from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

On Jan. 29 residents of Camiri, a city in the southwest of Bolivia’s eastern Santa Cruz department, began a civic strike and blockaded a main highway connecting the country with Argentina and Paraguay. The action, which stranded hundreds of people and some 400 vehicles, was led by the Camiri Civic Committee in an effort to make the government of leftist president Evo Morales intensify the nationalization of gas and petroleum production it had announced last May 1. The committee’s demands included the opening of a local office of Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), the state-owned energy company, and stepping up plans to nationalize two oil refineries operated by the Brazilian state energy company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras).

Camiri residents escalated the protest on Feb. 2 by seizing control of a pumping facility operated by the international Transredes company and forcing the employees there to close a pipeline that supplies La Paz, Santa Cruz and other Bolivian cities. On Feb. 3, 15 hours after the pipeline was closed, with a loss of $500,000 in revenue, soldiers and police agents took control of the facility in a struggle which left 12 people injured, two of them by bullets.

On Feb. 5 residents lifted the blockade and began clearing rocks and logs off the highway after government and Civic Committee negotiators reached an agreement which largely met the committee’s demands. The government also promised to build a gas separation plant in the area and to move towards taking over the Chaco and Andina companies, which belonged to YPFB until the energy industry was privatized in 1996. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Feb. 5, 6 from EFE, Upside Down World, Feb. 13; La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 10; Inter Press Service, Feb. 6; Associated Press, Feb. 4)

President Morales stepped up the pace of nationalization in the metal mining and processing sector on Feb. 9 by signing a decree giving the government control of the Vinto tin smelting complex, operated by Sinchi Wayra, a subsidiary of the Swiss-owned Glencore International AG. Morales sent 200 soldiers to occupy the plant.

The Vinto facility was privatized in 2001 when the government sold it to Allied Deals, which later sold it to Compania Minera del Sur (COMSUR), a private mining company whose largest stockholder at the time was former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1993-1997 and 2002-2003). Glencore bought it for $100 million in 2004. Morales is reportedly counting on $10 million from Venezuela to help build infrastructure that the Corporacion Minera de Bolivia (COMIBOL), the state-owned mining company, needs to operate plants like Vinto. (Upside Down World, Feb. 13; Taipei Times, Feb. 11 from AP; LJ, Feb. 10)

Meanwhile, tensions continue between unionized COMIBOL employees and the miners in the small cooperatives that sprang up after much of the mining sector was privatized in the 1990s; the cooperatives now employ some 55,000 independent miners. (Upside Down World, Feb. 13) In October a dispute at the Posokoni hill tin mine in Huanuni, in the southwestern department of Oruro, turned violent; 16 people were killed and 61 injured in the fighting between miners.

The Morales government is trying to reestablish control over more of the mining industry with a planned increase in taxes on private mining. On Feb. 6 as many as 20,000 miners from the cooperatives marched through the streets of La Paz, setting off hundreds of sticks of dynamite and paralyzing the city. The government was willing to negotiate the tax increases, but the protesters refused to meet with officials until they released seven protesters that had been arrested near the city of El Alto, 12 kilometers west of La Paz, on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 with a total of 285 sticks of dynamite in their possession. (ED-LP, Feb. 7 from AP)

The miners continued to occupy streets around La Paz’s San Francisco plaza on Feb. 7, blocking traffic and government buildings and setting off dynamite. When a group of police agents attempted to arrest people with dynamite, the miners beat up two agents and held others briefly as hostages. Despite the violence, during the day talks started with the government, which agreed to exempt the 536 Bolivian mining cooperatives from the tax and to give them a $10 million subsidy and two of the six seats on COMIBOL’s board of directors. The government says that of the $1.044 billion Bolivia made from mineral exports in 2006, only $45 million went to the state through taxes; the government wants to raise this to $80 million a year. (La Capital, La Paz, Feb. 7 from DPA; ED-LP, Feb. 8 from EFE)

Miners from the cooperatives planned new protests at the Posokoni mine starting on Feb. 4; they insisted that these actions would remain peaceful. In the week of Feb. 11, dozens of the miners and their families took the protest to the streets of La Paz, where they carried out a hunger strike, wrote signs in their own blood and symbolically crucified and buried themselves. The government insists that the Posokoni mine, the country’s richest tin mine, will be entirely under COMIBOL’s control but that the cooperatives will have access to other sites. The government is offering to pay about $187 a month to the private miners who have been removed from Posokoni until they can find work at the new sites. (Diario Las Americas, Miami, Feb. 17 from EFE)

A leader from Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party claims the cooperative miners are being manipulated by political forces. Gustavo Torrico, head of the MAS group in the Chamber of Deputies, told the Cuba news agency Prensa Latina that one of the people behind the recent actions is Jaime Villalobos, who was a mining minister under Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. (PL, Feb. 17)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 18, 2007


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also:

WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007

See related story, this issue:

The Fractious Struggle for South America’s Resources
by April Howard, Upside Down World

From our weblog:

Bolivia: deadly unrest over autonomy plan
WW4 REPORT, Jan. 12, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Feb. 1, 2007 Reprinting permissible with attribution