Country Listing

Bolivia Table of Contents


Military Intervention in Politics, 1970-85

Until 1970 reformist factions in the military had remained small and had gained significant influence only during the Barrientos administration. By 1970 the military's reformist faction, the Generational Group, had about 100 members, most of them young officers. Historian Maria Luise Wagner postulates that the rise of Juan José Torres González to the presidency (1970-71) marked the culmination of a reformist trend in the FF.AA. that had begun in 1936. The trend, however, reemerged in late 1978 when another reformist, David Padilla Arancibia (1978-79), who was favored by junior officers, took power (see Revolutionary Nationalism: Ovando and Torres , ch. 1).

According to Klein, under General Hugo Banzer Suárez (1971-78) "the role of the military was seen as one of protection of the upper classes and their middle-class allies, within nondemocratic regimes." Thus, military intervention was regarded as "a long-term alternative to open politics." Although military cooperation with the United States grew considerably and the military budget increased under Banzer's rule, the United States suspended military aid to Bolivia in late 1977 because of the regime's authoritarianism.

During the García Meza regime (1980-81), so many top officers were alleged to be involved in corruption and drug trafficking that both foreign and Bolivian officials called it "the cocaine government." As de facto president, García Meza angered many officers by promoting a number of undistinguished colleagues-- whose only merit appeared to be a record of loyalty to him--to top army positions. García Meza resigned and left the country in September 1981, and the military finally stepped aside in October 1982 to allow the National Congress (hereafter, Congress) to reconvene and Siles Zuazo to begin serving out his truncated second term as president (October 1982 to August 1985).

Three coup attempts against Siles Zuazo by dissident officers in June and December 1984 and January 1985 were thwarted because the military, increasingly commanded by younger, more professional officers, remained loyal to the government. The military also honored the constitutional transfer of power to Paz Estenssoro in August 1985 for a four-year term in office (see Political Forces and Interest Groups , ch. 4).

Data as of December 1989