INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, LITHIUM COMPANIES AND THEIR RELATIONS IN THE SALAR DE ATACAMA
COMUNIDADES INDÍGENAS, EMPRESAS DEL LITIO Y SUS RELACIONES EN EL SALAR DE ATACAMA
Hans Gundermann and Barbara Göbel
The increasing global importance of lithium gives worldwide visibility to those regions where it is produced. In the so called lithium triangle, the salt flat of Atacama stands out as a major source of potassium and lithium, which have been extracted
from mining brines since 1980. Less known are the environmental and social effects, as well as the social processes locally related to salt mining. This topic is addressed in this article by analyzing the relationships that in the period have occurred between companies and Atacameño communities. These links co-evolve in one direction or another. The actions aimed towards the surrounding communities and the local authorities of San Pedro de Atacama take place at the same time that local and ethnic actors are formed and make territorial and socio-cultural demands. Such demands are addressed to mining companies and involve land rights, damage to aquifers and saltwater ecosystems, alternative uses of the salt flats, redistribution of
profits and participation. In the changing picture of community-company linkages, companies develop, adjust and innovate in terms of relationship with communities (from paternalism to shared values, for instance). Communities also create dynamic relationship terms and strategies (from passive acceptance to open forms of opposition). They do it in political, economic, local, national and global scenarios, which present opportunities and open possibilities for action, but which also restrict
them and prevent others.