BOLIVIA: IMPLICATIONS OF CONTINUED MILITARY RULE

Created: 6/1/1981

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Bolivia: Implications of Continued Military JRu'.e

Bolivia: Implications of Continued Military Rule "fj %

Bolivian military, which has controlled the nation's poliiics

is almost certain lo remain the predominant force through. Whether the current leader. General Garciaeplaced In August is immaterial. Top army commanders will be the real power brokers.

The Bolivian military's almost total lack of profcasionBliam sets it apart from its South American counterparts. Top leaden regularly claim lo be acting ai guardian of the nation's welfare, but their nrimary nxjtive for seizing power is financial gain. Tbeerpetuated by ambitious junior officers who arc motivated by tbe same expectation* for wealth is their superiors.

Although bitter internal rivalries often give the Impression that then the verge of destroying itself, most officers share the same tenets, and thi* holds the institotion together. Moreover, tbe officer corps hUtoocally closes ranks in the face of perceived challenges to its predominance. Intramilitary disputes rarely lead to violence; palace coups are the rule, wiih diplomatic exile or banishment to obscure posts the fate of the losers.

Bolivia has little to offer Washington beyond support for US poaiuons in international forums; yet iteed for close tiea no matter what strongman is in power. US aid props up tbe sagging economy, while US diplomauc backingantle of political legitimacy. Highly aware of the havoc that can be wreaked on internal stabilityotal withdrawal of US aid. Bolivian governments for ihe foreseeable future will make at least token efforts to respondS concern, especially the need to institute an effective program to deal with tbe country's illegal narcotics industry.

Implications or Continued Military Rule^

The Bolivian armed forces historically have faikd lo fulfill Iheii primaryor tbe nation. Since independenceS. inept mililary leadership haseries of crushing defeaU lhat bave cost Bolivia more than half of its national territory and tls only outlet Io Ihe sea. Unable to perform competently against foreign forces, the military turned inward,oupsB|

Yet even in this arena, the armed forces sufferedinstitution was almost destroyedeformist revolutionnly theneed toounterweight lo the growing power of organiied labor saved tbe military from complete dismemberment.4 aambitious, and unified military turned out the civilian government and assumed the predominant position it enjoys todayH|

Morlialioasnature of Bolivian society lends itself to authoritarian rule. The major-

Coesof the population is composed of poor, apolitical Indians essentially

outside ihe economic mainstream. Civilian power centers are few and easily manipulated. The few genuine political, labor, or peasant leaders can be rapidly jailed, silenced, orusually are |

political parties are undisciplined, quarrelsome, andingle stubborn individual. This often produce* intcrpartythat paralyze governmentpractically inviting military intervention. After9 presidential election, for example the Bolivian congress was unaWe to follow constitutional guidelines toinner. Neither of the front-runners would cede in the interestigher national good; each reportedly indicated heilitary takeover to having the other become president. The resellemporary government of dubious constitutionality thai was so weak and inept il listed less than three months before being ousted by the

ledgling civilian institutions also are inherently weak. Authorities have litllc power lo enforce their ruling, and their decision* can bc ignored or diluiod. Personalism. raincr than reaped for law. tends lo be the way of life. Under theseivilian rale usually prove* ineffective, inviting the military to step io to impose order

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Corruption ii Bolivia's most widespread problem and ihc prime motivation behind moil coups. Endemic al all level* ol Bolivian socicly. ii range* from parents bribing teachers lo ensure good iffudsat itn iheir children to public-xtior project* incurring huge costhai key planners can be paid off. Among both civilian and military leaders, corruption has produced an unofTicial code of conduct that allows illegal monetary gainroper reward for governmental service. Brood acceptance of this practice makes reform almost impossible

Corrupt ion in the military has essentially destroyed its professionalism. In the main, an officer seeks to seize power in order lo enrich himself; concern for the nation's welfare is secondary. Moreover, this view has passed from one generation lo theofficers expect lo benefit from the spoils syitem as they advance through the ranks,

The opportunity lo amass large sums of illicit money often depends solely on an officer'! Ingenuity. During President Banzer's tenure in tbe, for example, generals in outlying areas reportedly profiled bytrength reports and pocketing the salaries of their fictional personnel

Under the regime of General Garcia Meza. institutional corrupiion has risen appreciably, largely becauseew emphasis on government links with the illegal narcotics industry. Several levels of officials reportedly have received millions of dollars inom narcotics traffickers in return for allowing drugs to flow unhindered into Ihe illicit market. The long-term effect Is not yet clear, but many in the military believe Ihis exceeds even Iheir lax standards of acceptability Considerable sentiment exists to root out at least tbe most notorious traffickers and Iheir colUboritors

Influencing Military Unify

Bolivian military ta notariety of social and political philosophies are present within tbe officer corps. Bul the tenets uniting the institution arc not disputed and intramilitary differences are of secondary' importance. Moreover, all disagreement* are submerged quickly when challenge* arise to cither the miliury* authority or its position in

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key element of unity is lhat the military regards ilseiras the dominant socialthe traditional mining aod landowning aristocracy. Tbe old social order was dismantled by2ew elite failed to develop, and the military stepped in. Rising to the lop by default. Ihe military proceeded to block tbe social changes under way. although it charged that theovernments had themselves done the destroy-

