MAC: Mines and Communities

Latin American Update

Published by MAC on 2006-10-08

Latin American Update

8th October 2006

Last week sixteen miners were killed, and more than 60 wounded, during a series of confrontations in the Huanuni tin mining area of Oruro, Bolivia. The bloody "clashes" followed attempts by members of smallscale mining cooperatives, to take over tin deposits within leases granted to state-owned Comibol. According to Reuters (October 6 2006), the state miners had themselves set up a highway blockade at Huanuni in late September, demanding more jobs at the mine. And, earlier in the week, says Mineweb (October 6 2006), "political and community leaders from Bolivia’s four richest regions threatened to disobey a new constitution if it is passed by a simple majority of the Constitutional Assembly. This would have started to fulfil president Morales' promise to empower the country's majority Indigenous population."

Three years ago Bolivian miners had set up roadblocks in three states, demanding that the state mining industry be reactivated in favour of the poor - in particular those thrown out of work by the privatisation of Comibol, under the disgraced former president, "Goni" Lozado.

Two years ago, dis-employed tin miners seized the Caracoles Mine, Bolivia’s third largest tin producer and occupied it for several months pressing their demand for jobs. And there have been similar conflicts since.

On Saturday October 7 it seemed that a truce was in place, after Morales sacked both the minister of mines and the head of Comibol.

It would be a serious error to dismiss these tragic events as mere "in fighting". At the root of the tragedy is the neo-liberisation of Bolivia's economy in the eighties which resulted in the evisceration of Comibol and the dismissal of thousands of Indigenous miners (including many women and children), left to their own resources; or rather, to mining hundreds of scattered deposits, some virtually with their bare hands. Miners on both sides of the current conflict look to Morales to resolve a crisis which is not of his own making - and certainly not open to easy resolution.

Just before these events unfolded in Bolvia, reports from southeastern Venezuela claimed that four or six smallscale gold miners in the jungle region of La Paragua (Venezuela) had been shot dead and 22 injured, when troops opened fire. President Hugo Chavez has ordered an investigation, promising that any soldiers found guility would be brought to justice.

In Guatemala, indigenous Maya families have consolidated their occupation of property "owned" by Canadian nickel miner, Skye Resources, demanding land.


Morales Fires 2 Bolivia Mining Officials

By DAN KEANE, Associated Press Writer

7th October 2006

LA PAZ, Bolivia | President Evo Morales fired two top mining officials late Friday after a clash between rival bands of miners over access to the country's richest tin deposit left at least 16 dead and more than 60 injured.

Reports of a halt to the fighting came after the government sent 700 police to control the mountainside where the mine is located.

Officials from the two mining groups also met with government ministers in La Paz. Presidential spokesman Alex Contreras said the meeting yielded a peace agreement, with both sides agreeing to allow humanitarian aid to enter the town.

It wasn't immediately known if the agreement would turn into a permanent cease-fire. A truce on Thursday night lasted long enough for both sides to bury their dead.

Morales said the changes were part of the his administration's learning process.

"In eight months we cannot solve all of our social problems," he said. "I recognize, self-critically, that we are all new at this - ministers, vice ministers, president, vice president, all learning to serve the people better."

Morales, who took office in January as Bolivia's first indigenous president, responded to the violence by dismissing both the minister of mines, Walter Villarroel, and president of Bolivia's state-owned mining company Comibol, Antonio Rebollo.

In their place, he swore in Guillermo Dalence Salinas as the new minister, and Hugo Miranda as the new head of the mining company.

The violence began Thursday morning, when hundreds of miners belonging to independent cooperatives stormed the state-owned Huanuni mine, demanding more access to its tin deposits. State-employed miners counterattacked to regain control of the mine and the groups exchanged gunshots and dynamite.

The clash followed a breakdown in negotiations in the nearby city of Oruro in which the miners' cooperatives rejected a government proposal dividing Huanuni's veins of tin between the two groups.

The cooperatives strongly backed Morales' election last year, and the administration has already granted them access to a portion of the Huanuni deposit on on the barren slopes of Posokoni Mountain.

Miners from both sides threw dynamite and homemade explosives at each other from ridge to ridge, sometimes separated by no more than 50 feet.

Miners, some only in their teens, carried sticks of dynamite in backpacks and tucked in their belts.

In town, residents held a prayer vigil in the local church for the violence to end. Blood stains and holes from explosives littered a soccer field in the Dolores neighborhood following fighting there Thursday.

On Friday morning, members of the miners' cooperative rolled three tires packed with explosives down the side of the mountain toward town, causing an enormous explosion.

Bolivian mines once produced over 30 percent of the world's tin supply, but production came to almost a complete halt following a collapse of the world metal market in 1985, and national mining company Comibol slashed its workforce by some 25,000 workers.

While many of Huanuni's unemployed miners sought work in other fields and other parts of the country, some remained, and as prices recovered, they formed independent mining cooperatives to mine tin on their own.

Bolivia eventually granted the Huanuni mine concession to British-based Allied Deals. When the company, now known as RBG Resources, abandoned its Bolivian operations in 2005, the mine returned to Comibol, despite demands from the miners' cooperatives for some control over the valuable deposits.

