Created: 6/1/1981

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Bolivia: Implications of Continued Military Rule


Bolivia: Implications of

Continued Military Ruin

The Bolivian military, which has controlled the nation's politicss almost certain lo remain lhe predominant force through. Whether ihc current leader. General Garcia Meza. is replaced in August is immaterial. Top army commanders will be the real power

The Bolivian military's almost total lack of professionalism sets it apartSouth American counterparts. Top leaders regularly claim lo be actingof the nation's welfare, but their primary motive for seizingfinancial gain. The cycle is perpetuated by ambitious junior officersmotivated by the same expectations for wealth as their superiors.

Although bitter internal rivalries often give the impression lhat lhe mililary is oa the verge of destroying itself, most officers share the sarne.teneu. andthis holds the institution together. Moreover, the officer corps historically closes ranks in the face of perceived challenges io its predominance. nlrsmiliiary disputes rarely lead to violence; palace coups are the rule, with diplomatic exile or banishment'.'to obscure posts the fate of Uie losers.

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

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Bolivia: Implications of Continued Military Ruleflft

The Bolivian armed forces historically have failed to fulfill their pri.naryof the nation. Since independencenept mililary leadership haseries of crushing defeats that have cost Bolivia more than half of its national territory and its only outlet lo (he sea. Unable to perform competently against foreign forces, the military turned inward,coupsi

Yet even in this arena, the armed forces sufferedinstitutiondestroyedeformist revolutionnly lheneed loounterweight to the growing power of

labor saved the military from complete dismemberment.4 aambitious, and unified military turned out the civilian government and assumed ihc predominant position it enjoys

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

Coupthe population is composed ofessentially

outside the 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.ffe

three months before being ousted by the mililary

Bolivia's political parties are undisciplined, quarrelsome, andingle stubborn individual. This often produces interpartythat paralyze governmentinviting military intervention. After9 presidenlial election, for example, lhe Bolivian congress was una bit. to follow constitutional guidelines to determines winner. Neither of the front-runners would cede in the interest ofa higher national good; each reportedly indicated heilitary takeover to having the other become president. The resultemporary government of dubious constitutionality that was so weak and inept it lasted less than

fledgling civilian institutions abo are inherently weak.little power to enforce their ruling, and their decisions can be ignored or

diluted. Personalism, rather than respect for law, tends to be the way of life. Under these circumstances, civilian rule usually proves ineffective, inviting the military to step in to impose oijf-t


Corruption is Bolivia's most widespread problem and the prime motivation behind most coups. Endemic at all levels of Bolivian society, it ranges from parents bribing teachers to ensure good grades for their children to public-sector projects incurring huge cost overruns so that key planners can be paid off. Among both civilian and mililary leaders, corruption has produced an unofficial code of conduct that allows illegal monetary gainroper reward for governmental service. Bioad acceptance of this practiceeform almost impossiblc.fgf)

Corruption in ihe military has essentially destroyed iis professionalism. In the main, an officer seeks to scire power in order to enrich himself; concern for the nation's welfare is secondary. Moreover, this view has passed from one generation to theofficers expect to benefit from the spoils system as ihey advance through Ihc ranks ff}

opportunity to amass large sums of illicit money often depends solely on

an officer's ingenuity. During Presidentcnure_in theor example, generals in outlying areas reportedly profited by falsifying troop strength reports and pocketing the salaries of their fictional personnel. Banter himself was not above using economic benefits to reward loyalty; he reportedly gave large gifts to some of his closes! supporters. VJBk


Under the regime of General Garcia Meza, institutional corruption has risen appreciably, largely becauseew emphasis on government links with ihe illegal narcotics industry. Several levels of officials reportedly have received millions of dollars in bribes from narcotics trafficker* in return for allowing drugs lo flow unhindered into the illicit market. The long-term effect is nol yet clear, bul many in the military believe this exceeds even their lax standards of acceptability. Considerable sentiment exists to root out ai least the most notorious traffickers and iheir collaborators

Factors Influencing The Bolivian military is nolariety of social andare present wjthin the officer corps. Bul the tenets uniting ihe

institution are nol disputed and intramilitary differences are of secondary importance. Moreover, all disagree menu are submerged quickly when challenges arise to either the military's authority or its position in society.fBJ

A key element of unity is thai the military regards itself as ihe dominant socialthe traditional mining and landowning aristocracy. The old social order was dismantled by2ew elite failed to develop, and the military sicpped in. Rising to the top by default, the military rxoceeded to block the social changes under way. allhough il charged thai theovernments had themselves done thel


4 mililary regimes have viewed themselves as saviorsandwhose duty is toountry beset by internal cleavages andvitally needed development prog rams. These same rulers,have died the difficulty of accomplishing these goals asprolonging their stay in the presidential chair. Power cannot becivilians until the politicians are sufficiently "educated" to carry outina democratic ux et)*pm"'r

Unity also stemservasive convictioniviliandismember and humiliate the military. The officer corpssevere purge it suffered after2 revolution, particularly inranks. The officers wholarge pari ofaranoia, vowing never to let the armed forcesto vengeful civilians.

