BECK index

Bolivia 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

   Bolivia: Belzu, Melgarejo, Campero & War 1850-84
   Bolivia under Conservatives & Liberals 1884-1920
   Bolivia & Nationalism 1921-35

Bolivia: Belzu, Melgarejo, Campero & War 1850-84

Bolivia 1829-50

      In 1846 a census reported that the population of Bolivia was 1,378,896. There were about 10,000 abandoned mines. About two-thirds of them contained silver and were flooded and could not produce until capital brought them machines on a large scale. In 1846 only 282 active mine owners employed about 9,000 miners who were mostly farm workers and part-time specialists. In that year British cloth provided cheap cotton textiles to Bolivians. The census found that 5,135 hacendados were heads of families while the communidades had 138,104 family heads. More than 620,000 indigenous people lived in those communities and were 52% of Bolivia’s population, and in 1900 their portion of the nation would be 51%. José María Dalence studied the social and economic structure of Bolivia in the 1840s, and he compiled statistics.
      In the 1850s Bolivia still had a constant deficit in the balance of trade which could be met by illegally exporting silver and contraband trade. Bolivia’s government had deficits because of military spending. Improvements in the steam engine in Europe and North America increased production and reduced costs in the 1850s and 1860s. In 1852 the merchant Aniceto Arce made heavy investments and began making a profit on production. In the mid-1850s the Aramayo family took over the bankrupt Real Socavón Mining Company in Potosí. In 1855 the merchant Gregorio Pacheco bought the Guadalupe mines from debtors in the Chicas district of Potosí. By the 1870s the silver mines in the Caracoles on the Pacific coast were operating, and the infusion of foreign capital was increasing.
      Manuel Isidoro Belzu was born on 4 April 1808, the son of mestizos, and he represented the urban cholos (mestizos). He was educated by Franciscans, and he emulated his heroes Bolívar and San Martin. After President Ballivián fled from chaos in Bolivia in December 1847, General Belzu, the Minister of War, and his troops overcame those of the former President José Miguel de Velasco.
      On 8 December 1848 Belzu was proclaimed an interim President, and in a speech in 1849 he said,

Comrades: An insensible mob of aristocrats
has become the arbiter of your riches and your destinies;
they exploit you ceaselessly, and you do not see it;
they strip you day and night, and you do not feel it;
monstrous fortunes have accumulated
with your sweat and blood, and you are not aware of it.
They divide up the land, honors, jobs, status,
leaving you only misery, ignominy, work, and you are silent.
How long will you slumber?
Awaken without delay; the hour has struck
when you must ask the aristocracy for their titles
and private property its justifications.
   Are you not equal to the rest of the Bolivians?
Is this equality not the obligatory result
of the equality of the human species?
Why are only they provided with the conditions for
material, intellectual, and moral development, and not you?
Comrades! Private property is the principal source
of most of the crimes and offenses committed in Bolivia;
it is the cause of the permanent struggle among Bolivians;
it is the principle of the current dominant egotism,
of that selfishness that has been
eternally condemned by universal morals.
No more property, no more landowners,
no more inheritance!
Down with aristocrats!
The land for all; an end to the exploitation of men.1

      During his seven years in office he faced about 40 revolts. In March 1849 generals led uprisings in La Paz and Cochabamba against him. In September 1850 an assassin shot Belzu in the head. He survived a long convalescence. His government in 1851 approved the Mining Code and protectionist policies that restricted foreign merchants and led to a British envoy being expelled. Despite severe epidemics during the 1850s the population was growing. President Belzu ordered a national census in 1854 that counted 2,338,541 people in ten departments. The largest was La Paz with 593,779. Belzu distributed money to the urban poor, and his policies protected Bolivian industries.
      President Belzu called elections and supported his 33-year-old son-in-law General Jorge Córdova who was elected. For the first time on 15 August 1855 a Bolivian President was succeeded by an elected president. Many believed that Belzu still held the power. In his farewell to Congress in regard to the artisans and peasants he advised,

