COOPERATIVES AND THE FUTURE OF MINING
Bolivia´s mining industry now includes state-owned mines, private mining companies, small miners and cooperatives; the latter two are part of the artisanal sector. Cooperative mines are organized in different ways, but generally they are associations of "partners" who own the right to production of a certain area of a mine. Cooperatives under Bolivian law are "non-profit" social organizations, and they do not pay income taxes.
The number of miners working in the cooperatives increased from 32,700 in 1987 to more than 150,000 in 2013. During this time, the cooperatives also increased in political power, allowing them to demand beneficial policies from the government and to push for unlawful takeovers of established mining rights.
In 2012, cooperatives´ exports totaled about 50% of Bolivian mineral exports, but the cooperatives face several problems including lack of reserves because they do not carry out exploration. Reserves are rapidly depleted and their recovery rates are low. In addition, pollution can be severe in their operational areas.
It is thought that in the future, mining cooperatives must look for partners with capital, equipment, and know-how that could improve their situation. One challenge is to guarantee the “partners” the authority to maintain their independent status while still providing investment and support. Involvement of outside investors could improve the efficiency of production, but Bolivia also needs a revised mining law and legal security for investments. Just as importantly, the cooperatives must be assured that the type of exploitation that occurred in the past will not occur again.
Keywords: mining cooperatives, mining´s future, partners to cooperatives