Still, production remains well below pre-1985 levels. In 2005, Bolivia produced only 18,780 tons, or about 5 percent of global output.

Rising tin prices have stoked demands by the independent miners, who see the Huanuni vein as a rare source of steady employment in the poor South American country.

Bolivia mining violence quelled, minister replaced

By Eduardo Garcia

7th October 2006

HUANUNI, Bolivia (Reuters) - A deadly dynamite battle between rival groups of Bolivian miners ended in a truce on Friday evening and President Evo Morales fired his mining minister, who was criticized for not anticipating the violence.

The official death toll rose to 16, after state-employed miners and members of independent mining cooperatives fought with dynamite, sticks and stones on Thursday and part of Friday at the Huanuni mine, one of the world's largest tin mines.

More than 60 people were wounded in the fighting in the impoverished town of Huanuni in the desolate, dusty Andes southeast of La Paz, before hundreds of riot police carrying batons and shields arrived to quell the fighting.

The violence posed a new challenge to the leftist Morales, leaving him caught between two groups whose political support helped lift him to power last year.

The violence started after miners from cooperatives stormed the mine on Thursday demanding larger concessions to exploit tin ore from the mine, in which both state-employed miners and independent cooperatives work.

Opposition lawmakers called for the removal of Minister Walter Villaroel, and Morales reacted, replacing him with Guillermo Dalence, who was sworn in on Friday night in a televised ceremony.

Police, government and church officials negotiated with both sides. "We're carrying out a job of persuasion," said National Police Commissioner Isaac Pimentel.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds of independent miners in hard hats, many crouched in the rocky hillsides overlooking Huanuni, tossed lit dynamite sticks at rival workers.

Some packed dynamite into tires, which they rolled down to explode near state-employed miners guarding mine entrances.

The government announced the hundreds of police officers it sent to the area would not carry lethal weapons.

Analysts and traders said tin prices could jump sharply as supplies are squeezed by the violence in Bolivia and in Indonesia, where riots broke out after police closed down four illegal smelters this week.


State-employed workers complain that while they earn a monthly wage, workers from the independent cooperatives are paid according to the amount of ore they extract, frequently earning more than mine staff.

"They are sucking the mine dry," said Eliaterio Ancasi, 54, a worker at the state-controlled mining company, COMIBOL. "Within a month many of them have a car, while most of the state workers don't even have a wheelbarrow."

Some 1,200 state-employed miners and 4,000 independent miners work at Huanuni, which produces 10,000 tonnes of tin a year, slightly more than half Bolivia's total production.

Once a pillar of the economy in South America's poorest country, the mining industry shriveled during the 1980s as pits were closed and workers were let go amid an economic crisis and sagging international prices for minerals.

As prices rebounded and climbed in the 1990s, the laid-off miners started working the idle mines themselves and eventually formed powerful independent cooperatives now fighting for more control over Bolivia's rich minerals.

Morales has said he wants to revive the industry but has not announced a formal plan to do so.

Bolivian Mining Groups Declare Truce

Associated Press Writer

6th October 2006

(AP) Rival miners' groups agreed to a truce late Thursday after a day of clashes over access to one of South America's richest tin mines left at least nine people dead and 40 injured, a senior official said.

The fight pitted independent miners allied with President Evo Morales against those employed by Bolivia's state mining company.

Hundreds of miners belonging to independent cooperatives stormed the state-owned Huanuni mine, demanding more access to its tin deposits.

State-employed miners counterattacked to regain control of the mine and the groups exchanged gunshots and threw sticks of dynamite.

Public Defender Waldo Albarricin announced late Thursday that the two groups had agreed to stop fighting so both sides could bury their dead.

"The peace agreement comes at the will of workers on both sides," said Albarricin, adding that meetings between the camps will continue Friday morning to negotiate a more permanent agreement.

"What should have been a blessing for the country, to possess such natural riches, today has become a curse," said Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera in a national address Thursday evening.

Linera said nine people had been killed and at least 40 injured.

A team of Bolivia's top ministers arrived in the mining town of Huanuni, 180 miles south of the capital of La Paz, in hopes of negotiating an end to the conflict.

The Bolivian government has declined to mobilize the military in response to the conflict.

"We are still not deploying public forces, and will do so only when it becomes necessary," Morales' chief of staff, Juan Ramon Quintana, told a news conference.

But some angry miners accused Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, of withholding troops to avoid a confrontation with the independent mining cooperatives that played a key role in the populist movement that helped him win election last December.

"If they will not send the army, then they should send us boxes for our dead," said Pedro Montes, secretary-general of the Central Obrero Boliviano, a nationwide union representing the state-employed miners.

Among the dead were men and one woman representing both groups, as well as a local bus driver, according to media reports.

Morales was elected in December with a mandate to help Bolivia's poor indigenous majority see a larger share of the revenues from the land-locked nations' extensive mineral and natural gas deposits.

The cooperatives strongly backed Morales' campaign last year, and the president has since granted them some concessions at Huanuni.