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4 military regimes have viewed themselves as saviors andwhose duty Is toountry beset by internal cleavages and to implement vitally needed OWi-tunerl programs. These same rulers, how-ever, hare ciicd the difficulty or accomplishing these goals as /unification lor prolonging their stay in the presidential chair. Power cannot be returned lo civilians unlil Ihe politicians are sufficiently "educated" locarry out their

also stemservasive convictionivilian government would dismember and humiliate the military. The officer corps remembers the severe purge it suffered after2 revolution, particularly in its senior ranks. The officers who survived-arge part of today's hierarchy-havearanoia, vowing never to let ihe armed forces become subservientengeful civilians J|

Another point rallying the military is the alleged threat of radicala ihreat thai has little basis in fact. Bolivia's Communist Party is extremely weak, and the only significant leftist party. Jaime Paz Zamora's Movef ibe Revolutionary Left, advocates nonviolent methods to aehkvt its goals. Nevertheless, ihe argument is widely accepted, especially toilitary takeover. Oeneral Garcia Meza, for example, annulled0 presidential election and seized power with ihe claim that ihe military had lo act io save the country from Communism.

The strength of institutional unity does not preclude bitter power struggles within the officer corps, particularly over competing presidential ambitions. Al any time, several rivalledigh-ranking officer-may be maneuvering for control of one of the half-dozen key regiments orenuous alliance^

Violent confrontaliwi is usually avoided, however, for fear that it would undermine the discipline, unity, and authority of the armed forces and therefore benefit the left. Plotters usually adhere to an unwritten rule that power grabs must not divide the armed forces, and leadership passes to the officer wbo provesave the most support among key military units. Losers are usually forced into retirement or rdegalcd to obscure assignments ai home or i

la the face of meaningful civilian opposition, the military generally closes ranks, even around an unpopular leader. An exception occurredhen poor preparation by the ploitera and growing civilian pressure combined to unseat Col. Alberto Naiuscb Butch after onlyays. This iiKssiem humiliated ibe militiry,epetition of this episode is unlikely ia the near future.,^

Unity does noi preclude Ihe military from replacing one of its own with another officer when the current strongman fall* into disfavor.4 the majority ofilitaryave left itv presidential pabce in this fashionate thai abo seems likelj fe- General Garcia

The military power monopoly ha* shown minimal responsiveness to civilian critics withinas theshows little interest in meeting Ihe needs of the nation The Bolivian military is, however, highly sensitive to Washington's concerns because US aid is vital to the country's primitive economy, and US diplomatic acceptanceuch-needed mantle of legitimacy. USherefore,ajor role in Bolivia's internal developments

US altitudes alao affect other nations' relations with Bolivia. Continuing US opposition to Ihe Garcia Meza regime, particularly to its lie* lo ihe narcoticsin ihe withdrawal of the USsuspension ofisolated Bolivia diploma tkally andoncomitant slowdown of financial assistance from most of Ibe world community. Even Argentina, which originally strongly backed Garcia Meza. is having second thoughts, largely because of continuing US

Garcia Meza's inability to obtain US approval prompted his gewernmem's primary advisory council to now lhat international relations are decisive for internal peace and development. Although acknowledging the importance or recognition from such major South American powers as Brazil aodil pointed out lhat continued estrangement from the United States outweighed ihcir support. It thenumber of specific measures it believed had to bc taken lo satisfy US condition* for nor miration.

Garcia Meza has taken some itcps ioormalization of relation* with ihe United States.dgingly acknowledged US demands to clean up the narcotics trade by rehKtanlly removing his chief military supporter because of charges thai he was closely baked to drag uafficktrs. Also, he briefly instituted operation* lo suppress the illegal narcotics industry, even though he reportedly is one o! the main beneficiaries of ill profits.^

The continued lack of US support for Garcia Meza encouraged bis rivab to plot against him, with USat leastvital part of all coup planners' strategies. Despite Washington's avoidance of favor to one faction over another, Bolivia's military leaders consislenlly interpret even the smallest USlackhighly signifi-

Wilh Tew alternatives available, Bolivia is usually compelledake al leasi some effort io respond io US concerns. Garcia Meat's nonnarcoticsfor example, led lo the arrcsls of some minor traffickers anddisrupted the illegal tecjine trade Major traffickers arc still at large, however, and the regime's commitment to the program is in

Men recently terminated biflitary support to the effort Nevertheless.

military leaders arc keenly aware that being held at arm's length by tbe

United Sutes wreaks havoc with the ability of any Bolivian regime to govern

effectively.^

Despite its proclivity for coup plotting, the Bolivian military is ihe most cohesive insiitution in ibe country. Il Is not likely to withdraw from politics in the not decade and will almost cert* nly look over the shoulder of anypresident, cither military or civilian fB

The military regimes of the next several years will not make any major changes in the style of governing, although increasing civilian participation in both the government and domesiic politics isew constitution will be required, for example, and election and party reform bills will be discussed, giving ibe appearance of democracy. Any such efforts, however, will be designed morelacate perceived US concern* than outommitment to civilian rule. jjj

Garcia Meza sbe chosen by his military colleaguesill be an officer they judge to be acceptable to the United Slates. His first task will be toormalization of relations with ihe United Slates and otherhich is considered essential for gelling financial help for ihe country's severe economic problems.^

The Bolivians believe normal relations with the United Slates will require an effective program to deal with ibe narcotic* issue.inimum, they believe this means the arrest of several of the major traffickers and less military involvement in the illegal cocaine industry. These arc possible in light of both the Bolivian military's perceived need for close tics with the United Stales and Ihe apparent disgust of junior officer* with the military's tainted image.'ff

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