How Chile’s progressive new plan to mine lithium faces Indigenous hurdles – by Alexander Villegas (Reuters – July 20, 2023)

ATACAMA DESERT, Chile, July 20 – Chile’s millennial president, Gabriel Boric, promised to mine differently. He would turn the world’s largest copper producer and second largest lithium miner into a country that focused on environmental and social responsibility.

When Boric announced his ambitious plan in April to take state control over the country’s lithium industry and expand extraction of this essential component of electric car batteries, he pledged to so with pioneering environmentally-friendly technology, and personally talk with local Indigenous communities.

But communities living on or around northern Chile’s lithium salt flats, once tightly grouped under a regional council and now often at loggerheads, are skeptical and may prove harder to work with than the government in distant Santiago had planned on. In interviews with Reuters, some community leaders said they would demand more profits be channeled their way, while others said they would resist any new lithium mining at all.

“We’re in the most arid desert and to exchange what we have in water and vegetation for a lithium battery is going to leave us with nothing,” said Francisco Mondaca, a civil engineer and head of the environmental unit of the Atacama Indigenous Council.

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