Extraction and the Utopia of Minerals
As a child, I always heard about the tremendous natural resources of my home country, Peru. This South American country was known -since the encounter between Europe and the New world- as a place full of richness. Many Spaniards traveled to Peru to find gold and forge their wealth; orat least that is the story we learn in school. This romantic perspective of the conquistador is appealing because it lets us forget the atrocities the Spaniards committed on their quest for gold. The Peruvian Economy is based on the export of raw material; minerals are fundamental for the Peruvian GDP. Last year the Canadian company "Plateau Energy" found a large deposit of Lithium in the south region of Puno, Peru. The finding of Lithium means $500,000 million USD annually in exports (El Comercio). It is a constant in Peruvian history to have foreign capital in charge of exploiting our resources. Even though, Peru’s GDP will benefit; in the past, the extraction of minerals has negatively affected the environment and surrounding communities.
Mostly, the finding of new supplies of resources is portrayed by the media as a wonderful event. Under the viewpoint of mainstream economics, capital accumulation is the best thing to which every society can aspire (Zackrey). This rhetoric implies that companies are the developers of society and entrepreneurs are the heroes of our community — however, the real story behind the news is more complicated than that. Not everybody benefits from the extraction of minerals. Most of the time, people in different regions must work extra hard to have some gain from these minerals. The exploitation of marginalized populations is a consequence of the mine. A group of women in Bolivia lost their husbands due to various illnesses that occur from working in the pits (Women of the mine). The social effects of mines in marginalized communities go beyond creating dependency on the mine.
In areas where, historically, mining is the primary source of income, switching to other ways to produce money has been difficult. People in mining areas typically do not develop other industries besides mining. Also, the environment is destroyed because of the process of mining, and people tend to migrate to other places. All of these factors create an environment where people can't find other jobs. Then, when the mine closes, people lose these jobs, and the area is economically devastated.
Moreover, the environment may be impacted negatively. Some of the possible risks of the extraction of Lithium are water or soil contamination, as well as water shortages. There is also another threat from uranium. These lithium deposits can also contain uranium- many million pounds of uranium. The company will prioritize lithium when processing this mineral; the miners are thus exposed to radiation incidentally from the uranium. Plateau Energy has recognized that in Peru there is no specific regulation for the exploitation of radioactive minerals (Cooper accion).
An unfinished task that must be addressed by Peruvian authorities and by the company is how they intend to face the risk posed by the issue of radioactivity, as well as how they intend to control the impacts of the extraction of Lithium. Puno is one of the most populated states of Peru, and its northern zone, where the deposit is located, is one of the poorest in the department, with high child malnutrition. The authorities and local communities should be very aware of how the project will affect the health, water, and domestic agricultural production (DW).
The Government should also monitor the different stages of the process, for the benefit of the surrounding communities. Sustainable benefits must be implemented. Not only short term changes like scholarships or new buildings. Real investments in the communities must be put in place. In this way, possible problems between the community and the State can be avoided. In the past, the Peruvian government did not take enough care of the rights of indigenous people. Communities surrounding the mine are usually placed in a second position at the time of making decisions, compared to the economic benefits. The Estate privileges the big corporations because they prize capitalism and free markets over people’s rights. Corruption and money paid during political campaigns play an important role in determining who gains the right to regulate mining or activities. The Estate must address these issues to create a more egalitarian society and allow people also to keep their environments clean and safe.
De Echave, José. "EL LITIO DE PUNO". Cooperaccion, http://cooperaccion.org.pe/el-litio-de-puno/.
"El futuro del litio en el Perú: no solo en salares, también en las rocas". Gestion, 14 September 2018,
Sackrey, Charles, Geoffrey Eugene Schneider, and Janet T. Knoedler. Introduction to political economy. Dollars and Sense, Economic Affairs Bureau, 2002.
"Descubrimiento de litio en Perú: desafíos de la riqueza del oro blanco". Victoria Dannemann. DW. https://www.dw.com/cda/es/descubrimiento-de-litio-en-per%C3%BA-desaf%C3%ADos-de-la-riqueza-del-oro-blanco/a-44916579