LA PAZ – President Evo Morales on Friday blasted the “unforgivable” death of Bolivia’s deputy interior minister at the hands of protesting miners and declared three days of national mourning.
The murder of Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes “is very painful because it’s such a cowardly act,” Morales told reporters at the presidential palace.
“They kidnapped, tortured and killed him,” he added.
Illanes, a 58-year-old attorney, was a key adviser and a man committed to supporting peasant unions who worked in several government offices trying at all times to engage in dialogue when social protests erupted, Morales said.
Illanes’ body was recovered Friday morning on a road in the town of Panduro, 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of La Paz, and taken to the capital for an autopsy.
The deputy interior minister was beaten to death by miners while being held captive on a hillside near Panduro, authorities said.
Morales said his administration had always sought a negotiated solution to a labor dispute with cooperative miners, who have set up roadblocks to protest a law that promotes the creation of labor unions within their cooperatives.
The president said the protests by the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives, or Fencomin, were the result of a “political conspiracy and that no social demands” had were being made.
He said the “real cooperative miners” were being duped by leaders of that sector, which in reality are “mining entrepreneurs.”
The leftist leader hailed Illanes as a “hero of the defense of (Bolivia’s) natural resources” after reiterating that the real aim of the cooperative miners’ protest was to pressure the government to allow them to sign contracts with private and multinational companies.
Morales also lamented the deaths of protesters in clashes with police.
He said the government had thus far only confirmed the deaths of two miners on Wednesday, although Fencomin leaders said a third protesting miner died Thursday in Panduro in fresh clashes with police during an attempt to clear a barricaded road.
“Suspiciously, there have been deaths,” Morales said, adding that police had been ordered not to carry lethal weapons.
The miners object to a provision in the mining law that promotes the creation of labor unions within the cooperatives, saying that hinders the operation of these types of organizations.
The miners on Friday began taking down the roadblocks they had set up in western and central Bolivia, allowing the circulation of vehicles that had been stranded since Tuesday, according to local media.