Víctor Paz Estenssoro

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This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Paz and the second or maternal family name is Estenssoro.
Víctor Paz Estenssoro
Victor Paz Estenssoro 1958.jpg
Victor Paz Estenssoro in the Netherlands in 1958
72nd President of Bolivia
3rd Term
In office
6 August 1985 – 6 August 1989
Vice President Julio Garrett Ayllón
Preceded by Hernán Siles
Succeeded by Jaime Paz
54th President of Bolivia
2nd term
In office
6 August 1960 – 4 November 1964
Vice President Juan Lechín Oquendo
Preceded by Hernán Siles
Succeeded by René Barrientos
52nd President of Bolivia
1st Term
In office
16 April 1952 – 6 August 1956
Vice President Hernán Siles Zuazo
Preceded by Hernán Siles
Succeeded by Hernán Siles
Personal details
Born Ángel Victor Paz Estenssoro
(1907-10-02)2 October 1907
Tarija, Bolivia
Died 7 June 2001(2001-06-07) (aged 93)
Tarija, Bolivia
Nationality Bolivian
Political party MNR
Spouse(s) María Teresa Cortés de Paz Estenssoro
Alma mater Higher University of San Andrés
Religion Roman Catholicism

Ángel Víctor Paz Estenssoro (2 October 1907 – 7 June 2001) was a Bolivian politician, President of Bolivia and leader of the Bolivian National Revolution. He ran for president 8 times - 1947, 1951, 1960, 1964, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1985; winning in 1951, 1960, 1964 and 1985.

Founding of the MNR and early political years (1941–52)[edit]

In 1941 Estenssoro co-founded (along with Hernán Siles Zuazo and others) the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, MNR), originally a reformist revolutionary movement and later a centrist party. Estenssoro became an influential member in the government of Colonel Gualberto Villarroel (1943–46), but was forced to resign together with other MNR ministers after pressure from the United States regarding their alleged pro-Nazi views. The United States was at the time involved in World War II and suspected some members of the MNR leadership of harboring pro-fascist sympathies.

Estenssoro nonetheless ran for president in elections of 1947 earning 3rd place with almost 5200 votes and again in elections of 1951 when he surprisingly won the electoral contest with almost 54,200 votes (42.9%) The laws of that time confined the vote to a small, propertied stratum of the citizenry which numbered some 200,000 people. The elections were unilaterally annulled by the ultra-conservative government of Mamerto Urriolagoitía, and the MNR at that point went underground.

The 1952 Revolution and the first Estenssoro government (1952–56)[edit]

Among the many important structural reforms adopted by the revolutonary Estenssoro government was the extension of universal suffrage to all adult citizens (natives and illiterates included), the nationalization of the largest tin-mining concerns, and an extensive agrarian reform.[1] Much of the military, which had served so well the interests of the economic elites prior to the Revolution, was dismantled and re-organized as a virtual arm of the MNR party. Clearly the idea was to create a hegemonic ruling party in the image of Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI). The crucial difference between the MNR and PRI was the decidedly de-centralised structure of the country's new military power (i.e., armed workers and peasants), which was largely overseen by the left-wing minority bloc in the MNR, headed by Bolivian Workers' Center (COB+ leader Juan Lechín.[2]

Estenssoro's retirement and splits in MNR (1956–60)[edit]

Revolutionary government newertheless followed the Constitution, which did not allow two consecutive presidential terms, and Hernán Siles Zuazo was elected in 1956 serving as President until 1960. During his administration, the MNR began to polarize and fragment, with the conservative wing led by Wálter Guevara and an increasingly assertive left-leaning faction commanded by the charismatic leader of the COB), Juan Lechín. To prevent the fracturing of his party, Estenssoro returned from London where he served as Bolivian ambassador, and ran for re-election in 1960 with 76.1% of the votes. His choice as vice-presidential candidate was the increasingly hard-to-manage Juan Lechín, an action that prompted the defection from the MNR of Wálter Guevara, who felt that he had been passed over.

Second and third Estenssoro governments (1960–64)[edit]

The second Estenssoro administration was plagued by violence, dissent, and continued defections of the original MNR leadership. Of great importance during this time was the thorny issue of disarming the miners and workers' militias that had participated in the 1952 Revolution and who had been allowed to keep their weapons. In the early years of revolution they had served as a useful counterbalance to the possibility of a conservative or military coup against the Revolution, but by 1960 they were increasingly serving the interests of the radical left vice-president Juan Lechín. Follower of Marxist ideas, he opposed the disarming of the militias and reconstitution of more traditional military and urged the passing of more far-reaching reforms. Estenssoro disagreed and continuing the policy started by Siles, increasingly relied on the "new" armed forces for support. This produced the inevitable final rift, and Lechín was expelled from the party prior to the 1964 elections.

Increasingly unable to control events in Bolivia and considering himself to be the only man who could keep the MNR together, in 1964 Estenssoro decided to amend the constitution and to allow himself to run for re-election. Traditionally, such attempts (known as "prorroguismo") have been strongly condemned by the Bolivian politicians, many of whom have been waiting for their turn to occupy the presidential palace. This was no exception, and Estenssoro's move ended up being his undoing.

