Victor Paz Estenssoro

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Victor Paz Estenssoro was the president of Bolivia several times. He was first elected but never allowed to serve in 1951. In April 1952, his party, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) took power by force, and he served as president from 1952-1956. During his first term, he nationalized the three largest mining companies and oversaw the most far-reaching land reforms in the western hemisphere. He was re-elected in 1960 and 1964, but overthrown in a coup soon thereafter.

Paz Estenssoro was re-elected once again in 1985, serving this time in a very different context. This time, he pushed a program of neoliberal economic "shock therapy" designed by Jeffrey Sachs through the government, undoing the very reforms he put in place during his first stint in office.

1985 Presidency

Shock Therapy

Miners Laid Off

Within the first year of the Paz Estenssoro presidency, 8,000 miners were laid off or paid $500 to retire early.[1] One year later, the government announced mine closings as part of a plan to restructure the state mining company (COMIBOL). The price of tin had fallen from $5.50 a pound to $2.50 a pound in the last year, and the government said it could not afford to continue operating the mines or paying the miners' salaries of $30 per month (about $1 per day). On August 28, 1986, as more than 7000 miners and their supporters headed for La Paz in a 142-mile protest march, President Paz declared a "state of seige." "The military was called in to prevent the marchers from reaching La Paz. Some were arrested and taken to jungle internment camps. Others were returned home by truck."[2] In response, on September 9, some 2000 miners went on a hunger strike. The pledged to continue the strike until the mine leaders were released from prison. Many laid off miners and their families moved to the Chapare region, where the economy revolves around producing coca for cocaine.

By December 1986, it was announced that seven or eight of COMIBOL's 21 mining companies would be maintained, but in reduced, decentralized forms. Two would be phased out, and two would become cooperatives.[3] The plan would lay off over two-thirds of the nation's miners. Already, 12,500 of the 27,500 miners had left in the last year. Another 7,000 would be laid off, leaving only 8,000.

Drug War

In late 1985, Paz Estenssoro was under pressure from the U.S., which threatened to cut Bolivia's aid in half unless Bolivia could eliminate 10,000 acres of coca cultivation.[4] The government crop reduction program began in December 1985, promising farmers $350 for each hectare taken out of coca cultivation. At the time a farmer in Chapare told reporters that he earns 10 times more from coca than he could from any other crop. According to accounts from six months later, these coca eradication efforts were a failure: "Voluntary programs to replace coca with other crops have been a miserable failure. By this year, according to a 1983 US-Bolivia aid agreement, Bolivia was to have removed 10,000 acres of coca plants. To date, virtually no coca has been pulled out of the ground."[5]

The U.S. Funded "Leopards"

Paz Estenssoro also deployed the Leopards Anti-Narcotics Squad to the Chapare. The Leopards, a 300-member police squad that was trained, equipped, and advised by the U.S. government, had been founded in 1983 and first deployed in 1984, before Paz Estenssoro was elected.[6][7][8] Soon after they were deployed by Paz Estenssoro, the Leopards destroyed a 25 acre cocaine paste facility in Ivargazama, an area that police say produces 1,1000 pounds of paste a month. However, the Leopards soon sparked anger when two members of the squad allegedly raped a local woman. The Leopards were surrounded and placed under siege by 17,000 angry farmers for three days.

At the time, Bolivia's Interior Minister, Fernando Barthelemy, was quoted as saying "growing fewer of the coca leaves from which the drug is produced could have serious results for the shattered Bolivian economy, which has become dependent on the illegal cocaine trade" because "cocaine brings in at least $450 million a year, about the same amount as legal exports."[4] In the last three years, the population of Chapare had doubled to 80,000 people.[9]

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. Kathryn Leger, "Bolivian miners stage hunger strikes to protest mine closures," Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 1986.
  2. Kathryn Leger, "Bolivian miners stage hunger strikes to protest mine closures," Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 1986.
  3. Bradley Graham, "Bolivia Cuts Back Tin Production; State to Shut Huge Mine in Bid to Remold Economy," The Washington Post, December 2, 1986.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Peter McFarren, "Government May Send Troops to End Siege of Anti-narcotics Squad," The Associated Press, January 10, 1986.
  5. Mac Margolis, "Bolivian economy hooked on cocaine," Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 1986.
  6. Peter McFarren, "Narcotic Unit's Involvement In Coup Attempt Slows Anti-Drug Battle," The Associated Press, July 7, 1984.
  7. Marlise Simons, "Bolivian Plot Embarrasses the U.S.," The New York Times, July 17, 1984.
  8. Peter McFarren, "Army Occupation Turns Coca Villages into Ghost Towns," The Associated Press, September 19, 1984.
  9. Peter McFarren, "Officials Say Fewer Than 100 Farmers Persist In Siege," The Associated Press, January 11, 1986.

External Articles

  • James Dunkerley, "Third World Review: The tin miners march into history / The peaceful anti-Bolivian government protest which ended in martyrdom," The Guardian (London), September 26, 1986.