Bolivia 1952 Brief overview from WorldBook



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BOLIVIA 1952

Brief overview from WorldBook:

Bolivia had 10 presidents from 1936 to 1952, as one leader after the other seized control of the government. Six presidents were military officers backed by the army. Meanwhile, the tin miners formed unions and held strikes for better working conditions. They supported a political party, called the National Revolutionary Movement, that overthrew the military rulers in 1952. Víctor Paz Estenssoro, an economist and party leader, became president.

Under Paz, the Bolivian government took over the largest tin mines. The government also broke up large estates and gave the land to indigenous farmers. In 1956, another leader of the Revolutionary Movement, Hernán Siles Zuazo, was elected president. He served until 1960.

Gustafson, Bret. "Bolivia." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2014. Web.  23 Oct. 2014.


Internet Article about the revolution:

Bolivia has seen many, many coups d'etat (golpe de estado) the one of April 1952 was truly revolutionary. The events leading up to the revolt were probably typical but the outcome was quite distinctive.

Bolivia was ruled at that time by a military junta headed by General Hugo Ballivián. The junta came to power when the previous government refused to turn power over to the winner of the 1951 election, Victor Paz Estenssoro representing the Movimiento Nationalista Revolutionario (MNR).

Although Paz, the MNR candidate, won the election the President at the time, General Urriolagoitia, claimed that Paz had not received the 51 percent required for election and that The Bolivian Congress would have to choose the president. However Urriolagoita did not leave the matter to Congress; instead he chose a group of military officers to rule as a junta.

One member of the junta ruling the country was General Antonió Seleme Vargas, a career military officer, who was in charge of the police force of the city of La Paz, the de facto capital of Bolivia although the city of Sucre was the legal capital. He and his chief of police, Donato Millán, were noted for their denouncement of MNR and the police searches for subversives and subversive literature.

Despite these gestures of support for the junta, Seleme and Millán were secretly supporting the MNR. In the agreement with the MNR Seleme was to be made president until new elections could be held. But Seleme's secret support of the MNR was not kept secret enough and some members of the junta called for his dismissal.

On April 6, 1952 Seleme was dismissed from the junta and lost his legal control over the 2000 man La Paz police force. This police force was a key element in the coup d'etat so the timing of the revolt had to be immediate before someone else took effect control of the police force.

The MNR leader in charge of the revolt was Hernan Siles Zuazo, a son of a former Bolivian president. Seleme tried to persuade Siles Zuazo to bring into the revolt the Falange Socialista Boliviano (FSB), a fascist party modeled upon the Falangist Party of Franco's Spain. The negotiations were unsuccessful and only led to the junta being tipped off about the imminent coup. General Humberto Torres Ortiz left La Paz to assemble army units to protect the Junta's government.

On April 9th supporters of the revolution announced on the state-controlled radio station that the revolution was successful. The La Paz police force on Seleme and Millán's direction had taken control of the city but it was not clear that it could be held against the 8 thousand troops General Torres Ortiz was bringing to La Paz. Things looked particularly bleak for the revolutionaries when they got hold of the state arsenal and found the supply of weapons and ammunitions they were counting on for arms was not there.

Seleme and Millán assessed the situation and decided there was no hope of success and sought asylum in the Chilean embassy. But the MNR had deeper support than most Bolivian coups d'etats. Armed worker militias appeared and fought the army effectively. The Bolivian army was made up of young conscripts who had no real allegance to the government and they were persuaded to change sides. An army unit that had decided to change sides and join the revolution indicated this by putting their caps on backward. In some cases the young conscripts were persuaded by motherly, middle-aged women not to shoot their own people. In most cases these were the market women. Some of these merely walked up to the recruits and took their rifles.

In a few days of fighting the Bolivian army was wiped out either by military defeat or defection to the side of the revolutionaries. The army surrendered and Bolivia was suddenly in the hands of a radical political movement with popular political support and a legitimacy based upon having won the last election.

