The tragedy of Bolivia is that it has virtually no democratic tradition and precios little political stability. This past weekend's military coup d'etat, toppling the interim civilian government of Mrs. Lidia Gueiler Tejada, marks the 197th time that power has changed hands in Bolivia's 154 years of independence. With governments coming and going so often, it is no wonder the landlocked country, South America's poorest, has been unable to lift itself out of its backwardness.
There seems little likelihood that Gen. Luis Garcia Meza, who assumed that Presidency in the coup, will make much headway on the problem. In fact, the little progress made by Bolivia in eradicating backwardness came by Bolivia in eradicating backwardness came under the moderate reformist governments of the 1950s and early 1960s, when civilian leadership under Victor Paz Estenssoro and Hernan Siles Zuazo, had sufficient time to begin meaningful economic, political, and social change. It was recent presidential balloting with these two venerable politicians again contending for the presidency that led to the weekend coup. Mr. Siles Zuazo had emerged with 38.74 percent of the vote, nearly double that of his old rival, Mr. Paz Estenssoro.
The military never liked either man, for both limited military prerogatives during their several presidential terms a generation ago. Those prerogatives, such as patronage nad payoff, had helped counterbalance the humiliation the military has long felt over a century of battlefield defeats. Even more humiliating for the Bolivian military is growing public anger over its actions. There is little doubt the latest seizure of power is disapproved by the majority of Bolivians. This may be the only encouraging aspect of the current situation. Similar disapproval by the public led to the termination of last November's 16 -day military rule by an Army colonel. The situations are not the same, but an outpouring of public clamor against the new Garcia Meza government might give the Bolivian military pause to consider its recent actions. The only problem is that the military, unknown for restraint, might take it out on civilians as it has done in the past.
There is therefore little to be optimistic about in the present situation. The best that other governments can do is to make known to the new leaders in Bolivia their disgust with the recent events and prod General Garcia Meza to work out an early return to civilian rule.