Orlando Gutiérrez Luna, executive secretary of Bolivia’s celebrated miners’ union, the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (FSTMB) has died after suffering a severe assault on October 21, shortly after the electoral victory of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS-IPSP) party. A senior union leader, a potential MAS-IPSP senate candidate for La Paz (until his candidacy was refused) by electoral authorities, and reportedly the planned Minister of Mining under the incoming Arce government, Gutiérrez was the target of numerous death threats. During a time of protests against the MAS-IPSP election victory, Gutiérrez was badly beaten, though his family and comrades have not disclosed any major details of the attack.
The FSTMB responded to the attack with a statement saying:
“This grave attack, executed as a form of vengeance, perpetrated by the fascist right, by the so-called ‘pititas,’ [by] platforms, contracting ‘hired killers’ and ‘street thugs’ to assassinate the executive of the FSTMB for the mere act of speaking the truth; but, thanks to God, at this moment, despite this attempted homicide, he remains alive.” (FSTMB, 23 Oct 2020)
** The FSTMB leadership has distanced itself from this allegation; see update below **
Gutiérrez was treated at the Cemes clinic and visited by comrades. He reportedly suffered trauma to the parietal lobe of his brain.
His death was reported on October 28, but responsibility for it remains vague and unconfirmed. The Departmental Prosecutor of La Paz opened a homicide investigation later in the day. Reportedly, prior attempts to access him by investigators were rebuffed. The Defensoría del Pueblo has called for investigation and clarification of the circumstances of the attack on Gutiérrez.
Given the imminent transfer of power to a MAS-IPSP national government on November 8, the threats from political opponents against him, and the recent investigations of him for organizing pro-election blockades in July and August, it is perhaps not shocking that Gutiérrez’s comrades worked to delay an investigation. But the lack of any detailed narrative makes it impossible to verify their allegations of responsibility for his death.
Regardless of the circumstances of his death, the 36-year-old union leader is being remembered for his remarkable political leadership, his oratory on behalf of both the FSTMB union and the MAS-IPSP, and his calls for a time of peace following Bolivia’s traumatic last year.
Among his public thoughts in the last year were the following:
“Here we are not trying to bring the people along like a flock of sheep.”
“A good general does not only call for war, but also calls for peace to take care of the life of his people.”
”I am happy because the feeling of struggle has come alive again, from the children to the oldest among us.”
“There are big things we must think about now, brothers, like how to unify the people, because when we speak of Bolivia, there is the worker, the cooperativist, the salaried miner, all together to defend their Bolivia, because our homeland is our homeland. We aren’t talking about political or personal interests, nor interests of sectors or regions; Bolivia is Bolivia.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFqNVZVfkYo&feature=emb_title
Gutiérrez’s death marks the 39th, and hopefully final, death of Bolivia’s 2019–2020 political crisis, the 35th under interim rule, and the 25th under the presidency of Jeanine Áñez. Seven of the prior deaths were killings among civilian members of political factions, while between 26 and 29 were perpetrated by Bolivia’s security forces. The alleged killing of Gutiérrez, as described by the FSTMB, most directly parallels the killing of journalist and Argentine national Sebastián Moro in November 2019.
For analysis of the 2019 violence, see:
- Research paper: 2003 Gas War and 2019 crisis were deadly, exceptional periods in Bolivian democracy
- Deaths during Bolivia’s 2019 political crisis: An initial analysis
Update: Circumstances of Gutiérrez’s death remain uncertain
Since the burial of Orlando Gutiérrez, questions, an investigation, and range of rumors have circulated about his sudden death.
A wake was held in the central La Paz, where Miners’ Federation headquarters sits. In Colquiri, Gutiérrez’s casket was escorted by a procession more like a protest march, in which grieving miners chanted “Orlando, Colquiri, the people are with you” and shouted for “Justice, now!”
If justice is to come for the fallen union leader, however, it will have to begin with a clarification of the circumstances of his death. In series of statements, Gutiérrez’s comrades in the labor movement have described their own limited awareness of what exactly happened to him. On October 28, Central Obrera Boliviana leader Juan Carlos Huarachi declared,
The family of miners is in mourning. … We demand that the justice system carry out the investigations, and clarify the acts that our comrade has suffered.“COB y mineros piden a la justicia esclarecer el fallecimiento de Orlando Gutiérrez,” Agencia Boliviana de Información, https://www1.abi.bo/abi_/?i=458739
La familia minera está de luto (…). Pedimos a la justicia de que se hagan las investigaciones, se esclarezca los actos que ha sufrido nuestro compañero
Similarly, FSTMB Secretary General Gonzalo Quispe has asked for more information.
As of this moment, we don’t have a real report either from the police or from the director of the Clinic, but already this morning we requested the clinic’s report on the care that comrade Orlando received, and with that will we begin the process until everything is clarified.“COB y mineros piden a la justicia esclarecer el fallecimiento de Orlando Gutiérrez,” Agencia Boliviana de Información, https://www1.abi.bo/abi_/?i=458739
Hasta este momento no tenemos un informe real ni de la Policía ni del director de la Clínica, pero ya esta mañana se pidió el informe clínico de la atención que ha recibido el compañero Orlando y con eso vamos a iniciar el proceso hasta que se esclarezca.
In a separate interview (with Sputnik News) the FSTMB Secretary General reportedly distanced himself from the prior denunciations by the organization of an attack on Gutiérrez:
The person who spoke did not know either what happened with comrade Gutiérrez, and that is why I cannot speak on the matter. It was mentioned that there was an attack, but that is speculation. Until we have something with veracity, we cannot be sure that this was the [manner of his death]. Meanwhile, I do not want to put out news that could be false.https://mundo.sputniknews.com/america-latina/202011011093319861-como-murio-orlando-gutierrez/?utm_source=push&utm_medium=browser_notification&utm_campaign=sputnik_inter_es
Quien le habla tampoco sabe qué ocurrió con el compañero Gutiérrez, por eso no puedo hablar al respecto. Se menciona que hubo un atentado, pero es una especulación. Hasta que no tengamos algo de veracidad, a partir de las investigaciones, no podemos asegurar que esa es la figura. Mientras tanto, no quiero transmitir noticias que pudieran ser falsas.
Another piece of the narrative is that Gutiérrez’s lawyer, Nadesha Guevara, denounced that she was not allowed to see her client during his time in the clinic and noted that she had pursued a petition for precuationary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for threats against him.
The Bolivian government investigation has begun and is seeking interviews with Gutiérrez’s friends and family, and has raided and seized documents from the clinic where he was held in the last days of his life. In announcing the investigation, Vice Minister of Wilson Santamaría has refused to speculate on what happened.
In addition to an attack by the right wing, circulating rumors speak of the mutually contradictory possibilities of a car accident, a fall down the stairs of San Francisco Plaza, an accident at Gutiérrez’s home,and a dispute among the allies of the MAS.