REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE REPUBLIC OF BOLIVIA
1. This Chapter will make an analysis of the political rights in Bolivia in light of the country’s Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights.
2. This Chapter also contains a brief study of political developments in recent years and of the interruption of the process of return to democracy, as well as an examination of the measures enacted after the military coup d’état on July 17, 1980, which are seriously undermining the effective observance of political rights.2
1. The Bolivian Constitution guarantees the exercise of political rights. It upholds the right of all citizens to meet for lawful purposes, which in political matters, is inherent in that right, while in Article 222, it indicates that citizens have the right to organize themselves into political parties in accordance with the Constitution and the Electoral law.
2. As regards the right to vote and to participate in government,3 the Political Charter provided that citizenship consists of:
1. Participating as a voter or as a candidate in the formation of exercise of the powers of the state.
2. The right to hold public office, the only requirement being fitness, apartment from exceptions established by law.
These rights have their origin in the sovereignty of the people; the Bolivian Constitution recognizes this by adopting the representative, democratic form of government,4 and by certifying that sovereignty rests with the people; that it is inalienable and imprescriptible, and that the people doe not deliberate nor govern except through its representatives and through the authorities created by law.5
The clearest expression of the right to vote is found in the Constitutional provisions on the formation of the powers of the state: they provide that the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic are made up of members elected by direct universal vote, by a simple plurality, and that the President and Vice President shall be elected at the same time by direct suffrage.
Article 90 addresses this latter point:
If none of the candidates for President or Vice President of the Republic obtains an absolute majority of votes, Congress shall elect them from among the three who received the larges the number of votes for each office.
If after the count, none gains an absolute majority of the votes of the representatives present, the next vote shall be between the two candidates gaining the largest number of votes. In the case of a tie, the vote shall be repeated until one of the candidates obtains an absolute majority.
The election, count and proclamation shall be in public, permanent session.
In the event of the absence or impediment of the President, the Constitution, the Constitution provides an order of precedence for succession, beginning with the Vice President, followed by the President of the Senate, the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the President of the Supreme Court of Justice.
In the absence of the Vice President, and if three years of the presidential term have not been completed, a new election shall be held to fill out the term of office.6
Title Nine, Chapter I, Article 219 of the Constitution provides that suffrage is the foundation of representative democracy, and is based on the universal, direct and equal, individual and secret, free and mandatory vote; it is also based on the public counting of the votes and on the system of proportional representation.
Article 220 provides that all Bolivians over the age of twenty-one, or over eighteen if they are married, are eligible votes, regardless of their level of education, occupation, or income, the only prerequisite being registration in the civic register upon presentation of personal identification documents. Article 221 also indicates which citizens are eligible, saying that those who know how to read and write and meet the requirements established in the Constitution and the law shall be entitled to vote.
4. Chapter two of the same Title recognizes that representation of the people is exercised through political parties or through fronts or coalitions formed by parties, and that civic groups representative of the active forces of the country with recognized standing may form part of those fronts or coalitions of parties and present their candidates for elected posts.
5. Article 225 of the Constitution calls for electoral bodies, and Article 226 guarantees their autonomy, independence and impartiality, setting their membership, jurisdiction and competence through the laws regulating their performance.
1. As a result of the Santa Cruz rebellion and the insurrections that took place on August 10-21, 1971, Hugo Banzer, then Colonel Banzer, came to power. He de facto government lasted for six years and eleven months, and was initially mad up of the Armed Forces and the political parties of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), led by the former president, Dr. Victor Paz Estenssoro and the Bolivian Socialist Falange headed by Dr. Mario Gutiérrez Gutiérrez; these two groups, together with General Banzer as President, constituted the first stage of his government under what has been called the Nationalist Popular Front.
The alliance did not last long. President Hugo Banzer, in Supreme Decree 11947 of November 9, 1974, ordered suspension of the political parties, and the Armed Forces assumed total political and administrative responsibility for the country. The Government of General Hugo Banzer was one of the most stable of Bolivia’s governments.
On December 1, 1977, in decree 1516, president Banzer called general elections for President and Vice President of the Republic, Senators and Deputies. The latter would meet initially as a Constituent Assembly to amend the Political Charter, and after completing that task, would become a regular Congress.
2. Once this process of return to a democratic system of government was under way, partial amnesty was granted. After a number of different events, it became a general amnesty, allowing many exiles most of whom were political and trade union leaders, to return to the country; this led to political regroupings and in many cases, sharp divisions between existing parties.
3. Supreme Decrees 15.237 of January 10, 1978 and 15.363 of may 21, 1978 set up the National Electoral Court and the Electoral Districts of the Republic for the popular elections to take place on July 9 of the same year.
Citizens registered en masse for these elections, the first in 12 years, and there were thirteen candidates for the office of President of the Republic. The political spectrum included the following most important tickets: Juan Pereda Asbún-Alfredo Franco Guachall, for the People’s nationalist union (composed of a number of groups); Hernán Siles Suazo-Edil Sandoval Morón for the Popular Democratic Union (UDP), including the left-win MNR, the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR), the Pro-soviet Communist Party, a sector of the Socialist Party and other smaller groups; Víctor Paz Estenssoro-Walter Guevara Arce, of the orthodox MNR and the PRA, General René Bernal-Remo Di Natale, of the Christian Democratic Party; Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz-Carlos Gómez García, of the Socialist Party; Casiano Amurrio Rocha-Domitial Chungara, of the Leftist Revolutionary Front, supported by the trade union leader, Juan Lechín Oquendo, and Luciano Tapia-Isidoro Copa Mayo of the MITKA Indian Group.
