Bolivian Miners Occupy Offices of U.S.-Owned Company

LA PAZ – A group of workers employed by the Bolivian unit of U.S. mining firm Coeur D’Alene have occupied the company’s offices in the southern city of Potosi and begun a hunger strike to press demands for wage hikes.

The workers began the job action on Thursday and have interrupted the company’s operations at the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) silver mine in Potosi province, the regional manager of the state-run Bolivian Mining Corporation, or Comibol, which grants concessions for Cerro Rico, told Efe Friday.

Gabriel Anrancibia said workers with Empresa Minera Manquiri S.A, a subsidiary of Coeur D’Alene, were demanding pay raises and end-of-year bonuses.

At least 15 workers are currently on hunger strike to pressure Manquiri executives to meet their demands, according to the local press.

Manquiri is the top silver producer at Cerro Rico, but now can only carry out mining operations below 4,400 meters (14,420 feet), a restriction long observed by the roughly 30 mining cooperatives active on the mountain.

The Bolivian government in October ordered the company to cease operations on the summit of Cerro Rico, responding to protests by residents of the nearby city of Potosi that the activity was damaging the distinctive conical shape of mountain, which has been producing silver for 464 years.

The mountain is a national monument and a tourist attraction whose image is part of Bolivia’s coat of arms, while the city of Potosi was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

Development of the Cerro deposit began in 1545 and over the centuries millions of Indians and African slaves worked under conditions of forced labor, producing tens of thousands of tons of silver for the Spanish Empire. Tin and zinc extracted from the mine became important in more recent times.

Currently, some 10,000 miners – mostly descendants of those initial workers – toil below ground, using dynamite to create tunnels and extracting at least 2,000 tons of mineral-laden earth per day.

Conditions remain brutal, with most of the miners dying of pneumonia in their 40s, and mine drainage takes a devastating toll on the environment, making Potosi one of the world’s most polluted cities. EFE

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune


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