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Bolivian Revolution (1952)

Bolivia's defeat defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932-1935) marked a turning point for both Bolivia and the Bolivian people. This loss,coupled with a government perceived to be loyal only to the upper class, produced widespread dissatisfaction amongst the working class and farmers of Bolivia. A great loss of life and territory had discredited the traditional ruling classes, while service in the army produced stirrings of political awareness among the indigenous people. From the end of the Chaco War until the 1952 revolution, the emergence of contending ideologies and the demands of new groups dominated the Bolivian political landscape.

The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) emerged as a broadly based party in opposition to the status quo. Denied its victory in the 1951 presidential elections, the MNR lead the successful 1952 revolution against the government.

The 1952 revolution began when a hunger march through La Paz attracted most sectors of society. The Bolivian 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 (Polica 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 for their government. But during the first year of Paz Estenssoro's presidency, the radical faction in the party, which had gained strength 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.

Although the MNR, a broad coalition, had successfully waged and won the 1952 revolution, it was plagued by strife and infighting between its factions. This infighting weakened the MNR, and it eventually dissolved in 1964, which left Bolivia once again in chaos.



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