Monday 26 September 2016

Shocking spasm of violence as striking miners kidnap and kill deputy minister in Bolivia

Carlos Valdez

Published 26/08/2016 | 19:40

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a press conference at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a press conference at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
An independent miner returns a tear gas capsule during clashes with riot police during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. Picture taken August 25, 2016. REUTERS/APG Agency
Passengers from a bus walk on a blocked main highway by independent miners protesting against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado
Independent miners block a main highway during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado
Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, August 26, 2016. Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Striking Bolivian miners have kidnapped and beaten to death the country's deputy interior minister in a shocking spasm of violence.

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The killing followed weeks of tension over dwindling wages in a region hit hard by falling metal prices.

The miners were demanding they be allowed to work for private companies, who promise to put more cash in their pockets.

The issue has bedevilled president Evo Morales, who began as a champion of the working class and privatised the nation's mining industry, only to see his support plunge amid the downturn.

An independent miner returns a tear gas capsule during clashes with riot police during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. Picture taken August 25, 2016. REUTERS/APG Agency
An independent miner returns a tear gas capsule during clashes with riot police during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. Picture taken August 25, 2016. REUTERS/APG Agency

Miners say Morales has become an accomplice of the rich, and done little to help them make ends meet as the economy slows.

Deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes, whose formal title was vice minister of the interior regime, had travelled on Thursday to the scene of the violent protests in an effort to negotiate with the strikers who armed themselves with dynamite and seized several roads.

Passengers from a bus walk on a blocked main highway by independent miners protesting against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado
Passengers from a bus walk on a blocked main highway by independent miners protesting against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado

Instead, Illanes was "savagely beaten" to death by miners, defence minister Reymi Ferreira told Red Uno television, his voice breaking.

A post mortem found Illanes died from trauma to the brain and thorax. Seven miners' leaders were detained by police, and their offices raided.

Independent miners block a main highway during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado
Independent miners block a main highway during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David Mercado

"This is a political conspiracy, not a social demand," Morales said at a news conference on Friday, accusing his opponents of backing the miners' demands.

He called for three days of official mourning, criticised the "cowardly attitude" of the protesters and insisted that his government had "always been open" to negotiation.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, August 26, 2016. Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, August 26, 2016. Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Illanes "was kidnapped, tortured and murdered", Morales said.

Businessman and opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina rejected Morales' comments about the opposition and said the government should try to make peace.

"The prices of minerals have gone down and the costs of production have increased," he said. "That is the cause of the protest."

The fatal beating came after the killings of two protesters in clashes with police on Wednesday.

Illanes had gone to Panduro, 80 miles south of La Paz, to open a dialogue with the miners. They had blockaded the road there since Monday, stranding thousands of vehicles and passengers.

Officials said he was taken hostage by the miners Thursday morning. His body was later found abandoned on the side of the road, his car burned. His driver escaped.

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