A Talk with Victor Paz Estenssoro

RODMAN, SELDEN

REVOLUTIONIST'S RETURN A Talk with Victor Paz Estenssoro by selden rodman La Paz To Bolivian ex-President Juan Jose Torres and his fellow Leftists across the border in Chile, the present La Paz...

...REVOLUTIONIST'S RETURN A Talk with Victor Paz Estenssoro by selden rodman La Paz To Bolivian ex-President Juan Jose Torres and his fellow Leftists across the border in Chile, the present La Paz regime of Colonel Hugo Banzer Suarez is "fascist " To the Gulf Oil Company, late of Santa Cruz, whose expropriation in 1969 by the government of General Alfredo Ovando Candia triggered the events that brought Torres to power, Banzer may be as pro-Yanqui as his enemies say and as the Americans pray, but he is no more likely to return their oil to them than Chile's President Salvador Allende is likely to return Anaconda's copper Yet to Victor Paz Estenssoro, whose Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionano (MNR) engineered South America's first social revolution m 1952-55, Banzer is the only Bolivian ruler to provide both a climate in which Paz and his party could reappear on the alti-plano and the hope that their derailed revolution might be "completed" without violence Why was Paz mvited back to Bolivia from his long exile in Peru...
...Apparently Banzer saw no way of governing this turbulent country without him The Rightist takeover last year succeeded with little bloodshed because General Torres had lost the support of everyone except the militant students EVen the Armed Forces had turned against him, fearing the creation of a rival militia backed by Allende and (more indirectly) the Soviet Union But the Army conspirators who sparked the coup in Santa Cruz and then drove the bumbling Torres from La Paz had no organized following Only the Right-wing Falanga Soci-alista Bohviana (FSB), representing at most 10 per cent of the literate, politically conscious population, stood behind Banzer The new government's best chance of survival lay in reactivating the MNR The party had ousted the large landowners and tm barons in 1952, the campesinos and miners still regarded it as their dehverer from feudal bondage Of the three MNR leaders, however, Hernan Siles Zuazo and Juan Lechin had become identified with the Marxists and were in Chile Thus Paz alone, with no ties except to his party, flew home to offer his cooperation He had enemies in the Bolivian capital, of course His second term as President had not only been unproductive but severely repressive, and the FSB had suffered from persecution by the MNR just as much as the parties of the Left Nevertheless, FSB leader Mario Gutierrez seemed willing to forgive and forget m the interest of national unity So far the alliance seems to be working óthanks to President Banzer's skill as mediatoródespite the usual ruSelden Rodman, a regular contributor to these pages, is the author of South America of the Poets, The Mexico Traveler and The Caribbean He has just returned from a four-month-long visit to Latin America mors of smuggling and stockpiling arms, presumably for some future power bid by either party should Banzer show signs of faltering Shortly before my recent arrival in La Paz, Raul Lema Pelaez, one of the MNR's five Cabinet ministers (the FSB also has five, the Armed Forces three, the "private sector" three), was removed as Finance Minister Through his maneuvering, it was charged, Paz already controlled 60 per cent of the key jobs in Customs, traditionally the principal source of money-making m semisocialized Bolivia Paz accepted this setback without more than verbal protest, just as Gutierrez, three weeks earlier, accepted Banzer's ouster of Interior Minister Andres Selhch, whose ruthlessness in hunting down and killing Communists was beginning to attract more attention than the actions of the government itself Iknew Paz too well to expect him to tell me any of his political secrets when I visited him, but I was curious to see how a decade of exile had affected him His party office is on the sixth floor of a midtown "skyscraper " I found the antechamber guarded by four sleazy-looking young men in swivel chairs twirling their well-oiled submachine guns lazily in their laps "Don't snap your shutterwhispered a British friend who accompanied me to the interview, "the sudden click might activate them'" "Where does Paz get them9" I whispered back "They're leftovers from Customs," he replied "They're supposed to be tracking down contrabandistas " My friend added that when Rene Barrientos Ortufio sprang the 1964 coup that sent the MNR leadership scurrying to Luna, Paz lost his proudest possession, "the collection of Dunhill pipes he'd picked up while Ambassador to London But one has to give him credit for not having milked Bolivia like his predecessors in the Presidency He supported himself m Lima by lecturing on economics' Paz opened the door and ushered us mto his office He is still a vigorous, handsome man with iron-gray hair, a deeply lined face, sharp unsmiling brown eyes, and an air of total confidence in everything he has done or expects to do This was apparent when I asked him whether he thought his revolution had failed in any respect He looked shocked "Not in any important respect" Then, after a pause in which he took note of my expression, "Only to the degree that the tin mines didn't become a source of revenue for the state, as we'd hoped they would Building the Cochabamba-Santa Cruz road opened up the lowlands, for the first time tying Bolivia together Of course, our greatest achievement was liberating the campesmos from serfdom " "Are they any better off today, Dr Paz7" I asked provocatively "Of course1 Remember that Bolivia's population has increased by a million, and still they are better off Their production of food has doubled or trebled, it would have had to just to teed those million more mouths And they live in two-story houses, with windows They wear shoes " "But politically7" I persisted "Yes, politically A hundred thousand people at most ran Bolivia before 1952 Now, nothing can be done without the peasants' support They speak Spanish They read and write " "How many do9" "Well, we have no census, but I'd guess that illiteracy has dropped from 79 per cent to no more than 50 per cent " "But aren't there more coups, rather than fewer7" I asked "What did the peasants do to prevent Barrientos' coup against you7 Or Ovan-do's7 Or Torres'7 Or Banzer's7" "You can't judge Bolivian politics," he said with an impatient wave of his hand, "by the yardstick of American democracy It will be 50 years at least before the campesinos we liberated are well enough educated to control their destiny " I had seen Barrientos' grave in Cochabamba the day before The campesinos, whose hero the General still is, cover it with fresh flowers daily "Was Barrientos among the good Presidents of your country7" His eyes flashed "No1 Certainly not He had no program, so of course his years produced no advance He only took the roads we started and continued paving themówith your aid " "What do you think the United States could do to help Bolivia now7" I inquired "Give us loans for capital development instead of for roads and buildings Then we could really begin to use our huge potential, beginning with the Upper Bern region " "It isn't going to be easy to get our Congress to appropriate for further loans, after what happened to Gulf," I said "By the way, do you think that the expropriation made sense7" "Not at the time they did it," he answered "I don't oppose it m principle, but it was a great mistake with conditions unready for Bolivian development " "Do you see Bolivia's future going toward the sort of modified capitalism they have in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay7 Or toward the kind of state Socialism they practice in Cuba, Chile, Peru7" "You can't simplify that much," he replied "Every country you mention has different problems I sympathize only with the Bolivian way Can you imagine Brazil, for instance, being ruled by two political parties with divergent philosophies, as we are7" "Does the MNR get along with the Falange7" I asked "We have to So we do' Stabihty is needed in Bolivia above everything And the only way to achieve that here is to see to it that the Banzer government lasts as long as possible...

Vol. 55 • May 1972 • No. 9


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.