Malón de la Paz against lithium mining
by Valeria Vegh Weis
In July, representatives of 400 indigenous groups marched almost 2,000 kilometres from Jujuy to Buenos Aires, in the third Malón por la Paz. Their aim is not to win more rights, but to stop the erosion of their already limited legal recognition. For more than a month, they camped out in the open with no resources, trying to draw national and international attention an ongoing state-corporate crime in their province.
At the heart of the dispute is the exploitation of lithium, the price of which has risen exponentially from $4000 per tonne in 2012 to $78000 by 2022. There are currently three lithium mining projects underway in Argentina. All of them will bring serious environmental impacts, including water pollution, the disposal of hazardous waste and the salination of drinking water for irrigation. In economic terms, the investments will benefit not the local population but the elite and international corporations, Moreover, Argentina’s legislation only requires companies to keep three per cent of royalties in the country (a tiny amount compared to the almost 50 per cent required in Chile). In Jujuy, lithium is found in the Salinas Grandes area, where the Australian company Orocobre and the Canadian company Daijin have rejected the indigenous peoples’ demands for consultation. With no other choice, the Third Malon por la Paz began.
The word “malon” is a Mapuche term that refers to a raid or war party. The Malon de la Paz transforms this historical concept into the name of a peaceful march that is still a powerful gesture of resistance, linking historical struggles for justice with those of the present. The first Malón de la Paz took place in 1946, with the aim of demanding the return of their ancestral lands. It was the first time that representatives of different communities came together to walk 2000 km to the capital, Buenos Aires. President Juan Perón received them and issued a policy for the return of their lands, but the elite-led provincial government of Jujuy refused to comply. This long delay and the refusal of the provincial government to return the land led to the second Malón de la Paz in 2006.
In the context of ongoing human rights violations in the province under the right-wing governor Gerardo Morales, violence escalated in recent weeks when he passed a constitutional reform in a matter of days and without consulting the communities, as demanded by the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation. The reform cedes control of ancestral lands to the provincial government, removes term limits for the governor, allows the privatisation of water resources, gives the government greater control over mining and other industries, and severely restricts the right to protest. Indigenous people have been violently attacked and criminalised by the police when protesting against the reform, leaving them no choice but to seek support outside their province. The struggle continues and international support is urgently needed.