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Let Me Speak! Testimony of Domitila, A Woman of the Bolivian Mines, New Edition


A time-worn, classic recounting of a unionists’ struggle against exploitation and dictatorship—from within the mines of Bolivia

Let Me Speak! is the story of a valiant fighter for indigenous and workers’ rights in the mines of Bolivia. First published in English in 1978, Monthly Review Press is now reprinting Let Me Speak! in this new edition, 45 years later.

Written with the assistance of Brazilian sociologist and popular educator Moema Viezzer, this is a lasting classic of the testimonial genre, or the Latin American “testimonio” of one individual in the service of her community and of justice at large. And this testimonial structure impacts the way Chungara and Viezzer choose to share Chungara’s story.

At one point Chungara is jailed and tortured, but escapes. The army, in collusion with her husband’s employers, drive her, terrified children in tow, from their home – but she makes herself a new home. At other points she is a witness to bloody massacres of miners, and brutal government repression of strikes and labor meetings, but she keeps speaking up, as a death warrant hangs over her head.

Indefatigable in her conviction and sense of dignity, Chungara first raises her voice alongside 70 other women in the Housewives Committees, and in spite of every effort on the part of the military to intimidate her into submission and silence, her testimonies eventually reach the world stage, echoing in the halls of the U.N. And at that point the mining company endeavors to bribe her out of dire poverty – but, in an act of integrity that is increasingly rare in the times we live in, she balks in the face of their enticements.

What makes this story especially compelling, and lasting, is not that it catalogues the horrors endured by one woman or documents the horrible conditions of life in the Bolivian mining camps at large.  This document of one woman’s indomitable pursuit of justice, her refusal to submit to harassment, intimidation, and even torture and the threat of death, offers a document of courage that can inspire generations to come.

As such, more than just a personal account, it also offers important contextualization of the struggles of her time, such as, for example, a sense of the grip of the ideology that underpinned the potency of the mining sector in Bolivia at that time, analysis of US imperialism in its crackdown on communism and leftists in general, and a vision for praxis going forward.

The new edition of Let Me Speak! includes never-before-translated testimonies, resulting in a fuller picture of both Chungara’s worldview, and the time and place in which she arose, the good, the bad and the ugly — which scholars of Latin American history, women’s history, and oral history/the testimonial genre, will find of interest. This includes a discussion of her role in bringing down the Hugo Banzer dictatorship, and her work as an internationalist during the period of the García Meza dictatorship, from her position of exile in Sweden.

Her account is enduring in its historical significance and continues to be cited in numerous journal articles in every field imaginable, from Sociology, History and Anthropology survey classes, to Latin American studies, Labor studies, Women’s studies. But apart from all that, it is a very compelling and moving read, that feels as vital as it did when first published, even as it gives us a window on a truly remarkable movement of indigenous workers who so deeply believed in joint struggle that they supported each other in resisting corruption.


What people have said about Let Me Speak!

The author is the courageous wife of a Bolivian tin miner. Social and economic deprivation drove her to pro-Marxist political action as a leader of a Housewives’ Committee, dedicated to improving miners’ and peasants’ conditions. This is a vivid account of her activities and brutal imprisonment, accompanied by her observations on the clergy, military, and upper-class abandonment of Bolivia’s repressed poor . . . This is a remarkably articulate report with astute political commentary . . . an important social document from a usually silent group.

Library Journal

Originally published in Spanish, the book had its beginning at the International Women’s Year Tribunal in Mexico City in 1975, which Domitila attended as the Housewives’ Committee of Siglo XX, the largest and most militant mining centre in Bolivia . . . . While there she met Moema Viezzer, a Brazilian journalist and the co-author of the book. Moema Viezzer has done a brilliant job of compiling the texts of conversations, dialogues, meetings, and interviews Domitila had with workers, students, revolutionaries, and exiles in Mexico. The result is an important and moving oral history in which Domitila speaks to us in her own powerful words about herself, her country, and her people . . . Let Me Speak! is a deeply political book, full of insights into the struggle of the Bolivian people. At the same time, it is a rich and profound oral history, which like all the best oral histories, is the story of a people as much as it is the story of an individual. It should be read by all.

Two Thirds

A most lucid and moving account of a working class woman’s life . . . working women’s lives have been changed by reading this book.

The Guardian


Domitila Barrios de Chungara (1937-2013) is the daughter of a mine worker and lived most of her life in a tin mining camp in the Bolivian highlands. She was rendered motherless at the age of 10, and as a result Domitila was forced to leave primary school to care for her four younger sisters. Nonetheless, she graduated from the school of life and the Bolivian trade union movement, as an active participant in the “Housewives Committee” of the Siglo XX-Catavi tin mine trade union movement, from 1963 onward. In 1975 Domitila was invited to testify at the first United Nations Conference on Women, Development and Peace, and there, she met Moema Viezzer, who helped her publish her life story in the form of this book. After a 2-year exile in Sweden during Garcia Meza’s government, Domitila and her husband returned to Bolivia, but shortly thereafter, alongside 30,000 others, her husband was laid off from his mining job. Domitila was thence forced to move from her native land, to the city of Cochabamba, where she died in 2013. She lives on through Let Me Speak!, translated into 14 languages.

Moema Viezzer is a Brazilian sociologist and popular educator who has dedicated her life to women’s causes and environmental issues. Following a period of exile during the military dictatorship in Brazil, she returned to Brazil, where she established the Women’s Network on Education (Rede Mulher de Educação) before working at the local, national, and international level, mostly with the Latin American Council of Popular Education (CEAAL), the International Council of Adult Education (ICAE) the Latin American and Caribbean Network on Women’s Popular Education (REPEM), and the International Network of Women for Peace Around the World (PWAR), among others. From 2003 to2011, she was an environmental education consultant for the Cultivating Good Water program in the western region of Paraná, and for the Gender Equity Program of the Itaipu Binacional. Moema wrote eight books, from which the most well known internationally is Let Me Speak!, and in recent years, with her husband Marcelo Grondin, she wrote the book Abya Lalal: Genocide, Resistance, Survival of First Nations Peoples in the Americas. Viezzer continues to fight for the international recognition and application of the Declaration of the Rights of the Mother Earth– Pachamama, with an emphasis on the rights of water.

Publication Date: 05/01/2024

Edition: New in 2024!

Number of Pages: 352

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-68590-050-2

Cloth ISBN: 978-1-68590-051-9

eBook ISBN: 978-1-68590-052-6