Backing freedom in Bolivia

Inasmuch as the United States is often castigated for doing something wrong in Latin America, it is only fair to voice approval when it is doing something right. The cutoff of US military and most economic aid to Bolivia in the wake of a military coup there falls in this category. Secretary Edmund Muskie struck the right note when he pointedly condemned the takeover as thwarting the Bolivian people's desire for democratic rule.

Washington has invested enormous effort in recent years to help Bolivia move toward democracy -- as have Ecuador and Peru -- and the nation was indeed making progress. The Bolivian Congress was soon to elect a new civilian president following popular elections. But the Bolivian military, jelous of its privileges, falsely claimed there was communist penetration of the country and seized control of the government -- adding still another to the more than 180 coups which have taken place since bolivian independence in 1825.

Despite some street disturbances, the military appears to have consolidated its power and there is little hope at te moment for more popular resistance. But the danger is that the coup will eventually touch off an internal struggle which could come to be controlled by extreme leftists and rightists and which could polarize country. By flouting the popular will of the people, the Bolivian officers only play into the hands of radicals, who can claim that because the military is not prepared to accept change peacefully the only way to achieve its is through violence.

It goes without saying that the US, which has also ordered the withdrawal of its military mission and reduced its embassy in La Paz, should stick by its policy. The condemnation of the coup by the Organization of American States also adds to the kind of international pressure that could have an effect on the military junta, which may not have the resources to hang on. There is little doubt that communist forces look for opportunity to work mischief -- but it is also true that is is brutal military dictatorships which prepare the soil. Turning Bolivia back to the civilian and democratic course its people plainly want is the way to a assure that nation's progress -- and contribute to stability in Latin America.

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