Bolivia military try to muscle in on government

By , Latin America correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Bolivia's military simply do not like the idea of going back to the barracks and allowing the civilians to rule. They made that plain this week. The armed forces high command told interim President Lidia Gueiler Tejada that she should postpone June 29 presidential elections for at least a year.

Moreover, they said she should form a government of national unity and give the military a larger share in the Cabinet.

President Gueiler kept her counsel, calling her Cabinet into emergency session. But Bolivia's main political parties and major presidential candidates outspokenly rejected the military proposal.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

"It is patently undemocratic," said a spokesman for the Movimiento Democratico Boliviano (MDB), the country's single largest political party. "It is another example of military meddling in the affairs of the citizens of this country."

It remains to be seen whether the military will add muscle to their election- postponement demand. But a confrontation between the military and civilians appears increasingly likely.

President Gueiler obviously is faced with the most serious test of her seven months in office. If she stands up against the military demand, this action could precipitate the 189th coup d'etat in Bolivia's 154 years of independence. On the other hand, if she agrees to postpone the election, she looses credibility with the civilians and weakens her position.

"It is a no-win situation for President Gueiler," an editorial columnist in La Paz said this week.

Mrs. Gueiler was named interim president last November when a military coup led by Col. Alberto Natusch Busch collapsed after 16 days because of widespread civilian resistance. She can count on continuing civilian support, but this may not be enough to forestall military action.

The armed forces demand that elections be postponed came as rumors of an imminent military coup against the Gueiler government swept Bolivia. Uncertainty surrounded military maneuverings.

The Army's Second Corps, stationed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's second-largest city, declared itself in "state of emergency." Many of the country's past coups have originated in Santa Cruz in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia.

The Second Corps also called for the removal of the new US ambassador, Marvin Weissman, for allegedly meddling in Bolivian affairs.

"He is not welcome here," said a Second Army spokesman."He is a meddler."

There were military denials that a coup was about to take place, despite rumors and the actions of the Second Corps.

A military spokesman, for instance, took issue with a US State Department briefing that indicated that the military were considering a coup. "It is a lie and Washington knows it," he said.

This war of words with Washington has been building for some time. For the past couple of years, different military commanders have angrily denounced the US government, the US Embassy in La Paz, the Bolivian capital, and President Carter personally.

Some of these denunciations have centered on Washington's human-rights campaign, which in the past three years has frequently found Bolivia's performance wanting. The Carter administration has spoken out against earlier Bolivian military-dominated governments for infractions of the human rights of Bolivian citizens.

Just why Ambassador Weissman, who has been on the job only a few weeks, has been singled out for criticism, however, is unclear. He was assigned to Bolivia after three years in Costa Rica, where he was regarded an effective but uncontroversial ambassador.

Reports of Ambassador Weissman's alleged role in preventing a coup attempt May 30 by Army commander-in-chief Gen. Luis Garcia Meza have circulated in Bolivia for days. They were picked up in a Washington Post story last week. Although the reports are denied by all alleged participants, including Ambassador Weissman and General Garcia Meza, they continue to circulate.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...