Hugo Banzer
Hugo Banzer Suárez was a politician, military general, dictator and President
President of Bolivia
The President of Bolivia is head of state and head of government of Bolivia. According to the current Constitution, the president is elected by popular vote to a five year term, renewable once...

 of Bolivia
Bolivia officially known as Plurinational State of Bolivia , is a landlocked country in central South America. It is the poorest country in South America...

. He held the Bolivian presidency twice: from August 22, 1971 to July 21, 1978, as a dictator; and then again from August 6, 1997 to August 7, 2001, as constitutional President.

Military and ideological formation

Banzer was native to the rural lowlands of the Santa Cruz Department
Santa Cruz Department
Santa Cruz, with an area of 370,621 km², is the largest of the nine constituent departments of Bolivia. In the 2001 census, it reported a population of 2,029,471. The capital is the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The state is one of the wealthiest states in Bolivia with huge reserves of...

. He attended military schools in Bolivia
Bolivia officially known as Plurinational State of Bolivia , is a landlocked country in central South America. It is the poorest country in South America...

, Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

, Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, including the Armored Cavalry School at Fort Hood, Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

. He took a Motor Officer Course at the School of the Americas. He was a descendant of German immigrant Georg Banzer Schewetering.

Banzer was promoted to colonel in 1961, and appointed three years later to head the Ministry of Education and Culture in the government of General René Barrientos
René Barrientos
René Barrientos Ortuño was a Bolivian politician who served as his country's Vice President in 1964 and as its President from 1964 to 1969....

, a personal friend. Banzer became increasingly involved in politics, siding with the right wing of the Bolivian Army
Bolivian Army
The Bolivian Army or Ejército Boliviano is the land forces component of the Military of Bolivia, the Bolivian Army has around 31,500 men.- Combat units directly under the Army general command :...

. He was also appointed director of the Military Academy and the Coronel Gualberto Villarroel
Gualberto Villarroel
Gualberto Villarroel López was the head of state of Bolivia from December 20, 1943 to July 21, 1946. A reformist, he is nonetheless remembered for his alleged fascist sympathies, and is sometimes compared with Argentina's Juan Domingo Perón...

 Military School.

As plotter, 1970-1971

In 1970, President Juan Jose Torres
Juan José Torres
Juan José Torres González was a Bolivian socialist politician and military leader. He served as President of Bolivia from October 7, 1970 to August 21, 1971. He was popularly known as "J.J."...

 was leading the country in a leftist direction, arousing the ire and mistrust of conservative anti-communist circles in Bolivia and, crucially, in the Nixon administration. He had called an Asamblea del Pueblo, or People's Assembly, in which representatives of specific "proletarian" sectors of society were represented (miners, unionized teachers, students, peasants). The Assembly was imbued with all the powers of a working parliament, even though the right-wing opponents of the regime tended to call it a gathering of virtual soviets
Soviet (council)
Soviet was a name used for several Russian political organizations. Examples include the Czar's Council of Ministers, which was called the “Soviet of Ministers”; a workers' local council in late Imperial Russia; and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union....

. Torres also allowed labor leader, Juan Lechín, to resume his post as head of the Central Obrera Boliviana/Bolivian Workers' Union (COB). These measures, coupled with Ovando's earlier nationalization
Nationalisation, also spelled nationalization, is the process of taking an industry or assets into government ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization usually refers to private assets, but may also mean assets owned by lower levels of government, such as municipalities, being...

 of Gulf Oil
Gulf Oil
Gulf Oil was a major global oil company from the 1900s to the 1980s. The eighth-largest American manufacturing company in 1941 and the ninth-largest in 1979, Gulf Oil was one of the so-called Seven Sisters oil companies...

 properties, angered his opponents even more, chief among whom was Banzer and his US supporters. In early 1971, a faction of the Bolivian military attempted to unseat the new president but failed, whereupon Banzer fled to Argentina, but did not give up his ambitions to the presidency.

