Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Bolvian Miners Face Layoffs

Dec 28 - (digitalwarriormedia) As the growing global financial crisis drives down commodity prices, Bolivia is increasingly feeling the pinch. Most recently the number of unemployed miners increased by several hundred as the Sinchi Wayra company laid off workers on Friday.

On Dec. 26 La Prensa reported that 700 dismissal letters were delivered to workers at the Porco mine in Potosi.

With last week's layoffs, the number of unemployed miners at Sinchi Wayra exceeds 1,300 people says the Trade Union Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia.

Sinchi Wayra is the operator of 5 mines in the Oruro and Potosi regions of Bolivia - producing zinc, lead, tin, gold and silver. The holding group was acquired by Swiss-based Glencore International AG in 2005.

Some claim that the company was aleady on the verge of bankruptcy. Rene Velásquez leader of the workers' union at Sinchi Wayra, said the company was using the drop in prices of minerals as a pretext in order to dismiss "50% of workers" but that the company is at the point of "going into liquidation". Velásquez called dismissals by the mining company unfair because tin and other minerals have not experienced a deep drop in prices.

Despite the falling value of mineral commodities in the last three months, 2008 was quite a good year for the mining sector, as reflected in the quantity and volumes of exports, said Director General of Mines Freddy Beltran.

Referring to Sinchi Wayra, Beltran said mining companies would have to demonstrate that their financial losses were due to the fall in mineral prices.

Beltran also said the government would try to find an interim solution to the problems facing the miners, but that intervention is limited due to the fact that Sinchi Wayra is a private company.

The Morales administration urged mining companies to respect the labor and social stability of their employees and renegotiate the benefits of their employees instead of resorting to massive layoffs.

AP reports that miners are threatening to take over several mines to protest their firing, which came the day after Christmas.

Expected Shocks

Zinc is Bolivia's second highest export after natural gas. Bloomberg reports that in 2008 the sale of zinc generated $665 million by October, with mineral exports reaching $1.3 billion during the same time.

The price of zinc has dropped nearly a third in the last month. In Potosi, where the majority of Bolivia’s zinc, lead and silver exports are mined, 11 small mining operations have closed as the value of mineral exports has fallen 47 percent in the fourth quarter.

In October the government announced that it would make available $5 million in subsidies to help keep zinc mines in operation. And similar government subsidies may be made for other minerals in the near future.

Governmental Guarantees

On Sunday, Finance Minister Luis Arce Catacora announced that despite falling gas prices and the international financial crisis, the Bolivian government guaranteed the payment of the Juancito Pinto bond for school-age children and the Dignity Income - a pension for people over 60.

According to Arce, the fall in the international price of oil has already been considered in the national general budget for 2009, which allocated for the eventual decline in revenue and does not affect projected government investment in the public sector.

While speaking on the program "The People in the News" on Red Patria Nueva, Arce confirmed that Bolivia’s international reserves more than $7.77 billion – up from $1.71 billion during the first year of President Morales' administration in 2006.

In October, the Central Bank of Bolivia (BCB) confirmed that the level of international reserves will be enough to absorb the shock of any international financial crisis afflicting the country.

Sources: ABI, AP, Bloomberg, La Prensa, Reuters

YOUTUBE Documentary on the lives of miners in the mines of Potosi in Bolivia


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bolivia: Diplomatic Clashes with U.S. Worry Business

Written by Franz Chávez
Originally published here by Inter Press Service

LA PAZ, Dec 22 (IPS) - The United States's decision to suspend tariff benefits for Bolivian imports as a result of the confrontation with the government of Evo Morales has generated widespread uncertainty among the business and working communities of the Bolivian capital's satellite city of El Alto.

The Morales administration expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg in September -- declaring him ”persona non grata” and accusing him of aiding the opposition in their violent attacks on government supporters -- and then suspended the activities of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in November, showing the government's determination to move forward in what it defines as a cultural and democratic revolution.

The George W. Bush administration responded immediately by ordering the indefinite suspension of the benefits granted under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) for Bolivian imports, a decision which came into force on Dec. 15.

Alleging that Bolivia is failing to made adequate progress in the fight against drugs, Washington has thrown into question Bolivia's future imports to the U.S., which could mean a loss of $250 million in sales for Bolivia and put some 20,000 industrial workers out of a job.

In El Alto, where poverty is becoming more and more acute, the differences between the two governments ”will have greater economic and social consequences and could have political repercussions in the medium-term,” Bolivian National Chamber of Exporters (CANEB) director José Ribero told IPS.

