Bolivian film critic murdered

by Alfonso Gumucio Dagron

from Jump Cut, no. 26, December 1981, p. 68
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1981, 2005

On the night of March 22, 1980, in La Paz, Luiz Espinal, the most important film critic in Bolivia and the editor of the political weekly Aqui (Here), was kidnapped, tortured for hours, and finally killed. His body was abandoned outside the city, where a peasant found it the dawn of the following day.

Espinal was a most prolific film critic. And his critical activity was not limited to the pages of the weekly Aqui (which he wrote for after his dismissal from the daily Presencia). Rather it extended to radio and television and a complete series of film texts, among which are Film History, Great Directors, Film and Television, Psychology and Film, Sociology of Film, Critical Consciousness as It Confronts Film, etc.

Besides being a film critic. Espinal worked as a television scriptwriter and director, first in Spain in the sixties and later in Bolivia, where he directed the program In Flesh and Blood, in which he took up taboo themes such as prisons, political violence, prostitution, drugs, guerrilla warfare.

Luis Espinal's disappearance undermined the whole cinematic climate in Bolivia. He had been its principal force with his workshops, lectures, criticism, and books. Film criticism became reduced to a few names, and these disappeared from the pages of the press as it was censured months later with the military takeover. The Bolivian Association of Film Critics, which Espinal helped found in 1979, practically ceased to exist.

A year ago, 100,000 people accompanied Luis Espinal's corpse to the cemetery. It was the largest political demonstration ever seen in La Paz. In July, four months later, the assassins did away with the government, overthrowing the constitutional interim president, Lidia Gueiler. The intellectual and perhaps material force behind Espinal's kidnapping and assassination, Colonel Luis Arce Gomez, became minister of the interior under the military regime. The government, in the hands of the most retrograde sector of the Bolivian army, turned into an agent for a huge cocaine trade, a traffic which nets over $1,500,000,000 according to figures from the U.S. Congress.

Espinal was a free citizen who committed himself to the truth. Months before they assassinated him, he denounced the impending dictatorship each week in the pages of Aqui, citing by name those who were preparing the massacre. He did not know he would be its first victim, or maybe he did but that would not stop him from writing what he knew was the truth.

The night of March 22, 1980, as he was returning home or foot after having seen a film entitled MEN WITHOUT SOULS, a red jeep without license plates waited in the darkness to kidnap him. Not even the film he'd just come out of had more violence in it than did reality.