Rival Bolivian miners in deadly clash after dynamite attack

Spoils from expropriated mine at stake

Unionists carry the coffin of the dead miner Héctor Choque in La Paz on Thursday.
Unionists carry the coffin of the dead miner Héctor Choque in La Paz on Thursday.MARTÍN ALIPAZ (EFE)

The Bolivian government on Wednesday appealed to two rival miners groups to call a truce after one person was killed and at least nine were seriously injured in a dynamite battle over control of a lucrative state tin and zinc mine.

Juan Ramón Quintana, the chief of staff to President Evo Morales, asked the rival groups for a 48-hour truce so that the government can initiate a dialogue between miners who belong to a private cooperative and those who receive state subsides.

"This is a conflict that affects the entire country. At this point it is not important to say who is at fault," Quintana said.

For months, the two groups have been staging protests outside the Colquiri tin and zinc mine, about 250 kilometers south of the capital La Paz. However, on Tuesday, things came to a head when one faction of the private co-op miners threw a stick of dynamite into a crowd of state miners.

One miner died from chest and throat injuries while another man lost a limb. Others were seriously injured.

The attack, which set off riots near the mine including the looting of many businesses, occurred during a march of about 17,000 miners.

The co-op miners are demanding that the Morales government comply with its decree to turn over part of the tin and zinc mine, which was expropriated in June from global commodities trader Glencore. The state miners are opposed to such a move.

State mining groups claim that turning it over to co-op miners goes against Morales' policy of keeping the country's natural resources out of private hands. All mining activities at Colquiri have been halted since the protests got under way.

More conflict

The miners' dispute is the latest social conflict to plague Morales' leftist government in recent times. Over the past year, hundreds of indigenous communities have come down from their towns in the Andean mountains to take to the streets in protest at Morales' plans to build a road through a pristine area of a national park. The government is currently conducting a town-to-town referendum in the impact areas to decide the future of the project.

This latest mining dispute could lead to even bigger labor trouble for Morales. The Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the main labor union federation in Bolivia, has called for a 48-hour strike beginning on Thursday to protest the government's handling of the mining protest.

"Let's see what type of explanation [the government] will come up with now," Hermo Pérez, COB secretary general, told the La Paz daily La Razón.

Meanwhile, a massive funeral is expected for the dead miner, Héctor Choque, on Thursday at the miners' union headquarters.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS