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Lithium mining in Salar del Hombre Muerto, Argentina

The SHM is one of the largest lithium mines in the world. Since the beginning of the exploitation, in 1997, the scarcity of water and the mobilization of communities have increased. Currently, there are more than 8 companies


The Salar del Hombre Muerto is a high-altitude wetland located and shared between the provinces of Catamarca and Salta and integrates the water sub-basin of the Hombre Muerto [1] and the glacial sub-basin of the Salar Pocitos [2]. Since ancestral times, the native communities have lived and developed their community, cultural and economic activities there. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Lithium mining in Salar del Hombre Muerto, Argentina
State or province:Catamarca
Location of conflict:Antofagasta de la Sierra
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Water access rights and entitlements
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Mineral ore exploration
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Lithium
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Livent company's Phoenix Project is a lithium extractive company that produces lithium carbonate and lithium chloride. Livent designed its own production circuit, based on two extractive-industrial complexes, one located in the deposit itself - made up of the selective absorption plant to remove lithium from the natural brine of the Salar del Hombre Muerto, the auxiliary services plant (supply of electricity, steam and compressed air) and the lithium carbonate production plant-, and another located in the province of Salta -consisting of the lithium chloride processing plant (General Güemes department) and the cargo railway station ( Pocitos salt flat). Subsequently, the company made additional investments, aimed at diversifying its commercial base from the production of compounds of increasing demand such as lithium hydroxide and fluoride and fertilizers such as potassium chloride (49 million), and extending 145 km the layout of the Puna Gas Pipeline to avoid the transportation of natural gas in trucks between the field and its industrial plants (110 million dollars).

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Project area:60,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project150,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2,000
Start of the conflict:1997
Company names or state enterprises:Galaxy Resources (GXY) from Australia - Desarrolladora del proyecto "Sal de Vida"
Livent from United States of America - Dedicada a los negocios de litio de FMC desde 2018.
Allkem from Australia
Mineria Santa Rita S.R.L from Argentina
Galan Lithium from Australia
Lithium South from Canada
Kestrel Gold INC from Canada
Alpha Lithium from Canada
Relevant government actors:Government of Catamarca,
Ministry of Mining of Catamarca,
Undersecretary of Water Resources of the province of Catamarca,
Secretariat of the Environment of Catamarca,
Government of Salta,
Mining Chamber of Catamarca,
Ministry of Environment of the Nation.
International and Finance InstitutionsBanco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID) (BID ) from United States of America
Corporación Financiera Internacional del Banco Mundial
Fondo Monetario Internacional (FMI)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:PUCARA (Catamarca Peoples in Resistance and Self-Determination),
OPSAL (Plurinational Observatory of High Andean Salt Flats),
FARN (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation),
Anti-Extractivist Feminists,
Not to the Mine.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Legal Assistance Network against Megamining (REDAJ).
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Air pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts, Desertification/Drought, Global warming, Noise pollution, Mine tailing spills
Other Environmental impactsConsumption of fossil waters.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of livelihood, Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Other socio-economic impactsWorkers' strikes and frequent union conflicts due to the meager remuneration paid by the foreign firm to its personnel.
No payment of provincial fees (water).
Tourist impact due to the presence of a mine in the salt flat.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Institutional changes
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Atacameños community of the Altiplano has ancestral economic alternatives based on animal husbandry and grazing, fishing, agriculture and crafts. In recent times, a development of community tourism has begun to be projected in the area that has great natural attractions and historical heritage of the history of humanity.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:"Fénix Project" is a lithium mining project in salt flats that is in operation (since 1997) and expansion (since 2018). In the same salt flat (Salar del Hombre Muerto) other lithium exploitation projects are planned, where mining companies partner with technology and automotive companies. There are more than 8 companies that intend to settle in this area, increasing the pressures and impacts on this delicate ecosystem and the communities that inhabit it.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Convenio 169 de la OIT