Educate them, instruct them, improve their condition,
let them participate in your rights,
in keeping with the spirit of the times.
Give them security, work and a living wage
and then you will have nothing to fear or lament, Americans!
Be consistent with the spirit of democracy which
you invoked when you declared your independence.2

Córdova went to the city of Sucre to give a speech on 6 August 1857. The civilian Constitutionalist José María Linares had run against Córdova and had received 4,000 of the 13,500 votes in an election that he charged was rigged. On 9 September 1857 Linares proclaimed himself President in the city of Oruro. Córdova led troops to Oruro, and Linares left Oruro and went to Cochabamba. There the two sides fought for three days, and then Córdova with fewer troops returned to Oruro. That city’s battalion rose against him as did those in La Paz and Sucre. He fled to Peru. On 23 October 1861 while he was under arrest, Córdova was one of 70 political prisoners (Belcistas) executed by Minister of War Col. Plácido Yáñez. On November 23 people went after Yáñez and killed him.
      Linares became Provisional President on 9 September 1857, and one year later he declared a dictatorship. In 1857 lucrative guano and nitrate deposits were discovered in Mejillones along Bolivia’s seacoast. Guano is deposited by seabirds and is good fertilizer because of its nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and it can also be used for gunpowder and explosives. Linares allowed more free trade but took control over mining and established a monopoly on mercury. Native tribute was still 36% of revenues. Linares tried to reduce the military, but those expenses remained 41% of the budget. In September 1858 he took dictatorial powers, and his opponents mobilized against him. In 1859 Salinas settlers made a treaty with the Toba Indians. In 1860 the harsh government of Linares provoked a large revolt, and his forces massacred native rebels at the Copacabana shrine by Lake Titicaca. Finally three of his ministers drove Linares into exile on 14 January 1861.
      The Minister of War, General José María de Achá, took power in a coup as Provisional President on May 4. The Bolivian Congress chose him to be President. He granted amnesty to exiled politicians and abolished the mercury monopoly and organized finances. Achá was elected President over General Pérez in 1862, and in 1863 he decreed parcels of land to indigenous people. Chilean mining in the Atacama region in 1863 caused a conflict with Bolivia’s Mejillones nitrate fields. Congress voted for war, and President Achá was forced to accept Chile’s demands.
      Mariano Melgarejo had joined the army when he was 16. He rose in the ranks of the army, and Achá made him a general in 1862. Melgarejo had an affair with Achá’s wife in 1864, and she died of illness in August. Achá was in poor health, and Melgarejo removed Achá by a coup in December. Former President Belzu returned from exile and turned a revolt in January 1865 against Melgarejo into a civil war. Government forces in La Paz defeated Belzu’s army on March 22. Five days later Melgarejo attacked La Paz and was defeated; but his men killed Belzu, and Melgarejo held the presidency with dictatorial power.
      In 1865 Bolivia made a treaty with Peru to gain free port rights at Arica that resulted in 450,000 pesos a year from customs houses in Arica and Tacna. In January 1866 Peru declared war against Spain, and Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador allied with Peru. A Melgarejo decree in 1866 threatened Indian communal land which had been protected since 1825. Indians living on state-owned land had to purchase individual titles for between 25 and 100 pesos. Those who did not do so within 60 days could lose their land which the state would sell to others, or the state could use it to pay off debts. By 1870 over 1.25 million pesos of land had been sold to whites and mestizos. Some Indians protested or fought against the confiscation of their land before a later government repealed the oppressive law.
      In an 1866 treaty Bolivia and Chile agreed to share the Mejillones region. Chile gained control over what was south of the 24th parallel, providing income for Chileans and the British. In 1867 Bolivia gained 102,400 square miles of the Acre territory in the Ayacucho Treaty with Brazil. In 1868 Bolivia made treaties with Brazil and Argentina for free river rights to the Atlantic Ocean for Bolivian ships, and in its treaty Brazil gained 40,000 square miles of territory. In the 1860s and 1870s Bolivia reached world standards in mining technology.
      Casimiro Corral edited the newspaper El Artesano, and he led indigenous warriors and their allies in a coup to remove Melgarejo and install General Agustín Morales. On 15 January 1871 the Commander-in-Chief General Agustín Morales was supported by people in La Paz in the overthrow of the Melgarejo regime as more than 1,000 people died. On January 19 Corral wrote to a department prefect,

