Chile’s SQM Suspends Lithium Operations Amidst Atacama Salt Flat Protests

Chile’s SQM, the world’s second-largest lithium producer, has halted operations at the Atacama salt flat in Chile as indigenous groups block public roads leading to the world’s largest lithium deposit. The road blockades have disrupted mining activities, affecting SQM and American firm Albemarle, both major players in extracting lithium from the region.

In a statement released on Saturday, SQM expressed uncertainty about the duration of the road blockades and the financial impact of the operational stoppage. The company stated, “Since we do not know how long the road blockade will continue, it is not possible for us to estimate the financial impact of the stoppage.”

The Atacama salt flat, known for hosting the world’s largest lithium deposit, has been at the center of protests led by indigenous groups. Demonstrators have obstructed public roads, impeding the movement of workers, supplies, and lithium extraction from the area.

The Atacama Indigenous Council indicated a potential resolution on Saturday, announcing that protesters would end the occupation following assurances from the mining ministry. The ministry pledged that President Gabriel Boric would visit the area to address concerns. As of now, it remains unclear whether protesters have vacated the region as of Sunday.

These protests were triggered by an agreement inked last month between SQM and state-run copper firm Codelco. Indigenous leaders argue that the agreement sidelined local communities, contrary to a recent government promise to engage in a dialogue regarding lithium mining in the Atacama region.

The suspension of operations underscores the vulnerability of lithium production, a crucial component in the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries. With Chile being a significant global player in the lithium market, any disruptions in production have the potential to impact the global supply chain.

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