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The mining leader Domitila Barrios de Chungara (1937–2012) produced her classic book Let Me Speak! in conversation with the Brazilian Moema Viezzer during a women’s rights event in Mexico in 1975. From its first edition, in 1977, it became widely influential and perhaps the earliest exemplar of the Latin American testimonio genre. No other female writer or politician from Bolivia has achieved such international acclaim. For Domitila, class identity, feminism, and political struggle always went hand in hand. In 1978–79, she participated in the historic hunger strike that led to the return of democracy.

In this extract, she describes the organizing efforts of the mining women and tells how they formed the Housewives Committee of Siglo XX, in 1961, despite substantial challenges. While the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (mnr) had nationalized the mines in alliance with the Federation of Mineworkers in 1952, a decade later the miners and their wives had come to see the government as an oppressive new boss. The mnr relied on different parastate and state forces to control the population: the female “shock-troops” from popular urban sectors known as barzolas—who took their name from María Barzola, the rebel leader massacred in Catavi in 1942—and the Political Control agency, a repressive body led by Claudio San Román. The women also had to overcome the paternalism and control of many of their own male comrades, in their homes and in the union leadership.

For her activism, Domitila was also persecuted. The second excerpt of Let Me Speak!, presented below, is a brief passage from the dramatic story of how—around the time of the Che Guevara guerrilla insurgency and the Massacre of San Juan in 1967—she was arrested during the late term of her pregnancy and lost her baby after being tortured. Yet in the dark and the silence of her cell, she found solidarity with another unknown detainee.

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