The body of Ramón Choque, one of the two miners trapped in the Hampaturi mine, has been recovered. His colleagues, who found his helmet on Saturday, were able to free his body from the rubble of dust and dirt that had almost completely sealed off the mine’s entrance after 10 hours of gruelling labour. Rescue workers, however, remain hopeful that the second miner, Saúl Mamani, is still alive. The disaster raises fresh concerns over the safety of Bolivian mining. The death of Ramón Choque, who leaves behind seven orphans, is also a chilling reminder that mining disasters rarely have Hollywood endings.
The 2010 death toll of suspected assassinations in the province of Santa Cruz has risen to 26 amidst fresh fears over the development of a network of paid assassins in the region. The Bolivian newspaper, La Razón, identified 26 murders that had signs of “ajustes de cuentas”. The Spanish term, roughly translated as “settling of scores”, refers to hired assassinations indicative of drug violence. The departmental director of the Anti-Crime Special Unit (FELCC) in Santa Cruz, Miguel Gonzales, confirmed that paid killings occur in the region. He stressed, however, a difference between this and the existence of an industry of professional assassins. The latter he argued earn a living from killing regularly. “We know that someone who kills for money is an assassin, but I don’t believe that this is the case in Santa Cruz”, he told La Razon. “Here the people who kill for money disappear after their job, that is to say they are contracted specifically to kill one person (not various)”.
The media spotlight has been on Santa Cruz this week, ahead of the ninth Conference of American Ministers of Defence, being held in the provincial capital this week. Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, on arrival yesterday, warned Bolivia to be cautious in its dealings with Iran. Whilst stressing that Bolivia was entitled to have diplomatic relations with whomever it chooses, he voiced his suspicion over Iran’s motives for collaborating with Bolivia in its nuclear programme. “I’m not sure the Iranians have the capacity to help others construct nuclear power plants”, he told journalists at the Los Tajibos hotel in Santa Cruz. The conference, which will go on until Thursday, will discuss regional issues of peace, security, and the transparency of military spending.