According to a La Paz Chamber of Exporters (CAMEX) report entitled ”Bolivia & the USA”, approximately 70% of Bolivia's cotton and fine-wool textile products exported to the U.S. are produced in El Alto, essentially a vast working-class suburb of La Paz that is home to 800,000 people.

The population of El Alto is growing at an annual rate of five percent and more than 95,000 of the city’s inhabitants live in abject poverty. This is high compared to other Bolivian cities, such as Santa Cruz -located 560 miles (900 km) east of La Paz - which has less than half that number of people living in extreme poverty, as reported by sociology Professor Joaquín Saravia in his book "Ser potencia social o tener producción industrial", on the tension between social development and industrial production.

"Immigration (from rural areas), high levels of unemployment and poverty have combined to fuel social conflict; the rest comes from the social, cultural and intellectual profile of the new residents of El Alto," the researcher says.

In October 2003, indigenous residents and trade unions, backed by peasants from the surrounding highlands, staged a one-month uprising in El Alto that was dubbed "the gas war," as it was prompted by opposition to gas sales to the U.S. under unfavourable conditions for Bolivia.

The protests forced right-wing president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to resign and flee the country, after a military and police crackdown left at least 60 protesters dead.

"We are at a crossroads, a defining moment due to the closing of the U.S. market to our textiles and the loss of competitiveness for Bolivian products," said Ribero.

As of Dec. 16, the U.S. has set a 17% tariff on Bolivian imports. In response, the Morales administration has offered $8 million in long-term soft loans to facilitate the continuation of trade operations.

La Paz exporters want to maintain the U.S. market, instead of searching for alternative markets to replace it, Fernando López, head of CAMEX, told IPS.

Venezuela is not a large market and it cannot take the place of the U.S., López said in reference to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s offer to increase that country’s imports from Bolivia to ease the impact of Washington’s sanctions.

Alluding to the calm response by government officials and their declarations that new buyers would be found, he said "It’s not that simple, because the U.S. is a unique market; it’s the largest market in the world in terms of population and per capita income."

The target market for Bolivian cotton products in the U.S. are middle-class consumers, while the more affluent buyers prefer European products and even domestically manufactured products, and lower income sectors purchase Chinese, Indian and Pakistani-made garments, said López.

But last week, the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc -- made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Venezuela in the process of joining -- decided to import $30 million in Bolivian textiles and other products duty-free, to help Bolivia absorb the blow.

President Morales sees the withdrawal of the ATPDEA benefits as a political reprisal for Bolivia’s expulsion of Ambassador Goldberg and the DEA, and he is hopeful that once President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20, 2009, bilateral relations between the two countries will improve.

The Bolivian government says it is delivering results in the fight against drug trafficking, and cites a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which found that Bolivia made good progress in 2008.

According to official figures, 5,500 hectares of coca crops have been eliminated, and 28 tons of cocaine and 1,112 tons of marijuana have been seized from drug traffickers, along with $2.5 million in cash.

Ribero said the blow for exporters would be enormous, and López fears there will be a loss of quality jobs, because the standards in labour conditions set by buyers meant that workers could access social security, health insurance and technical training.

A sure market for exports enabled employers to pay workers between $214 and $285 a month, which according to López are good wages for Bolivia’s industrial sector. He also said that this was an important factor in terms of securing decent, stable jobs for workers, in addition to opportunities for development.

While López called for "a clear government policy for the productive sector," Ribero expressed concern that Bolivia’s diplomatic problems with the U.S. have taken centre stage, although he is optimistic that the leftist government and the business sector will be able to reach agreement on a trade agenda.

Photos: CAMEX, Argentour


Plot to assassinate Evo Morales?

Originally published here at WorldWar 4

Dec. 24 - "Extreme right" opposition elements planned to assassinate Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, the government claims. News of the plot was revealed Dec. 23 by Government Minister Alfredo Rada, who said the assassination was due to be carried out at in a mass rally in Chaparé, one of the president's strongholds. Rada said "they planned to use a campesino to disorientate the security forces who guard the president."

Rada claimed the plot was uncovered a couple of weeks ago, and observers noted there was increased security at a huge rally over weekend in Cochabamba, where Morales declared Bolivia free of illiteracy.

