Impoverished by Decree, Striking Miners Hold Out Against Siege
MILLUNI, Bolivia (AP) _ Ezequiel Condori, a miner with seven children, has been striking for three weeks to protest a drastic anti-inflation decree that cut heavily into his earning power.
″We are really badly off and what I earn is not enough to feed my family,″ said Condori, 40, an Aymara Indian.
Striking means the loss of his $40 monthly wages as a machinist at the Milluni tin mine. But he says he won’t go back to work until ordered by leaders of the nationwide general strike that has been nearly crushed by a government state of siege.
Bolivia’s 40,000 miners, who produce nearly half of the country’s export earnings, and some factory workers are the last holdouts.
The leaders of the Bolivian Workers Central, the leftist labor federation that called the strike Sept.4, all are in detention or in hiding.
The strike spread to 110,000 workers at its peak, shutting down long distance communications, most factories, railroads and domestic air service.
The conservative government responded by imposing a state of siege. It outlawed public meetings and demonstrations, set a midnight-to-dawn curfew and prohibited the Bolivian news media from publishing labor communiques.
On Thursday, it banished 143 strike leaders to mosquito-infested internment camps in the tropical lowlands.
Condori’s wife Nicolas, 30, says she spends $24 a month, nearly two thirds of the family income, on bread alone. Bread prices went up eightfold after price subsidies were removed in the government’s anti-inflation campaign.
″We don’t have enough money for shoes, clothing or even milk,″ she told a visitor in front of her tin and adobe wall home within site of the snow- covered Andes Mountains.
″The government’s measures are against our interests,″ she said.
On Aug. 29 the government devalued the peso by 95 percent, froze public employee wages until Dec. 31, eliminated price supports for food staples, raised the price of gasoline tenfold and ended union control of the state mining company.
President Victor Paz Estenssoro, 77, says the measures were necessary to reduce the government deficit and thus control its 14,000 annual inflation rate, the highest in the world.
Railroad and petroleum workers, airline pilots and teachers went back to work after the state of siege was declared but the mines and many factories remained shut.
Mine union leaders said the strike will continue until its organizers are released and the economic program scrapped.
″Until the Bolivian Workers Central says otherwise, we are going to stay on strike,″ said Lazaro Tapi, a union official at the Milluni tin mine, an hour’s drive from La Paz.
The Labor Ministry threatened Thursday to fire anyone who continued to strike. But no actions were reported against the miners. At least 145 striking central bank employees had been fired before the state of siege was declared.
During a foreign reporter’s visit to Milluni, shouting miners rushed into their union hall to report sighting a truckload of army soldiers rolling up the highway.
The truck passed without incident as the miners shouted, ″Don’t provoke us 3/8 Don’t provoke us 3/8″