Political Forces and Interest Groups

Political Forces and Interest Groups

Bolivian political parties do not perform the classic functions of aggregating and articulating the interests of social classes, regions, or individuals. Historically, political parties have been divorced from pressure groups such as labor, the private sector, and regional civic committees. Instead, parties have been vehicles through which politicians can lay a claim to state patronage. As in other Latin American nations, the dependent nature of the middle class, which does not own hard sources of wealth and therefore relies on the state for employment, accounts partially for this role.

Since the 1950s, the MNR has been the major party in Bolivia. Because the MNR was the party of the 1952 Revolution, every major contemporary party in Bolivia is rooted in one way or another in the original MNR. The rhetoric of revolutionary nationalism introduced by the MNR has dominated all political discourse since the 1950s. Owing to the fact that the MNR was a coalition of political forces with different agendas and aspirations, however, the subsequent splits in the party determined the course of Bolivian politics.

The major splits in the MNR occurred among Guevara Arze, Paz Estenssoro, Siles Zuazo, and Lechín, the principal founders of the party. Each led a faction of the party that sought to control the direction and outcome of the revolution. As MNR leaders tried to subvert each other, factional strife culminated in the overthrow of the MNR and the exile of the four titans of the revolution.

Although years of military rule did not erode the MNR's appeal, factional disputes within the party resulted in a proliferation of parties that surfaced in the late 1970s when the military opted for elections. Indeed, political party lines were very fluid; party boundaries were not the product of ideological distinctions and shifted at any moment.

In the late 1970s, Paz Estenssoro, Lechín, Siles Zuazo, and Guevara Arze reemerged as the principal political actors. Siles Zuazo's MNRI joined forces with the PCB and the MIR to finally gain control of the presidency in 1982. Paz Estenssoro orchestrated a congressional vote that catapulted him to power in 1985. Until 1986 Lechín remained at the helm of the COB. Guevara Arze served as interim president in 1979 and was the MNR's vice presidential candidate in 1989.

Founded in 1979 by Banzer, the ADN was the most important political party to have emerged in the 1980s. The ADN was significant in that it grouped the supporters of Banzer into a relatively modern party structure. Simultaneously, however, the ADN was a classic caudillo-based party, with Banzer sitting at the top as the undisputed leader.

The ADN's ideology of democratic nationalism was not significantly contrary to the revolutionary nationalism of the MNR; in fact, several of the principal ADN leaders were dissidents of the MNR. In large part, however, democratic nationalism was rooted in a nostalgia for the stability experienced under Banzer's dictatorship in the 1970s.

Since the 1979 elections, the ADN's share of the electorate has grown considerably. Especially in the urban areas, the party has attracted the upper sectors of the middle class. Its call for order, peace, and progress following the turmoil of the Siles Zuaro years resulted in its outpolling other parties in the 1985 election. Banzer claimed to have the backing of 500,000 Bolivians, a figure that would make the ADN the largest party in Bolivia.

The other significant political party to emerge after 1970 was the MIR. Founded in 1971 by a group of young Christian Democrats educated at Louvain College in Belgium, the MIR was linked to the student movement that swept across the world in the latter part of the 1960s. Initially, the MIR expressed solidarity with urban guerrilla groups such as the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional--ELN) and had close ties to its namesake, Chile's more radical Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria--MIR).

The Bolivian MIR achieved political maturity during Siles Zuazo's government. As a part of the cabinet, it was responsible in large measure for enacting important economic decrees. Paz Zamora, the MIR's chief, served as the UDP's vice president. Like other Bolivian political groups, however, the MIR went from a party of idealistic youth to an organization that was captured by a cadre of job-hungry politicians.

By 1985 the MIR had split into at least three broad factions that represented the ideological tensions within the original party. Paz Zamora's faction was the most successful, mainly because it retained the party's name while avoiding responsibility for the UDP period. By the late 1980s, Paz Zamora's MIR had become the third largest political party in Bolivia; indeed, some observers believed that after the May 1989 elections it would eclipse the MNR. The new MIR portrayed itself as a Social Democratic party that could work within the parameters of the NPE implemented in 1985.

The MBL, which reflected one of the more orthodox Marxist strains within Bolivia's original MIR, remained an important MIR faction in the late 1980s. For the 1989 elections, the MBL managed to put together the IU. The IU included the remnants of a deeply divided Bolivian left, including the PCB, which was still feeling the effects of its role in the infamous UDP coalition.

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