Bolivia: tin miners strike

President Evo Morales pledged to personally negotiate with strikers who have shut down Bolivia’s largest tin mine if the 4,800 employees return to work first. Miners at the state-operated Huanuni mine went on strike last week to demand greater administrative control of the mine’s growing profits. The strike is costing Bolivian state mining company Comibol the production of some 25 metric tons (27 US tons) of tin ore each day—roughly 80% of the country’s total tin output.

Bolivia is a distant fourth among the world’s largest tin producers behind China, Indonesia and Peru, exporting $144 million of both ore and refined tin in 2006. Comibol collapsed during a 1980s crash in global metal prices, and President Morales is today attempting to revive it.

Last week the Huanuni miners declined an invitation to negotiate in the capital La Paz, demanding an audience with the president on their own turf and blockading a key highway. Police cleared the road with tear gas. Over the weekend Morales offered to meet the miners in Huanuni once they return to work. “At no time can dialogue exist under pressure,” presidential spokesman Alex Contreras said July 9.

Until last year, Huanuni had been divided between some 1,000 state-employed miners and another 4,000 independent miners. In October the rival camps fought with rifles and dynamite over access to the mine in a two-day clash that left 16 dead. Following the fight, the government greatly expanded Comibol’s operations in Huanuni, and most independent miners accepted salaried state jobs. But the converted miners have protested over the revenues delivered to the government each month, as well as the deployment of 200 soldiers to defend Huanuni’s veins from thieves. (AP, July 9)

See our last posts on Bolivia and the miners’ struggle.