Campesino, squatter actions rock Bolivia

A clash between Bolivia’s elite Police Operations Tactical Unit (UTOP) and loteadores (squatters) calling themselves the “Sin Techo” (Roofless) movement erupted when agents evicted an encampment on a private predio (collective land-holding) of 70 hectares at La Guardia, Santa Cruz department, on April 16. The confrontation left one squatter dead and numerous on both sides wounded. At least 12 police were reported to be among the injured. Police said 11 loteadores were detained in the action. Vice-Minister of Interior Gustavo Torrico denied that security forces used firearms in the eviction, and said an investigation into the use of arms by the squatters would be carried out. One revolver was reported confiscated. (El Deber, Santa Cruz, La Razon, La Paz, April 17; ABI, April 18)

Also April 16, a group of some 900 local comunarios (communal peasants) invaded the operations area of San Cristobal Mining Company in Nor Lípez, Potosí department, burning the company’s office and overturning two rail-wagons loaded with some 20 tons each of lead, silver and zinc ore. The comunarios are protesting the contamination of local water sources by the mining operations, while the company uses 50,000 cubic meters of water every day free of charge. Comunario leader Mario Mamani said the protesters are demanding that company, a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational Sumitomo, pay local communities directly for use of the water, as well as paying for electrification projects. They pledged to continue their occupation, and overturn another wagon every five hours until their demands are met.

The comunarios said they had been petitioning authorities for months to no avail. For five days before invading San Cristobal’s installation, they had been peacefully blocking the border crossing with Chile at Avaroa. Vice-Minister Torrico said dialogue has been established with the protesters via the Potosí prefectural authorities, but said that due to the “intransigence of the comunarios , we cannot rule out the use of public force.” (La Razon, La Prensa, Cambio, La Paz, ABI, April 17)

See our last posts on Bolivia, the mineral cartel in Latin America, and regional struggles for control of water.

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  1. “Politics” behind Bolivian anti-mine action?
    Bolivia’s Mining Minister José Pimentel, speaking on the peasant action against the Japanese-owned mining interest in Nor Lípez, admitted that the contract was granted under “neoliberal laws” (an evident reference to the 1997 mineral code), but said that since the law has not been amended, it must be honored. He also speculated that protests were led by losing candidates in the April 4 elections for departmental assembly seats, especially naming Teodoro Bernal of Colcha K municipality and Moises Valdivia of Uyuni. (La Prensa, April 20; Erbol, April 19)

    In other mineral news from the region, the departments of Potosí and Oruro are in conflict over exploitation of lithium in the Uyuni region, with the latter demanding the right to participate in the new parastatal Bolivian Evaporite Resources Company, claiming that the Uyuni lithium fields lie partially within its territory. (ANF, April 20)