Bolivien: Domitila Barrios de Chungara

I want to leave future generations the only valid inheritance: a free country and social justice.

— Domitila Barrios de Chungara

‘Let me speak’ is the name of her famous book. Moema Viezzer is the co-author. It has been the object of numerous translations and editions. In it, Domitila Chungara (born in 1937), a Bolivian indigenous, speaks. Daughter and wife of miners, she survived a massacre and the denunciation she made conducted her to imprisonment. She has been put in jail and tortured numerous times. She had seven children, but lost four of them because of this violence. Later, along with other women, she began a hunger strike that gathered support and brought down Hugo Bánzer, the Bolivian dictator.

“In the richest mines live the poorest people. When the urine reaches the ground it has already turned to ice. Only people with the capacity to work have the right to housing and food. If a worker is killed or incapacitated as a result of an accident, his family will be left homeless.” The woman who tells us these things is one of the indigenous people of Bolivia, Domitila Chungara. Both daughter and wife of miners, she lived in between tin and silver mining areas of the high plateau. She was General Secretary of the Syndicate of Housewives. She suffered repressions, but never lost “that hope we always have that one day things will change.” The miners organized themselves. The government of René Barrientos (1966-69) was afraid. They sent planes on the night of San Juan. “We were dancing and celebrating and the bullets being fired got mixed up with the fireworks of San Juan. The soldiers murdered men, women and children without pity.” Domitila was captured. She was pregnant. Because of the torture, her baby died. Time went on, and another dictator arose, Hugo Bánzer (1971-78). Then, the unbelievable happened: Domitila, along with four other women, went to the Capital and began a hunger strike. Soon, thousands joined them and the dictator fell. Injustices continued. Domitila went abroad and denounced the wrong doings from there. They forbade her from returning. With the help of a teacher, she wrote the book ‘Let me speak.’ In the 1980s, she lived, in exile, in Sweden. A sister of hers continued her fight in Bolivia. She was murdered. Domitila returned and created her Mobile School Project. With it, she went to remote villages. She talked about her hopes for a better world. “My people have given me my strength. They never give up.”

Mobile School Project