London Calling - August 6 2002Published by MAC on 2002-08-06
London Calling - August 6 2002
Rio Tinto's man back in Bolivia
"Goni" is back in power in Bolivia. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, leader of the centre-rightwing MNR (it doesn't matter what the initials mean since they no longer hold anything like their original meaning) had struck a deal Jaime Paz Zamora, of the supposedly leftwing MIR. Between them they defeated the Indigenous, anti-capitalist candidate Evo Morales at last Sunday's presidential elections.
Morales had been targeted by the US government "dirty tricks" brigade which threatened to withdraw aid to the country if he were elected.
Ten years ago, Goni was relatively little known - he'd spent most of his adult life in the USA, boning up on "neo-liberalism" with the help of some of its prime exponents. It was then that Rio Tinto successfully courted him, buying up a third of his private mining company, COMSUR. In 1993 Goni won the Bolivian presidential elections for the first time. Rio Tinto was quite contented and invested seriously in Bolivia.
Capper Pass and Bolivia: the Toxic fix
Also in 1993, Rio Tinto's notorious Capper Pass tin smelter was finally closed down in northeast England, bequeathing one of the worst toxic industrial legacies in the country's history. Rio first tried shipping some of these wastes to Mexico. But when the government discovered what they were, it angrily turned them back. Using the mendacious claim that the wastes were materials "for recycling" Rio Tinto promptly despatched them to Bolivia. Environmental groups and media in the country vehemently protested, but Goni was on hand for Rio Tinto. In flat contravention of the Basel Convention, the toxic cocktail was permitted into the country and incinerated in a smelter.
...And a tailings disaster too!
Lozada doesn't seem to have done much with his mining interests since he was ousted in 1997. The year before, Comsur was responsible for one of the worst tailings disasters in recent years. Up to 400,000 tonnes of heavy metals gushed into the El Porco river in Potosi, contaminating nearly 300 kilometres of waterways and surrounding farmlands, affecting some 50,000 campesinos.
[Sources: Financial Times, London, 5/8/02; Roger Moody "Into the Unknown Regions: the hazards of STD", London 2001, Parting Company. Partizans, London passim 1993-1994]