   All cultivated fields belonging to former landowners
are ordered to be cultivated with care by the same Indians
who were in charge of them,
since the aim of the Supreme Chief of the Revolution
is to use the produce to compensate for the damages
of the unjust and forcible expropriation
which the aborigines were subjected to.3

      Morales became Provisional President, and in May 1872 he won an election that he controlled by 14,000 votes. On November 24 a military band disrupted the National Assembly. The next day deputies asked Morales to remedy the situation, but instead he declared that he would close Congress which he did. On November 27 Morales was shot dead at the palace in a quarrel with his nephew Lt. Col. Federico La Faye.
      On November 28 the Congress chose their leader Tomás Frías to be Bolivia’s President. On December 13 he called for an election on 2 March 1873, and Adolfo Ballivián, the son of President José Ballivián (1841-47), won against two other candidates with 6,442 votes out of 16,674 registered votes. During his presidency the price of silver fell, and Congress rejected his request to buy two warships from Europe. Ballivián died of stomach cancer on 14 February 1874. On that day the Congress once again selected Frías to be the Acting President. He retained the cabinet, and on March 2 he reduced the funding of the municipalities starting on April 8. After a La Paz newspaper condemned the administration, they appealed to Col. Hilarión Daza. Frías tried to appoint Daza the Minister of War. When he refused to accept the position, Frías decreed a law making Daza the War Minister. Legislative elections added four deputies who opposed Frías, and they began debating the budget. Frías ordered a general audit of the National Assembly, and a previous loan of 500,000 pesos under Morales was investigated. Many issues were debated including whether Frías was a valid President. In an 1874 treaty Bolivia promised not to increase taxes on natural products collected by Chileans on the Bolivian coast. President Frías led troops against a revolt by Quintín Quevedo who was defeated and fled to Peru. On 13 May 1874 Daza became Minister of War. In the elections that year Congressman Andrés Ibáñez said,

   An epoch of peace, equality, and brotherhood will open up
no matter how many obstacles are placed in its way by the
centralizing and tyrannical form of unitary government….
   A dawn of beneficence and fortune
will shine forth for the peoples!
   The people are hungry and thirsty
for justice and for freedom.4

       After he was promoted to general, on 4 May 1876 Hilarión Daza revolted and overthrew President Frías. Daza proclaimed himself Provisional President, and the Constituent Assembly confirmed him as President in 1878. On February 14 Bolivia imposed a tax on nitrates exported by the railroad company that was backed by Chileans who refused to pay an unjust tax on their Antofagasta railroad. On 14 February 1879 Chilean troops occupied Antofagasta, and they seized Caracoles. The first battle between Bolivia and Chile was fought at the Calama oasis on March 23. The War of the Pacific began on April 5 when Chile declared war against Bolivia and Peru. Within two months the strong Chilean navy helped take over all of Bolivia’s shoreline territory. On December 28 Col. Eliodoro Camacho led citizens from La Paz and troops from the coast of Peru who rebelled against President Daza who withdrew to Arequipa.
      The liberal General Narciso Campero, who had been Minister of War for four months in the summer and early fall of 1871, became the Provisional President of Bolivia on 19 January 1880. That year Bolivia’s Congress put into effect the Constitution written in 1878. A Convention in February ratified Campero as a constitutional President for four years. He mobilized and led the army, and at the Peruvian city of Tacna on 26 May 1880 the Bolivian and Peruvian troops suffered ten times as many casualties as a larger Chilean army. After fighting for five hours the allies retreated into the city. Bolivia lost its shoreline territory to Chile that had a much more powerful navy. The coastal cities Bolivia lost were Antofagasta, Mejillones, Cobija, and Tocopilla, and its foreign trade was interrupted. Bolivia was no longer in the war that continued between Chile and Peru until 1884. On 4 April 1884 Bolivia and Chile signed the Truce of Valparaiso that gave Antofagasta to Chile along with all of Bolivia’s territory on the Pacific coast.
      In the 1880s land purchases were held by individuals, not by communities and corporations. Indians and other peasants had their communal holdings broken up into small parcels. Soon haciendas were expanding in the highlands and adjacent valleys.