Eight dead in Bolivia mining clash

5th October 2006

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - The death toll rose to eight in fighting between state-paid and independent miners over who has the right to work in tin mines in western Bolivia, a government official said on Thursday.

The army was called to the region high in the Andes to quell protests after the independent miners seized several state-owned mines including the Huanuni mine, one of the world's largest tin mines, state news agency ABI said.

The workers were using dynamite to fight each other, local media reports said.

The government official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that eight miners were dead. Earlier reports said four had died and 22 were injured.

Mining Minister Walter Villaroel will travel to the area in an effort to persuade both sides they can work together at Huanuni, officials said.

The violence comes amid rising social tensions in Bolivia. So far, the leftist government of President Evo Morales has skillfully negotiated an end to recent protests and road blockages over Indian rights, natural resources and land, and coca-leaf farming.

Late last month, state-paid miners blocked highways demanding more jobs in the Huanuni mine, halting the flow of vehicles through one of Bolivia's main trade routes for several days. The mine is in Oruro, some 175 miles southeast of La Paz.

In the 1980s, Bolivia shut down dozens of mines and laid off some 35,000 miners amid an economic crisis caused by high inflation and low international prices for minerals.

With prices for minerals rising in the 1990s, the sacked miners started exploiting idle mines themselves and eventually formed the powerful cooperatives that are now fighting for more control over Bolivia's plentiful mining resources.

Miners helped push Morales to a sweeping victory in the December 2005 elections.

The Morales government has pledged to revitalize the mining industry but has yet to announce its mining modernization plan.


Crackdown on Illegal Miners Draws Blood

Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Sep 26 (IPS) - Witnesses say six people were gunned down by Venezuelan army troops last weekend in illegal gold mines in the jungle region of La Paragua, some 600 kilometres southeast of the capital. But so far, authorities have acknowledged only four deaths.

The brutal incident triggered violent protests in southeastern mining areas, highlighted the difficulty of eradicating illegal mining in the Venezuelan Guayana region, and struck a heavy blow to the government's programme to encourage artisanal miners currently inflicting damage on the environment to become farmers, tour guides or forest workers.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said in a news briefing Tuesday that the preliminary investigations indicate that the military was responsible for the killings, and said the soldiers involved would be brought to justice.

"We know at the very least there was an excessive use of firearms by a group of soldiers. This government is not covering up, nor will it cover up any abuse. This government respects human rights."

On Saturday, Manuel Lizardi, a miner in Turumbán on the La Paragua river, arrived wounded to the hospital in the regional capital of Ciudad Bolívar, reporting that military troops descended on the "bulla" (rural mine) Friday and fired on miners. Four of his companions were killed, but he escaped after pretending to be dead.

Judicial police Saturday discovered the bodies of José Rondón and Ramón García, as well as Brazilians Livardo Sánchez and Yovanny Lima.

However, it is not yet clear as to how many people were at the bulla when the army arrived or how many people were killed.

Lizardi and Katiuska Sánchez, Livardo's daughter, said that at least two indigenous people also died that day, but that their communities removed their bodies and refuse to come forward; other relatives say at least three more miners are missing.

Rumours spread like wildfire through this 50,000-hectare area where, according to mining union leaders, some 40,000 miners work. There was talk that another three Brazilians and several more indigenous people had been killed, which would bring the death toll to 12 people.

Local residents were also saying that the military had allegedly seized 10 kilograms of gold when they were destroying the miner's equipment, materials and site in Turumbán.

General Francisco Enrich, commander of Theatre of Operations 5, which covers all of southeastern Venezuela, first reported the incident as "a dispute among miners over a gold bulla." Defence Minister, General Raúl Baduel, later spoke of a gun battle between gold miners and soldiers.

According to Baduel, soldiers on board a helicopter spotted illegal mining operations in the area "and the aircraft barely had time to drop off the troops before it was forced to take off, after gunmen took cover in the surrounding jungle and began shooting at the troops. Weapons were seized at the site."

However, Baduel ordered an investigation, turned over the soldiers involved in the Turumbán action to the Public Prosecutor's Office and said that "The armed forces will not condone any illicit act."

Marino Alvarado, coordinator of the local human rights group Provea, told IPS that "the Defence Ministry's strong stance, willingness to cooperate and the fact that the case is being dealt with in the sphere of civil justice are very positive developments.."

Engineer Víctor Castillo, a resident of the riverside mining town of La Paragua, said the story he heard from Lizardi is that the soldiers landed and simply opened fire on the miners without saying a word. He also said some were shot again, after they were wounded and had fallen to their knees.

Javier Lezama, an advocate for the La Paragua miners, told IPS in a telephone interview that "it is hard to believe that a few miners who have maybe one or two hunting or homemade weapons would attack army troops that arrived in a helicopter gunship armed with rifles and other automatic weapons."

On Sunday and Monday, hundreds of furious miners, their families and other local residents protested in the streets of La Paragua and Maripa, the municipal capital, whose mayor, Juan Carlos Figarella, was mentioned by Baduel as the person who made the complaint about the illegal mine.

An army guard post and Mayor Figarella's house were overrun and torched, as were government trucks belonging to the Bolívar state government and the Environment Ministry. The road leading to the area was blocked for hours with burning tires and vehicles.

