In 1952 the MNR downgraded the military as an institution and attempted to create new armed forces imbued with revolutionary zeal. This event initiated a long and complex relationship between the armed forces and politicians. The 1964 coup by General Barrientos began a cycle of military intervention that culminated only in 1982, with the withdrawal of the military from the political arena.
By then the military as an institution had been reduced to a collection of factions vying for control over the institution and the government. A process of disintegration within the armed forces reached its extreme form under General García Meza, who took power in 1980 after overthrowing Lidia Gueiler Tejada (1979- 80), a civilian constitutional president. By that juncture, however, the military was plagued by deep internal cleavages along ideological, generational, and rank lines. The connection of García Meza and his followers to the burgeoning cocaine industry further divided the armed forces.
Officers such as Banzer and García Meza represented the last vestiges of the prerevolutionary armed forces that sought unsuccessfully to eradicate populism in Bolivia. In the process, however, they discredited the military and, at least in the short run, eliminated the institution as a power option in Bolivian politics. The older generation retired in disgrace, accused of narcotics trafficking, corruption, and violations of human rights.
Since 1982 the military has undergone a major reconstruction process. The old guard of "coupist" officers was replaced as the generation of officers who had graduated from the new military academy in the 1950s reached the upper echelons of the armed forces. The younger generation appeared committed to the rebuilding of the military and manifested its support for civilian rule. It also accepted end-of-year promotions authorized by the Senate.
After 1982 key officers rejected overtures from a few adventuresome civilians and soldiers who were dismayed by the "chaos and disorder" of democratic rule. The military command was even involved in aborting a coup attempt in June 1984 that included Siles Zuazo's brief kidnapping. Officers realized that a coup against Siles Zuazo or any other civilian would disturb the military's efforts to rebuild.
The military's unwillingness to launch another coup was even more significant given the economic and political situation in Bolivia between 1982 and 1985. The COB and business, regional, and peasant groups exerted untenable demands on the Siles Zuazo government. All of these groups tried to coerce the regime by using tactics such as strikes, roadblocks, and work stoppages.
The military remained in its barracks despite the social turmoil that enveloped the country. Indeed, the only military action during this period occurred in response to a presidential directive. In March 1985, Siles Zuazo called upon the military to restore order after miners occupied La Paz. Once this had been accomplished, the armed forces retreated obediently. Their mission then became one of ensuring the peaceful transfer of power to the victor of the 1985 elections. The military's role in support of democracy in the late 1980s was in large measure dependent on the success of Paz Estenssoro's reforms under the NPE. In early 1989, Bolivia's armed forces had no reason or excuse to intervene.
Because of the military's willingness to engage in joint exercises with United States troops and in drug interdiction programs in the late 1980s, the military once again became the recipient of aid that had been drastically reduced since 1980. The joint antinarcotics operation with the United States, dubbed "Operation Blast Furnace," also provided the military with important equipment and training. In fact, a close partnership developed between Bolivia's armed forces and the United States Southern Command.
A new generation of officers were to assume command of the armed forces in the 1990s. Most were young cadets during the 1970s and were given special treatment and protection by General Banzer. Some observers had suggested that these officers might have intervened if Banzer had been denied the presidency in 1989 by a congressional coalition.
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