In its worldwide quest for commodities, China has scoured South America for everything from Brazilian soybeans to Guyanese timber and Venezuelan oil. But long before it made any of those forays, China put down stakes in this desolate mining town in Peru’s southern desert.
The year was 1992. Chinese companies had begun to look abroad. One steelmaker, the Shougang Corporation of Beijing, set its sights on an iron ore mine here and bought it in a move that seemed particularly bold. At the time, Peru was still plagued by attacks by the Maoist guerrillas of the Shining Path.
But the hero’s welcome for Shougang soon faded. Workers at the mine, which was founded by Americans in the 1950s and nationalized by leftist generals in the 1970s, began fomenting the unexpected: a revolt that has endured to this day, marked by repeated strikes, clashes with the police and even arson attacks against their nominally Communist bosses from China.
“We quickly realized that we were being exploited to help build the new China, but without seeing any of the rewards for doing so,” said Honorato Quispe, 63, a longtime union official at the mine, where workers have held three strikes this year alone, including an 11-day stoppage last month.