Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Protests Shut Down Bolivian Mining Town

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A mountain once infamous for trapping miners is today becoming famous for trapping tourists. Anti-government protesters have blocked roads, rail and air routes out of Potosí, Bolivia, leaving over 100 foreign tourists stranded, food supplies dwindling and tempers flaring. Operations at the San Cristóbal mine were halted Thursday, following protesters’ Tuesday takeover of the hydroelectric plant that powers it. The San Cristóbal mine is one of the world’s largest producers of silver and zinc. Its shutdown will cost Japanese owner Sumitomo Corp. an estimated two million dollars a day in lost export revenue. The output at other mines has also been disrupted.

Residents, miners and peasants from Potosí have been on strike and engaged in anti-government protest for the past two weeks. Some are on hunger strike, including provincial governor Félix González. They are demanding that President Morales commit greater investment to their region, particularly in the way of airport expansion, road construction, and creation of a cement factory. They also demand that the government resolve a boundary dispute with neighboring Oruro province over a limestone deposit.

Presidential spokesman Iván Canelas has said the government will not use force to break the blockade around Potosí, insisting that a solution will be reached instead through dialogue. The United Nations has issued a call for such dialogue to take place immediately, warning that the blockade and strike are causing “grave and massive human rights violations.”

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