Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
Photo Essay

Photo Essay: What Lithium Extraction Looks Like in Rural Argentina

In Catamarca province, multi-billion-dollar projects are bringing changes to daily life for rural and Indigenous communities.

April 25, 2023
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Photographs by Anita Pouchard Serra
With reporting by Natalie Alcoba

This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on Lula and Latin America

High in the Andes mountains, and across the Atacama Desert, is the area dubbed the Lithium Triangle: the mineral-rich regions of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, home to about half of the world’s known reserves of lithium. While extraction in Bolivia and Chile is led by state-owned companies, Argentina’s regulatory environment allows for full foreign ownership of investments in the sector. Argentina has attracted $5 billion in investments just since 2020. But extracting the mineral that is fueling the world’s transition away from fossil fuels has its own impact on the environment. Residents of communities that surround large projects are concerned about their livelihoods—and the safety of water sources and the local ecosystem. 

Roman Guitan, Cacique ( leader) of the Atacameños del Altiplano community poses for a portrait in the Salar del Hombre Muerto. Antofagasta de la Sierra, Catamarca, Argentina. December 2021.
The Salar del Hombre Muerto (“Dead Man’s salt flat”) got its name from Guitan’s great-grandfather, who found and buried the remains of an unknown man. The family has since buried other ancestors next to the original grave. 
Beatriz Perrea and Yolanda Espinoza are visiting a man at his home, during their tour through Fiambala to talk about the 3Q project, its consequences and the next public meeting, where she is invited to participate.
Fiambala, Catamarca, Argentina. December 2021.
The owners of the Tres Quebradas project located in Fiambalá boast that it will extract some of the world’s highest-grade lithium. Catamarca’s Governor Raúl Jalil expects the project will create jobs in the region. The Argentine government projects lithium exports will double to $4 billion by 2024
A sign invites tourists and visitors to take care of the animals and nature in the middle of the “Salar del Hombre Muerto” and its lithium projects, Catamarca, Argentina. December 2021.
A brine evaporation pool at Liex’s Tres Quebradas lithium mine project near Fiambalá.

Pouchard Serra is a French-Argentine photojournalist based in Buenos Aires.

Tags: Argentina, energy, Photo Essay
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