The deputy interior minister of Bolivia, Romero Illanes, died after he was kidnapped and beaten by protesting miners. The minister had come to the area to try and defuse the tensions that arose over mining laws.
Carlo Romero is now demanding that miners return the body to proper authorities.
Illanes travelled to Panduro to begin negotiations with the striking miners. They have blocked the highway there ever since Monday.
On Thursday, the deputy minister was taken hostage. At first, authorities were unsure of what had happened. They believe the miners had kidnapped Illanes, and were torturing him, but they had no clear evidence to prove it.
The kidnapping occured in the morning. On Thursday afternoon, he tweeted, “My health is fine, my family can be calm”. It seems he suffered from a heart condition.
The deputy minister’s assistant escaped the ordeal. He is now in a hospital in La Paz and has received treatment for his injuries, according to Bolivian officials.
Seventeen policemen had already suffered injured during the protests. The circumstances surrounding the death of Romero Illanes are still unclear.
The legislative change that sparked the protests is an attempt to align Bolivian laws with a decree promulgated by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s President. According to this decree, Bolivian minerals are part of the country’s national patrimony.
Protests started as a result of new mining laws. Bolivian economy depends in no small measure on mining. The mining industry has three sectors, roughly speaking.
The Story Behind the Protesting Miners
The first is the Corporacion Minera de Bolivia (Comibol). This organization appeared in 1952 as a result of the nationalization of Bolivian tin industry. In 1986, Comibol split up into 5 different corporations.
There are also several private mining companies. These companies fall into three categories: large, medium and small companies. This shift occurred after the tin market crash in the 1980s.
Mining cooperatives handle the rest of the mining operations in Bolivia. The Federación Nacional de Cooperativas Mineras de Bolivia serves as an umbrella organization for all of these various coops. These groups are very small in general and don’t have access to money, or the technology they would need to be more effcient and productive.
Because the members of these coops do not have funds, they don’t have access to technology. For this reason they rely a lot on contracts with private companies to make a profit. According to the new law, coop miners can no longer sign contracts with private companies.
The 2007 changes to the Constitution the state Legislature has to approve every new mining contract.
Cooperative miners make 88% of Bolivia’s mining employees. Almost 48% of Bolivia’s $3.7 billion mining exports comes from this sector. On the other hand, with just 6% of the total Bolivian miners, the private sector contributes 46%, and the rest is provided by Comibol.
Following the beginning of the protests, the Bolivian government had agreed to rewrite the new laws. They were attempting to negotiate with the protesting miners.
The relation between the Bolivian government and the protesting miners was already tense. It is quite likely this recent killing of the deputy minister of interior is going to make the situation worse.
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