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.
Given the fast pace of events in Bolivia, my most responsive and up-tod-date commentary is available on Twitter, where I tweet as @CarwilBJ. However, it’s time for a brief summary of the disastrous, unfolding scenario.
President Jeanine Añez, a right-wing senator took power in a parliamentary maneuver late on Tuesday, November 12. A political unknown whose party Bolivia Dice No had received just 4% of the vote on October 20, Añez had a very limited mandate, both from the three-week mass movement that unseated Evo Morales and under the Bolivian constitution: restore public trust in the electoral system and convene elections within 90 days. Instead, Añez has presided over a rapid and deadly slide towards authoritarian rule that echoes the worst moments of early 2000s uprisings, 1988–2005 drug war, and the mass detentions that followed military coups in 1980 and 1981.
Three unmistakable signs of this disastrous turn have come this weekend:
The Sacaba Massacre: The mass shooting came amid police repression that wounded over 100 protesters at Huayllani Bridge, nine of whom were killed, in Sacaba (Cochabamba Department) on Friday. The shooting came about when military troops armed with guns replaced police who were keeping a coca growers’ march from entering the town on the east side of the Cochabamba metropolis. According to reporters on the scene, police teargassing touched off a two-hour confrontation. Security forces have claimed that some in the crowd had guns and fired them, showing several bullet holes in police windows. Journalists estimate that “nearly ten” police were evacuated from the scene for injuries; evidently, none of them have bullet wounds. The police have recovered a single shotgun and five bullets. Meanwhile their use of force was overwhelming, caused massive injuries, and ended nine civilian lives. Opinión offers the most complete initial narrative of the day (es).
Autopsies have confirmed that all nine people killed died from gunshot wounds; ballistic analysis was not yet complete as of Saturday. The dead in Sacaba are:
Armando Carballo Escobar, de 25 años, falleció por un trauma torácico penetrante por Proyectil de Arma de Fuego (PAF).
Plácido Rojas Delgadillo, de 18 años, murió por shock hipovolémico, trauma hepático y trauma torácico abdominal penetrante por PAF.
Omar Calle Siles, de 26 años, falleció por choque hipovolémico por hemorragia interna, laceración cardiaca por traumatismo y PAF.
Lucas Sánchez Valencia, de 43 años, falleció laceración encefálica y traumatismo cráneo facial por PAF.
Emilio Colque, de 21 años, murió por choque hemorrágico, laceración de órganos vitales y trauma torácico por PAF.
Juan López Apaza, de 34 años, falleció por shock hemorrágico, laceración aortica y trauma torácico penetrante por PAF.
César Sipe Mérida, de 18 años, murió por choque hipovolémico y traumatismo abdominal por PAF.
Marco Vargas Martínez, se desconoce su edad, falleció por lesión de centros nerviosos superiores, laceración de masa encefálica y trauma cráneo encefálico por PAF.
Roberto Sejas Escobar, de 28 años, murió por laceración de masa encefálica y traumatismo cráneo encefálico por PAF.
With at least 19 deaths, November has now become the deadliest month in Bolivian political conflict since October 2003, the time of the Gas War under Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Deaths in the current crisis initially occurred among civilians, but in recent days a clear pattern of military gunfire killing civilians has become the predominant cause of death.
Supreme Decree exempts military from prosecution: Saturday afternoon, Añez signed Supreme Decree 4078. Among other provisions, it exempts the military from criminal prosecution for actions carried out during the current efforts to “restore order” in the country:
Personnel of the Armed Forces who participate in the operations to restore internal order and public stability will be exempted from criminal responsibility when, acting in fulfillment of their functions, they act in legitimate defense or out of necessity.
El personal de las Fuerzas Armadas, que participe en los operativos para el restablecimiento del orden interno y estabilidad pública estará exento de responsabilidad penal cuando en cumplimiento de sus funciones, actúen en legítima defensa o estado de necesidad
While the decree technically reiterates the validity of exisitng guidelinse on the use of force, this exemption effectively eliminates any penalties for systematic human rights abuses, up to and including murder. Passing it the day after the Sacaba massacre only underscores how shameless and violent the Añez government is.
Crackdown announced on MAS-IPSP leadership: Today, Sunday November 17, Minister of Government Arturo Murillo announced he will detain MAS-IPSP legislators for “sedition” and “subversion” (effectively, for supporting anti-government protests), starting this week. The MAS-IPSP legislative delegation, who still hold a majority in both house (and won a continuing majority in the October elections) had emerged as a center of moderation and calm this week. On Thursday, November 14, they called for “mobilized sectors of social movements to allow us to achieve peace” and asked “equally, of the Armed Forces and the police: no bullets, please.” The Sacaba massacre was a grim response.
Over the weekend, the same legislators issued a call for the full Senate and Chamber of Deputies to hold sessions on Tuesday (Noveber 19) to convene new elections. Murillo’s new crackdown threatens to undermine this call and/or unseat the MAS-IPSP from its majority. The Minister, who supervises the security forces and prosecutors, said Sunday:
“There are senators and deputies (male and female), not all of them, just some; I will begin to publish their names who are fomenting subversion. Starting Monday, I already have the list which the leaders of the various zones themselves are passing to me. [We] will begin to detain them with prosecutorial orders.”
“Hay senadores y senadoras, diputados y diputadas, no todos, unos cuantos, que voy a empezar a publicar sus nombres, que están haciendo subversión. A partir de lunes voy a ordenar, ya tengo listas que los mismos dirigentes de varias zonas me están pasando, los van a empezar a detener con órdenes fiscales”
At the beginning of the week, I argued that when “the military signaled limits to further state repression, stayed out of the presidential chair, and did not substitute its choice of leaders for one determined at the ballot box,” their political interventions in Bolivia have not been remembered as coups d’ètat. We have crossed those lines.