DOING SOME DIGGING Politics of Mining

I read with great sadness that a Bolivian miner became a suicide bomber in La Paz earlier this week.

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I read with great sadness that a Bolivian miner became a suicide bomber in La Paz earlier this week.

Associated Press reported that Eustaquio Pichacuri, with at least eight sticks of explosive strapped to his chest and more in his backpack, stormed into the visitors section of the congressional building. He was protesting the lack of early retirement benefits for that country's low-paid miners. Occupants of a nearby building were evacuated, and two policemen began negotiations. The officers died of injuries received when he detonated his vest. The bomber is dead; he will not be needing retirement benefits now.

Since when does suicide bombing have a place in the world of business? In my mind the answer is that it doesn't. However, the modern world is full of real or imagined inequity, political fanatics, and terrorism. Thanks to pervasive media coverage, examples of this behaviour are widely known in most corners of the world. What worked for al-Qaeda in the United States and is a staple for Hamas in the Middle East has no place in a labour relations issue.

Along with the rest of the country, Bolivia's mineral industry has watched the national economy shrink for the past three years. The press report mentioned above noted that there are 30,000 Bolivian miners out of work. Most of them are too young to collect retirement benefits, which are available only when they turn 65 years old.

Labour unrest is common in Bolivia. In October 2003, miners, other labour organizations, indigenous groups, and peasants protested violently for days; over 50 people were killed. The riots were sparked by the government's decision to export natural gas.

Senor Pichacuri made a point, that terrorism has once again reared its ugly head. That was not the point he set out to make. His complaint should have been heard at the appropriate level of government. The issue may not have been resolved, but his actions were doomed to fail. In the end he did not advance his cause, and he will never see his fellow miners' lot improve. He undoubtedly leaves behind family and friends who mourn not only his passing but also that of the murdered policemen.

That a suicide bomber would claim to represent the interests of any part of the mining industry is abhorrent. Canadian mining companies must use all their skills to deal with their labour force equitably and to be alert to threats of violence at every operation. Compassion and support for the people of Bolivia are also in order.

Bolivia is a producer of gold, silver, copper, zinc, antimony, bismuth, tin, tungsten, lead and other metals. It has an industrial minerals sector covering products from arsenic trioxide to ulexite*, with barite, amethyst and salt on the list. It sells petroleum and natural gas products.


* Ulexite: A mineral consisting of saline crusts on alkali flats in arid regions where it forms rounded masses of extremely fine acicular white crystals. (Also called boronatrocalcite or natronborocalcite).

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