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congressional runoff, Banzer, popular election, president of Bolivia, Lozada

Jaime Paz Zamora, who finished third in the popular election of May 1989, became president of Bolivia in August after winning a congressional runoff. Mining entrepreneur Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada won the next presidential election, held in June 1993. Sanchez de Lozada’s vice president, Victor Hugo Cardenas, was the first Native American to hold such a high office in Bolivia. Sanchez de Lozada worked to implement a number of reforms intended to give more economic and political power to Bolivia’s Native American majority. He oversaw a redistribution of the federal budget that increased money for roads, schools, and water projects in largely rural areas. The government also legalized native organizations and the practice of folk medicine, both of which had previously been outlawed. In addition, the government allowed bilingual education in Spanish and Native American dialects in schools that previously had been prohibited from teaching any language other than Spanish.

As the government continued to work to promote a free market in Bolivia, it moved toward privatizing state oil holdings in 1995 and 1996. Bolivian labor activists responded by staging a series of strikes and protests calling for higher wages and the end of plans to privatize the oil industry. In April 1995 thousands of union workers and state employees held more than three weeks of civil disturbances. Their actions prompted the government to arrest more than 300 labor leaders and to suspend constitutional rights so that the government could hold people in prison without a trial. When the protest campaign resumed in 1996, the government deployed soldiers and police to protect refineries and pipeline facilities.

Former dictator and retired general Hugo Banzer Suarez, a candidate of the right-wing Nationalist Democratic Action Party (ADN), finished first in Bolivia’s June 1997 presidential election, but he did not capture enough votes to win the presidency outright. In August members of Bolivia’s congress elected Banzer president in a runoff between him and second-place finisher Senator Juan Carlos Duran of the MNR. Banzer pledged to continue the previous government’s free market reforms and its efforts to combat the illegal drug trade. In late 1997 the Bolivian government launched the so-called Dignity Plan, an effort funded largely by the United States to eradicate coca production in Bolivia by 2002.

Coca producers rejected the government’s aggressive new anticoca policy, and coca farmer unions vowed to defend their crops. Sporadic clashes with Bolivian soldiers ensued, and in September 2000 angry farmers blockaded many of Bolivia’s key roads. The blockades caused widespread food shortages and at least ten deaths, and cost the Bolivian economy more than $100 million.

Banzer stepped down as president in 2001 because of illness, and was replaced by his vice president, Jorge Quiroga Ramirez. After no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 2002 presidential election, the task of choosing the president fell to the Bolivian congress. The legislature selected former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who had finished first in the June ballot.

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