The governor of the state of Bolívar, Francisco Rangel, said he would take steps to guarantee public order and contain the violence, with army support.

The Public Prosecutor's Office appointed three prosecutors to investigate the incident.

Opposition parties blasted the use of violence against the miners, and former leftist governor of Bolívar, Andrés Velásquez, said "even in the case of illegal mining, no one has the right to take the lives of miners."

William Saúd, head of a mining union, said "the problem is that the government decided that the environment in the zone should be protected, and that we have to shift to different kinds of work. That's fine. But where are the programmes, and until they're implemented, how can miners make a living for their families?"

"There are about 40,000 of us in the area -- we support about 200,000 people in Bolívar," a state of 1.5 million inhabitants.

A local gold and diamond miner who gave his name as Manuel told IPS that on a really lucky day, a miner can earn up to 1,500 dollars, whereas government programmes offer a maximum of this amount as a loan for people to work for three months in agriculture, reforestation, crafts or tourism.

Much of the land in Venezuela's southeastern Guayana region is under some kind of environmental protection. The measures were implemented to preserve the local fauna, flora and wilderness, as well as water sources, in particular the 90,000-square-kilometer watershed of the Caroní River.

The river feeds the Guri and other dams that together produce 12,500 megawatts per hour, which supplies 70 percent of the country's electricity as well as energy exported to northern Brazil.

As of last August, the government banned all mining activity in the Caroní basin, whose largest tributary is the La Paragua River. In recent months it also set up a programme to relocate some of the miners to other regions of Bolívar and provide financial assistance to the rest to help them become farmers, reforestation workers, artisans, tourist guides or other kinds of service providers.

Before the current outbreak of violence, deputy minister of land use in the Environment Ministry, Nora Delgado, had reported that 1,954 miners in the Caroní basin had taken advantage of the programme to get started in "other activities compatible with the basin's importance as a source of hydropower."

According to the Ministry, the figure represents 24 percent of the population listed in census data as engaging in this activity; thus, the government expects to solve the problem by helping 6,000 more miners change occupations. There is clearly a major discrepancy between these figures and those of frontline union leaders and activists.

Confrontations between mining, energy and forestry activities and environmental conservation are breaking out all through southeastern Venezuela. The fate of future gold, diamond and logging concessions in that part of the country is up in the air; the government could award them to private companies or manage the ones in the easternmost area, on the border with Guyana.

A power line also cuts across the area, bringing up to 500 megawatt hours to northern Brazil. And in the future, if the project goes through, a pipeline will run through the region, to transport natural gas southwards from Venezuela's Caribbean coast to Argentina and Uruguay. (END/2006)

Gold Mine Pits Jobs Against Environment

Humberto Márquez - Tierramérica

CARACAS, Sep 28 (IPS) - Canaima, god of evil in Venezuelan legends, is the name of a 1935 novel by the famed Rómulo Gallegos which explodes that myth, and of a national park whose borders, as if pushed by the deity himself, pit mortals against each other as they fight for survival and wealth, for the environment and gold.

More than a thousand small-scale miners from the town of Las Claritas, 800 kilometres southeast of Caracas, earlier this month cut off the road that connects eastern Venezuela with Brazil, and kept up protests against the government for several days, demanding their right to work and the concession for mining gold ore that was granted to the Canadian transnational Crystallex.

Last week, however, the conflict evaporated. The roadblocks were not repeated, although the latest signs of the government's strategy to respond to the miners have not been clear.

Clashes with the army left several people injured, vehicles burned out and protesters arrested.

"We make our living from the mine. Our children were born here, and we aren't going to let them take us away from where we have worked. President Hugo Chávez has said the land belongs to those who work it," said activist Luis Almeda, of the pro-government Bolivarian Front of Miners.

Southeastern Venezuela, bordering Guyana and Brazil, has gold ore areas that have been mined since the 19th century and could hold the largest deposits in Latin America. Las Cristinas mine, handed over to Crystallex and so far unexploited, alone could hold -- in 462 million tonnes of ore with 1.1 grams of gold per tonne -- more than 16 million ounces of the precious metal.

Some 3,000 small miners "demand their right to exploit that land because Crystallex hasn't done anything in four years. It didn't receive authorisation because it did not present the environmental impact studies on time," said the opposition councilman for the area, Carlos Chancellor.

Meanwhile, Mayor Marlene Vargas, who is pro-Chávez, told Tierramérica that "the artisanal miners can't operate that big mine without capital and technology. What we are proposing is that there be co-management between the miners and a bigger company, whether it's the transnational or the state-run company Minerven."

The mine and the centre of conflict are located in the watershed of the Cuyuní River, which flows to the Esequibo, in Guyana, but the miners are active throughout the southeast in the state of Bolívar, extending over 238,000 square km. Canaima National Park and the watershed of the Caroní River are within its borders.

The Caroní, the main tributary of the Orinoco, 750 km long, is a hydroelectric dream, with an estimated potential of 24,200 megawatts per hour.

