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CASA Collective in Bolivia: Against the Extraction of Life and Pro Environmental, Social and Gender Justice

Oil and minerals are two resources which the system consumes with a velocity and anxiety akin to that of an addiction, to such an extent that when these resources are in danger of becoming in short supply, either owing to their depletion or an increase in international prices, the system experiences a crisis, a ‘deliria tremens’, and becomes capable of killing, robbing, and committing armed assault, in order to restore the flow of these two resources into its economy. We saw in Iraq and in the Middle East what can happen because of oil; we saw in Conga Peru and in each of our so-called ‘mining’ countries the deaths that can come as a result of the pursuit of gold and other metals.

The need to express solidarity and support between those who stand against the violence and plundering perpetrated by major global economic interests in their so-called ‘extractivism’ addiction is what led us to form the Socio-Environmental Action Coordination Group (CASA COLLECTIVE) in Oruro Bolivia in 2008.

Forming a resistance against the impacts of extractivism in a country like ours, where 80% of the economy is dependent on exporting hydrocarbons and minerals, is a very difficult task. The indigenous communities, native farmers who are the main victims of the companies’ violence and plunder, are frequently accused of being ‘anti-development’, against ‘public interests’, and are asked to make sacrifices for the good of the country. However, their struggle has shown that Bolivia, despite an economy based on intensive extraction of non-renewable natural resources for more than a century and a half, is still a long way from achieving the well-being or what we now call ‘the good life’ of its people. To the contrary; places where hydrocarbons and minerals are extracted intensively end up turning into polluted deserts, ghost towns.

These years spent working alongside the peoples and communities that resist having the life extracted from their lands, have taught us that people are not acting against ‘development’, but in fact in favour of life and peaceful cohabitation, because wherever a mine or an oil rig appears, the fundamental rights of individuals and peoples are violated. Some of these rights, which communities continue to defend, and for which we put ourselves in their service in our daily work, are as follows:

Collective Rights to Prior, Free and Informed Consultation and Consent

These rights, recognised in the ILO Convention No. 169 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in our country in the Political Constitution passed in 2009, are not currently acknowledged in the new legislative proposals, and are not considered before the authorisation of the entry of extraction companies in the territories. Thus, the main indigenous organisations such as the National Council of Qullasuyu Ayllus and Marcas (CONAMAQ) and the Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian Orient Centre (CIDOB) are calling for a Framework Law on Consultation to be created with consensus from the indigenous peoples, and not what seemingly happens now; they are imposed upon by the government, and many of their rights are taken away.

Defending agricultural production against extractivism

In farming communities such as Challapata in the Oruro department, or Vitichi in the Potosi department, with an important farming tradition and industry - principally livestock for milk and secondarily fruit farming - mining is a threat to the continuation of agricultural industries. This is why these communities have point blank refused the creation of mines and their impacts on their lands, and are on constant alert.

Defending water, a human right

There is no type of mining which does not consume large quantities of water. The inhabitants of the communities of Antequera sadly know this, in particular those from the town of Totoral, who receive a water supply for one hour a week, while the Bolivar mining business of the company Sinchi Wayra-Illapa, subsidiaries of Swiss Glencore Xtrata, located in the same area, takes almost 160 litres per second from inside the mine. Another similar case is that of the San Cristobal company, a subsidiary of the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation, which uses 50,000m3 of underground water, leading to mining exploitation of water and competition with the communities of the Uyuri region for this resource.

Fighting against the criminalisation of protest: draft bill of the Mining Law and the Law of Mining Encroachments

In Bolivia, an agreement is being reached regarding a mining law which comes as a response to the spirit of plundering of the transnationals, between the government and mining stakeholders. This law puts the environment, the rights of indigenous peoples, and Mother Earth at risk, and we are calling for and driving widespread debate with social organisations. The law of mining encroachments promulgated in May 2013 seeks to criminalise indigenous peoples, presenting them as jeopardising mining operations when they defend their land.

Gender Justice

In conflicts between farming communities and mining operations, many rights - especially women’s rights - are violated. One sad example of this is the case of the Mallku Quta community against the Canadian multinational South American Silver, where rapes of young women were committed, which unfortunately have not yet been investigated. Because of this, as part of an initiative with the affected communities, this year a ‘School of Environmental Conflicts for the Exercising of Collective Rights and Gender Justice’ was set up, from which recently arose the National Network of Women in Defence of Mother Earth, which will be a network of support, solidarity and resistance for women affected.

As the CASA GROUP, we call on you to join in supporting the struggle of these communities and organisations who seek the same thing as you – to defend LIFE.

Translation: Rebecca House