Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chile: Protests target mining industry, gov’t

It probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to guess that the media will consider the October rescue of 33 Chilean miners as the feel-good story of 2010. Edison Pena bravely ran a sub-6 hour marathon and Brad Pitt may be behind a film on the workers’ plight. Back in Chile, meanwhile, the country's mining industry and government are targets of numerous demonstrations.

Workers are entering their second week of a strike at the Collahuasi copper mine, the world’s third largest. The Chilean government, who pledged to improve the country’s mining safety regulations in the wake of the San Jose mine disaster, offered to mediate between strikers and over 1500 employers. Yet management and employees have not contacted each other since discussions over wages and benefits broke off on November 4th.

The mine’s operators said that the mine iss running normally with backup workers as part of a contingency plan. However a union spokeswoman told the press that it’s “not possible for 200 (temporary) workers to replace 1,551 specialized workers.” In the meantime the strikers are reportedly residing in an abandoned school in the city of Iquique and have received support from locals in the area.

Chile’s mining industry has come under increased scrutiny since the mine collapse that left the 33 miners trapped underground for about seventy days. Unfortunately the reform promised by President Sebastian Pinera has been slow to materialize. Earlier this month two workers were killed after a mine collapsed due to the illegal use of explosives. To make the situation worse the mine’s administrator has allegedly fled the country and is on the lam.

Recently we examined how some victims of February’s deadly earthquakes in central Chile where bitter over the perception that the government was ignoring them and instead focusing excessively on the 33 rescued miners. With that idea in mind, one group of Chilean women started their own unique protest:
Thirty-three women have taken over the former Chiflon del Diablo underground coal mine in south- central Chile and initiated a hunger strike to protest government dismissals, newspaper La Tercera reported.

The women are protesting the dismissal of 12,600 people who were temporarily hired by the military to help communities recover from the February earthquake, the Santiago-based newspaper reported in its online edition, citing Brigida Lara, a spokeswoman for the protesters.
The protesters said that they would not leave the former mine (now a tourist attraction) until the government “rescues” the terminated works program. The government’s response has so far come from a tourism official calling on the women to peacefully end their actions and “avoid any destruction or damage to a historic site".

Online Sources- BBC News, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters, BusinessWeek, The Latin Americanist

No comments: