1952 Bolivian Revolution

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The 1952 Bolivian Revolution took place when the Movimiento Nationalista Revolucionario (MNR) ousted the ruling military junta that had power in Bolivia at the time. Fighting broke out April 9, Wednesday of Easter Week, and took power three days later. The MNR had some legitimacy as its candidate, Victor Paz Estenssoro, had won a plurality in Bolivia's 1951 election but was never allowed to take office.[1]

By the end of February 1952, the head of the military police, General Seleme, pledged his forces' support to the coming revolution. When, on April 9, he was dismissed from the ruling junta on charges of plotting a revolution, the MNR took their cue. They distributed arms to civilians and workers and quickly succeeded in taking power in three days, with 600 lives lost.[2]

As the MNR had attempted to work within the system by winning elections and instead had to take power through force, it felt no obligation to compromise or work within the system. Thus, it "began its famous revolutionary restructuring of society" during the Paz Estenssoro presidency of 1952 to 1956.[2]

United States Support

The Bolivian revolution has been called "the only genuine social revolution to which the United States provided early and sustained support."[3] The U.S. blueprint for Bolivian development for the first decade or so after the Revolution was based on the Bohan Plan. For more information, see the article on U.S. Agricultural Assistance to Bolivia.

In 1957, U.S. aid made up 32% of the Bolivian government's total income, an amount that gradually decreased to 25.5% by 1961, 14.8% by 1963, and 4.1% by 1965.[4]

The U.S. interest in Bolivia has been attributed to humanitarian concerns, fears about the spread of Communism in the western hemisphere, and "a third objective, more implicit than explicit, of moderating or deradicalizing the revolution."[5] Examples given of the latter point are the U.S. insistence on compensating the expropriated mining companies, and supporting private property rights. "United States policies consistently sought to limit or decrease government participation in the economy, such as control over foreign exchange and management of extractive industries, and to promote expansion of the private sector. Under U.s. influence the petroleum code, the mining code, and other measures helped to improve the investment climate for foreign capital.""[6]

Economic Development Policy

Victor Paz Estenssoro said that economic development was the key to Bolivia's future and he was even willing to sacrifice some of the political goals of the revolution to achieve this.

"This central fact, that the social goals of the revolution could not be attained without economic progress- which itself could not be attained without external assistance - was the central political problem of the MNR throughout its dozen years in power. In spite of all of the political compromises and side roads that it was to take, the MNR never did depart from its central belief that economic development was a prerequisite for social development."[7]

However, it has been said that "The MNR, unfortunately, was so thoroughly occupied with the problems of seizing and maintaining political power that it was never able to formulate a well-defined program of how planning was to be organized under the new society that it was to create."[8] Without much of a plan of its own, the MNR turned to the Bohan Plan, written in the United States a decade earlier.

Up to 1952, "mining... determined the national pattern of urbanization, transportation, trade, and government revenues."[9] While the nation had a few railroads connecting mining areas with seaports, the rest of the nation lacked "modern" roads. The first actions of the new regime in 1952 and 1953 were nationalization of the mines and agrarian reform. MNR's early policies were also pro-labor, not only giving workers the right to organize and ignoring the Labor Code's ban on union involvement in politics, but also giving miners some say in the management of the business.[10]

During World War II and the Korean War, the tin mines had enjoyed high demand and prices. Even as the quality of the ores fell, the U.S. built a smelter able to handle low grade Bolivian ores and continued to buy Bolivian tin. Following the nationalization of the mines, with the Korean War over, tin prices fell and the U.S. no longer needed tin to support a war effort. Additionally, when the mines were nationalized, the foreign mining engineers and managers left the country, leaving the mines with a lack of skilled replacement.[11]

Meanwhile, following the agrarian reforms, agricultural output fell from $113.1 million (measured in constant 1958 prices) in 1952 to $101.7 million in 1954.[12] (A good question is whether actual output fell or whether the output was the same but the sales of agricultural goods fell as the peasants could now eat the food they produced. This is acknowledged by Richard S. Thorn, who says "Even more serious than this was the fact that the flow of agricultural foodstuffs to the market fell drastically as many of the new landowners enjoyed their higher incomes in kind."[13]) Food imports increased, particularly imports of wheat, flour, butter, and sugar.[14] By 1954, urban areas were experiencing food shortages and, with foreign exchange earnings down due to Bolivia's reliance on tin alone "Bolivia had reached a dead end."[15] President Paz Estenssoro called on the United States to provide it with immediate aid, particularly in food, and help it diversify its economy as quickly as possible.[16]

1953 Agrarian Reforms

Bolivia's 1953 agrarian reforms are one of the Western hemisphere's most far reaching agrarian reforms in history. According to Lawrence C. Heilman:

"Sixteen months passed from the time the MNR was installed in power before the Agrarian Reform Decree of August 3, 1953 was enacted. During this period, peasants on the northern Altiplano in the area of Achicachi and in the Valley of Cochabamba, spurred on by leadership from the mines, seized numerous haciendas and made their own division according to their instincts of what was equitable. These land divisions must have contributed to spurring on the government of Paz Estessoro, leader of the MNR and the first president after the 1952 Revolution, to develop the Agrarian Reform Decree. Paz Estenssoro recognized the political value of supporting a radical land reform as a means of capturing the campesinos' support and, therefore, supported a law that would give the broadest possible access of the campesinos to owner­ship of land.[17]

As of 1950, on the eve of the revolution, six percent of landowners controlled 92 percent of Bolivia's cultivated land, leaving the remaining 94 percent of Bolivians with only eight percent of the land among them. More specifically, nearly half of the land (49.57%) was in the hands of less than 1 percent of the landowners (0.71%), who each owned more than 10,000 hectares. At the other end of the spectrum, nearly half of the landowners (49.64%) held less than three hectares each, with the majority owning less than one hectare apiece.[18]

Under the Agrarian reform, 185,000 peasant families (45% of rural families) received a total of 263,000 titles for 3.8 million hectares of arable land by 1968. On average, families received 20.5 hectares each. However, some 300,000-350,000 peasant families, by 1968, still lacked titles to the land they claimed.[19]

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References

  1. Herbert S. Klein, “Prelude to the Revolution.” In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 40.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Herbert S. Klein, “Prelude to the Revolution.” In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 46.
  3. Cole Blasier, "The United States and the Revolution," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 53.
  4. Cole Blasier, "The United States and the Revolution," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 88.
  5. Cole Blasier, "The United States and the Revolution," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 100-101.
  6. Cole Blasier, "The United States and the Revolution," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 102.
  7. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 169.
  8. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 159.
  9. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 158.
  10. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 163.
  11. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 173.
  12. James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, Appendix Table 1.
  13. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 177.
  14. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 177-178.
  15. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 179.
  16. Richard S. Thorn, "The Economic Transformation," In Beyond the Revolution: Bolivia Since 1952, James M. Malloy and Richard S. Thorn, eds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971, p. 179-180.
  17. Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982, p. 229.
  18. Ministry of Public Finance, Censo Agropecuario, Bolivia, 1950.
  19. Lawrence C. Heilman, U.S. Development Assistance to Rural Bolivia, 1941-1974: The Search for Development Strategy, PhD Thesis, American University, 1982, p. 233.

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