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Independence, The Regime of Paz Estenssoro

Victor Paz Estenssoro, Paz Estenssoro, Zuazo, farm cooperatives, presidential election vote

After Villarroel was killed in 1946, Victor Paz Estenssoro fled to Buenos Aries, Argentina. In May 1951 Paz Estenssoro won nearly half the presidential election vote while in exile. Because no candidate had a clear majority of the vote, election of a president from among the three leading candidates fell to the congress. In order to prevent the election of Paz Estenssoro, the incumbent president, Urriolagoitia, placed the government under the control of a military junta and resigned. General Hugo Ballivian was appointed president.

On April 9, 1952, a revolution by the MNR and the miners put Paz Estenssoro in the presidency, and the MNR began its program of profound social, economic, and political changes. It pledged to make Native Americans full-fledged members of the national community, to free the country from control of the largely foreign-owned mining companies, to develop the economy, and to bring about real political democracy.

The revolutionary regime acted quickly. In August 1952 it extended the vote to all adults. A year later, through its land reform law, it broke up the estates of the large landlords and transferred ownership of the small plots to Native American farmers. It began extensive projects for education and founded medical clinics in the countryside and farm cooperatives among the peasants. The new government expropriated the holdings of the major tin-mining companies and placed them in the hands of a new state firm. The government financed and directed the construction of roads, hydroelectric projects, and industrial plants. It also opened new areas for settlement, with particular attention given to the undeveloped eastern part of Bolivia.

The MNR’s development program faced major foreign and domestic obstacles. The country’s inflation was soaring because of declining income from mining (a result of low tin prices in the world market), ambitious economic development programs, corruption, and the departure of much foreign and native capital from the country. The administration of the second MNR president, Hernan Siles Zuazo, began in 1956 and took major steps to counteract inflation. In conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States, the regime launched a stabilization program that limited wage increases, abolished most price controls, and reduced government spending. These measures did not end the economic crisis, and Paz Estenssoro was confronted with these problems when he returned to the presidency in 1960. A rise in agricultural and mineral production led to a partial recovery, however.

During its years in power, the MNR provided Bolivia with the most stable and open government in the country’s history. The press was free to criticize the government and did so energetically. Government changes in 1956 and 1960 were the results of elections, although there were frequent crises and many coup d’etat attempts to oust the MNR.

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