Between 1936 and 1982, the political context in Bolivia is extremely unstable with an impressive succession of military coups (Bolivia has suffered more military coups than any other country!).

The major reforms: The April 1952 revolution

The April 1952 revolution conducted by peasants and miners put an end to the military regime. President Victor Paz Estenssoro (member of MNR -Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario political group). returned from exile to power and initiated significant social and economic reforms, which marked the end of decades of workers' exploitation by rich land owners and industrial company owners:

  • Universal suffrage (Vote for all)
  • Nationalisation Nationalization of the tin mines, ousting of major tin company owners, and founding of a state organization called COMIBOL in charge of managing mines
  • Redistribution of land to peasants
  • Educational reforms
  • Reforms in favor of ethnic minorities.

MNR ruled Bolivia for 12 years but its popularity started to decrease as the party could not manage to boost the economy and to raise the level of life of the Bolivians.

Repression: military-peasant pact

In 1964, General Barrientos and his men accessed to the leadership of the country and quickly cancelled the social progress accomplished by MNR. The mining sector particularly suffered as it was placed under military control and the role of the trade union reduced to nothing. In February, Barrientos signed the "military-peasant pact" which organized the peasants in armed militias in order to fight against the left wing political opponents.

In 1967, a bloody episode marked the repression against left wing opposition. The military troops killed miners and their families in the mines of Catavi and SigloXX.

On October 8, 1967, the Argentinean Marxist Che Guevara, who was leading a peasant revolt against the government in the South-East of Bolivia, was captured in Quebrada del Yuro (region of Cochabamba) by Bolivian army troops thanks to the support from the CIA. Transferred to the village of La Higuera, Guevara was sent to jail and sentenced to death by the Bolivian authorities on October 9.

Succession of military coups

1969: On April 27, President Barrientos died in a plane crash. The vice-president Siles Salinas replaces him, but is overthrown by a military coup.

1971: Military coup lead by general Hugo Bánzer Suárez, profiting from the support of the USA in his fight against any left wing government.

1974: Bánzer accumulated all the power. He imposed an authoritarian series of laws, inspired by his friend General Augusto Pinochet in Chile. During this period of repression, many political opponents were eliminated: disappearances (200), arrests (3,000), exile (several thousand). A noteworthy episode from this period was the Masacre del Valle, in Cochabamba in January 1974, where more than one hundred people were killed during a peasant demonstration. This event marked the beginning of the end for the "military-peasant pact".

1978: Military coup lead by general Juan Pereda Asbún. Banzer no longer headed the country but maintained his participation in the political life (creating the ADN (Accíon Demmocrática Nacionalista).

1979: Lydia Gueiler Tejada is elected the first woman president of the republic of Bolivia

1980: Military coup lead by general Luis Garcia Meza who instated a very strong dictatorial regime, with tortures and elimination of political opponents, and established privileged links with drug mafia and ancient Nazi refugees. USA and European countries suspended their co-operation and assistance programs with Bolivia. On August 4, 1981, military revolt in Santa Cruz forced Garcia Meza to resign and go in exile.

1982: This is the end of militaries at the head of Bolivia. The Bolivian Congress elected Hernán Siles Zuazo to lead a civil government.