Bolivia under Conservatives & Liberals 1884-1920

      In the 1884 election Campero’s cousin Gregorio Pacheco, a wealthy entrepreneur, defeated the Conservative Aniceto Arce, and Liberal Eliodoro Camacho. Some accused him of bribing voters. President Pacheco used his own money to build the Sucre Psychiatric Institute. On 13 July 1885 he added new territory to Bolivia notably Puerto Pacheco by the Paraguay River, but eventually it was returned to Paraguay in a boundary treaty. Pacheco’s policies modernized Bolivia. Telegraph wire connected La Paz to Lima, and he founded the Hipotecario bank in Sucre. Pacheco promoted science and technology, and he brought electricity to Bolivia which got its first cement and steel factories. Pacheco owned silver mines, and in his presidency silver mining raised Bolivia’s economic growth.
      President Pacheco said he would be neutral in the 1888 elections. Violence persuaded the Liberals not to participate, and Conservatives elected another silver millionaire, Aniceto Arce. He had founded Bolivia’s Conservative Party in 1880 and assisted President Campero as First Vice President for over nine months ending in March 1881. During his four-year term beginning in August 1888 the railroad was completed from the port of Antofagasta to La Paz. Some more cities were electrified, and laws on banking and investing were improved. Arce also founded a military academy, and he made the army more professional. In August 1892 his capitalist government was passed on to First Vice President, the Conservative Mariano Baptista.
      President Mariano Baptista founded the Argandoña Bank by decree on 22 October 1892. He continued railroad construction, and he signed a treaty with Chile that helped Bolivia tap rubber in the Acre territories. He improved education by building more schools and by letting the Salesian religious order offer arts and crafts. On 18 May 1895 a treaty recognized Chilean sovereignty over Antofagasta. Baptista signed border treaties with Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Peru.
      In 1896 Bolivians elected another mine-owning Conservative, First Vice President Sergio Fernández Alonso, over the Liberal candidate Col. José Manuel Pando. Silver prices were declining. Liberal urban professionals in La Paz were making progress as tin mining used for canning was replacing silver. Bolivia’s silver production peaked in the 1890s with an average annual production of 1,655,762 marks per year. Low-cost railroad transportation aided the development of the tin industry.
      Liberal leaders advocated federalist reforms to give regions more power. They planned a military revolt and appealed to Indian peasants for support. By 1898 their uprising had taken over the capital at Sucre and growing La Paz. On October 31 deputies proposed confirming Sucre as the capital, but on November 6 Liberals at La Paz demanded federalism and that their city be the capital. Col. José Manuel Pando led the insurrection. On November 19 the Congress and President Fernández promulgated the “Radicatory Law” that declared Sucre the only capital with executive power. On December 12 at La Paz the Liberals formed a Federal Junta. Fernández led two brigades against La Paz, and on 24 January 1899 the first brigade was massacred by Pando’s forces. People from Cochabamba, Oruro, La Paz, and Potosí rose up for the Liberals. The largest battle in this civil war was on April 10, and Pando’s troops defeated the Conservatives in four hours. The Fernández presidency ended on April 12, and he took refuge in Chile. After Indian peasants fought in the revolt with the Liberals, they were disarmed and had their chiefs (kurakas) suppressed. The Federal Junta led by Pando governed from the new capital at La Paz.
