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Cooperative miners lynch vice minister
Latinamerica Press
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Artisanal miners reject the free unionization of that sector and the prohibition to sublet their concessions to private companies.

“They made him remove his shoes, made him climb up the hill, rolled him down like a ball, made him walk barefoot; his knee bones are broken and they busted his head open with rocks; and why did they do all that to him? Because he was defending the natural resources,” said Vice President Álvaro García Linera when describing how mining cooperative members murdered Vice Minister of the Interior, Fernando Illanes, on Aug. 25.

Illanes, a 56 years old lawyer, had traveled to the district of Panduro, 80 miles south of La Paz, to open a dialogue with cooperative miners who since Aug. 21 had been blockading the highway connecting the administrative capital of La Paz with Oruro in protest for the reform of the Cooperatives Law that allows the free unionization, as well as the Mining Law that prohibits the subletting of mining concessions or partnering with foreign or domestic private companies. The vice minister was taken hostage following the deaths of four cooperative miners in clashes with riot police.

The Attorney General Ramiro Guerrero said that the autopsy report presumes that Illanes “was tortured for six or seven hours,” besides showing multiple lesions, traumas to the face, thorax, limbs, brain swelling and head trauma.

“This means that he was beaten throughout his body, his head and extremities,” Guerrero stated. “We have been able to determine various rib and nasal septum fractures. It appears that the blow that took his life was a blow with an object to the head.”

After the death of Illanes, the miners put an end to the highway blockade. With the aim of identifying those responsible, the Attorney General’s office raided the group’s central office and confiscated documents and issued arrest warrants for 15 of its leaders, accused of being the masterminds of the crime, including the president of the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (FENCOMIN), Carlos Mamani.

Artisan mining boom
Artisan miners work in self administered cooperatives that are grouped together in FENCOMIN, created in 1968 and that now consists of 14 departmental and regional federations, 1,700 cooperatives and 160,000 members. In 1985 FENCOMIN welcomed an army of mining workers who were unemployed after the closing of mines following the approval of decree 21060 that implemented the neoliberal economic model in Bolivia. They were given almost exhausted mines that they work with reduced investment and precarious technology. They exploit zinc, tin, silver and gold by using picks and dynamite.

The growth of artisanal mining was exponential from the time of the international increase of metal prices in the 2000s. Many of the cooperative miners who had concessions became rich and subcontracted miners who worked in deplorable conditions.

They were allies of President Evo Morales, who took office in 2006, while the boom in metal prices lasted, but they came face to face with the government when it did not allow them to partner with private companies.

On Sep. 1, the government approved the reversal to the state of 31 mining concessions that were on the hands of artisan miners, but had been subletted to foreign private companies. According to the Constitution, the cooperatives that are dedicated to subsistence mining receive temporary and exclusive concessions that cannot be ceded to third parties. Also, they receive tax benefits for being non-profit institutions and, thus, cannot partner with private companies.

“The mining cooperatives can only be justified by their condition of solidarity, but if that is not the case and just a few people are accumulating capital, they must then become private companies,” said Mining Minister César Navarro. —Latinamerica Press.

Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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