Disputes and roadblocks halt San Cristobal operations in Bolivia's prime mining region
Mining-impacted communities and workers in Bolivia's Potosi region have halted production at a zinc and silver mine, demanding compensation for its water usage, and improved local services.
This is but the latest in a series of protests which appear to expose the government's dire failure to come up with a coherent policy towards foreign investment and ownership; to forge an equitable working relationship between state mining company, Comibol and small scale miners; and, not least, respect the role of women in the extractive sector.
Bolivia remains the poorest mineral-dependent economy in Latin America; it has one of the largest proportions of indigenous peoples, and artisanal miners, of any state.
For latest Bolivia posting, see: Bolivian workers take over plant, threatening to unseat Atlas
On protests at the San Cristobal mine in April, see: Protest blocks key access to Sumitomo mine
Bolivia negotiates as protests in silver and zinc mine areas grow
11 August 2010
Bolivian government officials will meet protestors from Potosi in a bid to resolve regional disputes and end roadblocks that have isolated the county's principal mining region for a week, curtailing zinc and silver production.
Mr Oscar Coca minister of the president said that the protests are led by the Potosi Civic Committee and residents of the Coroma region, which is engaged in border disputes with the department of Oruro over limestone deposits. Protestors have blocked major roads in the department since July 29. Representatives from Coroma will meet government officials in the capital city of Sucre.
Mr Coca said that we exhort the population to put aside all types of pressure and look for a solution. The protestors' other demands, including better roads and construction of an airport would be discussed in Potosi after the roadblocks are lifted.
Mr Alejandro Olmedo president of the Potosi Chamber of Exporters said that production in many of the regions' silver and zinc mines has ground to a halt.
Bolivia says San Cristobal mine halted by protests
11 August 2010
LA PAZ - Bolivia's San Cristobal mine has halted production after protesters took over a power station that supplies the site as part of broader anti-government demonstrations, the mining minister said on Wednesday.
San Cristobal, one of Bolivia's largest mines, produces silver, zinc and lead and is 100 percent owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corp. Mining Minister Jose Pimentel told reporters "San Cristobal has paralyzed its production" after residents of the southern Potosi region took over a key power station on Tuesday.
Protesters in Potosi have been demonstrating for the last two weeks to demand the government carry out several development projects.
A San Cristobal spokesman said earlier on Wednesday that the company's plant that processes concentrates had been shut for maintenance for nearly two days and the firm was evaluating whether or not to resume operations. "If we do not, we could face a complete shutdown of the mine in the short term," company spokesman Javier Prado said.
In April, local peasant farmers blockaded the mine for 10 days, demanding compensation from the company for the use of water supplies and calling for expanded services, including electricity, running water and mobile phone coverage.
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.
(Reporting by Carlos Quiroga; writing by Hilary Burke; editing by Jim Marshall)
Bolivians on hunger strike, cut rail links to Chile
7 August 2010
POTOSI, Bolivia - Anti-government protesters tightened their siege of Potosi, launching a hunger strike and cutting rail links to Chile, as tourists began negotiating their way out of the mining city, 10 days into the blockade. "We're taking this to the bitter end," said a hunger striker in the tent city that sprung up overnight in Potosi's main square.
The hunger strike includes regional officials, union and farm leaders, as well as Potosi Governor Felix Gonzalez, a former ally of leftist President Evo Morales, whom many critics charge is ignoring the plight of Bolivia's poor who voted him to power six year ago. "This strike... is the people's answer to the lies of the government," Potosi Town Council president Remberto Gareca told AFP.
People participating in the general strike, mostly local residents, miners and farmers, want increased regional investment, including construction of a new cement factory and a larger airport.
The southern city of 16,000 people for 10 days has been cut off from the rest of the country by roadblocks made of piled-up boulders on its main access routes.
On Friday, protesters took over the city's airfield closing it to all air traffic.
Saturday, local miners blocked the railway line to Chile, as other protesters blocked highways also leading to Chile and Argentina. "Our rules are tough here. We don't let any vehicle through," Janet Chipana, who joined the protest from Betanzos south of here, told AFP at a roadblock.
"There are 6,000 of us. We're organized even if unfortunately we have to put up with this weather," she added as the cold wind of the Bolivian Andes whipped through the valley.
A few kilometers north of the city, around 1,000 people have been stranded in San Antonio since July 29, having to alight a long column of buses stopped at a roadblock leading to Potosi. "We're cold, hungry and afraid," Rosario Machicado told AFP, as some protesters held what they said was dynamite, threatening to blow it up should anybody try to run the gauntlet.
More than 100 tourists from several countries, including 56 from France, have been trapped in Potosi since it has been paralyzed by the general strike.
On Saturday, however, around 40 tourists, 20 of them from France, were able to leave the city on small planes chartered by a Bolivian tourist agency after negotiations with strike leaders, a diplomatic source told AFP, adding that more would fly out later.
"Other foreigners were able to leave Potosi getting by the roadblocks on foot," said Frenchman Pierre Levet.
French ambassador to La Paz Antoine Grassin earlier cautioned that the prolonged unrest could harm the country's tourism industry as well as crucial foreign investments aimed at reaching Bolivia's lithium wealth.
Landlocked Bolivia is estimated to hold about half of the world's total reserves of lithium, a key mineral used in rechargeable batteries as well as everything from cell phones and laptops to electric cars.
Grassin also said he formally conveyed France's "concern" for the health and safety of the French tourists trapped in Potosi, some of whom he said "have begun experiencing difficulties due to Potosi's high altitude (about 4,000 meters, or 13,000 feet)."
"I'm very concerned and saddened by what's happening in Potosi, and we've called on the strikers to stop their harassment," said Vice President Alvaro Garcia in La Paz.
"For the seventh time we've asked them to stop the strike and immediately go back to work in Potosi," he added.