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Bolivia: One Killed as Rival Miners’ Conflict Escalates

The unresolved conflict between tin miners in Bolivia has escalated this week, keeping the country under tension. After another clash at the Miners Labour organisation building (FSUTMB in Spanish) on Tuesday September 18, 2012, nine miners were injured and one died of his wounds, all provoked by the use of dynamite in the conflict.

The government has called for a truce, although mining leaders are still standing firm.

As reported by Global Voices last week, the dispute involves private cooperative miners from the La Paz Departmental Federation of Mining Cooperatives (Fedecomin in Spanish) and employed miners from the state-run Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol in Spanish). Both rival groups are seeking to take control of the Colquiri zinc and tin mine, nationalised from Glencore International by Bolivia’s government in June 2012.

Miners during Tuesday's clash which left one dead and nine injured. Photo by Alejandra Rocabado, copyright Demotix (18/09/12).

Miners during Tuesday's clash which left one dead and nine injured. Photo by Alejandra Rocabado, copyright Demotix (18/09/12).

The conflict arises from Supreme Decree 1337, signed by left-wing President Evo Morales, which outlines the new operating activities in the Colquiri mine, enabling both private cooperative miners and the State-run Comibol to work there.

Colquiri unionised miners refuse to give the cooperative miners participation, claiming that nationalisation means full state-control over natural resources. Furthermore, unionised miners are blocking the access of both police forces and private cooperative miners to the Colquiri mine, 92 miles (149 kilometres) from La Paz.

The conflict between private cooperative and unionised miners is not new [es]. In 2006, 16 miners were killed in the Huanuni mining centre under the same conflict terms. Back then, Evo Morales and the newly sworn in left-wing MAS (Movement for Socialism) government also failed to prevent the clash.

Bolivia’s Ministry of Communication uploaded a video on YouTube showing Tuesday's clash [WARNING: Graphic content].

Negotiations are still underway, although both groups remain in a “state of emergency” and more workers from other parts of the country are joining the protests near La Paz.

Well-known Bolivian economist Horst Grebe (@horst_grebe) [es] commented via his Twitter account:

@horst_grebe: Violencia y #ConflictoMinero en La Paz no se limita a #Colquiri, Es la pelea política por el orden minero entre estatistas y privatistas

@horst_grebe: Violence and #ConflictoMinero (miners’ conflict) in La Paz is not restricted to #Colquiri, it is a political struggle between statists and privatists.

As a way out of the conflict, there are a number of unions, left-wing political organizations and thinkers demanding absolute nationalisation [es] of the mining sector in Bolivia.

Others, like Bolivian writer Fernando Molina, address the issue from another angle. In an article [es] published on InfoLatam, Molina writes that:

En estas situaciones extremas la única solución reside en la intervención de una autoridad. Pero el gobierno boliviano no tiene la claridad ideológica ni los recursos para poner orden. Por razones obvias, lo que quisiera sería estatizarlo todo, pero con ello se haría de una carga laboral que sería imposible de sostener en el momento en que los precios de los minerales caigan. Además, los cooperativistas más establecidos no quieren ni oír hablar de ello (y tienen la fuerza política para defenderse).

In these extreme situations the only solution lies in the intervention of an authority. But the Bolivian government doesn't have the ideological clarity nor the resources to restore order. For obvious reasons, they would like to nationalise everything, but that would be a workload impossible to sustain over time when mineral prices fall. In addition, more established [private] cooperatives do not even want to talk about that (and they have the political strength to defend themselves).

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