Bolivia mining rights topic of Oct. 23 speech

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October 10, 2019

Elena McGrath

Elena McGrath

Elena McGrath will conclude the Latino/Latin American Studies Fall Series with her lecture “I Am Too Poor to Fear Death: Indigenous Miners and the Defense of Natural Resources in the Andes.”

Her lecture will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at room 204C, Gorecki Center, College of Saint Benedict. It is free and open to the public.

The theme of the series is “Social Movements in the Americas: Power, Rights and Resources.”

Bolivia has had a long history of mining; since 1545, its natural resources have been a spring of wealth. However, Bolivia has lost its own profits to first the Spanish and then multinational mining corporations. The foreign forces had seized the glittering opportunity to excavate this wealth, leaving the Indigenous communities with nothing.

Bolivians have tried to harness their resources many times in the past, but they have been historically unable to fend off foreign mining corporations. Mining is also a hazardous occupation, posing threats to the workers and the communities living near the mines.

In the 20th century, Indigenous communities and workers made many attempts to improve the tumultuous situation. In her lecture, McGrath will discuss how the Indigenous miners have stood up to international mining companies and the Bolivian state to protect themselves, their jobs and their families. She will also discuss what this can teach us about social movements today.

McGrath received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has also taught modern Latin American History courses. She has written several scholarly articles about Bolivia, from its politics to its hunger strikes to its revolutions.

She is currently working on a book called “Devil’s Bargains: Workers, Indians, and Citizens at the Limits of the Bolivian National Revolution, 1930-1989.” The book follows mining families, using their experiences and struggles to explore how nationalism and populism can motivate revolutionary change.  

McGrath is visiting assistant professor of history at Carleton College and has also taught at the University of Virginia and Oakhill Prison Humanities Partnership in Oregon. She is also a visiting fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies in London.

This lecture concludes the three-part Latino/Latin American Studies Fall Series.