Monday, August 6, 2012

WNU #1139: Chilean Mine Workers Occupy Church in Protest

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1139, August 5, 2012

1. Chile: Pascua Lama Workers Occupy Church in Protest
2. Dominican Republic: Barrick Set to Open Giant Gold Mine
3. Mexico: Six Killed in Latest Mining Disaster
4. Guatemala: Students Resist Teacher Education “Reform”
5. Honduras: Students Demand Transportation Subsidy
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras,Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/media

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Chile: Pascua Lama Workers Occupy Church in Protest
A group of 23 contract workers occupied the San Ambrosio Church in Vallenar, capital of the northern Chilean province of Huasco, on the morning of Aug. 4 to protest labor conditions at Pascua Lama, an open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile. Eight of the protesters took over the bell tower, where they shouted and banged on the metal structure to draw attention to their complaints against the mine’s operator, the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation.

The main motive for the protest, according to Ricardo Véliz, regional coordinator of the National Mining Union ((Sinami), which represents the contract workers, “is to let the community know…about the bad living conditions which the workers who provide their services in Pascua Lama are experiencing.” Several workers had to transferred out on an emergency basis because they had symptoms of hypothermia, Véliz said. The mine is at an altitude of some 4,500 meters above sea level, and temperatures go down to –20º C (-4º F). Rafael Castillo, the vice president of a workers’ group, told Radio Bío Bío that workers die every year for lack of medical attention at the site. The protesters said they wouldn’t leave the church until the authorities listened to their complaints. (Radio Universidad de Chile 8/4/12; 8/4/12)

The $8 billion Pascua Lama project, which is expected to be one of the world’s largest gold mines when it opens in 2014, has sparked protests by environmentalists and others in both Chile and Argentina. On July 26 the company acknowledged that technical and other problems were delaying the mine’s opening [see Update #1138].

*2. Dominican Republic: Barrick Set to Open Giant Gold Mine
The Pueblo Viejo gold mine in Cotuí in the Dominican Republic’s central province of Sánchez Ramírez is starting operations this August, Jamie Sokalsky, CEO of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, told investors on July 26. The new mine, on a site abandoned by the state enterprise Rosario Dominicana in 1999, will produce up to 125,000 ounces of gold this year and reach full capacity during 2013, Sokalsky said. The project, a joint venture with the Vancouver-based multinational Goldcorp Inc., has cost about $3.8 billion so far; this is said to be the largest private investment ever made in the Dominican Republic. (AP 7/26/12 via NBC 29 (Charlottesville, Virginia))

The project has stirred up protests in the past, because of what activists said were irregularities in the government’s contract with the Canadian companies, and because of potential damage to the environment and to archeological sites [see Update #1027]. Barrick plans to use 24 tons of cyanide a day, Virginia Rodríguez, a coordinator for the local nongovernmental organization SalvaTierra (“Save the Earth”), told the Associated Press wire service. “There is a very high risk, especially with an island like ours with a very fragile ecosystem,” she said. The mine is located in a mountainous region, the source of some of the country's most important rivers.

Barrick Gold has been working to counter these complaints. The old Pueblo Viejo mine caused extensive environmental damage, but Barrick insists that this was the fault of Rosario Dominicana. The Canadian company says it will protect the environment by applying “the industry’s highest international standards to bring about an operation based on responsible mining.” Even the damage from the old mine has mostly been eliminated by natural processes, according to Carlos Tamayo, a Mexican national who directs Barrick’s local environmental department. “[T]ime has been the best ally for improving the situation,” he told the Dominican daily Hoy. “The environment is very wise. It’s like when someone’s sick, and the body often creates its own self-defense mechanisms to be able to cure itself naturally.” (AP 7/5/12 via Tampa Bay (Florida) Times; Hoy Digital 7/18/12)

*3. Mexico: Six Killed in Latest Mining Disaster
Six Mexican coal miners were killed on Aug. 3 when some 100 tons of coal and rock collapsed in a mine operated by Altos Hornos de México S.A. de C.V. (AHMSA) in Barroterán community, Progreso municipality, in the northern state of Coahuila. One miner was trapped but survived with minor injuries; he was rescued about an hour after the collapse. The other 287 workers in the mine escaped without injuries. Some workers thought a methane explosion caused the accident, but management attributed it to “a pocket of methane gas,” not an explosion.

The latest disaster came just nine days after seven workers were killed, all members of the same family, in a methane explosion on July 25 in Múzquiz, Coahuila, 40 km from the AHMSA mine. In a press conference on Aug. 3, Coahuila governor Rubén Moreira Valdez discounted the possibility of suspending mining operations in the state, saying that Coahuila’s mining industry directly generates more than 20,000 jobs and produces 8 to 11% of Mexico’s electric power. Instead, he called for finding a way to locate and remove methane gas from the mines.

