Related topics

Victor Paz Estenssoro: Architect Of Bolivia’s Revolution With PM-Bolivia, Bjt

August 5, 1985

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Victor Paz Estenssoro earned his place in history three decades ago while presiding over one of Latin America’s most sweeping revolutions. Today, at age 77, he won the presidency again after one of its longest political comebacks.

Over the years, Paz Estenssoro has remained a central character in the turbulent politics of his poor Andean nation - a man of conservative bent whose training in finance tempered his populism, giving a pragmatic, managerial style to his leadership.

Pushed by the uprising that brought it to power in 1952, his first government nationalized foreign-owned tin mines, redistributed landed estates to thousands of Indian peasants and decreed universal suffrage.

But while becoming Bolivia’s longest-ruling 20th century president, the increasingly autocratic Paz Estenssoro wore out his popularity. Early in his third term, in 1964, the air force general serving as his vice president overthrew him.

During the next two decades, Paz Estenssoro spent 11 years in exile, collaborated with a right-wing military regime and lost three presidential elections. Yet, while patiently awaiting another chance, he sustained the image of an able elder statesman, aloof from the endemic corruption and violence of Bolivian public life.

″He is a patriarch who wants to be the Adenauer of Bolivia and unify his countrymen,″ says Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a mining entrepreneur who is one of his economic advisers.

Among the many attributes Paz Estenssoro brings to the task is an ageless stamina. At one stretch in the recent campaign, he stumped five straight days at six rallies on Bolivia’s 13,000-foot-high Altiplano.

In those rural villages, the memory of 1952 was the key to his campaign of 1985. The candidate, a tall, distinguished figure with silver hair and steel- rimmed glasses, would make a speech recalling how his party distributed guns to help the peasants win their land. Older villagers would shout: ″Long Live the Father of Agrarian Reform 3/8″

Paz Estenssoro is not a fiery spellbinder of crowds as was Juan Peron, his late Argentine contemporary. But in conversation, he commands attention. His eyes seem fixed in a startled, wide-open stare. His recall of minor charaters and incidents from decades ago is astonishing.

So is his grasp of current Latin American affairs. From his reading, which friends say consumes up to 16 hours of his day, Paz Estenssoro is conversant in detail about such topics as the renegotiation of Mexico’s foreign debt.

″He is an intellectual strongman,″ says Sanchez de Losada. ″He calculates his decisions with cold logic, which sometimes betrays him because he lacks political instinct.″

He was born Oct. 2, 1907, in Tarija. His father was a prominent banker. An uncle retired as president of the departmental supreme court at age 90.

A lawyer by age 20, he began government service as a legal advisor to the budget commission. He also worked for Patino, one of the three great mining companies he later nationalized.

After decorated service as an artillery sergeant in the 1932-35 Chaco War with Paraguay, Paz Estenssoro served three terms in Congress and led a group of young veterans in shaping postwar discontent into reformist fervor. They founded the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, borrowing populist ideals from European Marxism and Fascism.

He helped engineer a 1943 coup to install a reformist military regime and served as its finance minister. A counter-coup three years later sent him to exile in Peron’s Argentina, where he remained while voters elected his clandestine movement to power in 1951. Branded a Communist by the military, Paz Estenssoro was prevented from returning to assume the presidency until the 1952 armed revolt led by peasants and tin miners.

As president, he limited expropriations to large estates and tin mines, attracted U.S. aid and promoted a national class of entrepreneurs. During his 1963 visit to Washington, President John F. Kennedy held up his government as a model for the Alliance for Progress.

″Paz represented a generation that blamed Bolivia’s poverty on the landowning and mining oligarcy, and he didn’t hesitate to ally with Marxists to destroy it,″ says Rene Arce, chairman of the San Andres University history department. ″But he was never an ideologue. He was a pragmatist. To many on the left, he sold the revolution short.″

After letting Vice President Hernan Siles Zuazo succeed him in 1956, Paz Estenssoro won re-election in 1960. But Siles led a dissident faction away from the movement four years later after Paz Estenssoro compelled Congress to amend the constitution so he could serve a consecutive term.

Further discredited for joining his party to a repressive military regime from 1971 to 1974, he lost subsequent popular votes to Siles, becoming electable again only after Siles was barred by the constitution from seeking a new term this year.

However, Paz Estenssoro never lost his countrymen’s respect. His large mouth and high forehead had long ago earned him the nickname ″El Mono″ (The Monkey). But even among the urban working class that voted against him this time, he is also referred to with reverence as ″Doctor Paz.″ His aides address him as ″Jefe,″ or Chief.

Since a mid-1970s exile in the United States, where he taught history at UCLA and the University of New Mexico, Paz Estenssoro has lived on his 7.5- acre farm in Tarija, growing beets, peaches and apples.

Widowed with a son and daughter during his first presidency, he married Maria Teresa Cortez in 1955. They have three grown daughters. Paz Estenssoro has four grandchildren.

He underwent surgery in 1973 for stomach ulcers. A man of rigid habits, he eats frugally, takes an hour-long siesta after lunch, smokes a pipe and drinks only an occasional glass of wine or beer. ″He doesn’t have the vices that other Latin men enjoy,″ says a nephew, Javier Campero Paz. ″He doesn’t know what he missed.″

Update hourly