PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Movimiento Nacionalista
Revolucionario (MNR), or National Revolutionary
Movement, vs. the forces of a government-sanctioned
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Bolivia
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The MNR sought to
overthrow a government-supported military junta
and assume leadership of the nation.
OUTCOME: The MNR came to power.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
CASUALTIES: No figures available
For six years after the fascist military- and peasant-backed Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) fell from power in postwar Bolivia (see Bolivian Revolt ), the Marxist Partido de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (PIR) tried to rule the country by establishing coalition governments with older parties. Not only did the PIR ultimately fail, it cleared the way for the rise in 1950 of the more radical Bolivian Communist Party, which dissolved and replaced the PIR and alarmed the country’s right-wingers.
Meanwhile, the still-outlawed MNR remained a powerful force in Bolivian politics, advocating land reform and the nationalization of the tin mining industry.
When the MNR’s presidential candidate, Victor Paz Estenssoro (1907–2001), founder and leader of the party, now in Argentine exile, won a plurality victory in the 1951 Bolivian elections, the military intervened directly and formed a 10-man military junta led by General Hugo Ballivían. The denial of Estenssoro’s victory and the installation of the junta triggered a popular revolt during April 8–11, 1952.
Disassociating itself from its fascist wing, the MNR sought an alliance with a small Trotskyite party with important miners’ union support. Now supported by armed workers, peasants, and the national police, all led by Hernán Siles Zuazo (1914–96), the MNR overthrew the junta and recalled Estenssoro from exile. He was proclaimed president on April 16. With this, the brief Bolivian National Revolution one of Latin America’s more important social revolutions was installed. Estenssoro set about his radical reforms: The tin industry was summarily nationalized, and miners’ wages were raised; the great landowners were dispossessed and their holdings distributed to the Indians; and voting was reformed, with universal suffrage guaranteed. Not only were Bolivia’s Indian peasants enfranchised, they had become a major, if mostly mute, political force that all subsequent governments had to court.
On the negative side, Estenssoro made no attempt to reconcile with those in the opposition but, rather, moved ruthlessly and even brutally against the “enemies of the revolution.” The result was a decade of instability and abortive revolts among civilian as well as military groups, culminating in the Bolivian Guerrilla War.