The Right to the Return of Our Natural Resources

Note – this is an article written by Maria Lohman of Somos Sur, a Cochabamba-based organisation. I translated it, so I´m going to put it on my blog. Try and stop me.

On the occasion of May 1st and the “Day of the Right to the Return of our Sea”, what about a day of…

“The Right to the Return of our Natural Resources?” 

 Maria Lohman, April 28th 2011 

It is 2 in the morning, April 28th in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Behind me I hear on  Channel 7 -the government channel- over and over again a TV ad with some warlike drums, with the loud refrain “RETURN OUR SEEAAA” tutututu tutuuuuu…” “RETURN OUR SEEEAAAAAAA” tututututu tutuuuuuuuuu…”, while they announce that April 29th will be the new day of commemoration with a wall-to-wall program of activities: The day of the “Right to the Return of Our Sea”.

Between the war drums and some bizarre songs by the group “Los Miserables” about the Maritime Issue, that make me shudder physically and bring to my mind images of collective hysteria, of bombs which fall on innocent people, of submarines and F16 fighter-bombers that France, Holland and other countries of the North are selling to Chile; images of war that lie at the root of this new Bolivian initiative to take back their sea.

Knowing full well that I will get a lot of flack for it…I nevertheless felt driven to write some reflections:


Yes… I agree that the Bolivian people have a historic right to the return of their coast,  but it is good to recall that the oligarchic Chilean state acted and continues to act with the support and agreement of the powers of Great Britain and the US. They took the coast from Bolivia and also the lands and territory of the mapuche (indigenous) people, who have been subjected to injustice. They massacred their own workers under the dictatorship of Pinochet, who is still honoured by the armed forces. The workers, the poor and mapuche peoples of Chile are not our enemies. 

Tomorrow, on the day of “The Right to the Return of our Sea,” we will hear this beautiful Chilean group Inti Illimani and we should recall that in the massacre of Santa Maria de Iquique of 1907, Chilean, Bolivian and Peruvian miners became blood brothers for ever. They – workers, mapuches, and poor people of Chile and Peru – are our allies in the search for the return of Bolivia´s coast and our natural resources, as we also support them in their struggles to recover copper, land and territory, the glaciers and forests of the South, from the hands of the transnationals. 

 Later I see that, two days before May 1st, the sea seems to occupy a central place in the discourse of the government and the media, displacing the vital debate on issues of profound importance for the country, in search of a truly sustainable development and what comes to my mind is, What about the day of the “Right to the Return of our Natural Resources?

I asked myself, why don´t they talk about the
mega-dams on the Madera river, in Rosita and Bala, which will play havoc with both natural and human resources in different parts of the country, and all this so that Brazil (ie Sao Paolo) and other neighbouring countries can have a cheap source of energy, encouraging MEGAbusiness and the PILLAGE of the transnationals. Also, I agree with the criticisms of the oil analysts and technicians who question the fact that they still haven´t refined a single molecule of gas, permitting gas to be PILLAGED dirt cheap, without separating the liquids, losing billions of dollars; leaving aside their neglecting to invest in the YPFB to explore and exploit reserves.

YPFB continues to be a hollow shell, where the Bolivian managers (according to Resolution 39/2010 of the now ex-Planning Minister, Carlos Villegas) earn up to 55,000 Bolivianos (nearly 5,000 Euros) a month. In reality they justify their salaries by rubber-stamping the policies of Repsol, Petrobras, Total, Shell and other companies who continue to see Bolivia as a “paradise” to invest in. What´s more, as they announced in the Press Supplements of April 24th, for the next few years, they will “invest” more than a billion dollars, with funds from…the Bolivian National reserves (!) .  Al respecto nos informan en Hora25



And the new Mining Code? “It won’t make any difference”, claims the Ministry of Mining in the midst of new discourses from the government to “re-nationalize” mining from May 1st. At the same time they confirm that “the trade unions don’t want to return to the state because they don’t trust it’s ability to manage”.

So, now everyone needs to put their cards on the table; debate, clarify, go to the root of the problem; go to Europe, the US, China and Japan, to engage transnationals like Glencore (owned by Sanchez de Lozada), Sumitomo-Apex Silver (Soros and Sánchez de Lozada) and many others. It is they who have come to Bolivia and made nearly 2 billion dollars a year exporting minerals like zinc, lead, silver, tin, gold and antimony, in the middle of an unprecedented boom in international prices, sharing with the Bolivian state only a few crumbs which barely come to 3% of this bonanza.

THREE PERCENT, yes, ladies and gentlemen… and that’s without including the precious stones and various other minerals which leave the frontiers uncounted and unseen. 

Are the ministries and authorities for discolonization asleep? They seem to have no idea that – in spite of so much wealth, including lithium, potassium, uranium, and other minerals coveted for military and information technology- Bolivia remains poor, with some “33% of the population living in extreme poverty” (datos de la FAO-2011).


Why don’t they do anything about the lorries, belonging to the big forest companies, which just keep coming, carrying thousands of logs, continuing the PILLAGE of the forests to the tune of 300,000 hectares every year!!? (by proportion, the most intense in the world…)


And what about the land? The “Mother Earth” and the law which will “protect” her. I ask myself if the law will punish the agroindustrial landowners who grow transgenic soya and sugar for so-called “biofuels”.

Extensive lands which today are found legalised in the New Political Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, thanks to the changes introduced at the last minute before it´s approval. Millions of hectares remain in the hands of a few. Meanwhile the campesinos (peasants) fight over scraps, suffering for the lack of water and programs of technical assistance. Meanwhile the big mining companies, literally suck thousands of litres of water every day from the bowels of “Mother Earth” for open-cast mining (a method that is prohibited in many countries). The MEGAmines of San Cristóbal and San Bartolomé are living examples of the pillage and fierce pollution of “Mother Earth”.



Finally, I think of the imminent construction of the Highway across the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, the home of three indigenous peoples and a dense and abundant flaura and fauna. Already the coca-growers have colonized large areas, already Repsol has …(?)

Now the parliament has approved the project unanimously. An illegal encroachment that threatens this “protected area”. And the consultation of the indigenous peoples? Great, thanks. It seems they kept their mouths shut about the “Mother Earth” and tried to manipulate the local population there, so far without success.

Hurray for their road integration plan! The IIRSA plan, brought to you by the World Bank in coordination with the transnationals so that we in the SOUTH can waste public money on enormous infrastructure to facilitate the total PILLAGE of the riches of Amazonia!

“In 18 years more than 64% of this million hectare park will be deforested”, if the road goes ahead, according to a study by the PIEB.


¡Ay! Ladies and gentlemen. I feel drained after so much troubling thought brought on by these drums of war, but at the same time, satisfied to have contributed in some way to the clarifying of these issues, which need real social control and participation. Perhaps I should forget everything and “live well” (vivir bien), no more no less, close to “Mother Earth”.  

But no, I think of the inexhaustible Fidel, who approaching death decided to continue writing until his last minute of life, to see how the new “globalizers” were seeking to invade the island.

And in the evening of this May 1st, in which millions of workers of the world will express their demands for the right to live with dignity, I add to the voices which rise from within, from the “Mother Earth,” from the fields and the cities, beyond the wars and transnational powers, in order to make possible that EVERY DAY exists the “Right to take back our Natural Resources”. 


Estito sería… 

Maria Lohman

Calle Francisco Viedma 271
Cochabamba – Bolivia
Telf. (591) 4 4247558
Cel. 71765036




About cochabambino

I'm an activist, teacher, gardener, occasional banjo player. From Wales originally, been living in Bristol, Southwest England for years.
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