Bolivia in the 1970’s

Population. – According to a 1971 estimate, the Bolivian population amounted to 5,062,000 residents, rising to 5,190,000 in 1972. The average coefficient of annual population increase, for the period 1963-1972, was 2.6%.

Economic conditions. – The economy of Bolivia, in general terms, still presents the typical picture and indicators of developing countries, that is, of a country traditionally importer of capital goods and exporter of raw materials, especially tin. Agriculture, although the territory offers good opportunities for crops, is not very developed also due to the unbalanced distribution of the population, 90% concentrated on the Andean highlands. Only a scant 3% of the land area is cultivated; potatoes (7 million q in 1972), maize (2.6 million q), rice (750,000 q) and wheat (700,000 q) predominate. Quinoa production continues to be of some importance(100,000 q in 1972). The breeding, which could be susceptible to a notable development due to the favorable environmental conditions, remains below the possibilities, with just over 2 million cattle, 7 million sheep and 1.5 million lamas and alpacas. For Bolivia geography, please check

The economic resources of Bolivia therefore continue to be mining ones, first of all tin (30,000 t in 1971), which is exported mainly in the form of concentrate (barilla). Silver, once the most mined mineral, is now obtained from other minerals as a by-product (212,000 kg in 1971). Lead, zinc and antimony follow in importance. Oil production increased (2,200,000 t in 1973), which is extracted not only from the first wells of Sanandita and Camiri, but also from the richer ones of Bermejo and Caranda. The industrial sector, on the other hand, is still limited to a few food, textile and tobacco companies, to satisfy local consumption.

Communications. – The railway connections with the Chilean ports of Arica and Antofagasta still constitute the backbone of Bolivian transport, especially the mining ones, while the poor road network extends for just over 25,000 km, of which however only 5,000 are passable all the way. ‘year.

Foreign trade. – In the five-year period 1968-1972, foreign trade recorded increasing balances; in 1971 out of 181 million dollars of exports (compared to 168 of imports), tin procured 84 million.

History. – Nationalization of the pond, agrarian reform and trade union organization, essential aspects of the revolution in Bolivia, did not bring the hoped-for benefits. The authoritarianism of the leaders and the immaturity of the masses, consisting mainly of Indian miners and peasants, did not allow the country to find a certain tranquility. President Paz Estenssoro (1960-1964), while attempting to reorganize the national economy, created a vacuum around him, arresting or exiling his political opponents, while the vice-president Juán Lechín, head of the miners, defended their interests to the bitter end trade unions. The clash between the two men of opposite tendencies, which gave rise to an ambiguous left government, was destined to the inevitable break, which took place at the end of 1963. Estenssoro, in search of support, reorganized the army and prepared to face the elections: induced Congress to amend the constitution, which banned the re-election of the president, enacted martial law, broke relations with Chile, gagged the opposition, flaunted the American support and easily won the elections (June 1964). The military, however, wanted their prize and the reckless and popular aviator, gen. René Barrientos. Meanwhile, the Bolivian economy plummeted: the high cost of tin, which was affected by high wages, and the drop in its price in the international market proved catastrophic for Bolivia, perpetually plagued by inflation. A few months after the re-election of Paz Estenssoro, following violent and bloody street demonstrations, the military seized power. The president took refuge in Peru and gen. Alfredo Ovando Candía (November 4, 1964), while gen. Barrientos. The president took refuge in Peru and gen. Alfredo Ovando Candía (November 4, 1964), while gen. Barrientos.

Power remained, in practice, in the hands of Barrientos, who set Ovando aside and got rid of the trade unionist Lechín, exiling him to Paraguay together with his collaborators (May 1965). But immediately accidents and clashes caused by miners led the military to restore gen. Ovando, who ruled together with Barrientos in a strange “co-presidency”, animated by vast and unspecified ambitions: in July 1965 a “second republic, freed from fear and misery” was proclaimed. In view of the future elections, Barrientos resigned by presenting his candidacy for the presidency of the republic. In the consultations of July 1966 he was elected by a large majority. But the economic conditions did not improve and the unease increased: miners and students went into turmoil, causing bloody repression; in the rugged mountains the guerrillas flared up, giving a hard time to the police forces specially trained in the USA. In one of these anti-guerrilla actions trovò death (October 8, 1967) Ernesto Guevara.

Barrientos, who refused to attend a meeting of American presidents in Punta del Este (April 1967) because Bolivian claims for access to the Pacific were not included among the topics, was killed in a plane crash on April 27, 1969. His successor, vice president Adolfo Siles, after a few months (26 September) he was ousted by gen. Ovando Candía, who, having nationalized the oil sector (the Bolivian Gulf extracted 77% of the product), was in turn deposed by General Rogelio Miranda, tied to the reactionary right. The constant changes at the top of power demonstrated the fragility of the political system; but the trend towards profound social changes was clearly outlined. With 57% of the population employed in agriculture and a class of miners capable of undermining any government, moreover in a phase of stagnant underdevelopment, the country was now pushed to seek revolutionary solutions. In this context, a new coup d’état took place (October 7, 1970) which brought to power the most radical exponent of the new military, gen. Juán José Torres, supported by farmers’ organizations, miners, aviation and students.

The new government seemed to have started along the same lines as the Peruvian one (nationalizations, incentives for land reform, co-management of enterprises), while relations with Eastern European countries were intensified without deteriorating those with the USA. In June 1971 a People’s Assembly was convened (defined by some as the “first Soviet of the Americas”) intended to “link the action of the armed forces to the oppressed social classes with the exclusion of the internationalized right and left”. But the Torres experiment did not have time to materialize. A bloody military coup promoted by the right, supported by the conservative party “Bolivian Socialist Falange” and by the MNR of Paz Estenssoro, brought col. Hugo Banzer Suárez, while the gen.

The difficult equilibrium of the country was still seriously undermined, while the military elements, although divided between various currents and approaches, remain the mediators of the political and social struggle. A year after assuming power, Banzer had to resort to the state of siege (November 23, 1972) to deal with internal unrest: revolts by miners and peasants, strikes, student protests, always caused by the unsustainable economic situation and the progressive devaluation of the currency. The government, in an effort to get out of the chaos, has intensified relations with neighboring countries controlled by the military, in particular with Brazil. An important agreement signed on May 22, 1974 provides for the supply by the Bolivian side of 7 million cubic meters of natural gas, through a 2000 km long pipeline, for a period of 20 years, in exchange for financial and technical aid for the construction of a petrochemical plant and a steel complex in Bolivia. Due to this agreement, Banzer, who is committed to meeting the demands of the two government parties, was accused by some young officers of supporting Brazil’s hegemonic policy.

Bolivia in the 1970's