Revolutionary peasants in the Cochabamba valley after the presidencies of Víctor Paz (1952–56) and Hernán Siles (1956–60) understood that anti-peasant sentiments ran deep in the MNR party membership, in both the left- and right-wing sectors. These peasants, by then, had also experienced the vanguardism of the Partido de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left Party, PIR) and Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Revolutionary Workers Party, POR), who had disavowed peasant claim to political autonomy. Revolutionary peasants in Cochabamba had only circumstantial allies when they fought for land and political autonomy. They were aware that confronting the revolutionary state was not a good idea; after all, they had centuries-long experience of state repression. Therefore, they had no other option than to reluctantly cling to the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, MNR) in order to attain their own political space.
The Ucureña peasant central led the revolutionary movement towards the construction of an autonomous political space for the Cochabamba peasants. In 1960, in the middle of the climax of the MNR-monitored clash between the Cliza and Ucureña militias, an Ucureña peasant leader declared to the press: “Ucureña is the MNR, but does not belong to the MNR.” It was a dismal message, indeed, a warning to the MNR that even peasant patronage had limits. The MNR did not get the message, instead they blamed the messenger and hung on to their anti-peasant rhetoric. This political misunderstanding was dearly paid for Víctor Paz, as General René Barrientos removed him from power in 1964, forcing the end of the revolutionary era in Bolivia.
This chapter analyzes the role of the Cochabamba valley peasantry in the power struggle that culminated in the Champa Guerra (1959–64).1 The revolutionary regime’s electoral campaign for the third presidential term (1960–64) unleashed unprecedented political violence among the MNR’s internal factions, each vying for power and favor. Extreme political violence began in the Cochabamba valley in 1959—when the first clash occurred between the Cliza and the Ucureña peasant militias in the Valle Alto—and ended in 1964, when the military pacified the peasant movement and led a coup against the MNR regime. The struggle between the MNR’s left and right wings intensified in 1959, when both Víctor Paz and Walter Guevara announced their presidential candidacies. Both candidates sought votes in Cochabamba and worked to undermine the union leadership of the powerful Ucureña peasant central. At the core of the peasant political struggle was a latent division between town dwellers (vecinos) and peasants (campesinos). The ethnic perceptions that historically differentiated vecinos from campesinos sharpened when peasants gained political power due to the revolutionary changes brought by the MNR. The struggle between city and countryside originated from the tense pre-revolutionary relations of domination and subordination between the so-called “civilized” vecinos and the “barbaric” campesinos.
During the 1960s, the political and military power struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States, generally referred to as the Cold War, intensified. The triumph of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in 1959 encouraged left-wing parties in Latin America to seize power through the mobilization of peasant troops. National armies in Latin America aligned themselves with the anti-communist position, under the leadership of the United States, against urban and rural, Cuban trained and supplied guerrillas. In the following two decades, bloody “dirty wars” erupted all over Latin America, which in each incidence resulted in a war won by the military, with the exception of Nicaragua.2 These political tactics were also evident in Cochabamba, where the miners’ and urban workers’ movements had gained influence among peasant unionists. Juan Lechín acted as the left’s visible head in Bolivia and governed as vice-president during Víctor Paz’s presidency (1960–64).3
The MNR’s internal political dispute deepened the division and conflict between the Cliza and Ucureña peasants. A collision course between the city and the countryside arose once again, triggered by the workers’ attempt to reclaim leadership in Cochabamba and subordinate the peasant movement. The Bolivian armed forces had undergone training and received financing from the United States government through aid programs, employed to help the rural population. The military utilized this support as a base to actively engage in politics and in the fight against communism. As Thomas Field posits: “Civic action programs of the Alliance for Progress fueled a rapid militarization of development in the countryside, with many projects receiving the enthusiastic endorsement of future coup leader General René Barrientos.” 4
General René Barrientos emerged at that time, seeking the political support of the peasants to launch his vice-presidential candidacy alongside Víctor Paz in the presidential election for the 1964–68 term. General Barrientos understood how to capitalize on his contacts with peasant unionists, he organized a truce between the Cliza and Ucureña militias, and he also developed a peasant-military pact in 1964. His public image grew to national stature when it became evident that he was able to control the peasant militias, and worked to remove the leftist influence in their ranks. From this moment on, the peasants were virtually neutralized as an autonomous political force and the axis of political conflict shifted from the country to the city. In November 1964, just a few months after Víctor Paz and René Barrientos won the election and began their constitutional mandate, Barrientos mounted a coup d’état which thrust the MNR from power, thus ending the revolutionary era in Bolivia.