Some 12,000 megawatts have been exploited in the lower Caroní with several dams. The largest, the Guri, with 10,000 megawatts/hour capacity, provides 65 percent of the electricity consumed by the 26 million Venezuelans.

Contamination from mercury, sedimentation, and deforestation are some of the harmful effects of gold mining activities in the Caroní watershed documented over the past two decades, says expert Julio Centeno, from the University of the Andes.

According to deputy environment minister Nora Delgado, the government has launched a plan, in alliance with the mining communities, to eradicate mining throughout the Caroní watershed.

Across Bolívar state, "some 70,000 miners recognised by the government operate, and 70 percent of them are supportive of agreements to relocate to areas where they can carry out their activity without affecting the watershed, and for forestry exploitation, reforestation, agriculture or tourism, in some 90,000 hectares we have identified," said Delgado.

She added, "We are going to join communities with programmes for a gradual relocation of the miners. We can't take all of them out overnight, nor can we design all of the solutions from an office in Caracas."

The ban in Las Claritas, in the zone around Cuyuní but at the gates of Canaima, would be a first step so that the strategic Caroní watershed "gradually achieves a status like that of the state of Amazonas" in the south, where all mining activity is banned until 2050 -- though miners frequently work the area illegally.

For the immediate term, the tensions between gold and the environment is being played out in Las Claritas, and the government appears to be bending to the demands of the miners, who have served as political and electoral support in the area. But the signals have been mixed.

President Chávez said last week during a rally in Caracas: "If we have to choose between environment and mining, we will leave the gold and we will keep the water and the air."

But in another speech in a mining area, he announced that the state would not grant any more concessions to foreign corporations and would review those already issued because the government would create "a national mining company" to work in partnership with the small mining operations and work in the Las Cristinas area.

Attorney General investigates death of miners


25th September 2006

The Attorney General Office has commissioned one national and two local public prosecutors to investigate the death of four individuals and the injuries inflicted to another last Friday, September 22nd in a mine located in sector Turumbá, La Paragua, southern Bolívar state.

The query started last Saturday following a notice from Scientific, Penal and Criminology Investigation Agency (Cicpc) agents, who learned about the admittance of an injured person to a hospital in Ciudad Bolívar.

Battlefield No. 5 was requested to identify the army officers engaged in operations in the area on September 22nd and 23rd, the number of operations and the areas where they were conducted. According to the victim, the injuries were caused by army officers. Also, an onsite inspection was conducted to collect evidence.


More Mayans invade Skye's Guatemala nickel property

5th October 2006

GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Hundreds more Maya Indians joined squatters on the property of a Canadian nickel miner in Guatemala, expanding a protest to demand the firm cede land for subsistence farming, activists said on Thursday.

Skye Resources Inc. plans to reopen the long-dormant Fenix nickel project near Guatemala's Lake Izabal and begin producing 11,000 tonnes of ferro-nickel late in 2008.

But environmental concerns and disputes over land rights prompted hundreds of Mayan families living near the site to occupy several areas within the company's concession in mid-September.

Since then more people have moved into makeshift shelters on the property, with over 600 families or around 3,000 people hoping the company will give out land, according to local activists in the town of El Estor where the mine is located.


Tras el enfrentamiento, los mineros bolivianos firmaron un "acuerdo de paz"

6 de Octubre de 2006

Los obreros asalariados y los cooperativistas se comprometieron a "viabilizar las negociaciones a efectos de encontrar una solución a las demandas de cada sector en relación con la explotación de estaño de Huanuni". El choque dejó 11 muertos y 57 heridos.

Dirigentes del Sindicato Minero de Huanuni y de los trabajadores cooperativistas firmaron anoche un "acuerdo de paz" que puso fin al grave enfrentamiento armado que ambos sectores sostuvieron en la tarde de ayer y por el que se reportaron oficialmente 11 muertos y 57 heridos.

El convenio compromete a las partes a "viabilizar las negociaciones correspondientes con participación de autoridades gubernamentales a efectos de encontrar una solución definitiva y efectiva a las demandas de cada sector en relación con la explotación de estaño en el cerro Posokoni", consignó la estatal Agencia Boliviana de Información (ABI).

El acuerdo fue posible gracias a la gestión del Defensor del Pueblo, Waldo Albarracín, y el presidente de la Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia (APDHB), Guillermo Vilela, quien exhortó a los dirigentes de ambos sectores a que respeten la paz para poder iniciar las negociaciones.

"Queremos paz en esta población, basta de enfrentamiento y que haya calma entre hermanos trabajadores", declaró Prudencio Pacheco, dirigente de la Federación de Cooperativas Mineras de Huanuni.

"Esta acta de pacificación es la única instancia que nos queda", dijo Jorge Villca, dirigente de la Federación de Trabajadores Mineros de Huanuni.

El episodio, que según el gobierno tuvo una "violencia demencial", se produjo a 270 kilómetros al sur de La Paz, cuando los trabajadores del sindicato minero repelieron a sus colegas de las cooperativas, que intentaban tomar con palos, piedras y dinamita el yacimiento de estaño Huanuni, el único estatal de Bolivia.