4. The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States received a note from the Government of Bolivia dated June 30, 1978 requesting that it send observers to the elections to witness this process that was seeking to return Bolivian to democracy.7 The observers named by the Chairman of the Permanent Council were the former Foreign Minister of Honduras, César Batres; the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, Julio Prado Vallejo, and the former Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Adolfo Molina Orantes. They submitted a confidential report to the Organization.
After examining a number of allegations of fraud and other irregularities, the Electoral court decided to annul the elections. General Bánzer announced the he would in any event hand over power to a Government Junta so that it could call elections within six months.
5. General Juan Pereda Asbún, who was winning by a wide margin when the elections were annulled, staged another military coup in the city of Santa Cruz. President Banzer resigned, turning over power to a Junta of Commanders. They in turn immediately turned power over to the new Head of Government, General Pereda Asbún, who held office from July 21, 1978 until November 24 of the same year.
6. The political parties pressed insistently for new elections to be held rapidly; general Pereda said that a reasonable amount of time was needed to reorganize the electoral colleges. However, by Supreme Decree 15932 of November 14, 1978, elections were called for May 1980. Shortly thereafter, General David Padilla Arancibia, who defended the need to hold elections as soon as possible, took power on November 24, 1978, and called general elections for the first Sunday in July of 1979; like his predecessor, he declared that the 1967 Constitution was still in effect.
7. The major candidates at the July 1 general elections were: Dr. Víctor Paz Estenssoro, Alliance of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (ADNR); Dr. Hernán Siles Suazo, Popular Democratic Union (UDP); General Hugo Bánzer Suarez, Nationalist Democratic Action (ADN); former carabinero Waldo González Valda, Bolivian Unity Party (PUB); Ricardo Catoira, construction Workers Leader (VO); General René Bernal Escalante, Popular Alliance for National Integration; Mr. Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, Socialist Party (PSI); and Mr. Luciano Tapia, Peasant Leader, Tupac Katari Indian Movement (MITKA).
The Constitution states that a candidate needs to obtain 51% of the votes in order to be elected President or Vice President. In the elections held on July 1, 1979, none of the candidates obtained this absolute majority; the Congress therefore had to choose the new President of the Republic from among the three candidates who had obtained the largest number of votes. These three candidates were: Hernán Siles Suazo, Víctor Paz Estenssoro and General Hugo Bánzer Suárez. After three ballots in the Congress, none of the candidates achieved the required majority.
With this in mind, the political grouping alliance of the Nationalist Movement nominated the President of the Senate, dr. Walter Guevara Arze. He was elected interim constitutional president for a term of one year; however, he lasted in office for only 84 days because of the military coup d’état sponsored by DAEM Colonel Alberto Natusch Bush on October 31, 1979.8
Despite the fact that elections had been called by means of a supreme decree, Colonel Natusch Busch’s political movement did not receive popular support from the political parties, which disowned the coup. Convinced that he was unable to govern under those circumstances, Colonel Natusch Bush decided to hand over power to the person chosen by the National Congress, which despite the military coup, continued to perform its constitutional functions.
It was thus that on November 16, 1979, the Legislative Body, by virtue of Article 93 of the Constitution entrusted the Presidency of the Republic to the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Lydia Gueiler Tejada, who was to serve as interim President until August 6, 1980.9
The new Constitutional Government was convinced of the need to complete the process of return to the democratic system that had begun with the calling of elections by General Bánzer, and decided to call general elections for the constitutional term running from August 6, 1980 to August 1984. It set June 29, 1980 as election day.
The Armed Forces asked that the elections be postponed for a year, when conditions for holding them would be better; the Acting President, Mrs. Gueiler, decided to continue with the electoral process, and carry out the mandate she had received from the Bolivian Congress.
The candidates and coalitions of political groups running in the elections were not substantially different from the previous elections; the results showed that the ticket composed of Hernán Siles Suazo and Jaime Paz Zamora10 of the Popular democratic Union (UDP) were winners by a wide margin.
However, the UDP did not achieve an absolute majority, and for the second time, the National Congress had to take up its constitutional duty of electing a president.
According to information received by the Commission, on July 9, former President Víctor Paz Estenssoro, who had come second in the elections, conceded the election to the UDP and stated that they must be allowed to come to power; Silez Suazo and Paz Zamora therefore were assured of their appointment by Congress as President and Vice President respectively. The Electoral Court, in its statement closing the 1980 elections, said that they had been “absolutely clean, well organized and impartial.”
9. The Commission felt it of extreme importance to include this summary of the events and results of the political process in Bolivia in recent years because it believes that this history shows a palpable desire on the part of the Bolivian people to have free, popular elections for their government and to find answers to the difficulties that might arise in returning to the representative form of democracy; and demonstrates the yearning and struggle of a people to reestablish conditions conducive to civilized political dialogue, through an ideologically pluralist government, thus contributing, through the machinery of democracy, to creating better conditions for the social and economic development of its citizens.
Unfortunately, all those efforts by the Bolivian people and their leaders were frustrated by the events recounted below.
1. The Commission must point out that in the months prior to the June 29, general elections the climate was one of instability, isolated but not generalized violence and above all, a great uncertainty as to whether the Armed Forces would allow the democratic process begun two years earlier to be completed.
2. Given these expectations, and particularly given the experience with the military coup sponsored by General Natusch in November, a number of popular groups had decided to form the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy, “CONADE,” the basic members of which are the Bolivian Workers’ Federation (COB); a number of political parties; religious organizations; the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and other popular civic bodies. Its basic objective was to alert the people and prepare them for peaceful resistance through a general strike11 and road-blocks, in the event of any interruption of the return to democratic institutions.
3. On July 17, 1980, the military coup d’état occurred. The Presidential Palace was taken by military forces, and the Acting Constitutional Palace was forced to resign and take refuge in the apostolic nunciature; the headquarters of the Bolivian Workers’ Federation, where CONADE was meeting to prepare its strike call and the road blocks, was attacked, its leaders imprisoned and, as stated in the Chapter on Right to Life, the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, was executed at the hands of government agents.12 The communications media was taken over, looted, and in some cases, destroyed and completely controlled.13
4. The new Military Government put the entire country under military law; it imposed the curfew, and in its proclamation “Participation of the Armed Forces in the present political process” to which the IACHR has already referred in the Chapter on the Political and Legal System, set forth the basic points of its “National Reconstruction Program.”
5. Without doubt, the principal effect of the military insurrection was to interrupt the process of returning to democracy, and as a result, to abolish popular representative institutions.
Thus, in its first act as the government on the question of political rights, it adopted measures such as rejecting the elections, alleging them to have been rigged, despite what the Electoral Court had said; it declared the Congress and all the measures it had adopted to be unconstitutional; it announced that a statute was being drawn up for the operation of political parties, and it put the 1967 Constitution into effect for all matters that did not undermine the purposes and objectives of the new government, which would be in the hands of a Junta of commanders of the three armed forces. This Junta elected General Luis García Meza to serve as President of the Republic.
6. After July 17, 1980. the violations of and restrictions on political rights granted in the Constitution have increased, and in the Commission’s opinion, bear a direct relationship to the measures that appear in the abovementioned proclamation. They have likewise been the cause of other violations of human rights set forth in the American Convention, because of the new regime’s urgent desire to eliminate any opposition, albeit peaceful, and to use these measures to consolidate itself completely.
7. After the military coup of September 17, 1980, the Executive issued Supreme Decree 17612 which ordered the replacement of the Judiciary throughout the whole country; it appointed new Supreme Court justices and judges of the Superior District Courts, and named anew Attorney General.
After the Armed Forces took power, not only was the democratic process interrupted, but there was a de facto suspension of the Constitution governing Bolivian political life and the full exercise of activities necessary to its normal development. The right of citizens to participate in the great decisions of the state by popular election of their representatives to the collegiate bodies was also restricted. All legal authority requiring the separation of powers of the state and mutual cooperation between them was put into the hands of the Junta of Commanders and the President of the Republic.
The later statutes issued by the Junta in July and August 1981 reaffirm that the authority for conducting the affairs of the state and the management of the nation lies with the Junta.
8. In September 1980, the Military Government issued two supreme decrees, the first of which reaffirmed the validity of the 1967 Constitution, which was supplemented by the basic objectives of the process of National Reconstruction (Decree 1760), while the other formed the National Legislative Advisory Commission, CONAL (Decree 17608), which had the authority to act politically, institutionally, economically, socially, and internationally, at the level of President and Junta of Commanders, and to intervene in the passage and review of Decree laws and other decisions on the process of national reconstruction.
These regulations were an apparent intent to return to the rule of law, but they do not achieve that purpose because the decision-making power is retained by the Junta and the President of the Republic, in accordance with the Statute on “Participation of the Armed Forces in the present political process,” which repealed the constitutional order.
9. This violation of and restriction on political rights and the new government’s legal framework for action are per se obstacles to the purposes announced by the Armed Forces, which were “to create the domestic conditions for future participatory democracy having national content,” and do not favor the domestic conditions required for “the tasks of national reconstruction.”14
10. In practical terms, the violation of political rights has been translated into the death and detention of party leaders who, in many cases, have found themselves obliged to leave the country. Most of the know detentions, exiles and cases of asylum are cases involving members of Parliament whose term of office was to expire on August 4, 1980, or those who had recently been elected to the Congress that was to be inaugurated on that date15 and that according to the Constitution, would elect the new President and Vice President of the Nation.
