Bolivia: Aymara stand up to authorities over Potosí mining project

On May 24, the Federation of Ayllus of North Potosí announced that they will march on La Paz to demand the release of Cancio Rojas, the mallku (traditional chieftain) of Sacaca village (Ibañez province, Potosí department), who was arrested on charges related to angry protests over the local operations of the Mallku Khota Mining Company (CMMK), owned by Canada-based South American Silver. Village authorities say several residents were injured in a clash with National Police and private security personnel the previous day in the nearby municipality of Acasio (Bilbao province), where protesters attempted to occupy the mining camp. (See map.) CMMK—which hopes to exploit deposits of the rare element indium, used in semiconductors—says its own personnel were held against their will by the protesters. Rojas is being held in Santo Domingo de Cantumarca prison in Potosí, the regional capital. In a statement from his prison cell, Rojas charged, “They want to decapitate the indigenous movement to appropriate the water of the territory of Mallku Khota, this is the clear intention of the company, and they are extending strong influences” on the local officials.

Mallku Khota (Condor Lake in the Aymara language), where the mining operation is based, is also an ayllu, or traditional communal land-holding, and an adjacent lake, near the border of Sacaca and Acasio municipalities. Leaders of the neighboring Ayllu Tacawani and Ayllu Sullka Jilaticani, both titled as Original Communal Lands (TCOs), say they will block roads to demand Rojas’ release. The ayllus say they have not been consulted on the mining project, in violation of Bolivia’s constitution. Sacaca’s mayor, Jacinto Sunagua of Bolivia’s ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS), warned that the social conflict in the region is likely to escalate, pitting communities that support the mine against those opposed. “They have declared war,” he said. The National Alliance of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), the main indigenous coalition of the Bolivian Altiplano, also says it will support the march for Rojas’ freedom. (AINI, May 27; Bolpress, May 25; La Razón, ANF, May 24; AINI, May 23; Erbol, May 22; AFP, May 19)

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  1. Bolivia: another Aymara leader arrested
    Another leader of the Mallku Khota community who opposes the mining project, Fernando Choque Ramos, was arrested June 13—ostensibly on “environmental crime” charges, for wearing feathers of the parina (flamingo) in his hat. His supporters say his arrest violates Bolivia’s indigenous autonomy law, which guarantees the right to traditional “rituals, symbols and vestments.” The use of parina feathers is a symbol of authority for the Charkas Qhara Qhara, local Aymara subgroup. The Observatory of Extractive Industries and Collective Rights (OIEDC) said the arrest of Choque Ramos had been “encouraged by South American Silver.” Choque Ramos is being held in La Paz by the Special Force of Struggle Against Narco-Trafficking (FELCN), an elite unit of the National Police. (Servindi, AINI, June 13)