News of the plot had been kept secret until Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez discussed it on his regular TV show, "Alo, Presidente." The Bolivian government was reluctant to reveal further details. Rada said "that would affect the course of the investigation and might aid those behind this attempt." (The Telegraph, AP, Dec. 23)

Morales said Dec. 23 he hopes relations with the US will improve after Barack Obama takes office, and urged the US president-elect to forge a new relationship with Latin America. "If I were Obama, the first day of my presidency I'd lift the economic blockade on Cuba," Morales said. Having expelled the US ambassador earlier this year, Morales said, "I'm really hopeful... We need the United States although maybe they don't need Bolivia." He told foreign reporters in La Paz that ending the Cuba embargo and withdrawing troops from Iraq would pave the way for Obama to become a true "world leader." (Reuters, Dec. 23)

Photos: ABI


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Morales leads charge against Cuban Embargo

COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil -- Bolivia's president says all Latin American nations should expel U.S. ambassadors until the Cuban embargo is lifted.

Evo Morales made the request of regional leaders while speaking at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders.

Morales expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia in September, citing him with offering financial support to the leaders of violent opposition protests that occurred in five of Bolivia's nine departments. The United States responded in kind in October by labeling Bolivia's Ambassador to the United States "persona non grata".

Both Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have expressed hopes that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama might end the embargo.

The summit that concludes Wednesday has been a victory lap of sorts for Cuba, newly admitted into the Rio Group of Latin American nations.

Most Latin American nations oppose the U.S. embargo of Cuba, but none has cut ties to the U.S. because of it.

(Compiled via wire services)


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bolivia Hits Literacy Milestone

Dec 14 - (digitalwarriormedia) Bolivia is winning its battle against illiteracy.

On December 13, President Morales declared Bolivia free of illiteracy during a celebration in Riberalta that recognized Beni as the ninth, and final, Bolivian department to complete a nation-wide literacy program.

With this success, Bolivia joins Cuba and Venezuela as the third Latin American territory to be free from illiteracy. Morales thanked the Cuban and Venezuelan governments for their unconditional cooperation.

Bolivia used the “Yo Si Puede” (Yes I Can) literacy program developed by the Cuban government. Cuba sent teachers to Bolivia while Venezuela offered logistical support.

Morales announced a celebration in Cochabamba on December 20 to commemorate the national accomplishment.

The Bolivian government extended invitations to local leaders, social organizations as well as regional and international authorities, including Koichiro Matsuura, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza will attend.

Bolivia’s success was recognized on Friday at a meeting of UNESCO’s Non-Aligned Movement group in Paris.

Lorgio Vacca, head of UNESCO in Bolivia, called it “a triumph of the Non-Aligned Movement and an example of South-South cooperation.” Vacca thanked Cuba "for its outstanding contribution and sincere approach to “Yo Si Puede” and Venezuela’s logistical support for literacy in Bolivia.

UNESCO leads the Education for All program and the UN’s Literacy Decade. Literacy is also one of the Millenium Development Goals. According to UN criteria, if more than 96 percent of the population over 15 years can read and write, a country can be declared free of illiteracy.

When the project started in March 2006, 1.2 million Bolivians were illiterate. Under the program access to education was guaranteed to every adult aged over 15, who could learn literacy in both Spanish and in their indigenous language.

Two and a half years later, more than 800,000 Bolivians have received their certificate of completion, or 99.5% of those expected to complete the program. Of that number, 30,300 were literacy graduates in their indigenous language.

The literacy project will continue, with the cooperation of Cuba, until next year. The program has been implemented in other countries around the world such as Haiti, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nicaragua and Nigeria, among others.

"Cuba does not come to the country to take over thousands of hectares of land, to take over oil fields, or privatize state enterprises,” said Morales, “just to come and help us to realize the eradication of illiteracy."

Sources: ABI, Telesur,


Monday, December 01, 2008

Terrorism By Any Other Name...

(digitalwarriormedia) On Friday, President Evo Morales offered his condolences to the nation of India for the terror attacks that have rocked Mumbai since Wednesday.

He sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India offering his solidarity with the Indian people and calling for a “culture of life and peace”. Morales joined leaders from all over the world who have condemned the acts of terrorism.

Homegrown Terrorists

Less than three months ago, Bolivia suffered its own domestic terror attacks - no less horrible than those in Mumbai - but without nearly the level of preoccupation by the Western media nor the widespread sense of international indignation.

Bolivia’s September 11th actually took place on Thursday, September 11, 2008, when 20 indigenous peasants were massacred in the department of Pando.

Just outside the city of Cobija, in Porvenir and Filadelfia, indigenous men, women and children were ambushed by people with automatic weapons. Those who tried to flee were hunted down like prey and shot at mercilessly. Initially more than 100 people were missing.