It is notable that the revolution was led by Juan Lechín, the leader of the federation of tin miners' unions, and Hernán Siles, the vice presidental candidate of the MNR in the 1951. Either one of these could have legitimately assumed power. They did not. Instead they summoned back from exile in Argentina, Victor Pas Estenssoro, the winner of the 1951 presidential election.

"The National Revolution of 1952 in Bolivia." The National Revolution of 1952 in Bolivia. SJSU, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. .



CountryStudies Article:

The six years preceding the 1952 Revolution are known as the sexenio. During this period, members of the Conservative Party tried to stem the growth of the left, but they ultimately failed because they could not halt the economic decline and control the growing social unrest. Enrique Hertzog Garaizabal (1947-49), who was elected president in 1947 after the interim rule of a provisional junta, formed a coalition cabinet that included not only the concordancia but also the PIR. He hoped to retain the backing of the Conservative Party forces by not increasing taxes, but he tried also to gain labor support, relying on the PIR to mobilize the workers.

The labor sector did not cooperate with the government, however, and the PIR became discredited because of its alliance with the conservative forces. In 1946 the workers endorsed the Thesis of Pulacayo, in which the miners called for permanent revolution and violent armed struggle for the working class. As the labor sector became more radical, the government resorted more and more to oppression, and confrontations increased. The dismissal of 7,000 miners and the brutal suppression of yet another uprising in Catavi in 1949 made any cooperation between the government and the workers impossible.

The MNR emerged as the dominant opposition group. Although most of its leaders, including Paz Estenssoro, were in exile in Argentina, the party continued to be represented in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. During the sexenio, the party, despite its predominantly middle-class background, repeatedly took the side of the workers and adopted their ideology. The MNR also came to support the defense of Indian rights, as violence in the countryside increased when the promises given at the National Indigenous Congress were not fulfilled.

The MNR's attempts to gain power during the sexenio were unsuccessful. Its 1949 coup attempt failed, although with the support of the workers and some military officers it succeeded in gaining control of most major cities except La Paz. The MNR's attempt to gain power by legal means in 1951 also failed. In the presidential election of May 1951, the MNR's Paz Estenssoro, who remained in exile in Argentina, ran for president and Siles Zuazo ran for vice president, both on a platform of nationalization and land reform. With the support of the POR and the newly formed Bolivian Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Bolivia -- PCB), the MNR won with a clear plurality. The outgoing president, however, persuaded the military to step in and prevent the MNR from taking power. Mamerto Urriolagoitia Harriague (1949-51), who had succeeded the ailing Hertzog in 1949, backed a military junta under General Hugo Ballivián Rojas (1951-52). Under Ballivián, the government made a last futile attempt to suppress the growing unrest throughout the country.

By 1952 the Bolivian economy had deteriorated even further. The governments of the sexenio had been reluctant to increase taxes for the upper class and to reduce social spending, resulting in high inflation. The tin industry had stagnated since the Great Depression, despite short revivals during World War II. Ore content had declined, and the richer veins were depleted, increasing tin production costs; at the same time, tin prices on the international market fell. A disagreement with the United States over tin prices halted exports temporarily and caused a decline in income that further hurt the economy. The agricultural sector lacked capital, and food imports had increased, reaching 19 percent of total imports in 1950. Land was unequally distributed--92 percent of the cultivable land was held by estates of 1,000 hectares or more.

The social unrest that resulted from this economic decline increased during the last weeks before the 1952 Revolution, when a hunger march through La Paz attracted most sectors of society. The military was severely demoralized, and the high command called unsuccessfully for unity in the armed forces; many officers assigned themselves abroad, charged each other with coup attempts, or deserted.

By the beginning of 1952, the MNR again tried to gain power by force, plotting with General Antonio Seleme, the junta member in control of internal administration and the National Police (Policía Nacional). On April 9, the MNR launched the rebellion in La Paz by seizing arsenals and distributing arms to civilians. Armed miners marched on La Paz and blocked troops on their way to reinforce the city. After three days of fighting, the desertion of Seleme, and the loss of 600 lives, the army completely surrendered; Paz Estenssoro assumed the presidency on April 16, 1952.