      On 25 October 1899 the National Convention elected the Liberal José Manuel Pando the President of Bolivia. His government carried out a census in 1900, and he ordered more roads built. The Bolivian consul Luis Gálvez Rodríguez in Belém, Brazil led a rebellion with rubber tappers and veterans in Acre, and on 14 July 1899 he proclaimed the independent Republic of Acre. On 11 March 1900 Gálvez surrendered to Brazil’s navy, and he went into exile. The Acre War ended on 11 November 1903 when Bolivia for £2.5 million ceded the Acre territory to Brazil in the Petrópolis Treaty. On 20 October 1904 Bolivia ceded their coastal territory to Chile in a treaty. Chile agreed to build a railroad from Arica to La Paz, pay an indemnity of £300,000, and provide loans for Brazilian railroads.
      Liberals governed Bolivia from 1900 until 1920, and there were no coups. President Pando endorsed his War Minister, General Ismael Montes, and he was elected President in 1904. He was also a lawyer and had been elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1890. In his first four-year term he used a large trade surplus as leverage to get large international loans for the government and public works such as completing railroad construction which connected mining centers with cities. On 20 October 1904 Liberal Montes signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Chile. Then in 1905 he agreed to a trade and customs treaty with Peru. In 1906 the United States provided a very large loan. He got French officers to help modernize Bolivia’s army. Montes instituted civil marriage and religious freedom, and he abolished ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In 1908 Fernando Eloy Guachalla was elected President and Eufronio Viscarra Vice President. When Guachalla died before being inaugurated, the Congress decided that the Vice President could not succeed. Instead they extended the Montes term for one year.
      In 1909 the Liberal Eliodoro Villazón, who was considered the best lawmaker in Bolivia, was elected. He established the Higher Institute of Commerce of La Paz and improved the economy. On September 17 Villazón signed the Border Rectification Treaty with Peru that settled a border dispute and prevented an alliance between Bolivia and Chile against Peru. He founded the Oruro School of Mines. In 1910 Simón Patiño purchased the British Uncía Mining Company. In 1913 Villazón started the construction of the railway to go from Cochabamba to Arani.
      In 1913 Ismael Montes was elected President again. He founded the Central Bank of Bolivia. A crisis in international trade caused Bolivia’s tin production to decrease by a third by 1914. Tight money and declining revenues caused conflicts within the Liberal Party. Daniel Salamanca generally agreed with the Liberals; but he wanted to reduce the President’s power, and he helped found the Republican Party in 1914.
      Montes endorsed the candidacy of the Liberal economist José Gutiérrez Guerra, and he was elected in 1917. On June 17 the former President Pando was found dead. The Gutiérrez administration gave concessions to the Richmond Levering Company of the United States to exploit petroleum in Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz and Tarija. Improvements were made in water service and schools, and Bolivia declared war on Germany. A scandal over smuggled alcohol from Peru hurt the economy and President Gutiérrez. He was the first person to fine the largest tin magnate, and that lost him support. He faced opposition from the new Republicans in the Congress. Bolivia’s total exports increased during the Great War and reached a peak in 1918. In August 1919 railway workers organized their first union.

