LA PAZ – One state miner was killed and nine others were injured when their union offices came under attack during a huge march by dynamite-hurling protesters affiliated with private mining cooperatives, the Bolivian government said.
Tuesday’s incident stems from a dispute over control of the Colquiri tin and zinc mine, which President Evo Morales’ administration expropriated from Swiss commodities giant Glencore in June.
A man identified as Hector Choque died after being in a coma for several hours, while two other miners suffered serious – though non-life-threatening – injuries, Deputy Interior Minister Jorge Perez said in a press conference.
One of the dynamite sticks launched by the cooperative miners exploded near Choque, causing severe damage to his liver and one of his lungs.
“Regrettably we lost the life of a brother, product of a clash, of obstinacy, of intransigence, of the polarized positions of brother miners from Colquiri, both salaried and cooperative,” Perez said.
The attack occurred during a march through downtown La Paz by a large group of cooperative mine workers, the government said, noting that some 17,000 of those independent miners had arrived in the capital on Tuesday.
The cooperative miners are demanding that the Morales government comply with the terms of the expropriation decree, which they say gives them control over a lucrative section of Colquiri, located around 250 kilometers (100 miles) south of La Paz.
The salaried employees of state-owned mining company Comibol, meanwhile, oppose allowing the independent miners to work at the tin mine, Bolivia’s second largest after the Huanuni mine.
The dispute has paralyzed production for several days at Colquiri, which has been occupied by the state miners to impede access by the rival faction.
Both groups of miners are supporters of Morales, who criticized the clashes and said each side was only concerned with its own interests and earnings and not thinking about the development of the mineral-rich but poor Andean nation.
Tuesday’s incident in La Paz began as an exchange of insults when the cooperative miners were marching outside the headquarters of the Union Federation of Bolivian Mine Workers but soon escalated into violence, Efe confirmed.
The union headquarters targeted in the attack is located on El Prado, La Paz’s main thoroughfare, where several nearby commercial establishments were badly damaged by explosions during the hours-long protest.
Roughly 200 anti-riot police who were standing guard outside the union office were outnumbered by the protesters and had to fire tear gas to disperse them.
Perez, the deputy interior minister, urged both factions “to leave behind their extremist attitudes” and begin a dialogue Wednesday with presidential chief of staff Juan Ramon Quintana to resolve the problem peacefully.
Quintana, for his part, proposed Wednesday that the two sides agree to a two-day truce to facilitate the talks.
“This is a conflict that affects the entire country. Now is not the time to talk about who’s at fault. We’re proposing a 48-hour truce” to allow for a period of reflection, Quintana was quoted as saying by the state-run ABI news agency.
After learning of the attack on their headquarters, the state miners at Colquiri retaliated by destroying some property belonging to the cooperative miners in that small mining town, local media reported.
Perez said police investigators and prosecutors were dispatched to the town to verify reports of arson attacks on a home, a radio station’s offices and two vehicles belonging to leaders of the cooperative miners.
A group of 200 anti-riot police also were deployed to the outskirts of Colquiri to prevent new disturbances. EFE