Los disturbios comenzaron al terminar una asamblea en la que los cooperativistas fueron informados de que el gobierno rechazó el pedido para que les adjudicaran la totalidad de la mina y les ofreció, en cambio, la explotación de una parte de ella.

Los cooperativistas atacaron la mina e "hicieron volar las compresoras (que alimentan de oxígeno el interior del yacimiento)" con dinamita.

Por la gravedad de los hechos, el gobierno envió a la zona una comisión encabezada por el ministro de Minería, Walter Villarroel, cuya presencia fue rechazada por los mineros, que lo acusaron de parcialidad porque presidió la federación de los cooperativistas hasta su asunción como funcionario.

Villarroel, que responsabilizó a los sindicalistas por el enfrentamiento, negó que se proponga renunciar pero aclaró que su permanencia en el cargo depende de la voluntad del presidente Evo Morales.

Mientras tanto, el secretario ejecutivo de la Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), Pedro Montes, culpó al gobierno y reclamó la militarización de la zona.

A la vez, el sacerdote Guillermo Siles, director de la emisora Católica de Televisión, opinó que el origen del conflicto es un decreto de 1985 que causó el despido de más de 27.000 mineros, pero afirmó que el gobierno pudo haber tomado medidas que permitieran evitar el enfrentamiento de ayer.

Por otra parte, el ministro de Coordinación con los Movimientos Sociales, Alfredo Rada, atribuyó el enfrentamiento a "una lucha de intereses económicos" porque "la suba del precio de los minerales en el mercado internacional, más que una bendición, se está convirtiendo en una maldición para el país".

El conflicto echó raíces desde hace siete meses

Edición Digital - Viernes , Octubre 6 de 2006

Cooperativistas y asalariados buscan el control de la mina Posokoni. El vicepresidente García Linera revela que el Gobierno iba a entregar dos niveles a las cuatro cooperativas de Huanuni.

El conflicto por el control de la mina Posokoni se mantenía latente desde hace siete meses. Pese a los intentos del Ejecutivo por solucionar este conflicto, tanto los mineros asalariados como los cooperativistas se opusieron a una salida que evite el enfrentamiento entre ambos sectores. El vicepresidente Álvaro García Linera explicó ayer que, desde marzo, se tuvieron 16 reuniones con cooperativistas y asalariados, a quienes les presentaron varias propuestas técnicas para explotar de manera conjunta los yacimientos del cerro Posokoni.

Según la autoridad, las propuestas iban en beneficiar al país, a los cooperativistas y a los asalariados. Sin embargo, señaló, esos ofrecimientos fueron rechazados por los dos sectores, ya que "cada uno de ellos pedía quedarse con todo el cerro para explotarlo".

Dijo que en la última reunión que sostuvo con los cooperativistas mineros en Oruro, acordaron que una comisión especial fuera la encargada de buscar soluciones con respecto a Huanuni. La comisión estaría conformada por autoridades del Ministerio de Minería, la Comibol y representantes de ambos sectores.

"No se trató, no se trabajó, ni concertó algo específico con los cooperativistas en la reunión de Oruro, cuando se levantó el paro", dijo el Vicepresidente y añadió que existía predisposición de parte de los cooperativistas.

La mina Posokoni es uno de los reservorios de estaño más grande del país. El mineral que se extrae de este yacimiento es de alta pureza, lo que provoca la "ambición y la codicia" de los dirigentes mineros, afirmó García Linera, quien criticó por igual a cooperativistas y asalariados por los enfrentamientos del jueves.

El Vicepresidente explicó que, desde la conformación de la comisión interinstitucional, el trabajo estaba dirigido a elaborar el proyecto de ley modificatorio al Código Minero, por lo que no se abordó el tema de Huanuni. "No se lo abordó, porque esta ley pondría fin a ese tema", precisó.

Pese a esta explicación, García señaló que los cooperativistas amenazaron con tomar la mina y, para evitar ese hecho, "el presidente de la Comibol y el Ministro de Minería se hicieron presentes el miércoles en Huanuni para presentarles a los cooperativistas una propuesta más técnica y empresarial que les beneficiaba".

La propuesta consistía en entregarles los niveles -160 y -200, que actualmente son explotados por los mineros asalariados. García acusó a los cooperativistas de haber iniciado el enfrentamiento con los sindicalizados.

Por su parte, el dirigente de la Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (FSTMB), Roberto Chávez, responsabilizó de los incidentes al Poder Ejecutivo. "Ahora que pongan los ataúdes", protestó el dirigente minero, que exigió la renuncia del ministro del sector Wálter Villarroel, ex dirigente de los cooperativistas y aliado del presidente Evo Morales.

Pascual Guarachi, presidente de la Federación Nacional de Cooperativas Mineras (Fencomin), confirmó que Villarroel está registrado como socio de la cooperativa "La Salvadora" de Huanuni, aclarando que pidió licencia.

El secretario ejecutivo de la FSTMB, Alfredo Aguilar, acusó a Villarroel de ser una de las autoridades que actuaron con negligencia para resolver el problema del cerro Posokoni, por sus abiertas inclinaciones para favorecer al sector cooperativo.

