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From the Mines to the Streets

A Bolivian Activist’s Life

By Benjamin Kohl and Linda C. Farthing, with Félix Muruchi

Publication Year: 2011

From the Mines to the Streets draws on the life of Félix Muruchi to depict the greater forces at play in Bolivia and elsewhere in South America during the last half of the twentieth century. It traces Félix from his birth in an indigenous family in 1946, just after the abolition of bonded labor, through the next sixty years of Bolivia’s turbulent history. As a teenager, Félix followed his father into the tin mines before serving a compulsory year in the military, during which he witnessed the 1964 coup d’état that plunged the country into eighteen years of military rule. He returned to work in the mines, where he quickly rose to become a union leader. The reward for his activism was imprisonment, torture, and exile. After he came home, he participated actively in the struggles against neoliberal governments, which led in 2006—the year of his sixtieth birthday—to the inauguration of Evo Morales as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. The authors weave Muruchi’s compelling recollections with contextual commentary that elucidates Bolivian history. The combination of an unforgettable life story and in-depth text boxes makes this a gripping, effective account, destined to become a classic sourcebook.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: The William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere

Cover Art

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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Acronyms

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pp. ix-xii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xx

Books by researchers and academics typically are the culmination of years of thinking about a specific problem. They often grow organically as an author works through a series of theoretical, conceptual...

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Introduction: Tiwanaku, January 21, 2006

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pp. xxi-xxi

I remember January 21, 2006, a day that brought a close to one phase of the political work to which I have dedicated a great deal of my life. This was the day that Evo Morales, a peasant, a coca-producer of Aymara...

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Introduction to Bolivia

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p. xxii

In the geographical heart of South America, landlocked and often isolated Bolivia has for centuries intrigued fortune-seekers, adventurers, and travelers alike. One of the most culturally, physically, and ecologically...

Part One. Growing Up in the Fields and the Mines

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Chapter 1. Rural Life

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pp. 3-26

On April 30, 1946, I was born the fourth of thirteen children to an indigenous mining family in Maraq'a, the community of my mother, Lucia Poma, located in the Karacha ayllu, in the department of Potosí. Normally my family lived in Wila Apacheta, my father's village, part...

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Chapter 2. Moving to the Mines

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pp. 27-41

After the 1952 revolution, previously employed mine workers were allowed to return to the jobs they had lost. As my siblings and I were growing up quickly, our parents worried about our education. But my father was reluctant to return to the mine because the work had been so miserable...

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Chapter 3. The Army

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pp. 42-54

In 1964 I turned eighteen, and all around me young men from the mining camp, including some of my neighbors and juk'u compañeros [buddies or mates], talked all the time about joining the army. We perceived the army as a rite of passage; we always knew who had gone, and if someone knew how...

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Part Two. The Mines

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pp. 55-59

After the 1952 revolution, the huge Catavi--Siglo XX mining complex located near Llallagua, some two hundred miles south of La Paz, quickly became COMIBOL's largest operation, just as it had been for Simón Patiño. The ratio of dependents to miners was very high--about...

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Chapter 4. Joining the State Company

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pp. 61-71

Once the new government gained control of the Valle Alto [Cochabamba's upper valley], my discharge papers arrived, and I headed home. I was happy to leave the barracks. Military service had...

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Chapter 5. Union Activist

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pp. 72-93

After the September Massacre, the regiment commander claimed absolute authority over the entire district and imposed a state of siege. We could not walk in groups even as small as two or three and needed special...

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Chapter 6. Bolivia under Banzer

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pp. 94-112

At the beginning of my second year in university, Bolivia again plunged into crisis. J. J. Torres, whom we had backed as president, faced growing threats of a coup. Colonel Hugo Banzer Suárez, holed up in the Santa Cruz barracks with considerable local support, was the protagonist. He united...

Part Three. From Exile to Exile

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Chapter 7. Exile in Chile: A "Guest" of Pinochet

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pp. 115-133

They stuck me in an isolation cell, but just a few minutes later an agent pushed open the door and told me politely, "We are letting you out to the bathroom and to visit other prisoners."...

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Chapter 8. Exile in Holland

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pp. 134-144

We landed at Frankfurt's enormous airport after a long, tiring flight. I had never seen anything so large and modern in my life and was tremendously impressed. A Dutch government representative was waiting for us at the...

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Chapter 9. Return Home

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pp. 145-155

I requested that the UNHCR authorize my trip home, and it agreed to pay my airfare. I arrived in La Paz on May 1, 1978, International Workers' Day. In Bolivia we celebrate every year with a huge march to...

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Chapter 10. García Meza Coup: Back to Holland

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pp. 156-174

In early 1980, Valeria, Emilse's and my first daughter, was born at the COMIBOL hospital in Catavi. In Holland I had learned about the importance of physical exercise during childbirth, so we walked to the...

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Part Four. Activist in El Alto

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pp. 175-180

El Alto--literally "the heights"--sprawls across the altiplano above Bolivia's capital city of La Paz. The twin cities have aptly been described as an indigenous urban center overlooking a colonial city. In 1950, El...

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Chapter 11. Life in El Alto

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pp. 181-193

Three months after the 1985 Presidential Decree 21060, the key element in the New Economic Policy (NEP), was signed, I arrived back in Bolivia. The law embodied a neoliberal structural adjustment program just like those, having economic globalization as their goal, beginning to...

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Chapter 12. Politics in El Alto

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pp. 194-210

As the neighborhood organizations promised a new opportunity for political activism in Bolivia's changed circumstances, I joined the one in Ciudad Satélite. In 1997, I ran for president and won almost 100 percent of the votes. According to the regulations, the ruling board of each neighborhood...

Appendix: Bibliographic Sources and Information on Bolivia

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pp. 211-212


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pp. 213-216


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pp. 217-222


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pp. 223-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780292734753
E-ISBN-10: 0292734751
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292723962
Print-ISBN-10: 0292723962

Page Count: 263
Illustrations: 8 b&w photos, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere
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OCLC Number: 855363518
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From the Mines to the Streets

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bolivia -- Social conditions -- 1982-.
  • Indigenous peoples -- Bolivia -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Muruchi Poma, Feliciano Félix, 1946-.
  • Bolivia -- Politics and government -- 1952-1982.
  • Political activists -- Bolivia -- Biography.
  • Labor leaders -- Bolivia -- Biography.
  • Miners -- Bolivia -- Biography.
  • Bolivia -- Politics and government -- 1982-2006.
  • Bolivia -- Social conditions -- 1952-1982.
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