South American Tribes Seek to Block 'White Gold' Lithium Mining on Their Land

Sep 7, 2023

South America's Lithium Triangle

History is filled with brutal examples of conquest in the name of profit.

In this case, the means aren’t as brutal as war. The goal isn’t solely about profit either. The larger aim is to save the planet. Governments and corporations want to tap into possibly the world’s largest lithium reserves in South America. They seek to make batteries for electric vehicles. These are the hoped-for replacement for gas-guzzling cars that emit greenhouse gases.

The so-called “lithium triangle” is located in the Andes Mountains. It straddles Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. Indigenous people who live there say mining the mineral will ruin their land and way of life. They call lithium “white gold.”

"Our land is drying up and our water is polluted." Nati Machaca told this to the BBC. She is an Indigenous mountain dweller. She fears starvation and illness if the mining isn’t stopped.

Machaca is among protesters who’ve tried blocking mining trucks from rolling through the village of Purmamarca, Argentina.

Mining lithium depends on heavy amounts of water. This quantity is about 530,000 gallons of water per ton. Local farmers fear expanded lithium mining in the region will pollute the water. They also fear it will parch the land. They rely on it for crops and cattle.

Members of the 400 Indigenous groups who live here also fear they'll be driven off the land. They’ve held it for centuries. But their ownership isn’t based on modern written legal records. The constitution was changed in June. Under it, they could be evicted. The amended law also limits protest. But the people aren’t giving up.

"We are not moving,” demonstrators insisted as police sought to break up their protest, the BBC said. “The land is ours, the lithium belongs to us." 

Reflect: What do you think we should do when there's a conflict between protecting the environment and meeting the needs of people and industries? Do you think we can find solutions that benefit both?

Based on the information in the infographic, together Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile make up _______ of the world’s lithium reserves. (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. 35%
b. 53%
c. 60%
d. 71%
For more formative assessments, visit to start a free trial.

News brought to you by The Juice

Start a free trial today