President Victor Paz Estenssoro said in a national speech Friday night that Bolivia's labor and political groups are trying to topple his government and do not care about the country's economic crisis.
"They are not interested in the fact that (the) tin we produce for $10 a pound is sold in the international market at $2.48," Paz Estenssoro said in his first public comments since he declared a state of siege on Thursday. "What guides them is a defined objective to liquidate the actual government."Government-owned mines were shut down Friday when workers walked out in a one-day strike to protest the detention of 162 political, labor and church leaders under state-of-seige powers.
The Interior Ministry said earlier Thursday that most of those arrested had been sent to internment camps in Bolivia's tropical flatlands.
About 20,000 workers at 23 operating state mines joined the walkout, called from noon Friday until noon Saturday by the Bolivian Workers Central, the country's main labor federation. Some factories also were closed, but banks, offices, shops and the domestic airlines and trains continued operating.
Walter Delgadillo, general secretary of the Bolivian Workers Central, called the strike from hiding. He condemned the state of seige, the firing of about 7,000 mine workers in recent months and what he called government use of terror to control "the just aspirations of the working class."The government said the state of siege was necessary to control social unrest and charged that extremist groups were trying to undermine democracy.
"The economy can no longer continue to absorb the enormous losses of the state mining company Comibol without unleashing again the hyper-inflationary process that punished with a great deal of curelty the working class," Paz Estenssoro said in his speech.
"Nobody desires the dissappearence of Comibol,' he added. "To the contrary, we are trying to rescue what is still positive in the state mining industry and lay the groundwork for its conditioning itself to the present international metals market, shifting the emphasis from tin to silver, lead and other mineral."The Ministry of Mines announced Monday that seven of its 24 mines would be closed and nine others would be sold to miners'cooperatives. One of the seven mines already was closed, but the other six were operating until Friday's strike.
As Bolivia's first president after the 1952 revolution, Paz Estenssoro nationalized private mines, set up Comibol and enacted universal suffrage and land reform legislation.
Now in his fourth term as president, he said he was aware of the suffering the economic crisis was causing, and called on Bolivians "to establish a pact to save the nation so that the working class can have a better future."Paz Estensorro said the government would soon begin a public works project and settle unemployed workers in other parts of the country.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said two airplanes left Friday afternoon for San Joaquin and Puerto Rico, towns in the Beni region northeast of La Paz with many of the detainees. The spokesman, who insisted on anonymity, said he did not know the exact number of detainees on the planes, but indicated only a few prisoners had been freed.
Interior Minister Fernando Barthelemy said earlier Friday that about 100 detainees would be sent to internment camps.
During a state of siege declared a year ago, 170 labor leaders were sent to the same towns for three weeks. They were released when the Bolivian Workers Central agreed to end a general strike and negotiate an end to labor unrest.
Information Minister Herman Antelo said Friday: "The government is pleased that order has been established in Bolivia without any incidents of violence."There were no outward signs in Laz Paz of the state of siege. National guardsmen who initially cordoned off the university and labor headquarters were back in their barracks Friday.
About 7,000 miners and their families were stopped by government troops Thursday from marching on the capital to protest the mine layoffs. By Friday, most of the marchers were returning to their homes in Oruro department, a mining center 150 miles from La Paz.
They began their march last week and had come within 45 miles of La Paz before being stopped and sent home in army trucks.
Roman Catholic clergy were allowed Friday to bring food, water and medicine to some marchers still camped along the roadside. Catholic Archbishop Jorge Manrique of La Paz accused the government of violating human rights in initially blocking the provision of supplies to the marchers.
Mineral exports earned Bolivia about $300 million last year, compared with about $600 million from cocaine exports. Cocaine production has been disrupted recently by a joint Bolivian-U.S. campaign to wipe out laboratories where the coca leaf is processed.
Among those arrested under the state of siege are two pastors of the United Methodist Church, the Revs. Jorge Pantelis and Gustavo Loza; a correspondent for the French news agency Agence France Presse, Andres Soliz Rada; former labor minister and Communist Party member Horst Grebe; and leaders of the Workers Central.
Under the state of siege, a curfew is in effect from midnight to 6 a.m. and union and political activity are banned. Searches and arrests can be made without warrants.
Estenssoro's year-old conservative government also declared a state of siege last September after the Workers Central called a general strike to protest the government's austerity measures. That state of siege lasted 90 days, the constitutional limit.