A Bolivian government minister has been beaten to death by striking mineworkers after being kidnapped, the government said.
Rodolf Illanes, deputy interior minister, had gone to talk to protesting workers on Thursday in Panduro, around 160km (100 miles) from the capital, La Paz, but was intercepted and kidnapped.
“At this present time, all the indications are that our deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes has been brutally and cowardly assassinated,” minister of government Carlos Romero said in broadcast comments. The government was trying to recover his body, Romero said.
Reymi Ferreira, the defence minister, said that Illanes had been “savagely beaten” to death by the striking miners.
He broke down on television as he described how Illanes, appointed to his post in March, had apparently been “beaten and tortured to death”. Illanes’ assistant had escaped and was being treated in a hospital in La Paz, he said.
“This crime will not go unpunished. Authorities are investigating … around 100 people have been arrested,” Ferreira said.
— Iliana Mier-Lavin (@imlavin) August 25, 2016
Moises Flores, the director of a mining radio station, later told local radio: “We have been able to see close up that vice-minister Illanes was dead. Colleagues told us that he had died of a beating.”
Protests by miners in Bolivia demanding changes to laws turned violent this week after a highway was blockaded. Two workers were killed on Wednesday after being shot by police, and the government said 17 police officers had been wounded.
The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (Fencomin), once a strong ally of the leftwing president, Evo Morales, began what it said would be an indefinite protest after negotiations over mining legislation failed.
Protesters have been demanding more mining concessions, the right to work for private companies, and greater union representation.
The vast majority of miners in Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries, work in cooperatives, scraping a living producing silver, tin and zinc. There are few foreign-owned mining firms, unlike in neighboring Peru and Chile.
Natural gas accounts for roughly half of Bolivia’s total exports. Morales, a former coca grower, nationalised Bolivia’s resources sector after taking power in 2006, initially winning plaudits for ploughing the profits into welfare programs and boosting development.
But his government has been dogged by accusations of cronyism and authoritarianism in recent years, and even the unions who were once his core support have soured on him as falling prices have crimped spending.