Bolivia & Nationalism 1921-35

      In 1921 a massive uprising by indigenous people near Lake Titicaca resulted in the killing of hundreds of Indians and dozens of whites and mestizos.
      On 13 August 1920 Republicans led by the lawyer Bautista Saavedra took over by a coup and formed a governing junta. He then became President on 28 January 1921. He was opposed by the Genuine Republican Party, and he expelled most of their leaders and ruled autocratically. In June 1923 Saavedra helped mine owners end the Uncía strike by killing workers. Simón Patiño bought the Chilean Llallagua Company in 1924, the year he incorporated Patiño Mines and Enterprises in Delaware. This enabled him to control about half of mining production, and he employed more than 10,000 workers. Patiño invested £600,000 in Bolivia for railroad construction, and President Saavedra promised not to raise taxes for five years.
      Saavedra was not allowed to run for re-election in 1925. His chosen successor was elected; but Saavedra did not like his policies, and he cancelled the election. Protests forced Saavedra to resign, and the Congress elected the Senate President Felipe Segundo Guzmán on September 3. He called for elections within a year.
      Hernando Siles Reyes was elected President, and he began serving on 10 January 1926. He founded the Nationalist Party on December 29. Bautista Saavedra’s brother Abdon Saavedra was Vice President. When President Siles became popular, he sent Abdon Saavedra into exile. A indigenous revolt began on 27 July 1927 and spread in August in the highlands between Potosí, Sucre, and Oruro. More than 200 Indians were killed.
      The first federation of students in Bolivia had been established at the University of Cochabamba in 1925. In 1929 radical students formed the National Federation of University Students of Bolivia (FUB) which had started in Cordoba, Argentina. In the last four years of the 1920s Bolivia’s government had increasing budget deficits. New taxes in 1927 and 1928 were enough to get private bank loans from the United States. The Chaco border disputes led to conflict with Paraguay in late 1928. President Siles called up reserves, and he negotiated the Act of Conciliation in early 1929. Bolivia mining reached a peak with 47,000 tons of tin produced in 1929. The price of tin was $917 per ton in 1927, but it fell to $794 in 1929 and to $385 in 1932. In 1930 Siles asked the Congress to re-elect him, but people rejected his attempt to hand over the government to a military junta for the re-election. The army rebelled, and junta leaders fled on June 25.
      Three days later General Carlos Blanco Galindo became President of the Junta until 5 March 1931. A popular revolt led to an all-party coalition that nominated Daniel Salamanca for President. He was elected and replaced Blanco Galindo. In 1931 the Liberals elected a strong majority over the Genuine Republicans, making Salamanca’s governing difficult. When the Telegraph Workers Union went on a national strike, Salamanca dissolved their union. A sympathetic strike by a labor federation in La Paz was suppressed, and the leaders were jailed. Salamanca announced in late July that Bolivia was defaulting on its external debt. He had used a border incident on July 1 to break off diplomatic relations with Paraguay. In a speech in August he admitted that revenues were declining despite his efforts. He said government must make cuts, and then he said the military budget was expanding. He took Bolivia off the gold standard in September.
      At the end of 1931 President Salamanca asked for the law of “Social Defense” that would give the President extraordinary powers to defeat political opposition by the left and labor unions. This stimulated massive demonstrations by workers, leftists, students, and Saavedristas, and Salamanca withdrew his proposed law. When he suggested floating an international loan, the Liberals in Congress removed the hated Demetrio Canelas from the Ministry of Finance and appointed three Liberal ministers. Very unbalanced trade led the government to take over all gold dealing, and they forced the mine-owners to give 65% of their letters of exchange on foreign currencies to the Central Bank.
      The Bolivian military advanced in the Chaco, and on 15 June 1932 they drove a Paraguayan force out of a fort by the Pitiantutá Lake. On July 18 President Salamanca announced that Paraguayan forces had taken over that “Bolivian fort” in the Chaco region. Bolivia’s General Staff rejected Salamanca’s war plans arguing that the army was not prepared to attack. After an intense debate Salamanca admitted that he was responsible for his decisions that initiated the conflict. The General Staff believed that the war was suicidal and against national interests, but they agreed to follow President Salamanca’s orders. Then political and intellectual leaders supported the war. The Government used the siege mentality to arrest and exile leftist radicals, and others were conscripted and sent to the front lines. While Bolivia was mobilizing massive troops, Paraguayans took back the fort in July and then withdrew expecting diplomatic negotiations.
