Blinded, sexually assaulted, silenced: the war over lithium, Argentina’s ‘white gold’ – by Harriet Barber (The Guardian – January 11, 2024)

In the country’s ‘lithium triangle’ activists say Indigenous land protections have been removed and protests against mining violently repressed

The first time, they came at 2am and without a warrant. Rosa* was alone. She was gagged, her eyes covered, and her hands bound with a cable tie. “I was paralysed. I felt someone choking me,” Rosa recalls. “They called me a socialist, a whore. I was in my underwear; they touched me. One put his fingers inside of me.”

It was the night after widespread protests against sweeping changes to the constitution in Jujuy, a northern Argentine province. The reforms were approved in the early hours behind closed doors, affecting two articles: one limiting the right to demonstrate and the other modifying the right to Indigenous lands, with the undeclared aim of facilitating lithium mining.

“The officers [two women and a man] told me not to protest any more,” says Rosa, a 42-year-old teacher and political activist. “When they left, they took the gag out and, one by one, kissed me on the lips. I stayed immobilised on the floor for 13 hours.”

Jujuy sits in the “lithium triangle”, a stretch of the Andes and salt flats of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia containing most of the world’s lithium reserves. Argentina holds the second-largest deposits of the metal in the world and has 38 mining projects planned in the north of the country, with three already operating. Its lithium exports grew by 235% in 2022, while the country’s new president, Javier Milei, has pledged to develop the sector.

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