water, and with evaporation, the salt is reared again. We call this the breeding or sowing, which has its own process until it blooms and ripens. The tata INTI helps in all that refers to the breeding, as well as the Wayra (wind) who with its breath mixes the Yacu (water) on one side so that the water slides through the whole salt flat and therefore the Kachi (salt) blooms everywhere.

Development of the process

In compliance with the agreements of the previous stage, the consultation process begins to develop in assemblies with the presentation of information to the communities (research, development and exploitation of the activity, impacts, benefits, disadvantages and consequences). The aim is to provide a solid basis of information for a later stage of decision making.

A thorough understanding of the project and its impacts by all members of the community is important in order to make responsible decisions. Once the community understands that it has sufficient information, and understands the information provided, it will move on to the next stage.

Salt crystallization

Once the pools have been built, the salt is left to mature for a year, and then it is harvested.

Maturation of the decision

The proposal involves an internal period of reflection and refinement. And an external period, in which doubts or requirements, requests for new information, extension of time or clarification will be presented.

The objective is to make a decision with thorough knowledge, responsibility and decisiveness.

Salt harvest

When it is ready to be harvested, we once again prepare for the challada and the thanksgiving to Pacha for the new production of KACHI (salt). There are three harvesting techniques:

1- Manually, from pools until all the salt is crumbled, which is washed with the same water that comes out of the excavation, then the granulated salt is removed from the sides of the pools. The unoccupied pools are swept and squared for rearing.

2- Another form of harvesting is the salt loaves, which first of all consists of looking for the banks (fractioned spaces demarcated by what the locals call “veins”). First of all, an opening is created beginning with the veins, where a sample is taken to discover if the salt is good (even). Then, 30 cm wide and 4 to 6 metres long are marked from the veins, depending on the length of the bank. Afterwards, a straight line is marked out along this line, which is then axed until the cut is opened, aided by the use of crowbars. Lastly, the loaves are cut into 25 x 30 cm pieces, and then they are stacked and ready to be loaded onto donkeys or into lorries.

3- Granulated salt or soft salt consists of sweeping the grain salt with a shovel. This grain salt is put in piles to be bagged in 50 kg bags and then sold on the market.

Decision making

At this stage, the decision will be taken and the necessary agreements and guarantees will be established. In case of an affirmative agreement, the objective is to participate  in the development of the activity. If the outcome is negative, an agreement of respect for the process and decision is also celebrated, as well as a guarantee of respect for the decision.

Salt drying

It consists of removing the salt from the pools and placing it to one side, and leaving it to dry for a month.

When done with a backhoe machine, the salt is left on the side of the pools and spread out for faster drying, considering the quantity harvested is greater.

Follow-up of the procedure

This stage will include regular meetings, evaluations and monitoring of all steps in the activity.

The objective is to keep the community present at all times as part of the process and its continuity.