Domitila Barrios de Chungara RIP

Posted: 21 March 2012 in Uncategorized
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I just learned that Domitila Barrios de Chungara—long-time social activist, union leader, feminist, and Bolivian national heroine—dies on 13 March in Cochabamba at the the age of 74.

This is from the obituary by Emily Achtenberg:

Domitila’s life is a testimony to Bolivia’s tragic history of exploitation, repression, colonialism, and patriarchalism, but also to the power of ordinary people to demand and effect change. Born in 1937 in Potosí, then the largest tin-producing region of Bolivia, she was the daughter and wife of a miner. Losing her mother at age 10, she raised five younger sisters and then seven surviving children of her own under conditions of extreme deprivation and poverty.

In the 1960s, Domitila became an outspoken leader of the Union of Miners Wives, organizing mining families for improved conditions and services and struggling against the repressive CIA-backed Barrientos regime. She survived the brutal 1967 San Juan massacre, where soldiers opened fire on striking miners and their wives and children, in part to head off a rumored alliance with Che’s guerrillas fighting in the Santa Cruz mountains. In the ensuing repression, she was jailed and tortured, suffering a stillbirth and internal injuries which caused chronic health problems throughout her life.

In 1978, the hunger strike launched by Domitila and four other miners’ wives against the Bánzer government (another US-backed dictatorship) captured the spirit of an entire nation. The strikers demanded freedom for imprisoned mineworkers, amnesty for exiled union leaders, demilitarization of the mines, and general elections. Thousands of Bolivians joined the strike and, on the 23rd day, the government conceded to the protesters’ demands.

Her 1978 book, Let Me Speak! Testimony of Domitila, a Woman of the Bolivian Mines, which inaugurated a rich tradition of testimonial writing, still stands prominently on my bookshelf.

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