It was the worst massacre in Bolivia since 2003, when 67 protesters were killed by government forces during the presidency of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. In 2003, the U.S. State Department declared that the American people and the U.S. government supported the Bolivian government.

Bolivia’s 9/11 attacks occurred in the midst of weeks of civil unrest stirred up by an anti-government opposition that laid siege to roads, airports and government buildings, sabotaged natural gas pipelines and left certain regions of the country with shortages of food and oil.

While the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Organization of American States, and the European Union condemned the attacks on the indigenous peasants – the same humanitarian gesture was not issued from the Bush White House. There was no denunciation of the terrorist attacks that required President Morales to call a state of siege in Pando and send military forces into the province.

In the wake of these occurrences, UNASUR formed a special commission to investigate the attacks of September. This week they submitted their findings.

On Tuesday, UNASUR’s Human Rights Commission handed its final report to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, pro-tempore president of the regional body. Details of the report have not been made public, however media reports indicate that the commission found Pando authorities legally responsible for the events.

The head of the Human Rights commission, Argentinian lawyer Rodolfo Mattarollo, worked with commissioners from UNASUR member countries, as well as forensic and ballistic experts to compile the report.

The delegation interviewed victims and suspects that had been detained in connection with the massacre, including Leopoldo Fernandez, ex-prefect of Pando, who remains imprisoned in La Paz facing charges of genocide. Mattarollo stated that it was in the interest of justice to obtain different statements and ascertain perspectives from the various parties involved.

Another report was issued this weekend by Bolivia’s Ombudsman Waldo Albarracin. His findings described how indigenous peasants were chased from “home to home”, and shot at as they tried to escape into the river and forest. Similar to the UNASUR commission, Albarracin faulted the police in Pando. He cited the authorities for failing to protect peasants seeking refuge. He made particular note of the psychosocial trauma suffered by the children who witnessed these attacks and offered recommendations to several governmental agencies for dealing with the victims and perpetrators.

Suspects and Suspicion

So far the fact-finding coming from the Bolivian government keeps pointing to U.S. involvement.

Once again President Morales leveled charges that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration supported the civil coup against his government. Nonetheless Morales says he wants to improve Bolivia’s relationship with the U.S. – a hope Morales has expressed more avidly since the election of Barack Obama in early November.

This week more arrests were made in connection with the sabotage and civil coup in September. Reynaldo Bayard, president of the Civic Committee of Tarija, and others were arrested on charges of bombing a gas pipeline in the Chaco region.

Interior Minister Alfredo Rada announced formal charges were filed against Branco Marinkovic, head of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, for his role in the domestic attacks against government institutions.

And in other developments, almost 900 pounds of smuggled munitions were intercepted by Bolivian customs authorities in the Cochabamba department on Wednesday. President of Customs Clearance Wilfredo Vargas said the ammunition, shipped from the U.S., was the same kind that was used in the Pando massacre, although investigations are ongoing.

Co-opting 9/11

And while many in the Western press refer to the attacks in Mumbai as “India’s 9-11”, this terminology may be misplaced.

As planned operations, India’s attacks have more similarity to Bolivia’s 9/11 in which trained individuals used paramilitary tactics and automatic weapons to exact terror on a population of people.

The media’s eagerness to use the 9/11 comparison as a means to convey the severity of the attacks begs the question: why didn’t Bolivia receive the same kind of outpouring of international outrage and support on that fateful September day?

As a matter of a percentage of population, Bolivia lost more individuals than even the U.S. during the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The most glaring similarity to the attacks in 2001 and Mumbai is the possibility that Islamic fundamentalists are responsible. However the origin of these attackers and whether or not they are connected to Al Qaeda is still unknown, making the use of the 9/11 comparison premature.

Here Michel Chossudovsky asks some probing questions as to who may actually be implicated in the Mumbai attacks.

By appropriating 9/11 to describe the events in Mumbai, it trivializes the loss of life in other countries where domestic terrorism claims the lives of innocent victims. It also glosses over India's ongoing history with domestic terrorism.

Bolivians, who experienced threats of violence and anti-government aggression in five of nine departments, deserved to have world leaders condemn the domestic terrorism that rocked their nation. The events of September threatened to destabilize the Latin American region – it disrupted trade and sent criminals into neighboring Brazil.

But most importantly Bolivia needs the support and expertise of the international community moving forward to help bring those perpetrators of domestic terrorism to justice.

Photos: ABI, SigloXXI, Reuters