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Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister killed by striking miners

26 August 2016

Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes has been beaten to death by striking miners after volunteering to mediate with them to end a long-standing industrial dispute. Illanes was "savagely beaten", defence minister Reymi Ferreira told a local television station, and the Bolivian Government has demanded the return of his body. 

Rodolfo Illanes - Image: EJU
Rodolfo Illanes - Image: EJU

The killing follows the earlier deaths of two protesters in clashes with police, which raised tensions in a bitter strike over changes to the country's mining laws. The government said 17 police officers were wounded in the clashes.

Illanes had gone to Panduro, 130km south of the Bolivian capital La Paz, to try to mediate with miners who had blocked a motorway there since August 22. Thousands of drivers, passengers and vehicles have been left stranded by the blockade.

He was taken hostage by the miners on the morning of August 25.  He reportedly tweeted at midday: "My health is fine, my family can be calm."

Moises Flores, the director of a mining radio station, told a local radio station: "We have been able to see close-up that Deputy Minister Illanes was dead. Colleagues told us that he had died of a beating." He reportedly had a heart condition.

There are about 100,000 miners in the country who work in self-managed cooperatives, and are demanding more mining concessions, the right to work for private companies and greater union representation. Working with private companies is currently banned as the government argues they will stop being cooperatives if they work with multinational businesses.

The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (Fencomin), once strong allies of leftist President Evo Morales, began what it said would be an indefinite protest after the negotiations over mining legislation failed. As commodity prices have fallen, pay for the country’s silver, tin and zinc miners has been reduced, and working conditions are often worse than in neighbouring countries such as Peru and Chile where the mining sector is dominated by multinationals.

Defence Minister Ferreira described on television how Illanes, appointed to his post in March, had apparently been "beaten and tortured to death". Illanes’ assistant had escaped and was being treated in a hospital in La Paz, he said.

“This crime will not go unpunished. Authorities are investigating ... around 100 people have been arrested,” Ferreira said.

On August 26, President Morales called for three days of national mourning over the deaths of Illanes and the two miners.

He called Illanes a ‘Defender of Natural Resources’ and said his fate hurt particularly badly since the kidnap, torture and murder of a public servant was cowardly and unforgivable.

Morales said there would be an investigation into the ‘unfortunate’ death of the two cooperative miners, since police had not been authorised to carry firearms during the operation where they were killed, but that the striking cooperatives’ demands were against the constitution, given that the country’s natural resources belonged to all the Bolivian people.

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