Another point rallying the mililary is the alleged threat of radical subver-:.

hreat Ihai has little basisjn fact. Bolivia's Communis] Party is

extremely weak, and the only significant leftist party. Jaime Paz Zamora's Movement of the Revolutionary Left, advocates nonviolent methodschieve its goals. Nevertheless, ihcJrguroenl jj.wjdely accepted, especially, toilitary takeover. General Garcia Meza, for example, annulled0 presidential election and seized power with the claim lhat ihe military had to act to save the country from Communism^jw

The strength of institutional unity does not preclude bitter powerlhe officer corps, particularly over competing presidentialany time, several rivalledigh-rankingbe mancu' ering for control of one of the half-dozen key regimentsa tenuous

Violent confrontation 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 lo an unwritten rule ihal power grabs must noi divide the armed forces, and leadership passes to ihe officer who proves to have lhe most support among key military units. Losers are usually forced into retirement or relegated to obscure assignments at home or

In lhe face of meaningful civilian opposition, the military generally doses ranks, even around an unpopular leader. An exception occurredhen poor preparation by lhe plotters and growing civilian pressure combined to unseal Col. Alberto Naluseh Buscti after onlyays. This incident humiliated lhe military,epetition of this episode is unlikely in the near future. Mfk


Unity docs nol preclude lhe mililary from replacing one of ils own wilh another officer when ihc current strongman falls inlo disfavor.4 ihc majority of Bolivia's mililary rulers have left ihc presidential palace in thisfate lhat also seems likely for General Garcia Mcni.flfc

The Influencemilitary power monopoly has shown minimal responsiveness io civilian

the Uniled Stales ritics wiihinas theshows Utile interest inthe needs of the nation. The Bolivian military is, however, highly

sensitive to Washington's concerns because US aid is vital to lhe country's primitive economy, and US diplomatic acceptanceuch-needed mantle of legitimacy. US attitudes, therefore,ajor role in Bolivia's internal developmenis.fgj

US attitudes also affect other nations' relations with Bolivia. Continuingopposition lo the Garcia Meza regime, particularly to ils lies io the narcotics,in the withdrawal of the USsuspension

. ofisolaied'Bolivia dip*omatically^andoncomitant

slowdown of financial assistance from mosl of the world community.which originally strongly backed Garcia Meia, is havinglargely because of continuing US

Garcia Meza's inability to obtain US approval prompted his government's primary advisory council to note thai international relations are decisive for internal peace and development. Although acknowledging the importance of recognition from such major South American powers as Brazil andit pointed out that continued estrangement from the United Stales outweighed their support. It thenumber of specific measures il believed had to be taken lo satisfy US conditions for

Garcia Meza has taken some steps toormalization of relations with the United Stales. He grudgingly acknowledged US demandslean up the narcotics iradc by reluctantly removing his chief mililary supporter because of charges that he was closely linked to drug traffickers. Also, he briefly instituted operalions to suppress the illegal narcotics industry, even though he reportedly is one of lhe main beneficiaries of its

The continued lack of US support for Garcia Meza encouraged his rivals to plot against him. wilh USal leastvital part of all coup planners' strategies. Despite Washington's avoidance of favor to one faction over another, Bolivia's military leaders consistently interpret even the smallest USlackhighly signifi-cani.fJBv

Wilh Tew alternatives available. Boliviadually compelled lo make al least someespond to US concerns. Garcia Mea's an.inarcotics pro-

nipicd the illegal cocaine trade. Major traffickers are still atand the regime's commiimcw lo the program is inrecently terminated military support to lhe effort.leaders are keenly aware that being held al arm's length byStales wreaks havoc with the ability of any Bolivian regime'

Despite ils proclivity for coup plotting, the Bolivian military is the most cohesive institution in ihc country. It is not likely to withdraw from politics in the next decade and will almost certainly look over Ihe shoulder of anyure president, either military or civiliar.gJBk

The military regimes of the next several years will not make anyin thestyle of governing, allhough increasing civilianboth lhe government and domestic politics isewbe required, for example, and election and parly reform bills willgiving the appearance of democracy. Any such efforts,be designed more to placate perceived US concerns than out of ato

Garcia Mcza'sbe chosen by his military colleagues byuly-probably will be an officer they judge to be acceptable to the United Stales. His firsl task will be toormalization of relations with the Unncd Sidles und olher nanons. which is considered essential for idling financial help fur the country's severe economic problems.**

The Bolivians believe normal relations with ibe United Slates will require an effective program to deal wilh ihe narcotics issue.inimum, they believe this means the arrest of several of Ihe major traffickers and less mililary involvement in the illegal cocaine indusiry. These are possible In light of both lhe Bolivian military's perceived need for close ties with Ihe United Stales and the apparent disgust of junior officers'with lhe military's tainicd imat


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