La Paz, Nov 6 (EFE).- Thousands of Bolivian cooperative miners marched in La Paz on Monday to demand the annulment of a regulation that prohibits them from mining gold in protected areas.
“There are many resolutions being passed to the detriment of our sector because they are not coordinated,” Ramiro Balmaceda, president of the Federation of Gold Mining Cooperatives, told the media, including EFE.
Cooperatives are small “non-profit” autonomous associations with more than 60,000 members that pay lower taxes for minig gold than private companies. According to the government, 99% of gold in Bolivia is mined by cooperatives, but some have denounced that foreign corporations hide behind cooperatives to avoid paying taxes.
In Monday’s protest, the cooperatives demanded the annulment of a July resolution by the Mining Administrative Jurisdictional Authority (AJAM) declaring “without effect” an earlier 2017 regulation that granted mining rights in protected areas.
Thousands of miners wore their “guardatojos,” or protective helmets that represent their work, and carried banners demanding “respect and validity” of the concessions that have been granted to them.
The protest moved through the streets of La Paz amidst the detonation of firecrackers and some dynamite blocks and continued with the division of the march into several groups that set up blockades around the city.
Some passersby, however, questioned the protests of the cooperative miners, calling them “polluters” among other insults.
The use of mercury by artisanal miners to extract gold from rivers in the Bolivian Amazon has generated widespread debate in recent years.
A study presented in June by the Indigenous Peoples’ Union of La Paz (Cpilap), based on 302 hair samples taken from individuals belonging to 36 Indigenous Amazonian communities in the north of the country, found that mercury levels were above the legal limit.
The report also pointed out that children are “the most affected” in these cases, suffering from learning disabilities and permanent illnesses, as well as women who have had difficulties during pregnancy.
In early September, a judge ordered “the cessation of all illegal (gold) mining activities” in two of the main rivers in the Bolivian Amazon affected by mercury contamination, following a lawsuit filed by Indigenous organizations.
For its part, the government approved a decree to regulate the use of mercury in mining and announced additional regulations on health issues related to mining.
In 2016, Vice Minister of the Interior Rodolfo Illanes was kidnapped and murdered by cooperative miners when he tried to intervene in a protest against a law with which the miners believed the government of then-President Evo Morales was betraying them.EFE