En declaraciones a la prensa, el Ministro de Minería explicó que lo ocurrido en Huanuni no es responsabilidad del Gobierno ni de su despacho, que estuvieron ocupados en llevar adelante medidas que beneficien tanto a mineros asalariados de la Comibol como a los cooperativistas. Wálter Villarroel dijo que no renunciará a su cargo.

García, textual

Demandas • "Cada sector (cooperativistas y sindicalizados) le pedía al Gobierno quedarse exclusivamente con el cerro para beneficio de ellos. Y le pedía al Gobierno que usara la fuerza policial y militar para favorecer a un sector en detrimento de otro", señaló García Linera.

Niveles • "El presidente de la Comibol y el Ministro de Minería hicieron una propuesta a los cooperativistas (...) Lamentablemente esa propuesta fue rechazada por los trabajadores cooperativistas", indicó.


La subida creciente del precio de los minerales en el mercado internacional a partir de 2002, debido al crecimiento de la economía asiática y especialmente de la China, generó enfrentamientos entre mineros asalariados y cooperativistas por el control de varios yacimientos mineros en Oruro y La Paz.

Desde esa fecha, los cooperativistas iniciaron una arremetida no sólo económica sino política. Apuntaron su expansión a vetas que no requieren inversión en su exploración. Esta situación los llevó a perseguir la propiedad y control total de los yacimientos de la Empresa Minera Huanuni (Oruro) y Caracoles, Colquiri y Viloco (La Paz).

Precisamente, en Huanuni existen problemas por la explotación de la mina del cerro Posokoni, porque los cooperativistas mineros aseguran haber comprado las acciones de la empresa británica RBG, y exigen la administración de la Empresa Minera Huanuni.

Los mineros sindicalizados aseguran que esa supuesta compra de acciones no tiene validez, porque la empresa privada RBG Minera Huanuni quebró y abandonó la empresa con grandes deudas.

A partir de junio, la Corporación Minera de Bolivia (Comibol) se hizo cargo de ese yacimiento minero en aplicación de la Ley 2400, promulgada durante el gobierno del presidente Jorge Quiroga.

Actualmente, la explotación en los niveles más profundos del subsuelo está a cargo de Comibol, mientras que en los tres primeros niveles y la superficie lo hacen los cooperativistas.

La Empresa Minera Huanuni fue privatizada bajo la figura de contrato de riesgo compartido, en marzo de 2000, en el gobierno de Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, quien entregó la mina a la empresa inglesa Allied Deals Minera Huanuni (ADMH) por el monto de 501.123 dólares y con el compromiso de inversión de 10,25 millones de dólares en los primeros dos años.

A finales de diciembre de 2001 Allied Deals PLC cambió de razón social a RBG Resources PLC como empresa matriz a la cual transfirió sus acciones. El 5 de junio, las acciones de RBG pasaron a manos de la Comibol.


Militares venezolanos fusilan a seis trabajadores


El presidente Hugo Chávez reconoció que "hubo un uso excesivo de las armas de un grupo de militares" en una operación contra la minería ilegal donde murieron seis mineros. Un sobreviviente reveló que los hicieron tirar al piso y les dispararon

Las autoridades venezolanas consideran que hubo "exceso en el uso de la fuerza" en una operación militar contra la minería ilegal en el sur del país, que dejó seis mineros muertos, entre ellos dos ciudadanos presuntamente brasileños, según los datos oficiales.

El suceso ocurrió el viernes en el sector El Papelón, una zona selvática cercana a Brasil y aledaña al poblado de La Paragua del sureño estado de Bolívar -a unos 780 kilómetros al sur de Caracas-, y las primeras versiones oficiales hablaron de cuatro mineros muertos.

El ministro del Interior y Justicia, Jesse Chacón, afirmó que "hubo uso excesivo de la fuerza" por parte de un grupo de efectivos del Ejército adscritos al Teatro de Operaciones Cinco (TO5), durante una operación contra la minería ilegal que se dedica a extracción de oro y diamantes en las cuencas de los ríos Caroní y Orinoco.

Previamente, el presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez, reconoció ante los periodistas que "hubo un uso excesivo de las armas de un grupo de militares que ya están a las órdenes de la Fiscalía", y que su gobierno "no tapa ni tapará abuso alguno".

El único superviviente del suceso, identificado por el ministro como Manuel Felipe Fernández Lizardi, ha dicho a medios locales que los soldados bajaron de un helicóptero, hicieron que él y sus compañeros se tirasen al suelo y sin decir palabra les dispararon.

En una explicación cronológica de los hechos, Chacón precisó que cuatro cadáveres fueron hallados cerca de maquinaria para minería y presentaban "cuatro disparos" cada uno, algunos por la espalda y con una inclinación de 45 grados.

En la misma zona se encontraron otros dos cadáveres, de indígenas y también presuntos mineros ilegales, uno con tres disparos y otro con uno.

Las autoridades "presumen" que entre los fallecidos se encuentran dos brasileños, identificados como Francisco Da Silva y Nibaldo Sánchez, éste último nacionalizado venezolano, dijo Chacón.

El Gobierno de Brasil dijo que desea "información detallada" sobre el incidente en La Paragua en virtud de que "dos de los muertos serían brasileños".

