Indigenous People take over mining firm in the wake of Climate Change conference

by April 19, 2010

With the Global People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of the Mother Earth set to begin in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a group of Indigenous people have occupied the offices of a mining firm in the southeastern province of Potosi near the Chilean border.

The occupation began several days ago, on April 12, with roughly 700 Qulla People blocking access to a key railway line that leads away from the San Cristobal silver-zinc-lead mine, owned by Japan's Sumitomo Corporation.

The Qulla say that Sumitomo is dumping mine waste directly into the Madera River, contaminating the land and threatening their water supplies; and constructing roads that are trampling on the rights of Mother Earth. They are demanding compensation for the environmental damage and calling on the Potosi government to honour their agreements, which includes providing help with some local infrastructure.

"Our demands are fair and must be met. The mine is ransacking our natural resources. We want compensation for the damage and ... we want help with our development," says protest leader Mario Mamani. Since the protest began, some 80 containers loaded with ore have also been seized and they have occupied the company's offices. According to latest reports, the Qulla set fire to the offices and they have started to overturn the containers.

At the same time, the Qulla are also expressing frustration over President Evo Morales' refusal to let them set up "Table 18" at the Climate Conference.

According to the Achacachi Post, which is sponsored by the US government, the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ) wants the table to discuss environmental problems in Bolivia, including Sumitomo's pollution of the Madera River and the concern about Lake Intikjarka (Titikaka) being filled up with "sewage from the cities of El Alto, Batallas, Huarina, Tiquina, Achacachi, Mina Matilde in Bolivia and Puno and Huancane in Peru." The lake is an important fishing resource for the Qullas and Uru-chullunis.

The Bolivian Deputy Minister of Environment, Juan Pablo Ramos, told the Associated Press that it's not their intention to circumvent the discussion, but the world conference is not the appropriate settin,g because it will be focused on global issues.

CONAMAQ, however, says they are still going to proceed with Table 18, because "the Earth is our mother [and she has her rights], "for example, not to be contaminated."

The Rights of Mother Earth will be one of the central focuses of the Conference. Other tables will include discussions on Agriculture and food sovereignty, the Kyoto Protocol, Dangers of the Carbon Market, and establishing an Environmental Court.

Overall, the World People's Conference on Climate Change is a vital follow-up to the failed UN Conference in Copenhagen. And while the Qulla have been unfortunately sidelined, perhaps we can take stock in the fact that they won't be labelled as criminals and thrown in jail.

We should, nevertheless, pay close attention to the Qulla. If nothing else, they are reminding us that we cannot ignore the rivers for the ocean. Instead, we must lead by example for every tree, river, plant and animal, ecosystem, every person, community and Nation.

We certainly can't leave it to companies like Sumitomo and United States government or the United Nations. It's up to each and every one of us.

  • April 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I absolutely love your website. Thank you so much for all your reporting and documentation of these important struggles!


  • Thunderbeing
    April 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Keep us up to date on what transpires out there k but i am surprised about Evo Morales i felt he was a good leader for his people.We'll see i suppose.


    • April 20, 2010 at 10:45 am

      Actually, I think he really is a good leader. He's certainly done more for Indigneous People than any other President in the world, IMO. And when protests like this one have risen in the past, he and his ministers have usually done the right thing. With the Qulla, it's hard to say if the environment will be cleaned up but I'm pretty sure their demands will be met. In any event, I'll keep an eye on things. A.

  • April 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    The government have pepped in. some talk about nationalisation.

    I ask, is the neo-developmentalist extraction based 'socialism' of evo etc, really going to deliver mother earth rights, buen vivir - respect for panchama and of course indigenous autonomy. There is a critique from the left-green-indigenous movements that says the rhetoric does not meet the reality. The indigenous grassroots are key to creating an anti-capitalist 'climate just' future, not governments.

    For more see writters liek Eduardo Gudynas - the new extractivism and article on page 36 asking how green can the pink tide be. Walter Mignolo's writings on de-colonial indigenous resistance in the americas are also interesting. You can find reference to both at the tags at


  • April 21, 2010 at 10:34 am

    GO QULLA! I wish, as an indigenous person out of Oregon, I had some sort of authority to send a delegation to stand beside the Qulla in their struggle.

    As far as their issue not being allowed to be tabled, what BS? Local is global! Japan is involved. Their investors, inside and outside the nation is involved. This issue IS a global issue.


  • April 27, 2010 at 9:04 am

    A quick update: it looks like the protest was suspended on Friday (Apr. 23). The Governor sat down with the Qulla the day before and they worked out some sort of agreement .

    The protest might be renewed though, if the government fails to meet their demands by May 8, see:

    And thanks all for your comments and contributions!


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