Bolivia mining cooperatives’ 101: Colquiri – coops from within

This cartoon is from La Razon, September 26, 2012, illustrates how violent (dynamite in their mouths) the miners became…

Ivan Arias makes an excellent description of how mining cooperatives function in Bolivia, so we can try to understand the violence, anarchy and “pay-back” from these supporters of current government. Article appeared in Pagina Siete:

Colquiri: Cooperativism from within

In year 2009, within the Colquiri canton, there were six mining cooperatives (“26 de Febrero”, “21 de Diciembre”, “Collpacota”, “Chicote Grande-La Aguada”, “Socavon Inca” y “Mesa y Plata”). With the exception of the “26 de Febrero” cooperative, the rest of the cooperatives are organized into the Central Colquiri mining cooperatives (Cecomicol). The most important features of these cooperatives are:

The largest cooperative is the “26 de Febrero”, which has more than 700 members. The second is the “21 de Diciembre” cooperative, which has 291. The rest of the cooperatives are emerging. Of the six, three are agriculture-mining cooperatives. That is, they are cooperatives formed by people whose main activity is agriculture, but because of the mining boom, they are also engaged in this activity. By the different social composition of cooperative members, there are always given friction and problems between them.

None of the cooperatives has a strategic plan for the business of exploitation of minerals. Therefore, there are no known documented ways, nor financial targets (revenue, volumes of production and sale, utilities), situation of internal administrative processes and everything that has to do with the handling of staff and partners. The earnings data are very referential.

Regarding documents related to procedures and functions, they only have its Organic Statute and the rules of procedure. They have no administrative systems developed, except basic accounting units. Nor have balance sheets of opening, financial statements, journal, book wholesale, tax forms.

At work, informality rules in the schedules, this because being the hired relatives, there are no schedules or defined responsibilities. They do not use industrial safety implements to work inside the mine, which in many cases has resulted in poisoning with noxious fumes or accidents at work.

From the perspective of the non-mining town, the presence of cooperatives in Colquiri, although it has resolved the issue of employment and income generation and while cooperative affiliates do have an interesting income, it has not been seen that as an Association they have improved the working conditions of its members, nor improved the conditions of housing of the Colquiri people, or the services it offers to their affiliates.

A separate analysis deserves the conditions of internal transparency of this cooperative system, taking as an example especially the “26 de Febrero” cooperative. The members of this cooperative, to be able to do their jobs are organized into crews, under the command of a “leader”. Who is responsible for signing contracts, and often carry the mineral of the group for sale to the city of Oruro. To work in the cooperative, there are two types of contracts. Machine-driven, using drills, compressors, water, etc. Those who work in this system have increased productivity and therefore more revenue. Of the 110 contracts that has this cooperative, 30% are ‘machined’. These contracts are signed by the leaders of the groups [cuadrillas]. Most of these contracts are leased, some over the weekends. And they are also not-machined or craft contracts. 70% of contracts are under this mode.

Obviously, these different ways of working do generate internal differences and violate the main cooperative principle: equality of partners. Upon completion of the sale of the ore, the leader is responsible for making the sale, both to the crew and to the cooperative disclaimers. There is no control over the actions of the leader. In general, the leaders do not work inside the mine, being rather a kind of contract administrators. The problem is that several teams are formed by family and this hinders a better supervision and control, allowing that the leader do and undo inside the crew. These cases are those who permit the presence of “makunkus”, young school-age who work inside the mine.

The excessive consumption of alcohol, is part of the mining tradition activity, particularly the “ch’alla” [toast] to the uncle of mine, to protect workers; in part, because there is greater (by the rise of prices) income, there is greater freedom to consume alcoholic beverages, especially beer. This habit is a problem among employees of the state-owned company and cooperative affiliates: the company workers have strict controls (alcohol testing) with respect to the consumption of drinks, while coop affiliates do not. For this fact there is a differentiation between the two. The workers are the most affected. The following sentence summarizes this sentiment: “‘ because we don’t, coop affiliates do label us, as dogs, slaves and dominated”.

In short, today the mining cooperatives is far from the cooperative model in general, because they do not have the mechanisms of internal control, as they do not work as an economic enterprise on a cost-effective and sustainable basis. It is this sector that the Government of the MAS, that has doubled them, through the Decree 1369 from October 2012, more grids [work areas], which will no longer be 8,790 but that will rise to more than 16,000 (each grid equals 25 hectares) at the national level.

Iván Arias Durán is a citizen of the Republic of Bolivia.

I am including this description of the Bolivian mining cooperatives under Bolivia 101: The BASICS

One response to “Bolivia mining cooperatives’ 101: Colquiri – coops from within

  1. Hey! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your
    posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover
    the same subjects? Thanks!

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