The corruption scandal made public in Portugal this Monday (7) and motivating the resignation of Prime Minister António Costa escalated the pressure from associations and environmentalists against the exploration of lithium in the country, an activity at the center of the current investigations.
In a joint note published this Tuesday (8), eight groups that were already opposed to the extraction of the mineral demanded the immediate cancellation of all lithium mining projects, whether they are in the prospecting, evaluation or exploration phase.
The associations argue that the search actions launched by the Portuguese police the previous day “make it clear that their suspicions were always legitimate”, referring to accusations that licensing and mining exploration processes have not been transparent.
“The projects must be immediately canceled, under penalty of allowing territories and populations to be affected based on a corrupt and unclear process, which in no way has the well-being of the populations or the environment as its primary concern”, they claim.
Associations such as Montalegre com Vida and Povo e Natureza do Barroso state that the energy transition in Portugal, which is necessary, was captured “in a negotiation mechanism between friends, which ranges from the mining development plan to the creation of a lithium ‘hub’ “.
The ore, essential for the production of electric car batteries, has been one of the main bets of Portugal and other European Union countries to promote the energy transition and reduce their external dependence, especially in relation to China.
In this sense, even Latin America, where there are considerable reserves, has been a field of European interest and bargaining, which also faces competition with the Americans and Chinese.
Portugal, with its more than 60 thousand metric tons of lithium, is the country with the largest reserves of the ore in all of Europe, and its exploration has grown, especially in the northern portion. Now, the ore is at the center of the investigation initiated by the Attorney General’s Office.
Irregularities in the concession and extraction of ore in the municipality of Montalegre are suspected. Green hydrogen is also the focus of the case, with suspicions surrounding the government’s role in a large project to be carried out in Sines, an important port in the southwest.
The investigations target a series of figures close to socialist António Costa, including his chief of staff, Vítor Escária, as well as consultant Diogo Lacerda Machado, his personal friend.
After the police carried out a series of searches at suspicious addresses on Tuesday morning, the prime minister announced his resignation, and new general elections are now expected to be called for January.
Still in the note, the eight associations say that the current government has shown “contempt towards the legitimate protests on the part of the populations” about lithium and that this “evidences that this process does not have the best interests of people or the country in mind” .
The groups also criticize the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), which they claim works on behalf of mining companies instead of monitoring them. This is also an accusation that escalated after the name of the agency’s president, Nuno Lacasta, was mentioned by the Public Ministry as one of the “defendants” —formally suspects— in the case, as well as that of the Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure, João Galamba.
At the beginning of this year, the APA granted authorizations for the local company Lusorecursos to extract lithium and for the London-based Savannah Resources to develop four more open-pit mines, all projects in the north of the country, the central area of the investigations, according to information from the research agency. Reuters news.
Also this Wednesday, the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who was responsible for formally accepting the prime minister’s resignation, began conversations with different political parties to understand the next steps.
Rebelo could give the Socialist Party, the party that has a majority in Parliament, the chance to try to form a new government, or he could dissolve Parliament and call elections. Analysts project that the second option is the most viable — and likely. The president will give a speech this Thursday (9), when he is expected to announce the decision and possibly call the election.