MAC: Mines and Communities

Bolivia: Protest blocks key access to Sumitomo mine

Published by MAC on 2010-04-24
Source: Reuters, Herald Tribune (2010-04-18)

One of Japan's biggest resource corporations, operating one of Bolivia's most important mines, confronts one of the most significant civil protests in recent months.

The mining ministry claims it doesn't know what caused the unrest.

However, demonstrating peasants are quite clear: they demand an electricity project, a tax on the water supplied to the mine, and the installation of communication antennas.

ESPAÑOL

Protest blocks key access to Sumitomo Bolivia mine

Reuters

14 April 2010

LA PAZ - Protests by local residents have blocked a key railway access to Bolivia's San Cristobal mine since Monday, forcing the mine, owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corp, to store mineral ore on the site.

A San Cristobal official, who asked not to be named, said protesters have blocked a railway linking the mine with the main rail network. "Company workers are not involved in the blockade. Local people are blocking it," said the official, who the company has not authorized to speak publicly.

A spokesman for Bolivia's Mining Ministry said he did not know the reason for the protest.

The official said the open pit mine has been stocking mineral ore in containers since the blockade started, but did not say whether the mine was still able to export some ore by road or if any stocks were held in Chilean ports.

San Cristobal exports all of its mineral production to foreign markets via Chile.

San Cristobal, in the central Potosi region, is one of the largest mines in landlocked Bolivia and produces silver, zinc and lead. It produces some 1,300 tonnes of zinc-silver ore, and 300 tonnes of of lead-silver ore per day.

According to Sumitomo's website, the mine is the world's sixth-largest producer of zinc and the third-largest producer of silver.

San Cristobal started operations in August 2007 and has a mine life of 16 years. (Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Eduardo Garcia)


Protesters Set Fire to Mining Offices in Bolivia

Latin American Herald Tribune

18 April 2010

LA PAZ - A group of Bolivian peasants in the southeastern province of Potosi occupied and set fire to offices of the San Cristobal mining firm, a unit of Japan's Sumitomo, near the border with Chile.

Friday's protest was staged over the alleged failure by the Potosi government to live up to some promises it had made to the peasants, the state-run ABI news agency and Erbol radio reported.

San Cristobal said in a statement that the blaze did not cause any injuries but that the peasants had overturned containers filled with mineral ore being taken for export to foreign markets via Chile, adding that the protesters' actions represented "big losses" for the firm.

The mining company said it hopes a solution to the conflict will be found in the near future.

The protesters are demanding an electricity project, a tax on the water supplied to San Cristobal and the installation of communication antennas. They also want the headquarters of the state-owned EBRE evaporitic resources company to be located in the Uyuni Salt Flats, also in Potosi, as opposed to La Paz.

The conflict in the region flared up at the beginning of the week, when the peasants blocked roads and the rail line for export to Chile, demanding to speak with outgoing Potosi Gov. Mario Virreira.

The demonstrators said they want to present a list of demands to Bolivian President Evo Morales.

San Cristobal operates a huge mine producing silver, lead and zinc near Bolivia's border with Chile.


Protest against Sumitomo Bolivia mine worsening

By Eduardo Garcia and Diego Ore

Reuters

16 April 2010

LA PAZ - Bolivian peasants on Friday stepped up their protest against the San Cristobal mine owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corp, overturning containers full of mineral ore and saying they would keep blocking a key railway line until their demands are met.

Protesters on Monday began the blockade of the rail line, which allows the huge San Cristobal silver-lead-zinc mine to export ore to foreign markets via neighboring Chile.

"Our demands are fair and must be met. The mine is ransacking our natural resources. We want compensation for the damage and ... we want help with our development," protest leader Mario Mamani told local radio network Erbol.

He said protesters had seized control of 80 loaded containers of ore, overturned several of them, and stormed a small San Cristobal office near the border with Chile.

"Every five hours we'll spill the contents of another container," said Mamani.

In a press statement sent on Friday afternoon, San Cristobal, which is fully-owned by Sumitomo, said the protest about 60 miles (100 km) east of the mine is hurting its "economic and productive activities."

The statement said the spilling of ore from containers will mean "big losses" for the company and that protesters are also blocking a road in the area, which is disrupting transportation of supplies to and from the mine.

Protests by Indian groups against mining companies are fairly common in impoverished Bolivia and in neighboring Peru, a leading producer of silver, zinc and copper.

Throughout the Andean region indigenous groups are demanding greater control over natural resources and a bigger share of their countries' mining and energy revenues. Many oppose foreign investment in extractive industries altogether.

DEMANDING COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENTS

According to local media reports, the San Cristobal protesters were also demanding drinking water and electricity for their communities in the Andean highlands.

Sumitomo officials at the company's offices in La Paz and the central Potosi region contacted by Reuters said they were not authorized to give information about what effect the protest was having on the mine's operations.

A San Cristobal official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters on Wednesday that the open-pit mine had been stocking mineral ore in containers since the blockade started on Monday, but did not say whether the mine was still able to export some ore by road or if any stocks were held in Chilean ports.

San Cristobal, in the mineral-rich Potosi region, is one of the largest mines in landlocked Bolivia. It produces some 1,300 tonnes of zinc-silver ore, and 300 tonnes of lead-silver ore per day. According to Sumitomo's website, the mine is the world's sixth-largest producer of zinc and the third-largest producer of silver.

San Cristobal started operations in August 2007 and has a mine life of 16 years.

Bolivia exported nearly $1.5 billion of minerals in 2009. The Andean country produces mainly zinc, silver, tin and lead. (Additional reporting by Carlos Quiroga; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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