El Ministerio Público y la policía científica CICP llevan las investigaciones del caso, y el Ministerio de Defensa "ha puesto a disposición de los fiscales trece funcionarios que participaron en la operación", precisó el ministro del Interior.

Dijo que "aún no hay ningún imputado", pero que el Ministerio de Defensa ordenó a los oficiales presuntamente implicados "no salir de su comando hasta que se esclarezca" el suceso.

El ministro añadió que el lugar dónde ocurrieron los hechos se encuentra a siete horas de camino de Ciudad Bolívar, la capital del estado, y que las condiciones atmosféricas han sido adversas, lo que ha dificultado la investigación.

Chacón acusó a la prensa y sectores de la oposición de "deformar" la realidad de los hechos al decir que el número de muertos superaría la veintena y que el Gobierno intenta ocultar la verdad.

"Se han manejado sólo dos versiones: la del TO5 -de un enfrentamiento (con los mineros)- y la del único sobreviviente", quien dijo que llegaron los militares y los mataron, expresó Chacón.

El ministro llamó a la calma a los habitantes de La Paragua que, el lunes, quemaron la residencia del alcalde de Maripa, localidad cercana, en señal de rechazo por lo ocurrido.

Chacón confirma seis muertos y exceso en caso de La Paragua

Caracas, martes 26 de septiembre, 2006

Caracas.- El ministro de Interior y Justicia, Jesse Chacón, ratificó hoy que son seis los fallecidos en el caso de La Paragua, en el que están involucrados personal del Teatro de Operaciones número 5, en el estado Bolívar.

La hipótesis que maneja el Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas (CICPC), es que el personal de seguridad de los mineros hayan disparado al aire o al personal de ejército, luego se marchan del lugar, lo que explicaría porque se consiguieron escopetas distantes a donde estaban los cadáveres, el único armamento que se ha hallado.

En cuanto a la experticia sobre los cadáveres, el ministro Chacón dijo que "hacen suponer que por lo menos hubo un exceso de la fuerza". Unicamente se recolectaron seis conchas de escopeta que aún no se sabe si pertenecen a las escopetas encontradas. Explicó Chacón que si se comprueba que las escopetas fueron usadas, podría reforzarse la hipótesis de que se disparó para alertar o atacar la comisión del ejército.

Chacón aclaró que las investigaciones se realizan a la luz de ambas versiones, la del ejército que dice que hubo un enfrentamiento, y la del sobreviviente que asegura que los mineros no estaban haciendo nada y los asesinaron de forma cobarde.

Aseguró que no se va a ocultar nada, y que serán sancionados los efectivos responsables por su actuación individual o colectiva, si se demuestra que hubo un uso excesivo de la fuerza o ajusticiamiento-y eso lo dirán pruebas de balística y criminalísticas.

Chacón agregó que quedó demostrado que se estaba haciendo un trabajo de minería ilegal, aunque advirtió que eso no justifica ningún exceso.-FG.

*Ministra venezolana lamenta muerte de mineros*

Caracas, 26 ep (PL) La ministra venezolana el Ambiente, Jacqueline Farias, lamentó hoy la muerte de cuatro mineros ilegales en el estado de Bolívar, ocurridas el viernes último durante un operativo realizado por las Fuerzas Armadas.

En entrevista al programa En Confianza, de Venezolana de Televisión, Farias se refirió a los hechos de la zona de la Paragua y expresó sus condolencias por la pérdida de vidas, lo cual calificó como un suceso sin justificación.

La funcionaria indicó que se debe esperar por el resultado de las investigaciones y señaló la existencia de reportes dirigidos a mostrar que tuvo lugar un enfrentamiento entre trabajadores ilegales de la minería y efectivos militares.

Farias adelantó que los programas del gobierno apuntan a la eliminación de las actividades de minería no autorizada, pues el objetivo está en preservar a la cuenca del río Caroní.

Esa zona, añadió, es considerada por los expertos como el corazón del sistema energético venezolano y la explotación de los recursos en el lecho del Caroní ocasiona afectaciones a la generación de electricidad.

El lamentable suceso, manifestó, no puede afectar los avances en la concertación pueblo-gobierno dirigida a la reconversión minera de la zona, donde se promueven programas de turismo, agricultura y el empleo de los equipos en labores de dragado.

Por su parte, el Defensor del Pueblo, Germán Mundarain, aseguró que se adelantan las pesquisas y reiteró la disposición a luchar contra la impunidad en casos de ese tipo.

Asimismo, el gobernador del estado de Bolívar, Francisco Rangel, estimó que los hechos de la Paragua fueron promovidos por "bandoleros y politiqueros de oficio" y no por auténticos representantes de la minería artesanal.

Respecto al tema, el domingo último el ministro de Defensa, Raúl Baduel, aseguró la disposición de las fuerzas armadas de realizar una exhaustiva investigación.

Baduel señaló que el personal militar que participó en los sucesos será puesto a la orden del Ministerio Público a fin de facilitar las pesquisas, tras expresar su pesar a los familiares y allegados de las víctimas.

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