A few weeks ago, Bolivia's Deputy Minister of the Interior Rodolfo Illanes was killed by a group of cooperative miners with whom he was allegedly trying to bargain.
The miners had set up a roadblock in Panduro to protest a change to the General Law of Cooperatives, which was passed in 2013. The change was slated to make explicit that third-party employees of cooperatives can unionize. While it was aimed at service cooperatives (electricity, telephone lines, water, etc.) who often employ technicians and accountants, it was a threat to cooperative miners who employ laborers to mine on their behalves - a very common practice among the gold cooperatives of northern La Paz and the silver cooperatives in the city of Potosí.
More importantly, however, the mining cooperatives were using the media attention generated by their protests to launch a 10-point list of demands that included flexible environmental standards, the right to mine in protected areas, and the ability to negotiate partnerships with private companies (which they have been demanding since the passage of the new Mining Code in 2014).
Illanes went to the roadblock to negotiate but was taken hostage. In the wee hours of the morning on August 25th, he was tortured, killed, and left in the street wrapped in a sheet. Some of my contacts within the mining cooperatives say that they took Illanes hostage because he appeared to have come as a spy, without any identification or body guards. They also say that Illanes's killers were drunk and stricken with grief and rage because they had recently found out the police had shot and murdered several miners at the roadblock.
In the aftermath of the murder, many cooperative miners were taken into custody. Most of these had nothing to do with the murder - they were the people the police could grab most easily - and are being held without a clear set of charges. The president of FENCOMIN (the national federation of mining cooperatives), Carlos Mamani, was also imprisoned in the maximum security prison Chonchocoro.
On September 1st, Evo Morales announced five supreme decrees that are clearly designed to curb the influence of the mining cooperative sector:
I published an op-ed in Ottawa's Embassy News about a scandal in Bolivia that cost President Evo Morales a referendum that would have allowed him to modify the constitution and run again for a 4th presidential term in 2019. Just weeks before the referendum, it was revealed that in 2007 Morales had an affair with Gabriela Zapata, a Bolivian liaison for a Chinese company that is now deeply embedded in resource extraction in Bolivia. I analyze the relationship between fear of Chinese imperialism and national resource sovereignty in Bolivia here.
PhD Candidate, Geography, UC Berkeley