11. The Permanent Council of the Organization was convened by the ambassadors, permanent representatives of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela to consider the situation of human rights in Bolivia in view of the events that had occurred there (CP/INF.1658/80). The meeting ended with passage of resolution CP/RES. 308 (432/80), the text of which appears in the Introduction to the present Report; it deplored “the military coup, which indefinitely suspends the process of democratic institutionalization.” At that time, the Military sent a cable to the Secretary General of the Organization reporting in the following terms on the latest political events in Bolivia:
IN ORDER THAT YOUR EXCELLENCY MAY HAVE ACCURATE INFORMATIONA S TO THE LATEST POLITICAL EVENTS IN BOLIVIA THAT DETERMINED THE CHANGE OF GOVERNMEENT AND THE ASSUMPTION OF OFFICE BY GENERAL LUIS GARCIA MEZA, I AM HONORED TO FORWARD TO YOU THE TEXT OF THE MESSAGE THAT I HAVE SENT TO SOME FRIENDLY FOREIGN MINISTRIES:
I HAVE THE HONOR TO WRITE TO YOUR EXCELLENCY TO INFORM YOU DIRECTLY OF THE TRUE REASONS FOR THE FORMATION OF THE NEW GOVERNMENT OF BOLIVIA. THE DECISION BY THE ARMED FORCES OF THE NATION TO TAKE OVER THE GOVERNMENT WAS NOT THE RESULT OF CIRCUMSTANCE OR PERSONAL AMBITIONS ALIEN TO THE INTERESTS OF OUR CITIZENS; TO THE CONTRARY, AT ALL TIMES, THE ARMED FORCES WERE LOYAL TO THE OPENING UP OF DEMOCRACY THAT THEY THEMSELVES HAD SPONSORED IN 1978, CONFIDENT THAT THEY WERE INTERPRETING THE WISHES OF THE PEOPLE AND THE INTEREST OF THE NATION. UNFORTUNATELY, THE PREMATURE ATTEMPT TO RETURN TO A DEMOCRATIC COURSE, DISREGARDING THE PRUDENT COUNSEL OF THE ARMED FORCES TO POSTPONE ELECTIONS FOR ONE YEAR UNTIL THE CONDITIONS WERE BETTER FOR A FREE AND CLEANER DEMOCRATIC PROCESS, HAS ONLY MEANT SERIOUS MORAL PARALYSIS AND A DELAY IN BOLIVIA’S MARCH TOWARDS DEVELOPMENT. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF AND ABUSING PUBLIC FREEDOM, IN COMPLICITY WITH A SUCCESSION OF GOVERNMENTS, THE FIGURES OF EARLIER TIMES REAPPEARED WITH THEIR DEMOGOGIC, SECTARIAN TALK. THE BANNERS OF HATE AND CLASS WARFARE WERE ONCE AGAIN BRANDISHED, AGAINST EVERYTHING THAT STOOD FOR ORDER AND FRATERNAL COEXISTENCE. ONE OF THE VERY TARGETS OF THEIR MISSION OF INSTITUTIONAL DISRUPTION WERE THE ARMED FORCES, WHO, PATIENTLY RESPECTING THE LEGAL ORDER, DID NOT WISHT TO INTERVENE IN PARTISAN FIGHTS. THEY CONFINED THEMSELVES TO URGING POLITICAL LEADERS AND THE CITIZENRY NOT TO ALLOW THEMSELVES TO URGING POLITICAL LEADERS AND THE CITIZENRY NOT TO ALLOW THEMSELVES TO BE SWEPT AWAY BY ANTI-NATIONAL CURRENTS THAT WERE BEING BROADCAST NOT ONLY BY SOME OF THE PRESS AND SOME RADIO STATIONS THAT WERE MORTGAGED TO THE EXTREME LEFT, BUT, AND MOR SERIOUSLY, BY THE PARLIAMENT ITSELF WHICH HAD BECOME A FORUM FOR IRRESPONSIBILITY AND SLANDER. DURING THIS ENTIRE UNHAPPY PROCESS, WITH OGVERNMENTS WHOSE ONLY CONCERN WAS TO KEEP THEMSELVES IN POWER, EVEN AT THE COST OF THE COUNTRY’S VERY EXISTENCE, THE NATION’S RESERVES WERE DEPLETED BY EXTRAVAGANT EXPENDITURES, AND NOT ONE SINGLE LAW WAS ENACTED THAT WAS OF ANY USE TO THE COUNTRY. ON THE CONTRARY, A FARCE OF AN ELECTION WAS MOUNTED, IN FULL KNOWLEDGE THAT THE ENTIRE ELECTORAL MACHINERY WAS TAINTED; AND THAT IN NO WAY COULD THE RESULTS BE CONSIDERED A GENUINE EXPRESSION OF THE POPULAR WILL. PROOF OF THIS WAS THE INDIFFERENCE WITH WHICH MOST OF THE NATION OBSERVED THE JUNE 29 ELECTIONS. BY STAYING AWAY FROM THE POLLS, THEY INVALIDATED THE RESULTS OF THE VOTE, DESPITE THE PROPAGANDA, THE BRIBERY, THE SQUANDERING OF MONEY OF VERY DOUBTFUL ORIGIN AND THE “VOTE OF THE CEMETERIES.”
