Hundreds of Bolivian miners are continuing to block road access to La Paz in an escalating standoff between miners and the Bolivian government over access to the Colquiri tin and zinc mine. The Bolivian government expropriated the Colquiri mine from the Swiss company Glencore in June, leading to a dispute over which Bolivian mining groups should take over.
On Monday, a group of protesting miners set up blockades on three major roads leading into La Paz. The protesters, from the Federación Departamental de Cooperativas Mineras de La Paz (Fedecomin), are protesting their exclusion from the Colquiri mine by a rival group.
At the same time, miners employed by the state-run Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol) are currently blocking access to Colquiri. They have announced plans to march to La Paz to demand that the government prevent other mining groups from tapping into the mine’s richest vein, known as the Rosario vein.
Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero urged the rival groups to remain peaceful, saying that they “can’t deny each other’s rights and exclude each other as if they were irreconcilable enemies.” Romero unsuccessfully attempted to organize a dialogue with the protesting miners on Tuesday, but the Fedecomin miners said that they would only consent to negotiate with Bolivian President Evo Morales himself, with whom they have requested a meeting.
“We will only talk with President Evo Morales. Anything less makes no sense because the Minister does not have decision-making power,” said Fedecomin President Miguel Manuel Cañaja.
The Fedecomin miners said they will not end their blockade of Bolivia’s roads until the “salaried” miners employed by the government agree to lift their blockade of the Colquiri mine and let other groups in.
The government has asked the miners to cease their respective blockades, citing concerns that some of the protesters on both sides of the dispute have dynamite in their possession. Meanwhile, transport workers have begun to clash with the protesters, who are blocking their routes.
President Morales has asked the warring factions to respect each other’s rights: “Both sectors…have constitutional rights and have an obligation to understand each other and work together to exploit the natural resources that are so important for Bolivians.”