Bolivia seizes Glencore land for cooperatives

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bolivia's government will use land seized from Glencore to relocate mining cooperative workers away from hazardous areas of Cerro Rico in the southern Potosí highlands, a senior official said.

The government seized 110 mining quadrants (2,500ha) of land from Glencore unit Minera Illapa in Tomás Frías province, mining minister César Navarro said.

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The mining quadrants were not being used, allegedly.

"They have been returned to the State because they were not serving any social or economic function," Navarro told reporters in La Paz. "These areas will be awarded following verification with the mining cooperatives."

The ministry, state mining company Comibol and representatives of 17 mining cooperatives will put together within a month a timetable for the miners to leave the top of Cerro Rico, where miners have been working at an altitude of 4,500m, Navarro said.

Universidad Autónoma Tómas Frías, in Potosí, and Comibol will design a project to fill in the tunnels that riddle Cerro Rico to make the hillside safe, he said.

Bolivia's mining ministry and the Potosí mining cooperative federation reached an agreement in July to move miners away from Cerro Rico, where mining accidents are common. Three miners were reported to have been killed by gases underground in October 2013.

President Evo Morales, who has seized mining operations from Glencore and other companies including South American Silver since taking office in 2006, has pledged to strengthen Bolivia's 434 cooperatives, which employ most of the country's 79,000 miners.

Cooperative protests against a new mining code left at least two dead in March. The Bolivian senate in May passed the new code, which seeks to assert state control over future mining contracts.

Bolivia, a major zinc, silver and tin producer, boosted metals exports 40% to over US$2.8bn in 2013, according to the mining ministry. The country, which is home to mines operated by Pan American Silver, Sumitomo, Coeur Mining, Orvana Minerals and Franklin Mining, produced 11,400t tin, 430,000t zinc and 39.7Moz silver in 2012, according to industry associations.