Lechín Oquendo, Juan (1914–2001)

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Lechín Oquendo, Juan (1914–2001)

Juan Lechín Oquendo (b. 19 May 1914; d. 27 August 2001), Bolivian labor leader. Born in the small mining town of Corocoro to an Arab father and a mestizo mother, Lechín studied at the American Institute in La Paz. He was a founding member of Bolivia's Federation of Miners (Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia—FSTMB) and for over forty years (1944–1986) served as its permanent secretary. In 1952, Lechín joined the revolution of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) that nationalized the mining industry, declared universal suffrage, and carried out an extensive land reform program, playing a key role in the formation of the new regime. As minister of labor, Lechín was instrumental in the establishment of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), an umbrella organization in which he presided as secretary general until the mid-1980s. He was also instrumental in securing worker cogovernment and comanagement in Comibol (the Mining Corporation of Bolivia).

In 1960, Lechín was elected vice president of Bolivia on the MNR ticket headed by Víctor Paz Estenssoro. This relationship, however, was shortlived as Lechín resigned from the MNR to form his own Revolutionary Party of the Nationalist Left (Partido Revolucionario de Izquierda Nacionalista—PRIN) and then conspired with the military to topple Paz Estenssoro in 1964.

Lechín's support for the military coup did not prevent his joining the MNR leadership in exile while the new military government cracked down on labor. Ironically, between 1982 and 1985 Lechín was largely responsible for the erosion of labor's power. In an attempt to replay the 1950s, he demanded and obtained worker comanagement in Comibol; significantly, he rejected worker cogovernment. At the same time, however, Lechín launched numerous general strikes that crippled the government's attempts to stabilize the economy.

A year after the launching by the MNR of Bolivia's New Economic Policy in 1985, Lechín suffered a humiliating defeat when the miners he had served since 1944 refused to reelect him permanent secretary of the FSTMB. Earlier he had lost his position as secretary general of the COB. From 1986 until his death in 2001, Lechín was a marginal player in labor and in Bolivian politics.

See alsoBolivia, Organizations: Bolivian Workers Central (COB); Bolivia, Political Parties: Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR).


Lupe Cajías, Historia de una leyenda: Vida y palabra de Juan Lechín Oquendo (1988).

James M. Malloy and Eduardo Gamarra, Revolution and Reaction: Bolivia, 1964–1985 (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Calla, Ricardo. La derrota de Lechín. La Paz: Ediciones del Tigre de Papel, 1986.

                                    Eduardo A. Gamarra