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Catavi Massacre

Catavi Massacre

Catavi Massacre, slaying of Bolivian workers during a miners' strike in 1942. In September 1942, the miners' union in the Catavi tin ore concentration plant presented the Patiño Company with demands for wage increases ranging from 20 percent to 70 percent. The company refused even to negotiate with the union, and union negotiators failed to obtain the support of the government of General Enrique Peñaranda. When the union announced a strike for 14 December, the government declared a state of siege in the tin-mining departments, and troops moved into Catavi. When union leaders were arrested on 13 December, the workers mobilized to demand their release, and the police fired on the crowd, killing and wounding several.

The strike continued. On 21 December, workers demonstrating in front of company offices in Catavi were fired on by soldiers, who killed or wounded 35 people. The workers then mobilized some 8,000 people, who descended on the company headquarters in Catavi. Soldiers shot into the crowd and for the next two days roamed through workers' living quarters, beating up and killing miners and members of their families. The government admitted that 19 people were killed—including 3 women—but other sources claimed the deaths were as high as 400.

This incident shocked the country. The Catavi union's secretary general got to La Paz and informed Víctor Paz Estenssoro, leader of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) of what had occurred. MNR deputies then intensively interrogated government ministers, establishing a bond between the MNR and the miners that lasted several decades.

The Catavi massacre provoked wide international protest. The U.S. State Department and the Pan-American Union expressed concern, and the AFL and the CIO sent to Bolivia a joint delegation, roundly denouncing the Peñaranda government.

The Catavi massacre was undoubtedly a major factor undermining the Peñaranda regime, which was overthrown a year later by a coalition of young military men and the MNR.

See alsoMining: Modern .


Augusto Céspedes, El presidente colgado (1966).

Guillermo Lora, A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Ibáñez Rojo, Enrique. La política desde el socavón: El movimiento obrero en la historia de Bolivia, 1940–1970. Serie Con-textos de ciencias sociales, 5. Madrid: Entinema, 1999.

                                     Robert J. Alexander

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