The desire to vindicate women active in the emancipatory struggles of Latin America motivated Swiss architect, journalist, and filmmaker René Lechleiter to produce the documentary Hojas Sueltas. The film, with a running time of 36 minutes, tells the stories of several Bolivian women who were persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured for opposing the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s. The final editing of the film was completed in 2016, supported by the Swiss Association of Friendship with Cuba and with the participation of Bolivian journalist Carlos Soria Galvarro (historical consultant), and Cubans Leandro González (camera) and Alberto del Rey (editing).
The documentary was screened for free at several venues in Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Cuba, as the foremost interest of its director is to spark discussion and reflection among younger generations. He hopes they can learn the lessons of the repressive Operation Condor, a dirty war supported by the U.S. that fuelled extensive torture, assassinations, and the disappearance not only of prominent leaders, but also against hundreds of lesser-known activists, militants, and those opposing dictatorships across South America in the 1970s and 80s.
The protagonist of the documentary, Anita Urquieta, wrote her anonymous memoirs on several sheets of paper, together with the stories of other women (Geraldine Coronado and Josefina Farhat), who collaborated with their husbands and relatives in national liberation movements and even offered their homes to hold meetings or serve as refuges for persecuted militants.
Speaking to Granma International at the presentation of the film in Havana, René Lechleiter explained that among the historical literature there is a glaring omission regarding the participation of women, with a marked focus on the role of male leaders.
He added: “The experiences of women are very painful and hard. They are afraid to talk about their experiences, because they were traumatic. There are many children who are unaware of the pain suffered by their mothers during the period of military dictatorship. In many cases, fathers left to join the clandestine struggle or the guerrilla forces. The families were left in the hands of women, who had to maintain the home and care for the children. These accounts are not included in world history.”
As a member of the Communist Party of Switzerland, René Lechleiter met Bolivians, Chileans, Paraguayans, and other Latin American political exiles who came to Europe to save their lives. With them, the filmmaker began researching the imprint left by the guerrilla forces led by Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia, and the fight against the right wing that emerged to defeat emancipatory movements.
On hearing the harrowing testimonies of the survivors, he decided to produce a documentary in order to disseminate their stories and educate new generations.
René Lechleiter has links with several Cuban journalists and has maintained a strong working relationship with Granma since the 1990s.
He is currently undertaking a collaborative project to digitize the paper’s archives, in order to preserve this heritage for future generations. He is also planning an exhibition of never before seen images of key moments of the Cuban Revolution.