Dictatorship, 1971-1978

On August 18, 1971, General Banzer, at long last, masterminded a successful military uprising that erupted in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where he had many supporters. Eventually, the plotters gained control over the La Paz garrisons, although not without considerable bloodshed. The combined levels of United States and Brazilian involvement for the coup d'état have been debated but it is apparent that significant clandestine financial & advisory assistance existed at a critical level within the Nixon administration for Banzer. With such backing secured, General Banzer emerged as the strong man of the new regime, and, on August 22, was given full power as president. Conversely, President Juan Jose Torres was forced to take refuge in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he was kidnapped
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

 and assassinated by right-wing death squads associated with the Videla government and with the acquiescence of Hugo Banzer. His murder was part of Operation Condor
Operation Condor
Operation Condor , was a campaign of political repression involving assassination and intelligence operations officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone of South America...

. Interestingly, he received the political support of the center-right Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) of former president Víctor Paz Estenssoro
Víctor Paz Estenssoro
Ángel Víctor Paz Estenssoro was a politician and president of Bolivia. He ran for president 8 times , winning in 1951, 1960, 1964, and 1985....

 and the conservative Falange Socialista Boliviana of Mario Gutiérrez, considered to be the two largest parties in the country. For the next seven years, and with the rank of Army General, Banzer ruled Bolivia as dictator.

Frustrated by the political divisions and protests that characterized the Torres and Ovando years, and, traditionally an enemy of dissent and freedom of speech, Banzer banned all the left-leaning parties, suspended the powerful Central Obrera Boliviana, and closed the nation's universities. "Order" was now the paramount aim, and no means were spared to restore authority and stifle dissent. Buoyed by the initial legitimacy provided by Paz and Gutierrez's support, the dictator ruled with a measure of civilian support until 1974, when the main parties realized he did not intend to hold elections and was instead using them to perpetuate himself in power. At that point, Banzer dispensed with all pretenses and banned all political activity, exiled all major leaders (Paz Estenssoro included), and proceeded to rule henceforth solely with military support.

Human rights groups claim that during Banzer's 1971-78 tenure (known as the Banzerato) several thousand Bolivians sought asylum in foreign countries, 3,000 political opponents were arrested, 200 were killed, and many more were tortured. In the basement of the Ministry of the Interior or "the horror chambers" around 2,000 political prisoners were held and tortured during the 1971-1978 military rule. Many others simply disappeared Among the victims of the regime are Colonel Andrés Selich, Banzer's first Minister of the Interior and co-conspirator in the August 1971 coup. Selich was accused of plotting to overthrow Banzer and died of blows sustained while in custody. Two other generals with sufficient stature to potentially eclipse the dictator were murdered under suspicious circumstances while in exile: General Joanquin Zenteno Anaya and, more shockingly, former President Juan José Torres
Juan José Torres
Juan José Torres González was a Bolivian socialist politician and military leader. He served as President of Bolivia from October 7, 1970 to August 21, 1971. He was popularly known as "J.J."...

, both in 1976.

Much of the stability achieved by the Banzerato was sustained by the constant flow of easy credit from abroad, which was often used on mammoth "white elephant" projects of dubious usefulness but which nonetheless impressed certain sectors of the population. The loans would soon raise Bolivia's external debt to record levels, but proved useful in the manipulation of political patronage. In 1975, Banzer restored diplomatic relations with Chile, broken since 1962, with an eye toward obtaining an access to the Pacific Ocean, denied to Bolivia since the loss of its maritime coast in the 19th century War of the Pacific
War of the Pacific
The War of the Pacific took place in western South America from 1879 through 1883. Chile fought against Bolivia and Peru. Despite cooperation among the three nations in the war against Spain, disputes soon arose over the mineral-rich Peruvian provinces of Tarapaca, Tacna, and Arica, and the...

. The Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet
Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, more commonly known as Augusto Pinochet , was a Chilean army general and dictator who assumed power in a coup d'état on 11 September 1973...

, offered a narrow outlet just north of the port of Arica, on the border with Peru, on lands that had previously belonged to that country. According to the terms of the treaty that handed that territory to Chile, Peru had to agree to any proposal of transferring that land to a third party. Peru refused to accept the Pinochet proposal and instead created its own counter-proposal, which declared Arica and its waters an area of joint-sovereignty between the three nations. Chile refused this proposal and talks with Bolivia ended. Diplomatic relations were once again frozen in 1978.