THE RESULTS WERE SO MEAGER THAT THE CANDIDATE WHO GAINED AN APPARENT MAJORITY DID NOT GET EVEN 25% OF THE REGISTERED VOTE AND LESS THAN 18% OF VALID BALLOTS. AFTER IT HAD BEEN PROVED THAT FRAUD HAD BEEN COMMITTED ON BEHALF OF THE WINNING TICKET, AND IT WAS SEEN THAT DESPITE THAT, THE TICKET DID NOT GET THE MAJORITY REQUIRED BY THE CONSTITUTION, THOSE SECTORS WHO SAW A MOCKERY MADE OF THEIR HOPES RAISED THEIR VOICES IN PROTEST OVER THE WAY THEY HAD BEEN TRICKED. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE FACTION THAT FELT IT HAD WON STARTED TO THREATEN, AND CALLED ON ITS SUPPORTERS TO USE ALL MEANS AT THE DISPOSAL TO IMPOSE THEIR VICTOR’S RIGHTS. COINCIDENTALLY, THE ANARCHIST-TRADE UNION EXTREMIST ENTITIES UNDER THE UMBRELLA OF THE SO-CALLED NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY (CONADE) DID THE SAME THING, TAKING AN AGGRESSIVE ATTITUDE, JUST LIKE THOSE IN PARLIAMENT WHO WERE ENCOURAGING DE FACTO MEASURES SUCH AS THE GENERAL STRIKE AND THE ROAD BLOCKS, WITH ALL THEIR STRING OF TERRORIST ATTACKS. THEY KEPT THE PEOPLE IN A STATE OF CONSTANT ALARM, IN THE FACE OF THE GOVERNMENT’S REAL OR REIGNED INABILITY TO DEFEND THE RULE OF LAW. THE THREATENING SHADOW OF A MILITARY REGIME HUNG OVER THE COUNTRY. WITH THE COMPLICITY OF THE NATIONAL ELECTION COUNCIL, IT WAS ENSURED THAT THE FRAUD WOULD GO UNPUNISHED. THEY HAD ONLY TO WAIT UNTIL AUGUST 6 TO PUT THEMSELVES ON THE THRONE OF POWER AND PROSTRATE THE COUNTRY BEFORE THEM. BUT EVEN BEFORE THAT DATE, THEY WERE OPENLY PREPARING AND SHOWING THAT THEIR GREATEST INTEREST WAS NOT TO SERVE THE FATHERLAND BUT TO SERVE CAUSES ALIEN TO BOLIVIA. IN THE FACE OF SUCH A GREAT RISK, THE ARMED FORCES OF BOLIVIA, IN ORDER TO DEFEND THE COUNTRY’S SOVEREIGNTY AND INDEPENDENCE FROM ALL FORMS OF FOREIGN INTERVENTION, AS LOYAL INTERPRETS OF THE SENTIMENTS OF THE PEOPLE, WHICH IN THE BROAD SPECTRUM OF NATIONALITY ARE ONE AND THE SAME, I.E., A CHRISTIAN SENSE OF LIFE, A REFERENCE FOR OUR TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS, A RESPECT FOR OUR NATIONAL HEROES AND SYMBOLS AND FOR THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE SOCIETY OF WHICH WE ARE A PART–THE ARMED FORCES COULD NOT REMAIN INDIFFERENT TO SUCH A SERIOUS RISK, AND DECIDED TO CONFRONT IT WITH COURAGE AND SERENITY BEFORE THE UNCERTAINTY OF WELL JUSTIFIED FEAR COULD GIVE RISE TO IRREMEDIABLE ACTIONS AND A CONFRONTATION BETWEEN FACTIONS THAT COULD DIVIDE THE NATION EVEN FURTHER AND PRODUCE SITUATIONS THAT WOULD BE DIFFICULT OT MEN ONCE THEY HAD TAKEN PLACE.
THE DECISION OF THE ARMED FORCES NOT TO ALLOW THE LACK OF GOVERNMENT TO BECOME THE CHAOS THAT WAS SO DEARLY SOUGHT BY THE EXTREME LEFT, MADE THE ACTING PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC, MRS. LYDIA GUEILER TEJADA, TURN OVER POWER TO THE ARMED FORCES. THEY IN TURN, APPOINTED BRIGADIER GENERAL LUIS GARCIA MEZA TEJADA TO SERVE AS PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC. A TRULY NATIONALIST-INSPIRED AND INSTITUTIONALIST GOVERNMENT WAS THUS FORMED AT THE SERVICE OF THE COUNTRY AND THE BOLIVIAN PEOPLE. THE GOVERNMENT OF BOLIVIA, WHICH EMERGED AS AN ESSENTIALLY NATIONAL NEED, REMOVED FROM ANY INTEREST OTHER THAN THE GOOD OF THE COUNTRY, IS CONSTITUTIED WITHOUT ANY DOMESTIC RESERVATIONS OR HATREDS. IT WISHES TO CULTIVATE AND INCREASE ITS RELATIONS WITH ALL OTHER COUNTRIES OF THE WORLS, THE ONLY CONDITION BEING RESPECT FOR ITS SOVEREIGNTY AND FREE DETERMINATION. IN EXPLAINING THIS SITUATION WITH SINCERITY AND WITH THE UTMOST OBJECTIVITY, WE APPEAL TO YOUR EXCELLENCY’S UNDERSTANDING AND CALL ON YOUR DIPLOMATIC MISSION ACCREDITED IN THIS CAPITAL AS AN EYEWITNESS OF WHAT IS HAPPENING IN BOLIVIA, WHICH HAS BEEN MALICIOUSLY DISTORTED ABROAD BY BIASED INFORMATION MEDIA.
WITH MY RESPECTS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY,
(SIGNED) GENERAL JAVIER CERRUTO CALDERON
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF BOLIVIA
Both in the days following July 17 and more recently, a number of
spokesmen for the Bolivian Government or high military officers have stated the
intention of gradually beginning a program to reestablish the constitutional,
democratic system whenever domestic conditions permit.
September 17, 1980, the Government issued Decree Law 17606, which stated in the
was once more incumbent upon the Armed Forces to take the historic
responsibility of renewing the process of institutionalizing the country,
imposing domestic order and safeguarding national sovereignty in order to
reconstruct the Nation with a view to the unity and economic and cultural
integration of the Republic, and the creation of domestic conditions for future
participatory democracy having national content.
this decree, the Military Government called on all the country’s active forces
to work with the Armed Forces on the task of national reconstruction.