Constitución Nacional y Tratados Internacionales

Código de Minería Nacional

Ley General de Ambiente N° 25.675

Ley de Glaciares N° 26.639

Ley de Acceso a la Información Pública Ambiental N° 27.275

Ley de Territorio Indígena N° 26.160

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Franco Aguilar y Laura Zeller (2012). Litio: El Nuevo Horizonte Minero. Dimensiones Sociales, Económicas y Ambientales. CEDHA
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Informe preliminar de la Red de Asistencia Jurídica contra la Megaminería (REDAJ). LITIO, la paradoja de la abundancia.
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Gallardo Susana (2011). La fiebre comienza. Extracción de litio en el norte argentino. Revista Exactamente, pp. 26-29.
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Impacto social del litio: los pueblos originarios reclaman por el uso de sus tierras. Escrito por Brenda Funes. Publicado en El Perfil el 2 de septiembre de 2021.
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Impacto ambiental del litio: el uso de agua dulce y el desecho de residuos tóxicos genera discordia. Escrito por Brenda Funes. Publicado en El Perfil el 3 de septiembre de 2021.
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Antofagasta de la Sierra: un viaje a la ruina del extractivismo del litio. Escrito por Asamblea PUCARÁ. Publicado en La Tinta el 2 de diciembre de 2019.
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Litio: Denuncia contra una minera en Antofagasta de la Sierra. Escrito por Darío Aranda. Publicado en Página 12 el 23 de marzo de 2020.
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Gomez Lende, Sebastián. 2017. MINERÍA DEL LITIO Y ACUMULACIÓN POR DESPOSESIÓN. EL CASO DE SALAR DEL HOMBRE MUERTO (1999-2016). Estudos Geográficos, Rio Claro, 15(1): 157-183, jan./jun. 2017
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Articulo sobre Conflictos por el agua en Antofagasta de la Sierra, provincia de Catamarca, frente a la explotación de litio en el Salar del Hombre Muerto.
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[1] INTA, “Caracterización de las cuencas hídricas de las provincias Salta y Jujuy”, 2011.
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[2] IANIGLA-Inventario Nacional de Glaciares. 2018. Informe de la subcuenca del Salar Pocitos. Cuencas Varias de la Puna. IANIGLA-CONICET, Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de la Nación. Pp.55.
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[3] The Final Frontier... A De-Risked Lithium Triangle Project. Publicado por Alpha Lithium.
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[4] Lithium South. Development Corporation.
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[5] Galan Lithium LTD.
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[6] POSCO Overseas.
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[7] Sal de Vida. Galaxy.
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[8] OroCobre. Curren Operations
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[9] Virgen del Valle del Litio.
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[10] El Gobierno autorizó nuevas obras en el Río Los Patos, en Antofagasta de la Sierra. Publicado en El Ancasti el 14 de junio de 2020.
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[11] InfoLEG. Información Legislativa y Documental. Ministerio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos de Argentina.
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[12] Policía provincial al servicio de las mineras, Publicado por Agapucara.
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[13] Afirman que las detenciones en Antofagasta de la Sierra fueron ilegales. Publicado en El Pucará el 4 de noviembre de 2019.
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[14] Catamarca: la violenta represión contra una familia originaria. Publicado el 1 de noviembre de 2019 en El Resaltador.
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[15] Pueblos originarios denuncian detenciones arbitrarias en Antofagasta de la Sierra. Publicado en IndymediaArgentina escrito por El Ancasti/ Catamarca el 2 de diciembre de 2019.
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[16] Antofagasta de la Sierra resiste atropellos mineros y del gobierno provincial. Publicado por El Pucará en 26 de agosto de 2019.
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[17] Antofagasta: corte de ruta en rechazo al acueducto. Publicado en El Esquiú el 21 de febrero de 2020.
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[20] International Lithium Association (ILiA) established to be the voice of the global lithium industry for the ‘lithium century’. Publicado en Newspress el 30 de septiembre de 2021.
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[21] Litio en Catamarca: un peligro para las lagunas altoandinas y la producción local. Publicado en Tierra Viva el 10 de junio de 2021.
[click to view]

[22] South America's Lithium Triangle and the Future of the Green Economy. Secretaría de la Minería. Ministerio de Desarrollo Productivo de Argentina. Enero de 2020.
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[23] Digging into mining industry trends: reflecting on PDAC 2021. Escrito y Publicado por Mining Injustice Solidarity Network el 18 de junio de 2021.
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[24] Market. Alpha Lithium
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Galaxy-Posco. Acuerdo clave por Salar del Hombre Muerto. Mining Press, Agosto de 2018.
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El presidente de FMC Minera del Altiplano intimó a El Esquiú. Mining Press, 1-10-2012.
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El negocio de litio de FMC se llamará Livent Corporation. 26 de julio de 2018.
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MINERA FMC LITHIUM NO PAGÓ JAMÁS EL CANON DE AGUA. No a la Mina, 18 septiembre, 2012.
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Denuncian contaminación y alteración del paisaje por parte de una empresa minera en el Salar del Hombre Muerto. La unión, 12-12-2014.
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Catamarca: minera norteamericana aceptó pagar canon por el agua que consume. Tiempo Sur, 24-02-2015. Casi 18 años tuvieron que pasar para que la compañía FMC Minera del Altiplano, subsidiaria de la estadounidense FMC Lithium, que explota los yacimientos de litio en el Salar del Hombre Muerto en Antofagasta de la Sierra (Catamarca), se comprometiera a abonar el canon del agua que utiliza en el proceso de extracción de carbonato de litio. La empresa se negaba, sistemáticamente, a abonar el gravamen basada en una cuestión contractual.
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Minera del Altiplano obtiene permiso para producir 40 mil toneladas de carbonato de litio. Latinominería, enero de 2018.
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Histórico acuerdo con Minera del Altiplano. La empresa accedió a pagar el agua que consume con obras para Antofagasta. El Esquiú, 6/05/2015.
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Descripcion por la empresa FMC . FMC Lithium purchased the Salar del Hombre Muerto, an Argentine salar containing high uniform concentrations of lithium with low levels of other contaminants. Brine-based deposits hold high concentrations of lithium in ranges from 200 to 2000 parts per million which can be further concentrated using solar evaporation. Second, FMC perfected and commercialized a selective purification process that extracts lithium chloride from the salar brine in a 95 pure form with minimal processing.
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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Asamblea Pucara.
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Aguapucara. Canal de YouTube.
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Científicos Industria Argentina - Litio en Argentina. Entrevistamos al Dr. en Ciencias Sociales y en Geografía del CONICET, Bruno Fornillo y conversamos con él sobre los yacimientos de litio en Argentina que posicionan al país en un lugar muy privilegiado en el mundo como reservorio de este mineral fundamental para la fabricación de baterías. TV Pública, 9/05/15.
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Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Andinos. Perfil de Facebook.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Actualización en 2021 por: Verónica Gostissa ( [email protected] - Asamblea ANTOFAGASTA RESISTE, PUCARA (Pueblos Catamarqueños en Resistencia y Autodeterminación) y OPSAL (Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Altoandinos) , Evelyn Vallejos ([email protected] - ANTOFAGASTA RESISTE y OPSAL (Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Altoandinos), Patricia Marconi [email protected] - Fundación YUCHAN y OPSAL (Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Altoandinos). Primera versión del caso desarrollada en 2019 por: Patricio Chávez / Lucrecia Wagner
Last update23/11/2021
Conflict ID:741
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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