Bolivia 30s to 60s – hobotorium – Jan 12

Bolivia has historically been a country where the indigenous population has been oppressed and forced into terrible living and working conditions in either latifundios which are essentially plantations, or the tin mines of the uplands of Bolivia. The elite landowning and mine owning families had strong connections with the church, military, and legal system. This allowed them to essentially have total control over the social order of Bolivia.
In 1932 the Bolivian military was itching for a fight and the elites went along with it, attacking a stretch of swampland called the Chaco in Paraguay. This was the name sake of the war, the Chaco War. Those who did the fighting however were the indigenous population, who were uprooted from their land and forced to fight for the rumor of oil in a losing battle they could not comprehend. In 1935 they returned losers in their battle against Paraguay to no jobs. This was in the middle of the Great Depression and the tin mines just did not have enough demand from the industrial world to stay open. Society all over felt the ripples of this with the elites blaming the military, who was an easy target to blame as the poor performance in the war was mostly their fault. The officer corp of the military then shifted the blame off of them and onto Standard Oil for starting the war along with foreign bankers.
With Boliva in the midst of a crisis and a wounded national pride, radical groups on both sides appeared. On the left, the Stalinists and Trotskyists formed the PIR and POR respectively. With the urban working class only beginning to emerge, membership was low but the Stalinist PIR had a strong draw to students.
On the right, the Falange Socialista Boliviana or FSV and he Movimiento Nacional Revolucionaria or MNR were formed. The FSB appealed to middle and upper class students who were Catholic and nationalist authoritarians. The MNR was founded by an economist named Victor Paz Estenssoro who really digged what Mussolini was doing as opposed to the Catholic church. Paz was also a veteran of the Chaco war and worked for a mining company after the war. As a result had a real sense of sympathy to the indigenous population and saw how bad it was for them. He supported a reformist named Lt. Col German Busch from 1937-1939, where after constant undermining by the oligarchs of Bolivia due to his pro labor stance, killed himself.
In 1941 the MNR was founded and had a strange group working together: labor, peasants, and the middle class nationalists. Along with that was Hernan Siles Suazo who was the son of a former president and Walter Guevara Ace, who were both Trots from the POR. The journalist side of the party however was anti-Semetic admirers of Nazi Germany and Paz himself really loved Italian fascism under Mussolini.
WW2 pushed the divisions further in Bolivia, most parties supported the Allies while Falange proudly shouted out support for the Axis, along with the MNR. Due to the British having economic leverage over Bolivia, they were kept on the side of the Allies, with the leader General Penaranda kicking Paz out his economic roles in the government due to the MNR’s pro axis views. The MNR was in a great position to organize labor unions for a strike in retaliation. Their only rival over the labor unions was the Stalinists in the PIR who didn’t want to hurt the Soviets by slowing down production for the allies. After Penaranda had troops kill striking workers in Catavi, the workers of Juan Lechin’s FSTMB shifted support to the MNR who vocally condemned the government. The MNR also had formed a secret cell within the militaries junior officers who were Chaco war veterans who hated their senior officers. Called Razon de Patria, or RADEPA, their leader was Major Gualberto Villarroel who shared pro fascist views with Paz.
On December 20th 1943, a day before the labor union massacre in Catavi a year earlier, RADEPA overthrew the Penaranda government. The MNR became the governments new base of support. The Communist PIR and Conservative Falange along with the US embassy all hated this new government though. Lechin’s FSTMB militant workers groups began strongly criticizing the fascist government. On the 21st of July in 1946 the opposition to the government peaked and the presidential palace was stormed. Villarroel was shot and his corpse was dragged through the streets. Paz Estenssoro fled to Argentina under Peron. The rest of the MNR went underground.
With the revolutionary military rule overthrown, conservative rule came back and purged the military of revolutionary elements. The PIR was scorned by their former allies and as a result formed a revolutionary coalition underground. They were reborn as the Bolivian Communist Party, and maintained control of the labor unions. The MNR maintained control over the miner unions. Both created secret workplace cells and agreed to coordinate efforts to overthrow the government in 1950. In 1951 the outgoing president called for a political ceasefire and legalized the MNR for elections. The MNR handidly won and the government declared the election null, and turned into a military dictatorship under General Hugo Ballivan. The military was a shadow of its formerly incapable self and as a result in 1952 when the insurrection spilled over they could not do anything to contain it. Miners swept the city of La Paz with labor workers on April 2 1952 and within three days secured a victory.
Paz Estenssoro, the leader of the MNR in exile returned quickly to form a new government. Hernan Siles would be VP, and Walter Guevara Arze the foreign affairs minister. Their main goals they proclaimed were universal suffrage including the indigenous, eliminating plantations through land reform, and nationalizing the three large tin mining companies, along with the dismantling of the military. All succeeded except the dismantling of the military – a big mistake. Paz attempted to cultivate good relationships with the US and emphasized a pro US stance in the Cold War, stabbing the BCP in the back. They also went after the Falange, who were counter revolutionaries to the core. Detention camps were set up in the remote jungle to hold political prisoners.
As a result of land reform, peasants began seizing big estates for themselves, and the MNR supported them by organizing local syndicates. Due to the strained logistics of ti all, there was little supervision and the syndicates essentially were autonomous local governments with their own militia and chief. The two leaders, Lechin and Paz had differing opinions on how to run the tin mines. Lechin was proworker, Paz was pro state. The compromise was a state run company with the workers as part of management. Neither could figure out the solution to the question of the military that worked for both until a compromise was reached. The senior officers were purged and their replacements would be MNR loyalists. They were then sent to advise the syndicate militias who would slowly be absorbed by the military. In 1956 Paz handed over the presidency to Herman Siles Suazo. Bolivia was now in the midst of a crisis due to inflation. Although the miners and syndicates didn’t feel it due to government intervention, everyone else did. Paz had signed a stabilization agreement with te IMF which Siles kept. By pegging the currency to the dollar, abolishing price controls, and freezing wages along with raising taxes. Lechin and the rest of the Left felt betrayed and threatened to mobilize against him, but Siles called on the peasant militias to defend the revolution nad it worked, however he had to grant the peasant syndicates even more autonomy. Gradually these peasant syndicates changed into little dictatorships and refused orders from the government, which had to put them down with federal troops. With the MNR being staunchly corporatist, Lechin decided to form a new party since he no longer agreed with the MRN. The new party was called PRIN.
Paz announced he was running for reelection, which cause Siles to be pretty angry at him and further split the MRN. In 1958 the Falange took over Santa Cruz and declared indepenence. Federal troops were sent in under Barrientos where he quickly seized the city and its support. Paz was reelected at great price, shattering the MRN. He ordered the political security forces to round up mining, labor and peasant leaders. The military saw what was up and thanks to a gentle nudge from the US fearing another Cuba, Barrientos decided to give Bolivia a new government. In November 1964 Paz was overthrown and a military dictatorship was formed.