Exclusive Analysis: Latin America

Ade Onitolo
in food,Politics,safety

Latin America is particularly busy with protest action that risks disrupting food supplies in specific locations. Here are just a few examples: 

Bolivia experiences frequent bouts of extremely disruptive racially and politically motivated unrest. Violent demonstrations and blockades occurred in December 2010 to overturn a fuel price increase decree, in February 2011 to protest against food shortages and transport fare rises, and between August and October 2011 when indigenous groups blockaded several roads to protest against a road construction project at the TIPNIS natural park. President Morales wants to remove fuel subsidies by the start of 2012. This will likely generate further protests and roadblocks with the potential to disrupt cargo, including mining cargo.

Traditional flashpoints include the roads leading west out of the city of Santa Cruz to Cochabamba. The road from Cochabamba to the highland Aliplano is a particular flashpoint, especially at Quillacollo and Parotani. The route 10 section of the Pan-American Highway between La Paz and Oruro is often the scene of marches and blockades at Patacamaya and Caracollo during political unrest, as are the routes from Oruro through Potosi to the Argentine border. Routes 29 and 31, which run south from Santa Cruz to the Argentine border via Camarí, face disruption from residents demanding the expansion of the hydrocarbons industry.

As of November 2011, the provinces with the highest number of social conflicts registered with the government were (in order): Puno, Ancash, and Cajamarca. Protests against the planned Conga gold mine in Cajamarca saw road blocks in November and December 2011. The road linking Peru to Bolivia was blocked for most of May and June 2011. The Pan-American Highway in southern Peru is vulnerable to disruption from protesters, which can affect cross-border traffic with Chile. The central highway, or Carretera Central, which crosses the mining hub of the central highlands connecting Lima with the central jungle region, is particularly vulnerable to roadblocks.

The first few months of the Ollanta Humala administration has been marked by frequent disruptive marches and protests. Beginning in November 2011, thousands of peasant farmers in Cajamarca marched against a $4.8 billion planned Conga gold mine, the single biggest mining investment ever in Peru. In December 2011, President Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the region. In mid September 2011, coca farmers blocked roads in Ucayali province, in the Amazon, to protest against the eradication of their crop. Two people were injured and seven arrested and Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency.

The resurgent Shining Path guerrillas are unlikely to target cargo in the next year. The two rebel cells currently operate in remote parts of the country and are focused on drug-trafficking and attacking security forces. The fact that the guerrillas occasionally raid mining camps for supplies suggests that road cargo supplying mines and other facilities in the above-mentioned provinces are likely to be at some risk of theft or extortion.

Argentina has strong civil society groups that are likely to cause business and cargo disruptions and limited damage. However, unrest is unlikely to reach Bolivian or Peruvian levels due to mobilization limitations.

In January 2011, grain farmers staged a week-long withholding of cereals and oilseeds. In Q2 2011, three successive strikes by dockworkers briefly brought grain export terminals in Rosario to a standstill. A July strike by Sanitary Agency Senasa workers briefly left grain-carrying vessels stranded. In November, strikers blocked access to soya processing plants and three grain export terminals in Santa Fe. Strikes of this type are certain to make an impact on Argentina’s trade figures, as soybeans, grains, and biodiesel account for more than a third of the country’s export earnings.

Mapuche protests are likely to increase in 2012 with new hydrocarbon projects in their area. In April 2011, Mapuche activists succeeded in persuading a court in Neuquén to halt the Campana Mahuida copper-mining project on the grounds it encroached on indigenous lands.

Chile’s trade unions are reasserting themselves, and an increase in industrial action is likely over the two-year outlook. A strike at the world’s third biggest copper mine, Collahuasi, which lasted over a month and ended in December 2010, could well be replicated elsewhere. Though labor unrest most notably affected the copper industry, it also reached the salmon, fruit, and forestry, as well as shipping, agro-industrial, and retail sectors, besides the civil service.

Demands for higher pay and benefits have usually been the main bone of contention, but wider issues are also at stake, such as the protection and status of temporary and subcontracted workers. In most cases, unrest has taken the form of both legal and illegal strikes and the occupation of plants and factories, but sometimes it has also included roadblocks, damage to company property and even the burning of company buses (Codelco 2007), derailment of a company cargo train, and attacks on power lines.

Many firms have been forced to grant pay rises and other concessions; the granting of benefits by one firm has tended to generate similar demands in others, particularly in the copper industry. On the other hand, managers have resolutely refused inter-company negotiations on the back of legislation that expressly forbids them. Further occupation of plants, roadblocks and intense pressure on non-strikers are to be expected, but attacks on company property and significant violence will be more the exception than the rule. In the private sector, despite their left-leaning leadership, industrial action by most members of Chile’s main trade unions tends to be economically rather than politically motivated.



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