Magazine article New Internationalist

Over My Dead Body

Magazine article New Internationalist

Over My Dead Body

Article excerpt

On my way home, my bus slows to a standstill. We hear dynamite exploding up ahead: we're stuck behind a march against president Evo Morales standing for re-election in 2019.

The president's repeated attempts to stay in power through legal gymnastics have been a subject of tension for some time. In February 2016, the nation held a referendum on whether to change constitutional term limits to allow the president to stand again. Morales lost amid an influencepeddling scandal involving an exgirlfriend - but that has not stopped him seeking to stand again, regardless.

Nancy, the mother of a friend, is worried about the implications for democracy in Bolivia - and that hurts all the more because of how hard she fought for it.

We are talking in the popular city-centre bar her family runs, before doors open. Her story serves as a reminder that when a country has a recent history of dictatorship, the common consciousness is steeped in memories invisible to the naked eye.

Nancy's family were no strangers to political struggle. Her father, a member of the MNR leftwing political party, devoted a large part of his life to building peasant syndicates in and around the remote town of Independencia. That made him a target in the early years of the Banzer dictatorship. She remembers when the government's Forces of Order came to town looking for him. All the leaders of the surrounding communities were in the town hall that day, and when the military men demanded that her father present himself, they jammed their working tools into the dust to form a fence around him, saying in Quechua: 'You'll have to get through us first.' Her mother came out and said: 'Over my dead body.'

Nancy continued the family tradition for activism, joining the fight against the dictatorship at Cochabamba's San Simon University. In late 1977, workingclass leader Domitila Barrios de Chúngara started a hunger strike in protest at the dictatorship and, in 1978, Nancy and other student activists joined in. The hunger strikers were in the community hall attached to the San Pedro church, protected by a group keeping vigil for government forces. Friends brought them tea, water, medicines and telegrams of support, but no solid food was allowed to enter. …

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