On Aug. 4 several labor rights organizations issued a communiqué demanding that coal mine operators “invest in the application of existing technology to guarantee miners’ lives.” The groups—which included the Pasta de Conchos Family, an organization of relatives of 65 coal miners killed in a methane explosion in Coahuila in February 2006 [see Update #1037]--said it was “not acceptable, in any manner or by any argument, that this investment be conditioned on the gaining of profits.”

Eleven miners were killed in a methane explosion in a Coahuila mine in May of 2011, according to labor rights groups, and a total of 30 miners died in accidents in the state that year. The groups say the majority of the state’s miners are paid from 70 a 150 pesos (about US$ 5.39-11.44) a day. (BBC News 8/3/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 8/4/12; AFP 8/4/12 via

*4. Guatemala: Students Resist Teacher Education “Reform”
An agent of Guatemala’s National Civilian Police and two students were injured in a confrontation July 30 between riot police and students outside the Teachers School for Men in the south of Guatemala City; three students and a teacher were arrested for alleged attacks on security forces. The clash came after hundreds of students occupied eight schools, one in the capital and seven in other parts of the country, to protest proposed changes in the national teacher certification program. Security forces prevented the takeover of two other schools.

Students also reportedly blocked various highways in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, but apparently without any confrontations with the police. (EFE 7/30/12 via La Raza (Chicago))

The students were protesting plans by the government of rightwing president Otto Pérez Molina to expand the certification program for primary school teachers from three to five years and to require a university degree. The students argue that the teaching program is one of the few educational programs open to indigenous youth and other impoverished Guatemalans, and many of these students will be unable to afford two extra years of study and a university degree unless they receive a subsidy. Currently only 2% of the population have university degrees, and only 20% of the high school-age population attends high school. As in many other Latin American countries, the students suspect that the educational “reforms” are meant to open the way to privatization of public education [see Update #1105].

The students carried out similar occupations at the end of June and the beginning of July; these also ended in clashes with the police. In the following weeks, after mediation by legislators from Congress, the Education Ministry held meetings with various groups of students, teachers, parents, academics and specialists and heard 83 proposals. But the students remained opposed to the government’s plan. On July 26 they held a peaceful march in the capital from the Central America Teachers Institute (Inca) to the Education Ministry to demonstrate their continued opposition to the proposal and to the measures taken against students and teachers involved in the earlier protests. (Upside Down World 7/5/12; Americas Quarterly 7/7/12; Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 7/26/12; EFE 7/30/12 via La Raza (Chicago)

*5. Honduras: Students Demand Transportation Subsidy
A total of 25 high school students from the Honduras Technical Institute in Tegucigalpa were arrested on July 30 when the National Police broke up a protest by about 100 students on the Armed Forces Boulevard in the Villas del Sol neighborhood. The protesters were demanding that the government pay out a promised transportation subsidy. When police agents used tear gas and nightsticks to disperse the demonstration, the students reportedly responded by throwing rocks. Some shops were damaged, along with a patrol car, but according to police spokesperson Desire Martínez “no students or police were injured.”

Jorge Jiménez, a student leader, told reporters that the government had failed to comply with an agreement it had signed after negotiations. The students’ goal was a transportation subsidy of 600 lempiras (US$31.58) for the 180,000 students in the country’s 422 secondary schools. Other demands included an end to repression and reforms to the Fundamental Education Law. The government said it had already started paying out the subsidy and would finish by Aug. 28.

The protests continued through the week. On Aug. 2 students blocked traffic in the El Obelisco area of Comayagüela, Tegucigalpa’s sister city. On Aug. 3, a group of students carried out a similar protest in the Germania neighborhood. With the support of some adults who live in the area, the youths burned tires in the street, tying up vehicles on the highway to the south for several hours.

The student protests coincided with a series of job actions by public school teachers in each of the country’s 18 departments to protest the Supreme Court’s rejection of complaints by various groups against legislation that they said would harm teachers’ rights. Educators walked off the job in Francisco Morazán department on July 30 and planned to suspend classes in Copan, Comayagua and Atlántida departments on Aug. 1. Further job actions were to come in Lempira, La Paz and Yoro on Aug. 2 and Intibucá, Islas de la Bahía and Gracias a Dios on Aug. 3; teachers were to stage actions in the remaining departments the week of Aug. 6-10. (Prensa Latina 7/30/12; TeleSUR 7/30/12 from staff, PL, La Tribuna, El Heraldo; Kaos en la Red 8/2/12 from Defensores en Línea; La Tribuna (Honduras) 8/3/12)

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

The student protests coincided with a series of job actions by public school teachers in each of the country’s 18 departments to protest the Supreme Court’s rejection of complaints by various groups against legislation that they said would harm teachers’ rights. Educators walked off the job in Francisco Morazán department on July 30 and planned to suspend classes in Copan, Comayagua and Atlántida departments on Aug.