Japanese mine in Bolivia shuts down amid general strike

A Japanese silver and zinc mine in Bolivia was shut down Wednesday after demonstrators took over the plant that powers the mine near Potosi, which has been paralyzed by a general strike, officials said.

“Production has stopped at San Cristobal (mine), but maintenance operations continue,” Mining Minister Jose Pimental told a press conference here.

Run by subsidiary of Japan’s Sumitomo, the mine is the third-largest producer of silver and the sixth-largest of zinc in the world. It is located 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of Potosi, but is fed by a power station at a mid-way point.

The company decided to halt production as a precaution after demonstrators took over the power station on Tuesday and threatened to turn it off.

The shutdown could cost the mining company up to two million dollars a day in lost exports, Pimental said.

The southern mining center of Potosi has been hit by a general strike since July 29, with all rail and road access to the city cut off by roadblocks of boulders and dynamite-toting protesters. The local airport was also shut down at one point.

Protesters in the city some 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level are demanding action by the leftist government of President Evo Morales on a litany of complaints.

They want nearby mines to be reopened, the local airport expanded, a cement factory, and an end to a long-running boundary dispute with a neighboring province.

Some 100 foreign tourists were stranded in the city for a week after the strike began, but around 70 have managed to leave in the past few days.