EUSTAQUIO (Short story)

Alvaro Vásquez

They told me that there was a saint with my name. Maybe I should pray to that saint ... I don´t know if it would have helped.

They also told me that this saint was killed, because he refused to accept orders from the government, they put him inside a metal bull with his wife and children and burned them alive.

Maybe a curse came to me with my name? Should I also face the government and die for working with ore, such as the one that was used to make that bull?

Nobody has my name anymore; it's a strange name, an old-fashioned one ... like me. Nobody understands me anymore. My mates say that we just have to wait, that we should negotiate. The government says that there is nothing to do, that there is no money! But... Is it not my money? It's a contribution for your future, they've said, for your retirement, they've said.

I don´t know how to fight or how to take care of myself here. In the mine it is easier, you put on your guardatojo and that´s it, it protects you in the tojeo, that's why my helmet is named that way. If I blow up dynamite here, what would happen with those that have no guardatojo? It makes me want to blow them up with dynamite, to see if they understand what it is to spend your life down there,that after cutting your salary, now they say that there is no money.

They say that a guardatojo costs one hundred dollars and that´s why it´s the first thing robbed from the miners when they are drunk, and then sell it in the mining cooperatives. It seems worth spending a hundred dollars to take care of us and keep us working, but there is no money for us when we need to eat, they say.

One hundred dollars ... and it is so dirty.


It sounds like dynamite, but they´ve already told me that it is nothing, that people light firecrackers in the stadium. Today they play against the Chileans, they say. I thought it was dynamite, I was already cheering; others have thought the same as me, I said.

But it must be a sign.

My name is useless, my job is no longer useful, my struggle is no longer useful; nothing I do, nothing that I am seems to be useful anymore.

I even thought about selling my guardatojo. A hundred dollars, I was told. But it would be like selling my soul. My guardatojo is more than a helmet, it's a mark, and it’s my pride, that´s why we keep using it when we're in town. It is a way of shouting out what I do, how I live, why I live ... let it be also a way of shouting how I die, why I die.


[1] Guardatojo: Metallic helmet used by miners to protect themselves in indoor mine tasks

[2] Tojeo: Drilling work done in the tunnel mining, for dynamite placement. It is one of the most dangerous tasks

N del E: According to several Bolivian media reports, on March 30, 2004, miner Eustaquio Picachuri entered the Bolivian Congress building and threatened to detonate the dynamite he had in his backpack if he didn´t get the contributions he had made for 14 years back. His claim came from the fact that he was told that he could not withdraw (due to a change in the pension system).

That same day, in the city of La Paz a Bolivian soccer team played against a Chilean one.

After three tense hours of unsuccessful negotiation, the dynamite was detonated, causing several injured people, and the death of Picachuri and two policemen.

Some witnesses showed their surprise by the fact that Picachuri´s helmet looked clean and bright, so different from the rest of his attire.


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government / fight / cooperatives / dynamite / La Paz