Canadian mining companies exploit COVID-19 & repression of indigenous people in Bolivia for corporate profits

By Ruhi Rizvi, The Canada Files, May 9, 2020

Bolivian self proclaimed “Interim President” Jeanine Áñez Chávez is a Bolivian politician and lawyer currently serving Bolivia since November 2019, after she was installed by a US military coup following the resignation of the government of Evo Morales. Her interim term will end when new elections take place at some point in 2020, when a date is formalised.


There are a total of 36 recognized indigenous peoples, including Aymara and Quechua (the largest communities in the western Andes) as well as Chiquitano, Guaraní and Moxeño, who make up the most numerous communities in the lowlands.

Áñez has the country under lockdown until April 30th.  Infected number of corona virus patient totalled 354 with 28 deaths. The spread is said to be mostly linked to the indigenous miners and the rapid spread has doubled in last few weeks with 111 more suspicious cases being reported.

Recently in a televised address, Áñez offered a meagre “universal bonus” of 500 Bolivianos to Bolivia’s impoverished workers and peasants. The offer is $73 lower than they expected.   There is mounting evidence that suggests there has been a great deal of racism, a great deal of polarization and hatred aimed at indigenous communities because of this election.



Struggles during the lockdown

Earlier this year a racist tweet from “interim president” Áñez was caught, in which she reportedly wrote: "I want a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rituals. The city is not for the indigenous. They should go to the mountains or plains." Áñez also called Morales a "poor Indian" in another tweet prior to 2019 elections.

According to the newspaper El Alteño, “Two weeks after the [March 22] quarantine was put into place, neighbours from different areas in El Alto began to worry about the lack of resources from the lockdown imposed upon them and the lack of food ... neighbours are aware that they cannot take to the streets to carry out their activities normally, they claim that ‘money is already finished.’”


One woman interviewed by El Alteño said: “Since the quarantine has been issued, we no longer go out to sell with my husband, everything we have earned before quarantine is gone; on the street there’s everything, gas, vegetables, fruit, but there’s no money.”

Similar stories of repression reverberate across Bolivia and people have a real struggle they are left to deal with. Newspaper reports are already suggesting that Bolivia is at risk of widespread hunger.

Maya Ajchura Chipana, a Quechua author and organizer, worries that Áñez' anti-indigenous rhetoric will fuel hate crimes and deepen the already evident repression. "She publicly says that she's against indigenous people and now she's in power," Chipana said. "My main concern is how this has opened the flood gates to racism and discrimination."

Ex-President Morales’ supporters vouch that he did good things for Bolivia in terms of indigenous representation, by contributing to the improved lives of rural people and low-income people.

 

US’ meddling in Bolivia under the pretext that “the Bolivian people deserve free and fair elections.”

In October 2019, by marginal votes of 46.8 per cent Morales clinched a win against opposition rival Carlos Mesa. Less than 10% difference would have accounted in a runoff in December. However, this was not to be as Morales was accused of eroding the electoral system. The Organisation of American States assigned Mr Gonzales – head of the election observer to investigate.  It brings no surprise then, that the U.S. supported the results of the OAS report, which laid the foundation to remove Morales, insisting a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 election.

President Morales saw it as a return to the bleak era of coups d’état overseen by Latin American militaries that long dominated the region. Morales stepped aside after pressure was mounted by military chief, Gen. Williams Kaliman, calling for him to immediately quit and permit the restoration of peace and stability. The leadership crisis had escalated in the hours leading up Morales’ resignation. Two government ministers in charge of mines and hydrocarbons, the Chamber of Deputies president and three other pro-government legislators announced their resignations. Some said opposition supporters had threatened their families.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo applauded the interim president in a statement on Nov. 13, saying that the U.S. looks forward to working with the OAS to stage "free and fair elections" later this year

However, critics cite another glaring similarity. As a right-wing, pro-American government represses, threatens and jails its leftist opponents, the United States has remained silent throughout, just as it did during the abuses of the Latin American dictatorships it supported during the Cold War.

Countries run by conservative pro-Trump governments are hit by waves of repression. The killings of left-wing community leaders in Colombia, shootings by police in poor Brazilian neighbourhoods, and the alleged drug-trafficking links and human rights abuses of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández are all hallmarks, testifying approval of the Trump administration.   Bolivia under Áñez interim leadership now carries the same fate, as since being sworn in, anti-socialist Áñez has presided over the detention of hundreds of opponents, the muzzling of journalists and a “national pacification” campaign that has left at least 31 people dead, according to the national ombudsman and human rights groups, while complete silence looms from Washington.

Michael Shifter, the president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue has said,
“There is unwillingness on the level of the Trump administration to hold Áñez to account, so she has a lot of room to do what she wants, including what seems to be the carrying out of vendettas.”



Canadian companies use coup to push through new mines

It is obvious that Áñez lacks consideration for the indigenous labourers in the mining industry and effects on the environment as she permits talks with Canadian mining officials to set up new projects.

Cheminfo reports Canada has reserves of some 360,000 tonnes of lithium, a fraction of reserves in the top three countries, Bolivia (5.4 million tonnes), Chile (three million tonnes) and China (1.1 million tonnes).
In 2012, under Morales leadership, Indigenous farmers and workers heavily protested against a Canadian mining company, demanding Evo Morales to cancel the 3 year long mining concessions, citing environmental concerns. The president immediately took necessary steps and revoked the company’s licence, following opposition from Quechua Indians who had seized workers employed by South American Silver Corp. (TSX:SAC) to press their case.

Canadian companies protested against Bolivia's decision to revoke its licence to mine a rich silver deposit in the country and nationalize the project.

After failing to secure a licence, Canadian mining industry has swiftly taken the opportunity of US backed interim government to resume its lithium mining projects. Canada has just one functioning lithium operation, the underground Tanco Mine at Bernic Lake, Man., that produces a lithium-containing ore known as spodumene, along with other minerals.

Recent reports confirm a first-of-its kind deal between Bolivia’s state mining company Comibol and Vancouver-based explorer New Pacific Metals (TSXV: NUAG; US-OTC: NUPMF), which promises to usher in a new period of foreign investment into Bolivia’s mining industry.  

What will indigenous Bolivia look like under Áñez Chávez? It already seems that hard effort put in by Evo Morales’ Socialist Party government is rapidly being overturned. The standard set by Morales’ Government was independent leadership and management, free from meddling influencers and capitalist intervention. If 2020 elections go ahead and Áñez Chávez is elected President, the indigenous people will suffer greater repression leading to major oppression.

 

Posted July 6, 2020