General Meeting of the associates of the Asobal Mining Cooperative, Riberalta, 2013. Photograph by M. de Theije

General Meeting of the associates of the Asobal Mining Cooperative, Riberalta, 2013. Photograph by M. de Theije

In Bolivia, mining is a state-business. Natural resources are considered national patrimony. In comparison to neighboring countries with mining activities, Bolivia has the highest percentage of company income taxes. However, in Bolivia, many small-scale gold miners work in cooperatives that are practically exempt of paying taxes. The mining law has been modified this year, which benefits the cooperative mining sector. 

The Bolivian State issues mining concessions in accordance with the 1997 Mining Code. A cooperative or mining operator applies for entitlements to SERGEOMIN (National Service of Geology and Mining). SERGEOMIN checks if the areas are free, and then submits a request to COMIBOL (Bolivians’ Mining Corporation) with a project profile.

Until 2005, concessions were usually issued to both cooperatives and national and international mining enterprises. After 2005, mining has officially become a state-business again. Foreign mine owners have been expropriated. Pre-existing concessions are respected, but the state gradually aims at becoming partner in all mining activities.

Two institutes were created to establish more state control: EBO (2011) and ADEMAF (2010). The Bolivian Gold Company EBO has to control the national production, through buying all the gold from the cooperative sector and store it in the National Bank of Bolivia. ADEMAF, Agency for Development of Macroregions and Border zones, has a mandate to instruct the military and the navy to control the rivers, the borders, and the inlands, to search for illegal practices. Additionally, ADEMAF arranges ‘ambulant’ visits for health and civil registering services.

The 1997 Mining Code has been modified recently. This law gives disproportional benefits to the cooperative mining sector. Critics say that political interests prevailed over considerations with regard to the environment, labor protection and genuine state control on mining.

Read more:
Web page of the Bolivian Government on Mining 
Peláez, C. ‘Analisis critico de la legislación minero ambiental en Bolivia y su aplicabilidad’.

GOMIAM publications:
Carillo, F., Salman, T. & Soruco, C. (2013) Cooperativas de minería de pequeña escala en Bolivia: De salvavidas de los pobres a maquinaria de manipulación política. Letras Verdes. Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Socioambientales, 14, pp. 233-254.

Salman, T., Carillo, F. & Soruco, C. (2013). Cooperative organization and balsa mining in Bolivia. In: Cremers, L., Kolen, J. & Theije, M. de (eds). Small-scale gold mining in the Amazon. The cases of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Suriname, pp. 17-30.