Proclives a Violencia: Regulating Accidents and Criminalizing Disorder in the Bolivian Mines, 196469

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 12:00 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Elena McGrath, Carleton College
In Bolivia, miners’ unions have been famous for dramatic dynamite battles against the military state. I argue, however, that the transition from revolutionary nationalist government to military dictatorship after 1964 in these communities can be best measured not in extreme moments of military confrontation, but in the increasing presence of the state as a regulatory apparatus in the intimate details of community life. Using court cases from the Corocoro mining district, my paper will show how the military government of René Barrientos (1964-1969) sought to “restore” the excesses of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement by imposing order on an unruly countryside, changing the allocation of blame from structural causes to personal error. In the 1960s, the regional police force began to regulate traffic accidents, suicides, and mining accidents for the first time. My argument emphasizes the targeted nature of state bureaucratic expansion in the 1960s, which created new kinds of crimes against the public order in the same communities that had been the loci of reform and uplift during the revolutionary years of the 1950s. In a region without massacres and political disappearances, one of the most extreme effects of militarization and dictatorship was individualization of the violence of everyday life. The state attempted to change the way miners and their neighbors understood causality and blame during accidents and everyday moments of interpersonal upheaval. My paper also shows how this process was only successful insomuch as it responded to reciprocal understandings of reward and sacrifice on the part of miners and their families. By emphasizing cases of “productive misunderstandings” between the state and local actors, I show how women, rural community members, and miners themselves attempted to use these same regulatory structures to enforce their own visions of revolutionary legitimacy and government obligation during the 1960s.
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