‘Brutal and cowardly murder’: Bolivia says minister beaten to death by striking miners

Miners block a main highway during an anti-government protest in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. © David Mercado
A senior Bolivian politician has been beaten to death by an angry mob of striking mineworkers, officials say. Rodolfo Illanes was reported to have gone to try to negotiate with the protesters, who subsequently kidnapped and killed him.

The alleged murder took place on Thursday evening in Panduro, which is 160 kilometers from the Bolivian capital of La Paz. Minister of Government Carlos Romero said that Illanes had gone to talk to the demonstrators, but was kidnapped by the striking miners.

“At this present time, all the indications are that our deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes has been brutally and cowardly murdered,” he said, as cited by Reuters. 

The director of a mining radio station, Moises Flores, wrote on his Twitter account that there has been visual conformation that Illanes was killed.

“We have been able to see close up that vice-minister Illanes was dead. Colleagues told us that he had died of a beating,” Flores told local radio.

Flores also suggested that Illanes’ might have been killed in response to the deaths of three miners who died during the protests.

The government is now in the process of trying to retrieve his body and “around 100 people have been arrested," according to Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira. The Justice Ministry has also been asked to investigate the case. 

Tensions have been running high in the South American country since Wednesday, when two workers who were blocking a highway were killed by police. The authorities said that 17 police officers had been injured in the confrontations. 

The protesters are demanding greater mining concessions from the government that would lead to a relaxation of strict environmental legislation, as well as better union representation and the right to work for private companies. 

The vast majority of miners in Bolivia work in cooperatives and earn a meager living producing silver, tin, and zinc.

The strike was organized by the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (FENCOMIN) after negotiations failed. The organization had once been one of President Evo Morales’ staunchest allies.

Morales has seen his support amongst the unions fall due to accusations of cronyism and authoritarianism. The Bolivian president had been popular for increasing public and welfare spending, but those initiatives have been curbed due to a drop in the price of natural gas, which accounts for around half of the country’s exports.