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12,000 Miners Occupy The Center Of La Paz, Bolivia

(Translated from the Spanish by Robby Barnes and Sylvie Kashdan)


Friday, June 8, 2001

Juventudes Libertarias (Anarchist Youth), Bolivia

At around noon on June 7 about twelve thousand miners converged on the city of La Paz. They are determined to stay until the government approves a fund for reviving their industry. They are demanding $100 million for this purpose, and will stage daily marches and blockades if the demand is not met.

The miners come from the cooperative mining camps in the Altiplano region. They began their march to the capital from the city of Oruro on June 5 and moved quickly to avoid police repression.

The warmly dressed men and women workers from some 500 mining cooperatives entered La Paz, many of them wearing their distinctive "guardatojo" helmets.

Fifteen years ago The miners played a major role in the siege of Calamarca. Then, they were on the verge of overthrowing the government. Like those who entered La Paz yesterday morning by surprise, in 1986 there were also 12,000 protesters. Once again they have become the leaders of a huge march.

Every hundred meters the miners stopped and set off small sticks of dynamite. "We have come back to La Paz, just as we said we would in 1985. Now we intend to stay until they listen to us," said Cresencio Huanca, a union leader.

Yesterday officers of the Policía Carretera (Highway Patrol) confiscated 141 sticks of dynamite that were in a box in a vehicle belonging to the Cooperativa Minera Villa Imperial. The driver, René Condori, escaped, but his companion, Gerardo González, was detained. González admitted that he was transporting the cargo to the protest march and was also carrying the protesters' backpacks.

One of the miners' demands is for $100 million to finance the revival of 514 mining cooperatives nationwide. These include 50,000 members and provide a livelihood for 300,000 people. They produce tin, silver, wolfram and gold, accounting for 35 percent of the country's mineral exports.

In addition, the protesters are asking for new rights to mine on government land, and government concessions similar to those given to the multinationals. They want a single tax and access to the stores and reserves of Comibol, the state mining concern, electrification of their facilities, equipment and machinery from the former Mining Bank (Banco Minero), and a nationwide law covering mining contracts. The miners are also calling for improvements in the highway system, housing, short- and long-term social insurance, debt forgiveness and elimination of the Mining Ministry. They are demanding participation in the management of Comibol.

All along the protest march the miners called on local residents to unite in the struggle "against this corrupt and exploitative government." Thousands of miners and their wives called for the government to honor its promise to reinvest in the mines. On the Avenida 16 de Julio one woman pedestrian expressed her support for the workers, saying, "Long live the miners, down with this government that is starving people," as she approached and emotionally embraced a female miner. "I voted for Banzer but I am disillusioned," said a man walking by.

The morning of June 8 the miners again came out to protest in the center of La Paz, but this time they took over the supreme court building and dynamited it. At the same time, another group of miners attempted to enter the five-star Hotel Presidente in order to settle accounts with high officials.

The main part of the march tried to reach the legislature building but was brutally repulsed by a large number of police. Two miners were seriously injured, one losing his foot and the other losing a hand. Dozens were detained. At present, the confrontation is intense, and the miners have been able to force the police to retreat.

For several months, thousands of small debtors have been staging daily protest demonstrations calling for total cancellation of their bank loans. They accuse the financial institutions of usury and the government of favoring the rich with credit preferences.

On June 7 a general highway blockage was also begun. A thousand large trucks began blocking the main roads connecting Bolivia with Chile, Peru and Brazil. The number of trucks involved is expected to triple in the next few days, according to an official report from the Department of Transportation (Cámara Boliviana de Transporte, CBT).

The truckers will permit light trucks and fleets to travel until Saturday, June 9. Beginning on Sunday they will block all types of motorized traffic and will continue indefinitely until the government deals with their 13 demands. Among these is a call for the government to de-privatize the highways and to ensure their maintenance.

On June 11 an indefinite general strike is set to begin in the Chonchocoro maximum security prison to demand better living conditions. Ways are being studied for spreading the strike to all of the country's prisons.

This report is from Juventudes Libertarias (Anarchist Youth), Bolivia

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