Less than a week after the military government of General Luis Garcia Meza announced a round of sweeping price hikes on basic foodstuffs, Bolivian paramilitary and security forces assassinated nine leaders of the Bolivian Revolutionary Left Move- ment (MIR) as they met in a La Paz house. The murders, which have provoked widespread protests, decimated the top leadership of the MIR in Bolivia. The MIR was founded in 1971 by dissident Christian Democrats, the youth sector of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and independent Marxists. It was one of the major participants in the progressive coalition headed by Herndn Siles Suazo which won the 1980 elections only to be over- turned by the military. Jaime Paz Zamora of the MIR had been elected vice president. Among the assassinated MIR leaders were Artemio Camargo, a major leader of the Bolivian Mineworkers Federation, Jos6 Reyes Carvajal, Arcil Menacho and Jorge Baldivieso Menacho (all of whom had been elected to the parliament in the 1980 elections), and Ricardo Navarro (a professor of sociology and member of the National Resistance leadership). A government communique jus- tifying the murders stated that the nine were "training groups of foreigners to murder members of the Armed Forces and civilians," and that they were caught with "large quantities of Cuban-made arms." More Austerity The January 15 attack on the MIR leaders came at a moment of serious tension in the country. One week earlier the military had an- nounced a new "economic package" which included drastically increased prices for many basic consumer items. The cost of bread doubled, milk went up 30%, and meat and cooking oil prices jumped 14%. Transporta- tion, gasoline and utilities prices also skyrocketed. At the same time, the government refused to implement any wage hikes. With international bankers knocking on their doors to demand payment of a short-term debt of $170 million (the long-term debt is $3.5 billion), and the IMF sitting on the last portion of an aid program, Bolivia's military rulers are un- doubtedly trying to impress on their creditors that they "mean business" and will not coddle the nation's workers. Coke and a Smile The Bolivian economy is in very serious trouble. Tin prices on the world market, Bolivia's major foreign exchange earner, continue to fall and worker opposition to the military has resulted in drastically reduced production levels. In fact, only cocaine production continues to boom. Prices for coca leaves (legally harvested in Bolivia) have risen from $850 per metric ton to a reported $15,000 in less than a year. Some wealthy Bolivians have taken the country's new role as the world's leading dealer quite in stride. Showing an unusual con- cern for Bolivian workers, one pro- fessional noted to the Washington Post, "It's a new moral code. Tin mining produces little and destroys the lives of Bolivian miners. Cocaine makes a great deal of money and destroys grin- gos. What do we care?" International drug money, however, will hardly trickle down to the masses who now face a very bleak economic situation. To prepare for the expected popular protests against the price hikes, the military has taken steps to beef up its own security forces. Lamen- ting the country's "almost non- existent security forces," Interior Minister Col. Luis Arce Gomez reported on January 7 that the government would create a new national police force. A week later the Defense Ministry ordered the compulsory drafting of all Bolivian males between 18 and 20. They were given a week to report for du- ty. No student will be granted a diploma nor will any worker be allowed to keep his job if he can't show that he has served his time. Support From Washington As the Garcia Meza dictatorship moved to crush any and all pro- test, it waited anxiously for signals from the new Administration in Washington. The waiting game may now be over. In a January 1981 article in Commentary, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan's newly-appointed Ambasssador to the United Nations and the Ad- NACLA Report 40update update update update Administration for having sup- ported the inauguration of Herndn Siles Suazo after he won the 1980 elections in Bolivia at the head of a progressive coalition. What's hap- pening to time-honored traditions of U.S. diplomacy, Ms. Kirkpatrick wonders. "Even five years ago," she wrote, "the U.S. would have welcomed a coup that blocked a government with a significant Communist/Castroite component. Ten years ago the U.S. would have sponsored it, fifteen years ago we would have conducted it." It seems likely that the murders of the nine MIR leaders in Bolivia, coupled with the assassinations of the six leaders of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) in El Salvador and Secretary of State Haig's assertion that concern with rights, signals that the Washington clock has been pushed back a good many years.
Tags: Bolivia, price hikes, assassinations, MIR, Gen. Luis Garcia Meza