La Paz, August 5th 2008: translated from econoticiasbolivia.com
As evening fell this Tuesday the Huanuni miners continued to defend their blockade of the road which links the west of Bolivia, throwing dynamite and stones in their hand-to-hand struggle with strong detachments of police.
The authorities have so far reported two miners killed and 41 injured, whether shot or gassed, all of them falling in the struggle waged by the united, combative Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) to defeat the neo-liberal pensions reform and replace it with a welfare system financed by taxes on multinationals and private enterprise as well as state funding and contributions by workers.
An autopsy has been carried out on the body of the miner Hernán Montero, a 24 year old and father to a young daughter, in the Oruro Workers' Hospital. According to the diagnosis of Dr. José Daza, he was killed by a bullet through the heart. The second dead man, who has also been taken to the Workers' Hospital, is the miner Roberto Cáceres. The cause of his death is yet to be determined.
THE COB will not give in
The latest reports from the region describe fresh clashes and violent police incursions in a vain effort to open the road which links Cochabamba with La Paz and Oruro. Bullets, gas, shots, stones and dynamite have been used.
New detachments of miners and their wives have arrived at the conflict zone, coming from Huanuni, Bolivia's biggest tin mine and now the axis of workers' resistance against the peasant-indigenous government and the oligarchs.
The COB leadership in La Paz has held an emergency meeting and decided to reinforce the blockade and take more radical forms of protest to force Evo Morales' peasant-indigenous government to satisfy the workers' demands and get rid of the neo-liberal pension law, replacing it with a new welfare system.
"The Morales Government must carry out its election promises", said the COB leader Pedro Montes - a Huanuni miner - who condemned the government repression "which came just as we met with the Government to negotiate a solution to the problem".
Weapons of war
The Government, for its part, has declared that in bringing the blockade to an end the Police has not used firearms but only used persuasion.
"We believe that the irresponsibility of some [union] leaders has led to these unfortunate events", said the Government Minister Alfredo Rada, criticising the miners' leaders for having ordered the use of dynamite at the Caihuasi bridge which links east and west.
The Deputy Government Minister Rubén Gamarra said that the miners had burned a bus belonging to the Trans Azul company and had dynamited a bridge on the road to Cochabamba, damaging infrastructure in two ways.
The Minister Rada said that the President had received a report from the Comandante of the National Police, assuring him that he had not given authorisation for the use of deadly weapons in bringing the blockade to an end.
Applying the brakes on the referendum
The Deputy Minister for Co-ordinating Social Movements, Sacha Llorenti, attacked the COB's methods and claimed that the real motive for its protests is to undermine the Recall Referendum. "What they want is to stop the referendum taking place and to undermine the image of the President".
Llorenti, former President of the Human Rights Assembly and now a paid employee of Morales, condemned the actions of the miners and their leaders, who he claimed to be servants of the right and the oligarchy.
These accusations against the COB and the miners have intensified in the run-up to the 10th August referendum - in five days time - in which the positions of Evo, his Vice-President and eight governors will be up for recall. All the polls suggest that the vote will re-affirm the roles held by Morales and his main opponents. The outcome on Monday will change nothing, or at least nothing of much importance, about the current political situation where we have two parallel govenrments: Morales in the altiplano and the oligarchs in the east and in the valleys.
Morales wants to use victory in the referendum to seal an important national agreement with the oligarchs. But the COB and radical unions want Evo to abandon his policy of collaborating with the oligarchs and instead to meet the demands of the people, fighting the economic power of the bourgeoisie.
What the President has forgotten
For their part, the rank-and-file workers have eschewed the governments' claim that the COB and the miners are in the service of the right. Therefore, the Huanuni miners, the revolutionary vanguard of the Bolivian people, have vociferously rebuffed Evo Morales' accusations and condemned him for "forgetting" the workers' struggles which brought him to power.
"We reject the Government claims which accuse the Bolivian workers of being in the service of the right and imperialism. Evo Morales should remember that the COB, the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (FSTMB) and all linked organisations were in the forefront of the struggles which led to the December 2005 elections", declared the miners' assembly held at Huanuni on 2nd August.
The Huanuni miners warned that Morales "should remember that the current government has promised to, and is obliged to, carry out the agenda advocated in 2003-2005, including a new Pensions Law.
The assembly of the nearly 5,000 strong Huanuni miners last Saturday agreed to extend the struggle over pensions and declared war on the oligarchy, which is carefully and patiently conspiring against the Morales Government.
"We condemn and reject the attitudes of the governors in the east and the neo-liberal parties like UN, PODEMOS, MNR, NFR, MIR and others who are guilty for the poverty that exists in this country, just as in 2003 we miners expelled and wiped out these servants of the multi-nationals and landowners pursuing their conspiratorial agenda", affirmed the miners' pronuncamiento.
The declaration of the Huanuni assembly
The resolutions of the Emergency General Assembly of Huanuni read as follows:
"1. A call for an indefinite general strike declared by the Huanuni mine-workers in conjunction with COB and FSTMB demands for the introduction into law of the COB Pension Law Bill as passed by last year's Social Security conference.
2. Mobilisation of the 5,000 workers to demand from the government, parliament and state institutions the immediate introduction into law of the COB Pension Law Bill and the abandonment of Law 1732, the creation of neo-liberal governments.
3. Given working conditions in the mining sector and to extend the life-time of the nation's natural resources, the retirement age for miners should be 50.
4. To condemn and reject the attitudes of the governors in the east and the neo-liberal parties like UN, PODEMOS, MNR, NFR, MIR and others who are guilty for the poverty that exists in this country, just as in 2003 we miners expelled and wiped out these servants of the multi-nationals and landowners pursuing their conspiratorial agenda.
5. To reject the Government claims which accuse the Bolivian workers of being in the service of the right and imperialism. Evo Morales should remember that the COB, the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (FSTMB) and all linked organisations were in the forefront of the struggles which led to the December 2005 elections. Similarly he should remember that the current government has promised to, and is obliged to, carry out the agenda advocated in 2003-2005, including a new Pensions Law.
6. Finally, to reject the tendentious claims made by private enterprise and government that COB Pension Law Reforms mean "stealing". In fact it is the current Law 1732 which steals workers' individual pension contributions, delays thousands of workers' retirement or sees them retire with pathetic incomes, all in the interests of multinationals who exploit our natural resources, investing dollars in businesses and foreign banks without taking into account the collapse of United States currency. Those who reject the COB Pension Law Bill are the same people who push Law 1732 and bring private enterprise and the neo-liberal press together in their own government".