Law 17609 issued on the same date ordered preparation of a global strategy plan
for 2982-2990, in order to guide the process of national reconstruction on a
number of different bases, the first of which reaffirmed “the reconstruction
of an institutional political system that is truly democratic and genuinely
Bolivian as the basis for national unity.”
In December 1980, in a televised interview, the Commander of the Bolivian
Air Force, General Waldo Bernal Pereira, member of the Junta, declared that
“some day, there will be elections.”
In February 1981, the Minister of the Interior, Colonel Luis Arce Gómez,
announced that a ministerial resolution had been adopted creating the so-called
“National Civic Committee” an entity which according to the Minister, would
seek to reestablish “an organic, party democracy” in the country.
The resolution “is designed to put civic life on the road to a gradual,
progressive, organic democracy within the present legal structure, in order to
permit direct participation by the nation’s productive sectors…”
The Minister of the Interior said that the system of “organic
democracy” would be designed to replace the practice of the parliamentary
system of party political representation.16
government’s decision made provision for the formation of regional civic
committees in all departments, subsequently, they would form the National Civic
Committee, which would be the highest body of the so-called organic democracy.
to this resolution caused the Junta to suspend it, in a decision that for the
first time meant that the new government was rectifying, albeit temporarily, a
decision that had apparently been of significance to it.
To date, the Commission has been unable to determine whether the measure
was rescinded, or whether it was finally put into effect.
In any event, the IACHR wished to point out that the so-called “organic
democracy” violated the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, and does
not guarantee the full exercise of the political rights set forth in the
American Convention, which does not permit temporary suspension of such rights.
In April 1981, at the working breakfast with representatives of the
national communications media and members of the international press, the
President of the Nation, General Luis Garcia Meza, reaffirmed the government’s
decision to keep all political organizations in abeyance until domestic
conditions were right, and confirmed that whenever the government decreed an
opening, it would be for all political groups.
During that same month, President Garcia Meza asked the National
Legislative Advisory Commission, CONAL, to draw up a new political constitution
as an initial step in the institutionalization of the country.17
received by the Commission states that the President of CONAL, General (Ret.)
Juan Lechín Suarez, said that “the writing of a new political charter
for the country represents a positive step forward on the road towards
democratization.” He added that
“CONAL will write the new constitution without prejudice, slogans or bias.”
He also said that the draft constitution would be made public, and that
experts on the subject would be consulted on it.
Since it was a delicate and important matter, CONAL would have no
deadline for completing the draft proposal.
Lechín also confirmed that the intent of the new political charter was to
establish a viable democratic system of peaceful coexistence, unity and peace,
with clear objectives for Bolivia’s future.
He explained that CONAL, in taking on the task of preparing a new
constitution, did not pretend to be doing the work of a constituent assembly;
that its functions were advisory, and that the Government would decide after it
had received the draft whether it was advisable to submit it to a Constituent
Assembly or to popular referendum.
It should be pointed out that in order to move towards democracy,
measures such as Decree 17531 which restrict the freedom of association by
suspending trade union and political activities must be repealed along with all
those that hinder the process of restoring the Constitution.18
According to information published in April and May, the Military
Government overcame at least 2 attempted revolts19
within the Armed Forces themselves, the participants demanding the resignation
of the President and the dismissal of the high military command.
Popular resistance within the country, which was finally brought under
control, finds its best expression at the moment in the political, trade union,
and religious leaders who had to leave the country, by force of circumstance,
and who are fermenting a campaign abroad for a prompt return to political
institutionality and legal normalcy; for recognition of the sovereign, authentic
expression of the Bolivian people as the primary electoral power and for
honoring the Bolivian state’s commitments on the protection of human rights,
pledges which originate both in the domestic Constitution and in the
international juridical instruments to which Bolivia has voluntarily committed
itself on a sovereign basis.20
To this string of leaders who were forced into exile we must add former
President Hugo Bánzer, who as stated in this chapter, began the process of
return to democracy. He had to
leave Bolivia for Argentina on May 12, hearing that his life was in danger, and
that there were apparent orders out from government authorities to kill him,
according to statements he made in Buenos Aires on May 13.21
Bánzer returned to Bolivia in August 1981 after President García Meza’s
On May 26, 1981, President Luis García Meza put down a new attempt to a
military coup in Cochabamba that had demanded his resignation and the removal of
the Junta of Commanders. He
announced that he would leave the presidency on August 6, 1981, after having
completed one of the stages of the announced process of national reconstruction.
President García Meza called a meeting of the junta for July 17, 1981 in
order to elect his successor, who would formally take power on the date
indicated above. In subsequent
statements, the President announced that the new Chief of Government might
possibly be a civilian, or a member of the Armed Forces.
After President García Meza had announced his resignation, a new attempt
at a military coup took place on June 27, 1981.
It was headed by Army Commander General Humberto Cayoja and the Chief of
the General Staff, General Lucio Añez Rivera.
After this new attempt failed Generals Cayoja and Añez left the country.
