Thursday, October 19, 2006

Good news on Huanuni

I've just heard on the phone that the campaign against Grant Thornton's shameless attempt to squeeze money they have no right to out of Bolivia and in consequence cause the deaths of around 19 workers and the serious injury of dozens of others has paid off!

Bolivian flagYou can read about the issues at my previous blog post,Bolivia solidarity Campaign, and on Socialist Unity Network.

To summarise - Grant Thornton is acting as liquidator for ex-metals international RBG Resources. RBG had a Joint Venture Contract with the Bolivian government in 2000 to run the Huanuni mine, the largest tin mine in Bolivia, jointly with the government. In 2002 RBG Resources went bust because its directors were a bunch of crooks who are now in jail or on trial. This meant they could no longer fulfill their obligations under the contract and the mine was taken back into full public ownership (by a previous neo-liberal government).

Grant Thornton decided that they could sell this stake in the Huanuni mine but, as I hope is clear from the above, they had no right to do so. They sold the rights (that they did not have) to a mining cooperative who, when told by the Morales government that they had bought something that entitled them to exactly nothing, decided to occupy the mine using casual / piece rate miners and the desperately poor unemployed of the area, to whom they promised jobs.

The union miners employed by COMIBOL were not having this and defended the mine despite being outnumbered 4 to 1 and being attacked by snipers and thrown dynamite. Not only were their livlihoods at stake, it also represented a rolling back of the renationalisation of natural resources. Morales has now announced he intends to renationalise ALL the mines in Bolivia as a response to this crisis, reversing the position of his party, MAS, who have been pushing through legislation to introduce more of the private sector into the mining industry.

Miners were killed and injured on both sides - poor and working class men fighting for the hope of scraps in a crisis sparked by a UK based international company who wanted to make a quick buck without regard for the legality or consequences of the situation.

Here's a picket of a multinational by socialists in the UKSocialists in the UK wanted to express their solidarity with the miners defending Huanuni against the encroachment of market forces, but also saw that they were in a unique position to influence events in Bolivia - by putting pressure on the UK offices of Grant Thornton, demanding they relinquish their claim. Pickets have been held on the last two Tuesdays and emails have been sent to the man in charge of this process.

We have just heard that Grant Thornton have written to the Bolivian government via the embassy to state they had no right to sell what was not theirs and the campaign that was launched just two weeks ago, in direct response to these events looks as if it has achieved its demands.

I've yet to see the wording of the letter but it sounds as if, although churlish in tone, it says exactly what we demanded they say - that they have no legal claim over the Huanuni mine and therefore no right to sell it to anybody. I can't tell you how happy this makes me (although I'll still be cautious until I see the document myself). Not only does this mean bringing the bloodshed to an end it also shows that international solidarity works. Get to it!


Renegade Eye said...

Good post. A victory feels good.

Anonymous said...

Excellent - very good news.

Our Bolivia SC demo + meeting this week were great too.

Jim Jay said...

Ooooo - I'd forgotten about that (as I don't live in London) could you send a report back to the BSC list? We don't do this enough. Ta.