2 minute read

Hugo Bánzer Suárez: 1926—: Politician

A New Era

Bánzer's four years in office proved to be something of a surprise for his detractors. Instead of reviving the harsh autocratic rule of his earlier presidency, he worked to ensure progress on human-rights laws, and championed a reform of the judiciary with a new criminal-law procedure code. He strengthened ties to the United States, and complied with American and United Nations strategies to eliminate Bolivia's drug trade. This move—which sometimes involved paramilitary raids on Aymara or Quechua coca farms, whose families had been growing the plant for centuries—was an unpopular strategy in the countryside. The resulting decline in the coca trade brought economic hardship and ensuing violence.

Bánzer's presidency was marred by his prior association with Pinochet. In October of 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London, and a judge in Spain ordered him extradited there to stand trial for human-rights abuses stemming from his presidency. Pinochet was eventually returned to Chile and placed under house arrest. but the Spanish legal case presented evidence that linked Bánzer to Chile's infamous "Operation Condor" in the 1970s. This was an attempt by Chilean military intelligence to eliminate political threats to the Pinochet regime, which was said to have been supported by the CIA. Allegedly Bánzer and leaders of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay agreed to return political refugees to their home countries—where they were usually harassed and often imprisoned; some died in custody.

Bánzer denied any knowledge of Operation Condor and asserted that the charges were baseless, according to a report in the Economist. He claimed instead "that he is the victim of an international socialist conspiracy to defame him," the magazine reported. "In off-the-cuff remarks, he also blamed certain unnamed European governments for providing shelter to these supposed far-left libellers." Bánzer was criticized both at home and abroad for these statements, which were viewed as a setback for progress on human-rights issues in the country. Some members of Bolivia's Congress had been part of that younger generation in South America targeted by Operation Condor, and had even been jailed during Bánzer's own regime.

On a more positive note, Bánzer backed down when protests in Cochabamba Valley once again threatened to turn deadly. A plan to privatize the water system and build a dam there would have yielded increased water charges for residents, and protests in April of 2000 grew into a road blockade. Bánzer sent in army troops, and protesters fought back, setting fire to government vehicles. Anti-government sentiment across Bolivia gathered force, and there were several strikes, including one by its police force. As a result, Bánzer's government was forced to make some concessions, and the dam project was canceled.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyHugo Bánzer Suárez: 1926—: Politician Biography - Long Military Career, Ousted From Office, A New Era, Resigned Due To Poor Health