Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Death at Tin Mountain

Glancing over Reuters or other western media coverage of troubling events in Bolivia yesterday, you'd think Evo canceled his trip to Tarija yesterday after police killed opposition protesters. Damn Evo! But wait, the deaths actually occurred halfway across the country in Huanuni, Oruro. Apparently, two miner were killed in clashes with police.

What's going on? Well, COB union miners are protesting officially over demands to push through pension reforms in their favor. But me thinks this has something to do with Evo's recent tilting in support of cooperative miners, at odds with COB. Throw in political tension of the recall referendum and some sticks of dynamite, and we get unpleasant results.

Mining conflict is very complicated in Bolivia and you shouldn't listen to anyone who tries to over simplify. Evo has the difficult position of trying to appease competing factions of this totally fragmented sector, all of whom have lots of explosives just laying around. At Huanuni, Bolivia's largest tin mine, these tensions exploded recently in 2006 leaving 17 people dead.

Go read Ben Dangl and April Howard's investigative reporting on the 2006 incident if you want to gain some appreciation for the complexity of the matter at hand. "Tin War in Bolivia: Conflict Between Miners Leaves 17 Dead"


Bina said...

"Lots of explosives just lying around"? You ain't kidding. I saw a documentary awhile back (I think it was one of those National Geographic jobbies, but don't quote me on that!), and it was on Bolivian tin miners. Sure enough, they buy their own dynamite daily and not everyone knows exactly how to set it safely, so there are a lot of accidental deaths in the mines. There are a lot of deaths from other mining-related causes, too--the mines are not well regulated, and guess who likes it that way (and if you said "the miners", go put on a dunce cap and sit in the corner). I imagine safety is just one of many issues the miners are agitating on, and of course it's not bound to be covered by the lamestream media. Worker safety? Pfffft, little brown people are expendable. White landowners seeking "autonomy", that's what's important...

Otto Rock said...

I agree it's complicated, duderino. I cover mining a lot in the region (you might have noticed), and the toughest one to "get" is Bolivia. I'm OK with San Cristobal, but my knowledge of the State/Glencore JV is reduced to anecdotals (well....nearly).

I will say that state employed miners are always very willing to work the least possible (compared to private sectors), and that is the main drawback to nationalizing the sector (compared to, let's say, hydrocarbons). On the other hand, if you've seen the conditions in which the more rudimentary miners work, you'd be keen to do the least amount of hours, too.

As you say, it's a tough one. And they're tough people, too.