Mineworkers' leader Juan Lechin has returned to Bolivia after seven years exile in Venezuela to resume his duties as secretary general of the Bolivian Workers Central Organisation, and as head of the Mineworkers Federation.
SCU Miners' leader Juan Lechin speaking to reporter in Spanish
General Banzer took power in coup d'etat in 1971 when the left-wing government of President Juan Jose Torres was overthrown. Senor Lechin fled Bolivia in the wake of this after joining the abortive armed struggle against the military government. The elections, if held, will be the first since General Banzer came to power. He had said he will remain in Bolivia after the elections to safeguard the process of national development.
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Background: Mineworkers' leader Juan Lechin has returned to Bolivia after seven years exile in Venezuela to resume his duties as secretary general of the Bolivian Workers Central Organisation, and as head of the Mineworkers Federation. The 62-year-old Labour leader, a former vice-president of the Nationalist Left Revolutionary Party, was permitted to return under the terms of the full amnesty announced recently by the military government of President Hugo Banzer in the run-up to the general election next July. At the same time, a three-year-old ban on trade union activities was lifted.
SYNOPSIS: Senor Lechin was asked how he saw the political future in Bolivia and if he believed there would be free elections.
Senor Lechin said it was difficult for Europeans to understand what political freedom and free elections mean in Bolivia. He said the system that exists there does not permit free expression of political ideas, but is merely an instrument through which the government controls the lives and destinies of the people and the nation. He said that the fact there was an official candidate and an officially recognised opposition in the coming elections pointed to this.
He said he wished to thank the miners and others who had undertaken the recent hunger strike to demand from the government greater liberty, and the general amnesty, the granting of which enabled him to return. The strike had not been aimed directly at achieving union freedoms because, in Bolivia, without overall political freedom, there could be no meaningful freedom for unions. The miners had demanded the withdrawal of troops from mines because their continued presence was an affront. Without the withdrawal of these troops, he said, there could be no union freedom in Bolivia, whatever the government said.
He said that through the actions of the strikers, it was hoped to force the Government's hand to achieve liberties and relaxation of controls at present in force. The struggle was a hard and continuing one and, so far, the Government has proved an obdurate opponent. It was only through continuing efforts of those mineworkers, teachers, students and priests who had been on hunger strike that smaller victories were won.
The nationwide hunger strike was called off in mid-January after General Banzer announced the amnesty, and the lifting of the ban on trade unions. But despite these measures, he also hinted the elections may be called off it there is continued agitation for political reform.