      Salamanca ordered the taking of three forts essential to Paraguay’s defense, and the General Staff knew this would lead to total war. Salamanca halted military operations in early August. In the debate on the war many believed that Bolivia would suffer a disastrous defeat. Because Salamanca was refusing to negotiate, Paraguayans mobilized their army and began a counter-offensive. By September they had stopped the advance by 1,500 Bolivian troops. At Boquerón on September 7 about 7,500 Paraguayan forces besieged 448 Bolivian troops. On September 12 a column of 3,500 Bolivian troops arrived, and they were driven back toward Yucra. When the Paraguayan army was running out of fresh water, their General Estigarribia ordered an attack on September 26. After three days of fighting the remaining 240 Bolivians, most of whom were wounded, surrendered.
      As October began, Bolivians learned the shocking news. A riot broke out, and on October 4 about 20,000 anti-government protesters demanded that President Salamanca resign. They wanted the return of the German General Hans Kundt who had been dismissed by Salamanca Republicans in 1930. Four days later they demanded that Kundt lead the troops. Two major officers insisted that Salamanca be removed, and he gave in and asked Liberals to join him in a coalition government. The Paraguayans in October recaptured their forts, and they invaded Bolivia. They took over the Arze fortress that 4,000 Bolivian forces had abandoned. Each army had 9,000 men in a battle at Nanawa that lasted one week until the Bolivians were defeated on 26 January 1933. The Bolivians suffered about 2,000 casualties, the Paraguayans only 248. A very similar result occurred in the second battle at Nanawa on July 4-9, though the Bolivians managed to damage three Paraguayan airplanes.
      In several battles in 1933 the Paraguayans captured most of Bolivia’s tanks and armored cars. In November and December 1933 the Paraguayan army of 17,000 men fought 9,000 troops led by General Kundt and captured or killed more than 8,000 of them. On December 19 they agreed on a 20-day cease fire, but by 6 January 1934 Bolivia had gathered a larger force. Paraguay launched its third offensive. Bolivia’s four divisions defeated Paraguay’s two divisions on May 25 after 15 days of fighting; with minimal losses the Bolivians killed about 400 and captured 1,500 men. On November 25 Salamanca was arrested at the army headquarters in Villa Montes in a coup. Vice President Tejada Sorzano, the Liberal Party leader, became Acting President. He selected a cabinet from all the parties. The tin mogul Aramayo became the Minister of Finance, and military finance improved. A united front stopped the persecution of the far left. Major Germán Busch began planning defense in the south.
      In the south at Villa Montes on 28 December 1934 Paraguayans the Bolivians and killing 200, and about 1,200 Bolivians surrendered on 11 January 1935. The war continued until a ceasefire on June 12, and two days later a peace treaty was signed. More soldiers had died from diseases such as malaria than were killed in combat. Bolivia lost about 60,000, and Paraguay’s 36,000 was a larger percentage of their population. Bolivia’s army had reflected a caste system with whites as officers, mestizos as lesser officials, and indigenous peasants as soldiers.
      Many social-realist novels would describe the Chaco War era. The radical left opposed the war and supported deserting soldiers. Some blamed the war on multi-national corporations such as Standard Oil of New Jersey. Indigenous culture and the Marxist ideas of Peru’s Mariátegui and others influenced Bolivians. Tristan Marof criticized the capitalist system that exploited and exported the nation’s wealth. Socialists wanted to nationalize the mines, and they recognized the just claims of Indians. Marof and José Aguirre Gainsborg became leaders in the Revolutionary Workers’ Party (Partido Obrero Revolucionario POR) that had begun at a special Congress in Cordoba, Argentina in 1934. Former President Hernando Siles led a group of nationalists. The traditional parties were falling away, and even the Republican Saavedra announced a socialist program. On 27 November 1934 Bolivian generals deposed Salamanca in a coup. General Enrique Peñaranda, Col. David Toro, and Major Germán Busch maintained the democracy, and they let the Vice President Tejada Sorzano become President. In October 1935 he initiated a suit against Standard Oil.


1. The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics ed. Sinclair Thomson et al, p. 220-221.
2. Bolivia: Past, Present, and Future of Its Politics by Robert J. Alexander, p. 48.
3. The Bolivia Reader, p. 230-231.
4. Ibid., p. 232, 233.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

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