Bolivia mining co-ops clash with government, leading to death of minister

A government minister in Bolivia has been killed during a dispute with mining co-operatives. Deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes was taken hostage and killed, according to authorities, during a...

A government minister in Bolivia has been killed during a dispute with mining co-operatives.

Deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes was taken hostage and killed, according to authorities, during a dispute over mining laws.

The disagreement started after the government began to implement new mining laws in the country, which require co-operatives to allow workers to form unions and restricts co-operatives making investment deals with foreign companies.

In retaliation to the laws, miners blocked the main highway from capital La Paz to the mining state of Oruro for three days. Mr Illanes, a lawyer, visited the town of Panduro in an attempt to negotiate in the dispute, where he was taken hostage.

The government says he was beaten to death with stones and sticks by the striking mineworkers. So far, police have arrested 40 miners following a violent clash, in which two miners died. Another six workers are also being sought by authorities.

President Evo Morales, who is a former unionist for cocoa growers, declared a national mourning for three days.

He said: “They sequestered, tortured and killed him. It is unforgivable. I do not understand how our brother co-operators could attack in this way.”

As a mining nation, Bolivia has around 140,000 miners, 90% of whom are members of co-ops.

Presidency minister, Juan Ramón Quintana, said he hoped the miners would agree to return to peaceful negotiation. “Co-operative miners have no other option than to return to democratic negotiation process with the government, respecting the law,” he said.

Antonio Flores of CONCOBOL, the Bolivia’s federation of co-operatives, commented: “We are against this law because according to the General Co-operative Law if a member of a co-operative is an employee in the co-operative he cannot belong to a trade union because these defend the relationships between workers and owners and within co-operatives there is no such relation, however, in public service co-ops there is a necessity to hire personnel and they can join trade unions while not being members of the co-op.

CONCOBOL represents co-operative federation from across the country, including the National Federation of Mining Co-operatives, which has 2,000 co-ops with over 100,000 members.

“Regarding the death of Rodolfo Illanes, of course, we condemn it. However, it is the result of all of the events that have taken place at an accelerated speed. We are now waiting to see what can happen, given that yesterday [1 September] our offices were broken into, we believe this to be with no reason, since we were not involved in the incidents,” added Mr Flores.

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