World News

Miners' protest in Bolivia becomes deadly

At least one person was killed and dozens injured in Bolivia on Thursday (August 24) after miners and riot police exchanged sticks of dynamite and tear gas during a protest to demand better work conditions.

The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (FENCOMIN), once strong allies of President Evo Morales, has decided to embark on an indefinite protest after negotiations overmining legislation failed.

The FENCOMIN slammed the latest killing, blaming it on heavy-handed authorities. It is the second death since the upsurge in violent protests.

But police have denied accusations of being rough-handed with protesters, saying miners are exchanging rifles to stir up violence.

“Regarding what happened, we have a person who has died,” said police commander, Rino Salazar.

“This has set off a decline in order so they (protesters) have managed to distribute Mauser rifles,” he added.

Protesters are demanding better pay, working conditions, greater union representation and are denouncing what they refer to as the “neoliberal” agenda of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

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Miners vow to continue what they say is an ‘indefinite’ protest after several months of negotiations failed.

“We will bring together all the (mining) cooperatives. It’s not like it has been reported that the cooperatives are divided because we have gone out to blockade (roads). On the contrary we are unified, we have strengthened and we will participate in different blockades so as to support our fellow workers 100%,” said this unidentified miner.

FENCOMIN has presented a list of 10 demands to the government, among them the amendment of the Mining Act to strengthen workers’ rights.

The government has expressed its willingness to open dialogue, provided the protesters halt their violent actions like blocking roads, media has reported.

In recent months, President Evo Morales’ popularity has been damaged by revelations that a company that employs an ex-girlfriend had won lucrative government contracts. The problem was compounded when photos emerged showing the couple together last year, although he had said the relationship ended in 2007.