The Regional Federation of Peasant Workers of the South Altiplano (FRUCTAS) is a grassroots organization of community members from Nor Lípez province of the central Potosí region of Bolivia. They are in the midst of a struggle against the Japanese trading giant Sumitomo Corporation, which owns the massive San Cristóbal mine. We speak with Francisco Quisbert Salinas, the ex-leader of FRUCTAS. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya just outside Cochabamba. We’re actually in the information building of Universidad del Valle, Univalle, as they call it.
One of the participating organizations at the dissident workshop 18 was the Regional Federation of Peasant Workers of the South Altiplano, or FRUCTAS. It’s a grassroots organization of community members from Nor Lípez province of the central Potosí region of Bolivia. They’re in the midst of a struggle against the Japanese trading giant Sumitomo Corporation, which owns the massive San Cristóbal mine.
The silver-lead-zinc mine has been in operation for more than three years, but for the past week and a half it’s been largely shut down by blockades, marches and office takeovers. The protesters are demanding the mine replenish the water used in the extraction processes and that it be taxed. The mine uses 600 liters of water every second.
Francisco Quisbert Salinas is the ex-leader of FRUCTAS who came to participate in the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change. He lives less than twenty miles from the San Cristóbal mine. Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke with him yesterday just outside mesa 18. He began by asking him how the mine has affected his community.
FRANCISCO QUISBERT SALINAS: [translated] Initially, now you can’t see the impacts like right away, but the use of the subterranean waters and the fossil waters at the quantity of 15,000 cubic meters a day is affecting us slowly, little by little. The waters that used to come out of the hill of San Cristóbal, they are drying out. And as these waters go and as you go closer to the mine, you can see how the water flow is getting less and less and how some small springs are drying out.
But also, what we feel is that the drought is getting worse. There’s less rain. We’re not sure if it’s because of the mining of the San Cristóbal mining company or if it’s because of climate change or global warming. But what we can see for sure is that the communities close to the mine are impacted negatively by the San Cristóbal mining company.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And for the last week and a half, the mine has been shut down by protesters. Were you involved in that? And why?
FRANCISCO QUISBERT SALINAS: [translated] This is an anecdotal case, because what is happening here is that we, as Rural Workers Federation, we have been struggling from many years ago, especially we started in ‘99 to fight for our water resources. And we have even contracted a hydrologist, an hydrologic engineer; with our own money, we contracted this engineer. But also we had some help from some NGOs and the local municipal government. But nobody had enough courage to actually go and talk to the mining company to denounce what was going on. It had to be a us who had start to denounce the problems that were going on, and we had to discover that what the mining company was telling us wasn’t actually the truth.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What are your demands?
FRANCISCO QUISBERT SALINAS: [translated] Our demand is that they should use less water. We ask that they pay for the right to use that water, because now they don’t pay a penny for the water. And that’s what this protest is about. It is an anecdotal case, but we’ve been preparing this struggle for many years. So our demand is that there should be a legislation, there should be a law, that means that they pay for the use of the water. It is not right that they can use the water for free, because we also pay for it.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And why are you here at mesa 18, outside of the official conference?
FRANCISCO QUISBERT SALINAS: [translated] Look, what I want to say is that we can have beautiful discourses, beautiful speeches, and we have beautiful, excellent speeches in all the working groups, but in practice, we’re not putting things into practice. So, in the other working groups, they’re talking more about international issues, but there’s no — they’re not touching the national-level issues here in Bolivia, because the capitalism doesn’t only exist in the industrialized and the developed countries. Capitalism is present here in our country. For example, through the San Cristóbal mine. There are other mining companies. So what we need to see, what is going on in our own house and what we need to do.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And finally, your message to President Evo Morales?
FRANCISCO QUISBERT SALINAS: [translated] What we would like our brother Evo Morales to do is to make sure that there is legislation that really takes care of the environment and that the legislation that we already have, that that is implemented, because if there’s no presence of the state, then the mining companies just do whatever they like. That’s why we ask for more presence of the state, that they should take care of the environment, and that the transnational companies shouldn’t just be able to do what they like, and that our people is listend to. That’s what we’ve been always asking for.
AMY GOODMAN: Francisco Quisbert Salinas is the ex-leader of FRUCTAS who came to participate in the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change. He lives less than twenty miles from the San Cristóbal mine.