Today marks 9 days since a general strike began in Potosi, Bolivia. The Civic Committee Potosina (Comcipo) after walking for 12 days, arrived in La Paz on July 7 asking for an audience with President Evo Morales. Meanwhile in Potosi, massive marches are ongoing and a general strike is in effect which has paralyzed the Bolivian mining town.
Potosi sits at the bottom of Cerro Rico (rich mountain), which is known as the worlds largest silver deposit however the poverty rate in the department of Potosi is one of the highest in the country. 66.7% of the Potosi population lives in extreme poverty. 64% of the municipalities in rural areas are in extreme poverty and some municipalities reach poverty levels of 90%.
Child mortality rates are also the highest in the country: for every 1000 live child births, 101 babies die. Chronic malnutrition affects 38.8% of the population. According to a 2003 study by the Bolivian National Statistic Institute, 98% of local children under 5 years old developed diarrhea and intestinal problems.
The Cerro Rico mines employ an estimated 15,000 miners and is known as “the mountain that eats men” due the number of workers who have died there. An average of 20 people die each month from work related accidents at the Potosi Mines of Cerro Rico. Life expectancy for miners in Potosi is a shocking 40 years old due to dangerous working conditions and illnesses caused by breathing in silica dust or asbestos. These statistics are only part of the social conflicts affecting Potosi today.
A list of 26 demands from November 2014 is presented as the main point of negotiation of the current conflicts in Potosi. The list includes items such as hospitals, bridge and road construction, wind power, a garbage recycling plant, medical items for doctors and nurses, an international airport, preservation of Cerro Rico, a cement factory, a glass factory, hydroelectric plants and educational items for social workers, teachers and psychologists.
¿Tiene que transitar por el centro de La Paz? Tome previsiones, sigue el bloqueo de Comcipo pic.twitter.com/lxSvfDYt0Y
— Jesús Alanoca (@jesus_alanoca) July 13, 2015
“Do you have to walk through downtown La Paz? Take precautions, the Comcipo blocks continue.”
A protest in support of Potosi was teargassed on July 13 in La Paz
— EL DEBER (@diarioeldeber) July 14, 2015
VIDEO: The eighth day of indefinite strike in Potosi closed with a massive march
The indefinite strike continued today with massive marches that drew an estimated 100,000 people to the streets in Potosi.
— Gustavo Bolaños (@gustavo_edgar) July 16, 2015
“#PotosiFederal Some Potosi citizens asking to be heard.”
¿Cuál la causa de la marcha y paro en Potosí? Las promesas incumplidas de Evo Morales y su negativa a dialogar pic.twitter.com/1kGcvvqO3v
— Andrés Gómez Vela (@AndrsGomezV) July 16, 2015
“What is the cause of the march and strike in Potosi? The broken promises of Evo Morales and his refusal to dialog.”
Mineros asalariados anunciaron que 300 viajan a reforzar a La Paz…el pueblo ratificó su unidad y hasta hubo un dron pic.twitter.com/OILx2s5Uow
— Eduardo Maldonado I. (@maldonadoiporre) July 16, 2015
“Wage-earning miners announced that 300 will travel to reinforce LA Paz… the people ratified their unitiy and there was even a drone.”
Informan que un dron sobrevuela la marcha en Potosí e inquieta a manifestantes #PotosíEnParo
— Andrés Gómez Vela (@AndrsGomezV) July 16, 2015
“Reports of a drone flying over the march in Potosi and protesters are concerned #PotosíEnParo”
The San Bartolome project, one example of several mining projects in Potosi, began in 2005 and originally promised to generate millions of tax dollars that would directly benefit the Department of Potosi. The 15 year project in the periphery of Cerro Rico de Potosi planned production of approximately 8 million ounces per year of silver bullion. At the time the Deputy Minister of Mines estimated the project would create 400 high quality jobs in Potosi and 1,200 indirect jobs related to the demand for goods and services in the area. Positive environmental impacts were also promised in 2005 supposedly cleaning a significant amount of polluting materials from the slopes of Cerro Rico.
Local profits from extractive projects never materialized and the mountain made of silver is collapsing. Meanwhile the local population lives in extreme poverty and miners have no other employment options to maintain their livelihoods.
Marco Antonio Pumari, vice president of Potosí’s civic committee told The Guardian in 2014:
“The people of Potosí don’t have industries, we don’t have businesses that generate employment.”
According to Pumari, one of the city’s best hopes for an economic future is the budding tourism industry.
“If the Cerro is lost, if it sinks, what tourist is going to come here?” he asks. “Will they come to see that here there was a mountain that maintained the whole world?”
In an interview on the program La Tarde, Senator René Joaquino of Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), said that there are no investments that create jobs in the city of Potosi, or plans to prevent how the local economy will be reactivated within a few years, taking into account the fall in the price minerals.
“No investments have been made that have created jobs which have been efficient in the city of Potosi.”
The former Potosi mayor warned that the Cerro Rico has depleted fields and mineral prices are falling.
“Here the concern of the ordinary citizen it arises, what will the future be like? In short the whole economy will be affected, not only in the aspect of employment, and what structural development project exists to date? none.”
Similarly, Joaquino said it is urgent and necessary that there be a meeting between municipal, departmental, national and Potosi citizens to discuss development issues and the Potosí civic economy, “which is an issue that goes beyond the 26 points.”
Interior Minister Carlos Romero, made accusations saying that the demonstrations of Potosi citizens are “coup” but Joaquino says those claims are excessive.
The Comcipo delegation has refused meetings with various legislative authorities. The mayors of at least 10 municipalities in Potosi have said the dialog should be initiated with them since most of the items of the list of 26 demands need to be resolved at the municipal level but Comcipo maintain that their position is to dialog only with the president.