His steady rightward drift was demonstrated by the choice of the charismatic commander of the Bolivian Air Force, General René Barrientos as his running mate in 1964 elections. To be fair, his increased reliance on the armed forces was to some extent influenced by Washington's constant demands that the military be fully reconstituted and equipped to fight possible Cuban-style Communist insurgencies. In any case, the decision to pick Barrientos was the final act of folly, as Estenssoro did not seem to have noticed the deep resentment of the outwardly loyal commanders of the "new, revolutionary" military toward the MNR's manipulation of the armed forces for political ends.

The 1964 coup d'etat and exile[edit]

On November 4, 1964 Estenssoro was overthrown in a military coup led by his vice-president René Barrientos and Alfredo Ovando, commander of the army, with the aid of CIA. He flew to a long exile abroad, bitter toward René Barrientos' betrayal and unhappy that the Revolution had taken such a sad turn. Until 1982 Bolivia was dominated by various military juntas and dictators.

He and Hernán Siles Zuazo had split, with Siles supporting more leftist policies. Another MNR leader,Wálter Guevara supported Barrientos and served in his administration. In 1969 Barrientos died in accident and new, populist military government of progressive bend gained power in Bolivia.

Support for Banzer and erosion of support (1971–78)[edit]

When the "excesses" of the leftist Torres military government of 1970–71 became unbearable to civilian elite of centrist and conservative persuasion, Torres was overthrown in a bloody coup d'état led by Colonel Hugo Banzer who had full support of MNR. This move would cost Estenssoro and his party dearly in the coming years. He was apparently under the impression that Banzer would rule for a year or two and then call fresh elections which MNR would naturally win. None of this happened, as in 1974 Banzer broke with MNR, exiled Estenssoro, and proceeded to rule with military support until 1978.

The turmoil of 1978–85[edit]

While Estenssoro had tarnished his image by supporting the reviled Banzer dictatorship, Hernán Siles Zuazo was turning steadily to the left and gaining adherents at his expense. When elections were called in 1978, apparently it was Hernán Siles who won them (there were vast irregularities and 1978 elections were annulled), with Estenssoro getting only third place. It was a major decline from what the MNR had been used to obtain in the 1950s and early 1960s. Elections were re-scheduled for 1979, and when they took place Hernán Siles beat Estenssoro, who got the second place, by just some 1500 votes. The elections proved inconclusive, as none of the candidates had won the required 50% in the direct elections, and the choice of the new president was to be decided by Congress. After three rounds of voting Congress failed to select one of the candidates, and the head of the Senate, Wálter Guevara was selected as temporary president and charged with calling new elections in 1980. In October 31, 1979 Guevara was overthrown by Alberto Natusch who gave up power after two weeks and further chaotic dictatorships followed. While in the June 1980 elections Hernán Siles received 38.7% of vote against Estenssoro's 20.2%, the military again prevented Hernán Siles (associated with parties deemed to be from the "far left") from taking office. General Luis García Meza grabbed the reins of power in the bloody coup d'état of July 17, 1980, and Estenssoro was exiled once again. In 1982 military finally left the Palacio Quemado and 1980 election results were confirmed, making Hernán Siles president.

Estenssoro and MNR opposed Hernán Siles on every front, as his administration plunged Bolivia into a hyperinflation. This was Bolivia's most serious economic crisis in its history, one largely prompted by the collapse of international tin prices and the onset of the Latin American debt crisis. The gravity of the situation prompted (National Congress) to demand that Hernán Siles call early elections in 1985. With 30.4% of the vote Estenssoro came second, behind the 32.8% of the former dictator Hugo Banzer, but was elected president by the Congress. It fact, it was the first time that an opposition party had gained power peacefully in a free election, even though there had long been multi-party competitions in elections.

Fourth and last Estenssoro presidency (1985–89)[edit]

The now-nearly octogenarian Estenssoro began his fourth term as President in 1985. The economic situation was dire, but Estenssoro and his aides had a radical neo-liberal plan. Through Decree 21060 important economic reforms designed to curb hyperinflation were instituted, the labor unions were repressed in order to reestablish government authority, and 30,000 miners were expunged from state payrolls to reduce the size of the government.[3] The readjustment policies - conducted to a large extent by Estenssoro's vigorous Minister of Planning, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who was later to serve as President of Bolivia — came to be known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). It restructured the bulk of the hitherto - statist Bolivian economy and transformed it into a neo-liberal, privatization-oriented one. However, Bolivia remained the poorest country in South America and forces oposed to neo-liberalism began to grow leading to the election of socialist Evo Morales in 2005.[4]

Estenssoro peacefully finished his presidential term and retired from politics in 1989. He died in his home in Tarija on June 7, 2001.


  1. ^ Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson (2007), Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics, London, New York: Verso, ISBN 184467097X, pp. 78–9.
  2. ^ Benjamin Koh and Linda Farthing (2006), Impasse in Bolivia: Neoliberal Hegemony & Popular Resistance, London, New York: Zed Books, ISBN 1842777599, pp. 46–8.
  3. ^ L. Gill (2000). Teetering on the rim: Global restructuring, daily life, and the armed retreat of the Bolivian state, Columbia University Press. ISBN 023111804X
  4. ^ H. S. Klein (2011). A concise history of Bolivia, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521183723.


Political offices
Preceded by
Hugo Ballivián
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Hernán Siles
Preceded by
Hernán Siles
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Alfredo Ovando
Preceded by
Hernán Siles
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Jaime Paz