A woman has died after being mistaken for a car thief and tied to a tree infested with poisonous fire ants as punishment.
The 52-year-old was rescued alive by police but died in hospital from breathing problems caused by severe throat swelling after her windpipe was stung by the ants.
According to local media, villagers in the town of Caranavi, Bolivia, targeted the woman after she had gone to help her son who had been bound to the ‘holy tree’ after they accused him of being a car thief.
The woman’s daughter received the same punishment but survived along with her brother. Local reports said they were also beaten and burnt using an accelerant.
Local authorities said preliminary investigations had showed the woman and her children, aged 22 and 28, had travelled to the area from La Paz to recover a debt.
The tree they were tied to was a Palo Santo, a mystical tree growing on the coast of South America. It is a breeding ground for colonies of the Brazilian fire ant who are well known for their extremely painful bites.
Local police chief Gunter Agudo said:
Initially the investigation was opened as a probe into an attempted car theft but now it has been changed to a murder and serious assault investigation.
According to Radio Municipal Caranavi, only one person has been arrested so far.
Bolivian media site Globo reports ‘mob justice’ is relatively frequent in rural areas and some peri-urban neighborhoods of Bolivia.
According to the country’s Public Defender, there were 32 attempts at lynching in 2015, five of which ended in death.