Democratic opening of 1978 and toppling

Pressure from the Carter administration forced Banzer to institute a carefully regulated "democratic opening" in 1978. A restricted amnesty was declared, and the country prepared for democratic elections. Since the Bolivian constitution did not at the time allow the election of a sitting president, the general designated a surrogate, officially-supported candidate, General Juan Pereda
Juan Pereda
Juan Pereda Asbún is a former military general and de facto president of Bolivia . Although he ruled for only four months, his ascent to the presidency marked the beginning of the most unstable period in Bolivian history, with nine presidents in a little over 4 years , in comparison to only one in...

. It was assumed that Pereda would be elected with government "help" at the polls, rule for four years, and then allow Banzer to return as constitutional president once he had time to polish up his image and transition to civilian politics. Apparently, Banzer had second thoughts, for by election time the left-wing coalition of former president Hernán Siles
Hernán Siles Zuazo
Hernán Siles Zuazo was a politician from Bolivia. He served as his country's constitutionally elected president twice, from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1982 to 1985....

 (UDP) was far and away the most popular formula, and nothing could disguise it. Still, massive fraud was committed and Pereda was declared the winner - until protests paralyzed the country and independent organizations agreed that all exit polls indicated a result quite different from what was being purported. At this point, Banzer annulled the elections, denounced the electoral fraud, and disassociated himself from it altogether. He declared he would call elections again within a year or two.

He did not foresee the reaction of General Pereda, however, who felt used by Banzer to remain in power. A coup d'état ensued, many military officers having grown tired of the president's constant manipulation of the armed forces for his own political ends. After Banzer was forced to leave the Palacio Quemado
Palacio Quemado
The Palacio Quemado is a popular name to denote the Bolivian Palace of Government, located on Plaza Murillo in downtown La Paz. It is the building from which the Bolivian executive conducts its business.The building has had many incarnations...

 in July 1978, Pereda was sworn in as president, although not a constitutional one, since the fraud could not be denied. He did blame Banzer, however, and stated non-comitally that he would call new elections within a reasonable span of time. Pereda, in turn, was overthrown in November 1978 by democratically-oriented officers under General David Padilla
David Padilla
David Padilla Arancibia was a military general and former de facto president of Bolivia. He ruled his country from November 1978 to August 1979....

 who, embarrassed by the events of the last few months (and suspecting that Pereda did not intend to call new elections either), promptly set a firm date for a new vote.

As civilian political leader

Upon leaving office, Banzer formed the ADN
Nationalist Democratic Action
Nationalist Democratic Action is a right-wing political party in Bolivia led by Jorge Quiroga. ADN was founded on March 23, 1979 by the military dictator Hugo Banzer after he stepped down from power. It later expanded to include the Revolutionary Left Party and a faction of the Bolivian Socialist...

 party (Acción Democrática Nacionalista), a large organization that attracted most conservative groups under his leadership. Banzer ran for elections in 1979 and 1980, obtaining third place in both contests. The 1979 contest remained inconclusive because, no candidate having received the necessary 50% of the vote, Congress had to determine the president, and it could not agree on any one candidate; the 1980 election would have led to the possession of Hernán Siles
Hernán Siles Zuazo
Hernán Siles Zuazo was a politician from Bolivia. He served as his country's constitutionally elected president twice, from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1982 to 1985....

, was it not for the bloody coup of July 17, 1980, which installed a reactionary (and cocaine-tainted) dictatorship led by general Luis García Meza. With the military's reputation badly damaged by the excesses of the 1980-82 dictatorship, in October 1982 the results of the 1980 elections were upheld to save the country the expense of yet another vote. Siles was sworn in and the 1980 Congress reconvened.

Banzer opposed bitterly the UDP government of Hernán Siles
Hernán Siles Zuazo
Hernán Siles Zuazo was a politician from Bolivia. He served as his country's constitutionally elected president twice, from 1956 to 1960 and again from 1982 to 1985....

