The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics
Juan Lechín Oquendo (1914–2001) was the legendary and virtually lifetime leader of the Trade Union Federation of Bolivian Mineworkers from its founding in 1944 to its crisis in 1987. From 1952 onward, he was also the head of the Bolivian Workers Central (cob). Initially a member of the Trotskyist Bolivian Workers Party (por), he led the section of his party that allied with the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (mnr) at the time of the revolution in 1952, bolstering the left wing of this multifaceted nationalist party. In the early years of the revolution, he was the incarnation of the so-called co-government between the mnr and the cob. He was also a minister and vice president under Víctor Paz Estenssoro during the latter’s second term (1960–64). He was always known for his political flexibility and ability to maneuver strategically. This allowed him to remain a significant player under the most varied circumstances, despite periods of exile under the military dictatorships. He delivered a high-flown speech on the Illimani state radio station at two o’clock in the morning after the triumph of 9 April. The speech’s euphoric tone reflects the heady enthusiasm of the victors and their sense of the national and continental significance of their revolution. The following excerpt captures the prevailing nationalist and leftist discourse that pitted “the People” against the rosca, the small oligarchic elite and the politicians and public figures who had long catered to its interests.