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The Presidency of Barrientos
On November 4, 1964, Barrientos (president, 1964-65; copresident, May 1965-January 1966; and president, 1966-69) and General Alfredo Ovando Candia occupied the presidential palace and declared themselves copresidents. But as the crowd, which had gathered outside the palace, persisted in shouting its preference for the more charismatic Barrientos, Ovando allowed Barrientos to assume the formal title alone, while he occupied the post of commander in chief of the armed forces.
Barrientos insisted that his assumption of power was not a counterrevolutionary move and promised to restore the revolution to its "true path," from which the MNR had deviated during its twelve-year rule. Nevertheless, his government continued many of the policies of the second Paz Estenssoro administration, including the IMF stabilization plan and the Triangular Plan. The emphasis on reducing social costs remained in effect. In May 1965, the army forced Barrientos to accept Ovando as his copresident as a sort of reward for suppressing an uprising by miners and factory workers.
The economy improved during the Barrientos regime at a growth rate averaging 6.5 percent per year. The rise of tin prices resulted in the first profit for Comibol in 1966 and contributed to increased production in the medium-sized mines that had remained in private hands. Barrientos encouraged the private sector and foreign investment and gave Gulf Oil Company permission to export petroleum and natural gas from Bolivia.
In 1966 Barrientos legitimized his rule by winning the presidential election. He formed the Popular Christian Movement (Movimiento Popular Cristiano--MPC) as his base of support. Although the MPC was not very successful, he won the election with a coalition of conservative politicians, the business community, and the peasants.
Barrientos's efforts to build support in the countryside succeeded at first with the signing in February 1964 of the Military-Peasant Pact (Pacto Militar-Campesino). Under the agreement, the campesino militias agreed to adopt an antileftist stance and to subordinate themselves to the army. But his attempt to impose taxes on peasants resulted in a violent response and loss of support in rural areas.
Determined to keep the labor sector under control, Barrientos took away most of the gains it had achieved during the MNR's rule. He placed Comibol under the control of a military director and abolished the veto power of union leaders in management decisions. The president also cut the pay of the miners to the equivalent of US$0.80 a day and reduced the mining work force and the enormous Comibol bureaucracy by 10 percent. Finally, he destroyed the COB and the mine workers' union, suppressed all strike activity, disarmed the miners' militias, and exiled union leaders. Military troops again occupied the mines, and in 1967 they massacred miners and their families at the Catavi-Siglo XX mines.
But Barrientos could not completely silence the labor sector; miners led the growing opposition to his rule. The various groups opposing his rule joined in denouncing Barrientos's selling of natural resources to the United States under favorable terms. They resented his invitation to United States private investment in Bolivia because he offered greater privileges to foreign investors. The defection of Barrientos's close friend and minister of interior, Colonel Antonio Arguedas, to Cuba after his announcement that he had been an agent for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) aroused national indignation. The military also resented the key role of United States officers in the capture and killing of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1967 in Bolivia, where he had tried to start a guerrilla movement.
The death of Barrientos in a helicopter crash on April 27, 1969, initially left control in the hands of his vice president, Luís Adolfo Siles Salinas (1969). Real power, however, remained with the armed forces under its commander in chief, General Ovando, who took power on September 26, 1969, in a coup that was supported by reformist officers.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress