INTRODUCTION: This month Bolivia came under the rule of its third government in little more than a year.
GV Mine buildings with mountains in background
SV Chute and hopper & SV miners emerging from mine entrance (2 shots)
SCU PAN Ore in open containers (2 shots)
SV & SCU Boxes of explosives (2 shots)
SV Sign 'Milluni'
SV Miners emerging from mine, washing boots, putting lamps away (3 shots)
GV TILT DOWN Shanty town near mine (2 shots)
SV People washing clothes in shanty town (2 shots)
SV Children playing
GV PAN Huts in shanty town
SV TILT DOWN Miners walking up to mine entrance (2 shots)
SV Small group of miners at gate and GV group of miners gathered at mine (2 shots)
GV ZOOM OUT Cemetery on hillside
SVs Graves (2 shots)
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: INTRODUCTION: This month Bolivia came under the rule of its third government in little more than a year. Since its independence in 1825 the country has averaged more than one government a year. But on the 17th July the civilian government was replaced by a military junta....speaking a conflict which goes to the roots of Bolivia's economic foundations.
SYNOPSIS: Bolivia's tin mines account for more than 60 per cent of the country's export earnings. Control of the mines virtually means control of Bolivia. The miners are well aware of their importance as the world's third largest producer of tin. But at the same time they endure some of the most miserable living and working conditions in the world. These two factors have combined to make them among the most militant labour groups in Latin America.
Within minutes of the latest military takeover on July 17, miners all around La Paz had established strike committees, set up road blocks and begun a co-ordinated opposition movement. But a few days later the chain of resistance to the new government was broken as troops occupied most mines. The majority of miners have been involved in similar resistance exercises several times in their lives as successive military juntas have seized control of Bolivia. In August their protest took the form of a general strike.
It was sparked by the death of union leader Julio Cossio whose body was found twelve days after he had been arrested by officers of the Special Security Service. Those who saw his body said he'd been tortured. The Ministry of the Interior says he took part in a dynamic attack on the barracks of Uncia. A promise to investigate Cossio's death brought a return to work by the miners.
But poverty and brutal working conditions offer a far stronger motive for militancy than political conviction. Most miners earn between one and two dollars a day.
Others earn even less, picking through the left overs from the mines or scratching out a living on deposits too small to attract the mining companies. The working conditions and tiny financial return wouldn't be accepted if it weren't for desperate need. The mining companies own most of the communities around the mines, forcing workers to subsist on outside supplies.
Shortages spark strikes and protests. Life expectancy in Bolivia is forty-six. For the tin miners it's around 35. Outside the mines, high in the mountains, it's freezing cold. Bronchitis is endemic. Inside, 80 per cent of the workers suffer silicosis, which kills them during if not before retirement.