 (1982–85), but turned more conciliatory when Víctor Paz Estenssoro
Víctor Paz Estenssoro
Ángel Víctor Paz Estenssoro was a politician and president of Bolivia. He ran for president 8 times , winning in 1951, 1960, 1964, and 1985....

 was elected president (by congress, due to the virtual inattainability of the 50% necessary for direct election) in 1985. Indeed, Banzer's party claimed authorship of some of the most important neoliberal economic reforms instituted by Víctor Paz to curb galloping hyperinflation, repress the ever-troublesome labor unions, and reduce the size of the government. Banzer finished second in the 1989 elections, but supported in Congress the third-place finisher, the allegedly left-leaning Jaime Paz
Jaime Paz Zamora
Jaime Paz Zamora was President of Bolivia from August 6, 1989 to August 6, 1993. He also served as Vice-President between 1982 and 1984.-Foundation of the MIR and alliance with Siles Zuazo:...

, who became President with ADN help, in return for Paz's promise to support him in a future election. The former dictator again finished second in 1993, this time to the MNR's Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada y Sánchez de Bustamante , familiarly known as "Goni", is a Bolivian politician, businessman, and former President of Bolivia. A lifelong member of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario , he is credited for using "shock therapy", the economic theory championed by then...

. The MNRs plurality, in coalition with the small center-left Bolivia Libre party, made it possible to confirm the MNRs electoral victory. In the 1997 elections, however, Banzer finished first by a small plurality, and was able to take the presidency with the support of Paz and others in a broad rightist coalition.

As constitutional president (1997-2001)

Finally, in 1997, Banzer achieved his dream of becoming constitutionally-elected President of Bolivia, at the age of 71. Indeed, he was the first former dictator in Latin America's recent history to transition successfully to democratic politics and return to power by way of the ballot box. During his tenure, he launched, under the guidelines outlined by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, a program to fight drug-trafficking
Illegal drug trade
The illegal drug trade is a global black market, dedicated to cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of those substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs by drug prohibition laws.A UN report said the...

 in Bolivia, which called for the eradication of coca
Coca eradication
Coca eradication is a controversial strategy strongly promoted by the United States government starting in 1961 as part of its "War on Drugs" to eliminate the cultivation of coca, a plant whose leaves are not only traditionally used by indigenous cultures but also, in modern society, in the...

, a controversial strategy. He also had the usual trouble with the unions, but nonetheless did his best to rule in a conciliatory and non-arbitrary manner. In 2001, he was diagnosed with lung cancer
Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...

, and even though he had earned a five-year term (he had himself agitated to legally enlarge the presidential term) had to resign on August 7, 2001. He was succeeded by his Vice-President, Jorge Quiroga
Jorge Quiroga
Jorge Fernando "Tuto" Quiroga Ramírez was President of Bolivia from August 7, 2001 to August 6, 2002. He is of Spanish descent.-Background and early life:...


Hugo Banzer was the president during the Water Wars in 2000 which centered around the privatization of the water works of Bolivia's third largest city Cochabamba. Many protested the subsequent rate hike. Violence occurred when police and demonstrators clashed. Banzer then declared a "state of siege". When officials of the consortium who had bought the right to run the water works fled after being told by the authorities that their safety could not be guaranteed, the Banzer government declared that they had abandoned the project, declared the contract void, and settled with the demonstrators.

See also

  • List of presidents of Bolivia
  • History of Bolivia
    History of Bolivia
    This is the history of Bolivia. See also the history of Latin America and the history of the Americas.Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America...

  • Politics of Bolivia
    Politics of Bolivia
    The politics of Bolivia takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the president is head of state, head of government and head of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the...

  • Government of Hugo Banzer Suárez, 1971-1978
    Government of Hugo Banzer Suárez, 1971-1978
    General Hugo Banzer Suárez had taken the Presidency 21 August 1971, and formed his cabinet. 03.10.1972 – 14.02.1974 Agriculturemil – militaryind – independentFSB – Bolivian Socialist FalangeMNR – Revolutionary Nationalist Movement...

External links

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