The famous Canadian filmmaker James Cameron (Kapuskasing, 68 years old), director of Titanic and Avatar and also known for his environmental activism, traveled this week to Argentina to give a talk on sustainability. On Thursday he was invited by the Government of Jujuy to visit the largest solar park in Latin America, Cauchari. The strong winds prevented him from getting there, but he was informed about local policies against climate change and toured some of the most beautiful landscapes of this province in northern Argentina with its governor, Gerardo Morales, who appeared with him on social networks. A day later, in an interview convened at the last minute with a small group of media, including EL PAÍS, he says he feels "resentful" after victim of "an ambush" that sought to present him as a supporter of the extraction of lithium that takes place in that province. The turning point was a letter from local communities informing him of the violation of rights — "to water, a healthy environment and self-determination as indigenous communities" — by mining companies in collusion with local authorities.
Question. Do you feel used by the authorities after what happened?
Answer. Absolutely. They were very good hosts and showed me their point of view, they even prepared a film in English to show me all the work they are doing on sustainability, which is impressive. But they didn't tell me the whole film and they didn't tell me that there are 35 indigenous communities in two provinces of Argentina that are in direct conflict, fighting for their rights and for their voices to be heard, things that really matter to me. I look forward to having the opportunity to speak with them directly and will look for ways to help them through my Avatar Alliance Foundation. I want to make it clear that in a conflict between the extractive industry and indigenous communities, I will always be on the side of indigenous communities.
A. In my experience in dealing with extractive industries versus indigenous and territorial rights, what often happens is that the value created by these resources goes elsewhere, usually to international companies that invest and does not reach local communities. It does not improve their standard of living or their educational level. We have seen it in Brazil, with gold mines and oil extraction, in Canada with oil... The benefits go elsewhere and are usually large amounts of money, but for local populations the impact is negative.
Q. It seems that you have decided on a serious commitment in favor of the indigenous communities affected by lithium extraction. Will it spread to the entire region, to what is known as the lithium triangle (Argentina, Chile and Bolivia)?
A. It's on my radar now, so we'll see what can be done. I have to do more research, but I feel morally obligated to get involved and that can be all over the lithium triangle, exactly. I can't speak for the communities because I haven't been able to talk to them yet, but I've been well informed. It seems that one of the big problems is that they have not been properly consulted and that their rights in that regard are not being respected.
Q. When are you going to talk to the communities?
A. As soon as possible.
Q. Have you ever heard of the resistance of indigenous communities to the extraction of this critical mineral for the manufacture of electric cars?
A. No, which is due to my ignorance. I always thought it was a relatively innocent extraction process because it was by evaporation. It never occurred to me that it could create large-scale water security problems for the people living in that area or degrade the biodiversity of an important ecosystem. I have contacts around the world with communities that fight for indigenous rights, but I didn't have in Argentina because I had never been focused here. The irony is that I will now have them. It has been stupid not to prepare myself as I normally do because I feel that I have been ambushed, I want to use that word, ambush, to make it seem that I have a certain point of view without being aware.
James Cameron and the governor of Jujuy Gerardo Morales, on June 9, 2023GOVERNMENT OF JUJUY
Q. Who do you think ambushed you?
A. I don't know how it was put together, but the objective does seem quite clear. Avatar is the highest-grossing film in history and is about a conflict between the extractive industry and the rights of indigenous peoples. It takes place on another planet, but of course it's about our planet, because it's about all the Pandora on Earth right now. If they could generate the idea that I approved of lithium extraction, they were greenwashing lithium to make believe that I think the importance of lithium for climate change is more important than the rights of local people, which is not my position at all and never will be. It's the first time something like this has happened to me and I'm resentful. I think they made me act like a character without knowing that I had that role and I want to make it clear that I did not come to participate in a greenwashing campaign. The next logical question would be: And then what is the alternative if lithium cannot be extracted?
Q. Which is it?
A. In the first place, the biggest problem of global warming is not transport, which represents 13% of total emissions, but livestock, which is responsible for at least 15% and causes other problems such as habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, violation of indigenous rights, deforestation ... So the biggest problem has to do with what we eat, something that nobody wants to hear about here in Argentina. You can't say you care about the environment and keep eating meat and cheese. To extract lithium and make all vehicles electric maybe we have to expel some people from their land, cause insecurity in water sources and cause other problems, but as long as we continue eating meat and driving our electric car is everything ok?
Q. After recording Avatar, do you feel that you have a responsibility for what you say on these tracks?
A. Absolutely. When Avatar came out I realized, first of all, that if people cared about the movie and got excited, then they also cared about nature and taking care of it. Then, I thought that these conflicts belonged to the colonial era and we already saw them in the rearview mirror but I realized that they still exist, only that they are more hidden.
Q. How do you plan to help indigenous communities in Argentina?
A. As a result of what has happened in the last 48 hours we are going to invest money, energy and money in this problem. The great irony is that if they had remained silent and had not invited me, I would not have found out. Or maybe it does. But I wouldn't have been in the middle. We can't solve all the problems in the world, but if you come before you, you have to do something about it.
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