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Luis Espinal (1932–80) was a Jesuit priest and journalist of Spanish origin who after being censored resigned from the offcial Spanish television channel under the Franco dictatorship and gained a new lease on life in Bolivia in 1968. He immediately adopted Bolivian citizenship and gradually became involved in the social and political problems of his new country through radio, photography, film reviews, journalistic writing, and formal and informal teaching. Under the military dictatorship of General Hugo Banzer Suárez, he became the cofounder of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (apdh) and one of the most compelling voices in favor of democracy. His humanity, lucidity, and ethical public stance made him a beloved figure.

In 1977, responding to U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s new human-rights policy, Banzer called for elections, but there remained major restrictions for political prisoners and limitations on the ability to organize. In response, four working women from the mines and their fifteen children went on a hunger strike, which began, against all political odds, during the Christmas celebrations of 1977. With the intercession of Espinal and the Human Rights Assembly, Archbishop Jorge Manrique gave the women protection. They established a second picket in the Catholic newspaper Presencia with the participation of Domitila Barrios de Chungara, a leader of the Housewives Committee of Siglo XX, Espinal, and other members of the assembly, as well as other representatives of diverse social sectors. The rationale was that these strikers would take the place of the fifteen children. Another group was named to engage in negotiations with the government, and after the New Year, the number of pickets proliferated, ultimately forcing Banzer to step down. However, Espinal was not able to enjoy the final fruits of his labors—in March 1980, after the coup by General Luis García Meza, he was brutally assassinated by the most reactionary sector of the military. His account of the hunger strike has been called his “spiritual and political testament.”

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