Despite earlier announcements, as stated in Chapter I of the present
report, on July 17, 1981 the Junta decided to confirm General García Meza as
President; the Junta took over greater control of the state and made substantial
changes in the Government Statute.
military uprising took place on August 3, 1981 headed by Generals Añez Rivera
and Natusch Busch. They had
secretly returned to the country, and issued a proclamation from the city of
Santa Cruz demanding President García Meza’s immediate resignation and the
installation of a government of “National Reconstruction and Dignity.”
a result of this, President Luis García Meza resigned on the night of August 4,
and handed over power to the Junta, thus avoiding any armed confrontation with
the dissident military group.
The Junta of Commanders–Generals Waldo Bernal and Celso Torrelio Villa
and Rear Admiral Oscar Pammo–announced that they would continue the lines of
the Process of National Reconstruction begun by General García Meza, and that
they would guarantee respect for human dignity, would pay homage to freedom and
would honor the country’s international commitments and the established legal
order. After beginning talks wit
the rebel group, some negotiations got under way, and the Junta temporarily
became the nation’s government. On
September 4, 1981, the Junta designated General Celso Torrelio Villa as the new
President of Bolivia. Swearing in a
new cabinet, the new head of the government said that his administration’s
basic objective would be to institute national democracy within three years,
after a legal, administrative and institutional reorganization.
He noted that this objective would be achieved by beginning with the
Armed Forces, and would depend on the degree of the Bolivian people’s
On the basis of all the background information given above, the
Commission has come to the conclusion that current conditions in Bolivia,
particularly the systematic muffling of any opposition to the regime; the
announcement of the writing of a new Political Constitution prior to any
political activity; the forced exile of its major leaders and in general, an
atmosphere of repressive action, do not allow us to see in the near future any
political opening that would allow for full enjoyment of political rights, even
less, the recognition of the popular will in a truly representative and
American Convention on Human Rights.
Article 23: 1. Every citizen
shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities.
a. to take part in the
conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen
representatives; b. to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections,
which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that
guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters, and c. to have
access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his
The law may regulate the exercise of the rights and opportunities
referred to in the preceding paragraph only on the basis of age,
nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or
sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings.
Resolution AG/RES. 510 (X-O/80) of the General Assembly, on the
Annual Report and Special Reports of the IACHR, adopted at the sixth plenary
session held on November 27, 1980, based itself on the recommendations
presented by the Commission in its Annual Report, and stated in the
preamble: “That a democratic
structure is essential to the establishment of a political party where human
values can be fully realized.” The
operative part of this resolutions states: “6. To
recommend to the member states that have not yet done so that they
reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government, in which the
exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of the
will of the people, in accordance with the particular characteristics and
circumstances of each country.”
Article 40 of the Political Constitution.
Article 1 of the Constitution states:
“Bolivia, a free, independent, sovereign nation constituted as a
unitary republic, adopts representative democracy as its form of
Articles 2 and 4 of the Fundamental Charter.
Articles 60-63 of the Bolivian Constitution.
The Permanent Council of the OAS adopted resolution CP/RES. 245
(332/78), which states: “HAVING
SEEN the notes presented by the Governments of Panama and Bolivia dated may
16 and June 30, 1978, respectively and the decision of the Permanent Council
adopted at the meeting held on January 25, 1978, on the basis of a report of
the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs concerning the designation
of observers to electoral processes, RESOLVES:
1. To authorize the
Chairman of the council, in cooperation with the permanent missions of
Panama and Bolivia to the Organization of American States and the Secretary
General, to invite three distinguished personalities in each case to witness
on a personal basis, in accordance with the nature, purposes, and principles
on which the Organization is based, the general elections to be held on
Sunday July 8, 1978 in Bolivia and on Sunday August 6, 1978 in Panama.
2. To request the
cooperation of the Secretary General in taking the administrative measures
that may be required.
The military uprising occurred on the day the ninth regular session
of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States closed in La
Paz; that very day, the Assembly passed resolution AG/RES. 429 entitled
“Declaration of La Paz,” operative paragraph 5 of which “stresses the
importance for the member states to reestablish or improve democratic
systems of government in which the exercise of power derives from the
legitimate and free expression of the popular will in accordance with the
unique characteristics and circumstances of each country.”
The resolution passed by the Congress of the Republic stated:
CONSIDERING the need to normalize the country’s institutional life
within the framework of the Political Constitution of the State and the real
factors emerging from the break-up of the constitutional democratic process
that occurred on November 1 last: 1.
To revoke the mandate conferred on August 6, 1979 to citizen Wálter Guevara
Arze, in his capacity as President of the National Senate, to serve as
Acting President of the Republic. 2. Pursuant to Article 93 of the Political Constitution of the
State, to entrust the Presidency of the Republic to the President of the
Honorable Chamber of Deputies, citizen Lydia Gueiler Tejada, who will hold
the office of interim President of the Republic, as of this date until
August 6, 1980, with all the powers conferred on her by the great charter
and the law as Chief of State. Chamber
of the National Congress. La
Paz, November 16, 1979. (Signed)
Leónidas Sánchez Arana, President of the National Congress; Benjamín
Miguel Harb, Congressional Secretary; Luis Añez Alvares, Congressional
Secretary; Jorge Alderete Rosales, Congressional Secretary; Jaime Villegas
Durán, Congressional Secretary.
