Legal protction of lithium in Mexico will favor US and Canada

Level of hydric risk at the sites of lithium projects and prospecting.

As part of its program called Lithium Exploration, the Mexican Geological Survey carried out work in 82 locations in 17 states, in which “possible deposits of the mineral” were identified, according to the report prepared by Mining Watch Canada and the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining. The map above was prepared by the organization Geocomunes, with data from the National Institute of Geography and Statistics.

By: Alfredo Valadez Rodríguez, Correspondent

Zacatecas, Zacatecas

The governments and transnational companies of the United States and Canada will be the principal beneficiaries with the “protection” that the Mexican State has legally granted to the lithium deposits in national territory with the creation of the state company LitioMx, the civil associations Mexican Network of those Affected by Mining (Rema) and Mining Watch-Canada warn.

In a research document, they point out that with said action the two North American countries will be able to “consolidate agreements to link the processing and production chains of individual electric vehicles to a market constituted mainly of upper and upper-middle classes in the global north, at the expense of territories, water, land, biodiversity and culture, as well as the lives of the Mexican communities” settled in the locations where the mineral will be exploited.

“This plan is mainly designed to take advantage of the reforms made in the neoliberal context of the T-MEC and serve the race of the U.S. auto sector, against China’s control, throughout the electric vehicle value chain,” they stressed.

The 70-page text, called Lithium Exploitation in Mexico: Public Interest or Transnational Extractivism? consists of five chapters and was prepared by specialists in the field, Susana Isabel Velázquez Quesada, Yannick Deniau, Andrea Sánchez Mendoza, Jen Moore and Kirsten Francescone.

In the conclusions section, Rema and Mining Watch-Canada argue that lithium is only one of several metals whose exploitation is being stimulated by a “supposed” energy transition, in which it is intended to move from one energy source to another. However, they argue, this “entails the deepening and expansion of the same damages that have already been documented by the extraction of gold, silver, copper and other metals in this country, as well as in many more places around the world.”

Extractivism labeled “green” and “sovereign”

They also warn that: “promoting this mining as a supposed response to climate change and also as the way to construct national sovereignty, makes that this extractivism now labeled ‘green’ and ‘sovereign’ apparently has unanimous social approval.” With that, they say, the circles of people previously critical and sensitive to the socio-environmental, economic and cultural damages of mining, now seem to agree with “the most recalcitrant sectors” in which the extraction of lithium “is necessary or, even, inevitable and indispensable. We say that’s not the case.”

Among the other aspects analyzed in the study, both organizations consider it wrong for the federal government to compare the measures it has adopted to “protect” Mexico’s lithium legally with the ones took President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río in 1938 to nationalize hydrocarbons.

A Lithium Mine in Chile.

“They evoke historical facts without realizing that this supposed parallelism is riddled with errors and injustices: lithium is neither an energy per se (it is, in any case, a component for its storage), nor will its extraction generate economic abundance, in some way similar to that of oil in twentieth-century Mexico.”

To the contrary, they say, currently in the country “we cannot exercise sovereignty without first untying the hands of the State from the perverse scaffolding of the International Investment Agreements installed since the entry into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, and other agreements that promote and sustain the control of transnational companies over the commons.”

Finally, Rema and Mining Watch-Canada question: How can one speak of a decree and a proposal “in favor of the Mexican people” when their natural resources, their territories and life itself will be endangered?

“Regardless of whether the company (LitioMX) is public, private or mixed capital, those affected by mining say no to the exploration, exploitation, benefit and exploitation of lithium and other minerals. The true public utility of these is the determination to leave them in the subsoil, ” they emphasize.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Sunday, February 26, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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