For Canada’s Financial Post, the actions of the Bolivian government in nationalising a Canadian mine this northern summer confirmed the country’s status as an “outlaw nation” (Grace 2012). But for less-biased observers, the reality was a little different.
Responding to pressure from local Indigenous communities the Bolivian government confirmed on August 2 that it would expropriate the operations of a Canadian-owned mining project. This represents, in the short term, the success of local social movements in putting an end to violence created by the tactics of the corporation, and in the long term, one small step towards ending 500 years of foreign powers stripping the country of its natural resources.
South American Silver, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, described the mining project in question — located in Mallku Khota — as “one of the world’s largest undeveloped silver, indium and gallium deposits” (Garces 2012b). There are 46 Indigenous communities in the area, and these Indigenous communities have “rights over their land which are guaranteed in the New Political Constitution of the State of Bolivia” (Garces 2012b). South American Silver had succeeded in gaining acceptance of their project from 43 of these 46 communities.
But with three communities yet to sign on there were a series of violent outbreaks. On May 5, at 4 in the morning, 50 police officers broke into homes in Malku Khota. In response, “community leaders made the decision to detain two of the police officers”, later released on May 9 (Garces 2012a). The police violence crystallised opposition to the mining project, and 19 different local ayllus “united to outline the project, inform their bases” and prepare for an upcoming meeting with the governor of the department (or province) of Potosí. (An ayllu is a form of local organisation traditional to the Quechua and Aymara people of the Andes). But tensions exploded again May 18 in a confrontation between those for and against the project, resulting in three wounded. Three days later, a leader of the anti-mining group, Tata Cancio Rojas, was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Again, anti-mining forces, in frustration, resorted to what the press called “kidnapping”. On June 29 it was reported that two engineers working for the Canadian firm – Fernando Fernández and Augstín Cárdenas – had been detained (Noticieros Televisa 2012). Then July 7, a police “rescue” operation resulted in the death, from a bullet wound, of Jose Mamani, one of the anti-mining activists.