María Rivera, constituent assembly representative of D8 and leader of the Internationalist Workers Movement (MIT), is one of the constituents, alongside Ivanna Olivares, sponsoring the norm for the Nationalization of the Mining Industry of Copper, Lithium, and other strategic resources, in addition to supporting and signing the Popular Initiative Norm that reached more than 24 thousand signatures, also calling for the nationalization of large mining companies.

MIT: María, first of all, what are you proposing in the nationalization proposals? Is copper not already nationalized?

Hi, thank you very much for the interview. This issue is one of the most important issues of the current Constitutional Convention, if not the most important.

Yes, you are right, under the current Constitution copper is nationalized. But we are talking about the deposits, the copper that is underground. What the dictatorship did (and the main person responsible for that was José Piñera) was to allow copper to be privatized through concessions, which give the big private mining companies the possibility of taking all the ore that they find and profiting from it. Therefore, what the Constitution of 1980 says is false, for example, today more than 70% of copper is in private hands.

So what we propose is not simply the nationalization of the minerals themselves, but the nationalization of the large mining companies of copper, lithium, gold, and other strategic minerals.

MIT: And why do you propose to nationalize these companies?

Because copper and other mineral and natural assets do not belong to them. Those goods belong to the Chilean people and to the other peoples living in this territory. The big private companies extract the minerals and sell them on the world market to fill their pockets with money. Here in Chile they only leave behind the destruction of nature, the drying up of rivers, pollution, and the overexploitation of mining workers. In addition to that, private mining pays very low taxes, since they use various mechanisms to fictitiously reduce their official profit statements (loans with other companies to declare losses or increased costs of buying and selling with related companies, etc.).

A study by economists from the University of Chile (Gino Sturla, Ramon Lopez, and others) calculated that between 2005 and 2014, large mining companies took home more than 12 billion dollars a year in undeclared profits. If we add to that the declared profits of large mining, we arrive at amounts of 20 to 30 billion dollars a year, which is half of the state budget of the last decades. With this immense amount of wealth, almost all the urgent problems of the population could be solved: the housing deficit, the precarious situation of public health and education, increasing pensions, and much more. But that wealth is being given away and ends up in the accounts of Luksic and businessmen from North America, Canada, China, England, etc.

MIT: But how would this nationalization be carried out? Would compensation be paid?

The norms we support state that the payment of indemnities must be in accordance with the value of the companies as of December 2021, deducting from those amounts the excessive incomes of those companies. To give you an idea, it is estimated that the value of these companies could reach 50 billion dollars.

However, I believe that it is up to the people to decide that. The same study I quoted above says that the big mining companies between 2005 and 2014 took more than 120 billion dollars in that period (not counting profits). Is it fair that now we have to pay them again? Is it not enough what they have plundered from us, the pollution they left in the communities, the diseases afflicting the miners, the runoff that continues to contaminate the subterranean water tables for decades to come? In our opinion, it is enough what they have stolen and we should not pay them a single peso.

MIT: One of the measures that led to the 1973 coup was the nationalization of copper by Salvador Allende’s government. Could this not happen again?

The 1973 coup was being prepared years in advance, even during the government of Eduardo Frei. Clearly, imperialism and the Chilean bourgeoisie did not want to carry out any profound change, neither the Agrarian Reform, nor the nationalization of copper, nor to allow their massive properties and privileges to be touched. We have no doubt that the Chilean and foreign bourgeoisie could again react in the same way against popular sovereignty. The Chilean bourgeoisie has been a coup-plotter throughout history and has never accepted the loss of its privileges.

That is why we believe that the people must organize themselves to be prepared to confront the bourgeoisie and imperialism in the event that they do not accept democracy and popular sovereignty. We must also call on the troops of the Armed Forces not to accept any coup attempt by the officers, as happened in 1973. The troops are the sons and daughters of the people, the officers are part of the elite of this country.

MIT: Many sectors of communities affected by mining and ecologists criticize Big Mining and some even defend the closing of the mining companies. What do you think about this?

I think that the communities and many ecologists are absolutely right in this criticism. For years now, we have also been denouncing the contamination of the mining companies and the consequences of this contamination for the miners themselves and their families. At the “El Teniente” mine, together with union leaders of the company Mas Errázuriz S.A., we carried out a campaign against pollution for several months. The union came to provide medical tests to the workers and found very high rates of lung diseases. In addition to this, there is the intensive use of water, the destruction of glaciers, and so on.

We do not defend the current model of exploitative mining. That is why we propose that the nationalized companies should be controlled by the mining workers with the participation of the communities. The communities should participate in the review of the projects and even in the planning of these projects, which often directly affect their lives. The people in general should have much more control over the mining companies. For example, in the case of glaciers, do we want mining activity to jeopardize ecosystems and water supply to the human population? Of course not.

We are not in favor of ending mining because we recognize that it is necessary for humanity. Copper is used in countless products, everything that has electrical cables today has copper in it. However, we cannot continue with the irrational logic of capitalist production, which is to extract and extract to sell and make profits. We must extract copper and other minerals in a rational way, taking many more precautions to minimize the impacts on nature, pollution, etc. And if necessary, we must close some mines and reduce production. But all this is only possible to discuss if the workers and the people are the ones who control big mining. That is why, from the MIT, we had raised in our initial proposal (which was not integrated into the norm proposal) that a Workers’ and People’s Mining Council should be created, with the participation of the workers, communities, and also organizations of the working class, such as unions, territorial assemblies, etc. In that way mining could be controlled in a much more democratic way.

MIT: But is such a form of administration possible under capitalism?

Nationalization under workers’ and popular control is a transitional measure toward another economic system. We believe that it would be a very important measure, but that measure would only make sense if we move towards a government of the working class and marginalized peoples. That is why in the Constitutional Convention we also made two more proposals: the creation of a Plurinational Assembly of the Workers and Peoples; and the proposal for the nationalization of all the big strategic enterprises and for economic planning. With these two proposals (one of them has already been rejected) it would be possible to move towards a different society, towards a government of the workers and a socialist economic system, whose priority would be to solve social and natural problems.