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Striking Bolivian miners beat a deputy minister to death

Miners used to be allied with president Evo Morales, but now they're protesting violently — so violently that they killed an envoy sent to negotiate.
Photo by Juan Karita/AP Photo

A deputy government minister killed by striking Bolivian miners was beaten to death, the authorities have confirmed.

"They squashed his skull, with a rock we assume," Edwin Blanco, the investigator heading the case, told reporters on Friday. "Then his body was thrown down a cliff."

Deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes had gone to talk to small-scale miners who were blocking roads in the town of Panduro, about 100 miles (160 km) from the capital La Paz, on Thursday morning. He was then taken hostage for eight hours before he was killed.


"They kidnapped him, tortured him and killed him," President Evo Morales told a press conference on Friday in which he declared three days of national mourning. "That is unforgivable."

The death culminates weeks of tension with the miners demanding legal changes to give them access to more mineral deposits in the context of falling international metal prices. It underlined how in recent months the famously left-wing Morales has lost the support of workers' groups such as the miners.

Erbol radio reported that Illanes sent out an early call for help, soon after he was taken hostage, in which he said he had been threatened with being cut up.

When a local radio reporter managed to talk to Illanes shortly after midday, the deputy minister said that he was not being mistreated, and sent a message to his family saying they should not be concerned.

The afternoon, however, brought clashes between the miners and the police, with the miners accusing the officers of shooting live rounds.

At least one miner died. The first reports that Illanes had also been killed came at around sundown, although the news was not confirmed by the government until well into the night.

Moises Flores, director of the local radio station Fedecomin, said that he and other reporters covering the protests saw the bodies of both the dead miner and Illanes.

"The miners were full of rage at that time, mourning their dead," he said.


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As well as seeking government concessions to allow them to associate with private companies, the protesting miners — who usually work for themselves within the umbrella of a so-called "cooperative" — were also demanding justice for the death of two more protesters killed in clashes with police earlier this week.

Bolivia's human rights ombudsman, David Tezanos, told reporters that the use of live ammunition by some police officers meant that the miners should not be the only ones blamed for what happened.

"We have to be very cold and analyze these complicated events and shouldn't just look at things from one side's perspective," he said. "Errors were made that had very serious consequences."

Bolivian miners have a long tradition of radical activism, leading revolutions and bringing down military dictators.

President Morales denied there any of that tradition is left in their current protests, and alleged some of the miners are actually capitalists in disguise.

"The protests are part of a political conspiracy in which is there no cause of social justice present," Morales said on Friday. "Some cooperativistas pretend to be cooperativistas, when they are really mining empresarios."

Follow Jo Tuckman on Twitter: @jotuckman