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The political career of Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz (1931–80) followed an unusual trajectory—from a privileged family background, he gradually developed a thoroughgoing critique of class domination and eventually took an uncompromising stand on behalf of socialism, democracy, and national self-determination. A son of the Cochabamba aristocracy who achieved international literary acclaim, he started out politically in the Christian Democratic Community (cdc) and became a member of parliament in 1966. He challenged General René Barrientos in a congressional impeachment case, known as a “trial of responsibilities,” for violating national sovereignty by allowing the cia to conduct spying in the country. The government rejected the case and confined him in the jungle region of Alto Madidi. In 1969, as minister of mines and petroleum in the government of General Alfredo Ovando, he headed the nationalization of Gulf Oil Company. In March 1971, he founded the Socialist Party, but three months later the coup of General Hugo Banzer Suárez forced him to leave the country in exile. In 1977, he returned clandestinely, and during the agitated period of transition toward democracy between 1978 and 1982, he ran in the successive elections of 1978, 1979, and 1980, drawing increasingly strong support.

On 30 August 1979, during the brief democratic government of Walter Guevara Arze, with Lidia Gueiler Tejada as head of Congress, Quiroga and four other members of parliament initiated a “trial of responsibilities” to impeach former President Banzer for crimes of state violence and economic malfeasance. He delivered an eloquent and impassioned speech that lasted thirteen hours, over three parliamentary sessions, which riveted the nation as it listened in by radio. Reproduced here are fragments from the beginning of the speech, in which he lays out his brief, as well as from the conclusion, which anticipated the price he would pay for challenging the armed forces.

On 17 July 1980, General Luis García Meza initiated the most brutal of all the Bolivian coups. Quiroga and the rest of the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy (conade) held an emergency meeting in the offces of the Bolivian Workers Central (cob). They were surrounded by paramilitary agents who arrived in ambulances and forced the civilians to come out lined up with their hands behind their heads. On the staircase of the building, a burst of gunfire hit Quiroga at point-blank range and struck two union leaders as well. He was immediately taken to military headquarters, but to this day, the armed forces have refused to reveal where his body came to rest.

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