The "reluctant revolutionaries," as the leaders of the multiclass MNR were called by some, looked more to Mexico than to the Soviet Union for a model. But during the first year of Paz Estenssoro's presidency, the radical faction in the party, which had gained strength during the sexenio when the party embraced the workers and their ideology, forced the MNR leaders to act quickly. In July 1952, the government established universal suffrage, with neither literacy nor property requirements. In the first postrevolutionary elections in 1956, the population of eligible voters increased from approximately 200,000 to nearly 1 million voters. The government also moved quickly to control the armed forces, purging many officers associated with past Conservative Party regimes and drastically reducing the forces' size and budget. The government also closed the Military Academy (Colegio Militar) and required that officers take an oath to the MNR.

The government then began the process of nationalizing all mines of the three great tin companies. First, it made the export and sale of all minerals a state monopoly to be administered by the state-owned Mining Bank of Bolivia (Banco Minero de Bolivia -- Bamin). Then it set up the Mining Corporation of Bolivia (Corporación Minera de Bolivia -- Comibol) as a semiautonomous enterprise to run state-owned mines. On October 31, 1952, the government nationalized the three big tin companies, leaving the medium-sized mines untouched, and promising compensation. In this process, two-thirds of Bolivia's mining industry was turned over to Comibol.

A far-reaching agrarian reform was the final important step taken by the revolutionary government. In January 1953, the government established the Agrarian Reform Commission, using advisers from Mexico, and decreed the Agrarian Reform Law the following August. The law abolished forced labor and established a program of expropriation and distribution of the rural property of the traditional landlords to the Indian peasants. Only estates with low productivity were completely distributed. More productive small and medium-sized farms were allowed to keep part of their land and were encouraged to invest new capital to increase agricultural production. The Agrarian Reform Law also provided for compensation for landlords to be paid in the form of twenty-five-year government bonds. The amount of compensation was based on the value of the property declared for taxes.

During the first years of the revolution, miners wielded extraordinary influence within the government. In part, this influence was based on the miners' decisive role in the fighting of April 1952. In addition, however, armed militias of miners formed by the government to counterbalance the military had become a powerful force in their own right. Miners immediately organized the Bolivian Labor Federation (Central Obrera Boliviana--COB), which demanded radical change as well as participation in the government and benefits for its members. As a result, the government included three pro-COB ministers in the cabinet and accepted the demand for fuero sindical, the legally autonomous status that granted the COB semisovereign control over the workers of Bolivia. The MNR regime gave worker representatives veto power in all Comibol decisions and allowed for a cogovernment in mine administration. The government also established special stores for the miners, increased their salaries, and rehired fired workers.

The peasants also exerted a powerful influence. At first, the government was unable to control the occupation of land by the peasants. As a result, it could not enforce the provisions of the land reform decree to keep medium-sized productive estates intact. But the MNR eventually gained the support of the campesinos when the Ministry of Peasant Affairs was created and when peasants were organized into syndicates. Peasants were not only granted land but their militias also were given large supplies of arms. The peasants remained a powerful political force in Bolivia during all subsequent governments.

Although these major steps were never reversed, observers have regarded the revolution as unfinished because it lost momentum after the first years. The divisions within the MNR seriously weakened its attempt to incorporate the support of the Indian peasants, the workers, and the middle class for the government. In 1952 the MNR was a broad coalition of groups with different interests. Juan Oquendo Lechín led the left wing of the party and had the support of the labor sector. Siles Zuazo represented the right wing and had the backing of the middle class. Paz Estenssoro was initially the neutral leader. Because the majority of the MNR elite wanted a moderate course and the left wing demanded radical change, the polarization increased and led eventually to the destruction of the MNR in 1964.


"Bolivia - The Unfinished Revolution." Bolivia - The Unfinished Revolution. US Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. .


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