Indigenous Communities in Chile Raise Concerns about Public Health Risks Posed by Mining Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A recently published report, Public Health Emergency in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Chile and its impact on the Rights of Original Peoples, co-produced by a number of Indigenous organizations and Chilean NGOs, covers the disproportionate and structurally-aggravated impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous communities in Chile.

Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada translated the mining section of this report. We are highlighting these specific realities as part of an ongoing collaborative effort to expose mining company profiteering during the pandemic.

“It is important to point out that from March 18 to the present, the Atacameño People’s Council [an Indigenous governance body representing 18 communities] announced publicly that they would close all tourist centres in the community, which are managed by the community members. They also demanded that the mining companies Soquimich (SQM) and Albermarle – the two most important lithium producers in the country –  take preventative measures to minimize the flows of personnel (which can reach up to 10,000 people) since their operations take place in close proximity to surrounding communities (some of which even have mining camps in them). 

At the time of sending this report, the copper and lithium companies which operate in the Atacama Salt Flat and its surroundings, have not ceased their operations which represents a serious threat of spread of COVID-19. Many of the community members of elderly people, the population at heightened risk for contracting the virus.” 

— Emergencia sanitaria en el contexto de la pandemia por COVID-19 en Chile y su impacto en los derechos de los pueblos originarios

To bring the voices of those directly affected by these realities to the forefront, we recently co-produced a reportVoices From the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from the COVID-19 Pandemic – which highlights dozens of similar cases from around the world (also available in Spanish, French and Portuguese).


Making Clean Energy Clean, Just and Equitable

Several of the cases featured in our report are from regions where nickel, lithium or cobalt are being extracted. Earthworks has been building relationships with communities and local NGOs on the frontlines of these expanding mining frontiers to help ensure that the sourcing of minerals for batteries and other low-carbon technologies is as just and equitable as possible. The actions of mining companies and government regulators, now exacerbated in the context of the pandemic, raise serious concerns about the environmental and social impacts of mineral sourcing for low-carbon technologies, and highlight the need for greater action in solidarity with workers and communities along these supply chains.


Banner photo: Roadblock by local communities and residents of San Pedro de Atacama in protest of Corfo’s agreement with SQM (February, 2018)
Source: Ramón Morales Balcázar, Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Andinos