Jaime Paz Zamora, who was the Vice Presidential candidate, was unable
to be present during the elections, because of an airplane accident on June
2, 1980; he was in the United States recovering from the burns he had
The peaceful resistance in the form of a general strike during
General Natusch’s uprising was very successful.
CONADE’s call for a general strike was the most significant
resistance, particularly in the mining centers.
The Military Government warned that those who stayed away from work
would be severely penalized, and would lose their jobs on Tuesday, July 22.
Repression and control of any outbreak of resistance was also rapid
and bloody. In these
circumstances, on July 22, the leading Bolivian trade union leader, Juan
Lechín Oquendo, who had been detained at the COB headquarters on the first
day of the coup, appeared on State television in a conversation with the
Minister of the Interior. In
answer to a question, he said that he was perfectly well and “confirmed
that he had not been mistreated, harmed or psychologically pressured in the
Department of Military Intelligence where he had been detained, and urged
Bolivian workers to end the general strike and the road blocks to prevent
the shedding of blood. Despite
this, various chapters of the present report have recounted events that
indicate loss of human life, detentions, undue violence and other forms of
restriction on human rights.
The Commission has received a number of documents from the Permanent
Assembly for Human Rights giving an account of the events surrounding the
Ideas set forth in Supreme Decree 17606 on September 17, 1980.
An account has been given in other chapters of the detentions
following the coup d’etat; the death of the leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa
Cruz, and the subsequent assassination of the leaders of the MIR; and also
of the forced exile of Hernán Siles Suazo, Jaime Paz Zamora and other
leaders of the coalition that had won the June 29 elections.
There were immediate, negative reactions to this measure,
particularly in the city of Santa Cruz. The Prefect of Santa Cruz resigned, and there were
announcements in that area of the country of a work-to-rule, because the
measure was felt to limit the city’s autonomy.
The measure was described as precipitous by entities that, like
Pro-Santa Cruz Committee, had supported the July 17 military coup.
Information contained in a UPI news cable of April 9, 1981, published
in the “Servicio Informativo” of the Organization of American States.
At the end of February 1981, the Commission learned of what the
government of General García Meza called the “consolidation” and the
beginning of a period of institutionalization, and the appointment for the
first time of three civilians to the Cabinet of Ministers.
One of the attempted uprisings, the one of May 11,was attributed to
the Commander of the Center for the Instruction of Special Troops (CITE),
Lieutenant Colonel Emilio Lanza, who finally gave up his rebellious stance;
this occasioned a declaration by the ministers of States requiring the
adoption of legal measures in the civilian-military field in order to impose
a climate of peace and understanding among the Bolivian people.
The same communiqué attributed this rebellion to a broad, continuing
political conspiracy to prevent the democratic reconstruction proposed by
the Armed Forces. National and
international drug trafficking organizations were also accused of mobilizing
the extreme right and left to prevent any normalization of the country’s
relations with the rest of the world and to destabilize the Government.
Colonel Lanza had accused the regime of “failure to govern,
cover-ups, drug trafficking, domination and abuse of the population.” (AP
News Agency, May 12, 1981).
On December 17, 1980, the Presidents of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and
Venezuela, who with Bolivia, are members of the Andean Subregional
Integration Agreement (The Andean Group), invited Bolivia to return to
democracy. In a statement
issued at the events commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary
of the death of Simón Bolívar the Liberator, they said: “Respecting the principle of nointervention and of the
sovereign capacity of peoples to direct their own destiny. Concerned over the political process in Bolivia, whose
authorities invited the foreign ministers of five countries to a special
meeting in Santa Cruz, held before the constitutional process was
interrupted. Moved by a full
understanding of all the historical circumstances of the Bolivian people
appeal in the most cordial terms to the authorities of Bolivia, the favorite
child of the Liberator, to again take the road towards the
institutionalization of democracy, in homage to the Bolivarian spirit that
today brings together the nations to which he gave independence.”
The response by the Bolivian foreign ministry to this appeal was to
abstain from the Andean group and refuse to accept any imposition on Bolivia
of a particular political course. Subsequently,
the Government of Bolivia announced its desire to continue its active
participation in the regional agreement.
In the middle of April, former President Bánzer had withdrawn the
support of his party, the Nationalist Democratic Action (ADN), from the
military Government. The three
civilian members of the cabinet belonged to that political group and two of
them had in fact participated in previous elections as nominees for Vice
President on the ticket headed by Bánzer himself.
At the time of his announcement, former President Bánzer reported
that between July 17 and April 14, he had met 8 times with President García
Meza, and had voiced his concern over errors and mistakes in the regime’s
administration. However, the
civilian ministers continued to work with the Government.
Because of these events, rumors denied by General Bánzer arose that
both he and General Natusch were linked in a conspiracy; press clippings
have shown that Bánzer and Natusch had been put under house arrest or
detained for alleged links with the opposition to the Government.
General Bánzer alleged that his supporters in the provinces had been
detained and interrogated, and the supporters in the provinces had been
detained and interrogated, and the newspaper “El Deber” reported that
the Ministry of the Interior had ordered the regional chief of the AND, Mr.
Heberto Castedo, to be confined in the town of Cuervo.
On May 13 1981, the wife of General Alberto Natusch announced that
her husband would go into exile in Italy.
Finally, on May 14, General Natusch arrived in Lima, and reported
that he had been forced by the Government to leave the country; he said that
the Government should not continue in power because it had no backing in
history and was antipopular.