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Victor Paz Estenssoro

three-time President of Bolivia

Victor Paz Estenssoro

Ángel Victor Paz Estenssoro was born in Tarija, Bolivia, on October 2, 1907. He studied economics and law at San Andrés University in La Paz, and opened a law practice in the national capital in 1927. He subsequently gave up law in favor of economics, beginning with a position in the Ministry of Finance and as a professor of economics at San Andrés University. His involvement in politics began after he fought in the Chaco War against Paraguay (1932-1935), first as economic adviser to President Germán Busch (1937-1939) and then as a member of the Chamber of Deputies (elected in 1939).

In 1941, Paz Estenssoro and many others formed the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, aka MNR), which seized control of the government in 1942. He became Finance Minister in the government of President Colonel Gualberto Villarroel in 1943, but was forced into exile when Villaroel was deposed and hanged from a lamppost outside the presidential palace in a 1946 military coup.

Although many of its leaders were in exile, the MNR put up candidates in 1951, including Paz Estenssoro for President. The party won the elections, but none of its major candidates were able to assume office due to being exiles. In April 1952 the MNR joined the national police and tin miners in a three-day war against the Bolivian army, during which about 600 people died. The revolt was led by vice-presidential candidate Hernan Siles Zuazo, who dutifully handed power over to Paz Estenssoro upon his return from exile.

During Paz Estenssoro's first term as President, the indigenous population of Bolivia was granted full citizenship and voting rights. Other major events included the nationalization of tin mines (the largest part of the country's economy) and an agrarian-reform law that began transferring arable land of the central plateau to the Indians.

As per the Bolivian Constitution, Paz Estenssoro was not allowed to run for re-election in 1956. He spent the next four years as Ambassador to the United Kingdom in the government of President Hernán Siles Zuazo.

Since the Constitution only prohibited re-election to consecutive terms, Paz Estenssoro was allowed to run for another term in 1960, and won decisively. During this term Bolivia reached agreements with the U.S. government, the Inter-American Development Bank, and West German industrialists providing for reorganization of the nation's tin industry. Paz Estenssoro also got the Constitution amended to allow consecutive terms as President. About 70 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots for him in the 1964 election, but he was overthrown by a military coup in November of that year and only barely managed to get himself and his family out of the country.

Paz Estenssoro spent the next several years as a professor of economics at the University of Lima. Although he was not officially banned from Bolivia, he did not return (except for brief visits) until August 1971, when he became an adviser to President Hugo Banzer Suárez, who had overthrown the coup that had overthrown Paz Estenssoro. He was forced into exile again, however, when Banzer refused to hold elections in 1974.

Elections were finally held in 1978, but the results were questioned and new elections were called for 1979. Paz Estenssoro was a candidate both times, but finished third and second, respectively. Both elections left no candidate with a majority of votes, and the military continued to run the country until 1982, when it agreed to recognize Hernán Siles as the elected President of Bolivia.

Although he was by now well into his 70's, Paz Estenssoro once again ran for President in July 1985. He finished second to Banzer in the popular vote, but since neither candidate received a majority it was left to Congress to determine a winner. Paz Estenssoro was elected on August 5 and installed the next day. During this term he instituted a program of economic austerity that reduced hyperinflation (which at one time was an unimaginable 24,000%), privatized tin mines (the opposite of what he had done during his first time), cut government deficits, and changed the tax collection system. Although his policies stabilized the Bolivian economy, they also adversely affected tin miners. When miners marched on La Paz in 1986, he had the union leaders arrested and ordered the Army to block the march, moves which cost him a great deal of support among the very people who had helped him gain the presidency back in 1952.

Paz Estenssoro's third term as President ended in 1989, at which time he retired from politics and returned to his birth place. He died there on June 7, 2001.


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This page was last updated on September 09, 2018.