This chapter also analyzes the regional political discourse that was produced by the peasants, the MNR politicians, and the military in this period. The source of information for this analysis is the El Mundo newspaper, published in Cochabamba. Through El Mundo editorials, press conferences, and communiqués, political actors participated in the rhetorical arena debating over the contentious concept of peasant boss or cacique campesino. In this period, peasant participation in regional politics reached its climax, although cities gradually displaced the rural areas as centers of political activity as the military gained power. Two distinct moments can be identified when analyzing public discourse in this period. The first, from 1959 until 1962, wherein the MNR’s antagonistic left- and right-wing struggled for power. The second, during 1963 and 1964, was marked by the political emergence of the military, which culminated with the military’s coup d’état against the MNR in 1964. The intense political conflict during this second period spawned a great deal of political discourse published in the Cochabamba press. The regime’s information monopoly was suspended, and three local newspapers—El Mundo (1958–64), Prensa Libre (1960–64), and Crítica (1960)—began circulating in Cochabamba, all of which defined themselves as independent. The El Mundo newspaper was published during the entire period in question, and thus it was selected as the source for analysis.
The Struggle for Power and the Role of Peasant Unionism
In late 1958, both Víctor Paz and Walter Guevara were vying to be nominated as the MNR’s official candidate in the presidential elections of 1960, with Paz supported by the left-wing faction of the party and Guevara supported by the right. The nomination of the official candidate was planned to be announced during the MNR annual convention, which actually took place in January 1959. Both prospective candidates began campaigning in order to demonstrate their ability to gather more public support at the ballot box. Obtaining peasant support in Cochabamba was a priority for both presidential aspirants, because garnering that support not only would secure a great mass of future voters but also would hold important symbolic value for the national electorate. When political campaigning began in late 1958, Víctor Paz received the support of the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Campesinos de Cochabamba (Union Federation of Peasant Workers of Cochabamba, FSTCC), the Ucureña, and the Sacaba peasant centrals. Walter Guevara and his right-wing faction could only count on the support of the Quillacollo peasant central.
Walter Guevara’s first campaign initiative involved destabilizing his opponent in the Valle Alto. His aim was facilitated by an internal rupture amongst the leaders of the Ucureña peasant central. One of the Ucureña’s second-level leaders, Miguel Veizaga, felt that the main leader, José Rojas, was holding him back, since he had not been allowed to ascend the chain of command. Miguel Veizaga was born in 1919, and was a colono in the Santa Clara hacienda in Ucureña. He attended school until the first grade and never enlisted in the army. After the April 1952 revolution, he was influenced by the POR. Although elected as Ucureña’s peasant central general secretary in 1954 (see figure 4.1), José Rojas opposed his appointment. In 1959, Veizaga was elected as Cliza’s peasant central general secretary and, from that position, he began challenging José Rojas’ leadership in the Valle Alto. In 1962, he was imprisoned by the military and, later on, exiled to the city of La Paz. In 1965, the military uprooted him to the city of Cochabamba and banned him from ever returning to the Valle Alto.
The first signs of Veizaga’s breakdown with Rojas came during sessions of the fourth conference of peasant leaders at the El Morro (Sacaba) peasant center, in May 1958. At this event, Veizaga questioned Rojas’s power and dared him to delegate command to a new cohort of leaders emerging in Ucureña. This position followed the government discourse line demanding an end to caudillismo (big man leader personality cult) in union leadership. After the conference, Walter Guevara contacted Veizaga proposing an agreement of aid and mutual support in their plans for accruing power. From his post as minister of state, Guevara backed up Veizaga’s political campaign. This support allowed Veizaga to win the elections for the Cliza peasant central’s general secretary at the head of a committee, a committee partially composed of leaders that would later constitute his cadre of dissident supporters. As such, Veizaga began his term in the Cliza peasant central as an infiltrator who inserted Guevara’s right-wing political interests into the heart of the peasant union line, which, in the Valle Alto, supported Víctor Paz. Veizaga’s political actions and his connection to Walter Guevara seeded significant tension amongst peasant leaders in the Valle Alto (see figure 4.1).
Meanwhile, aspiring candidate Víctor Paz, as the MNR’s national leader, appointed two trusted soldiers—Gualberto Olmos and Eduardo Rivas—as prefect and chief of the Comando Departamental del MNR (MNR’s Departmental Commando, CDM) in Cochabamba, thus guaranteeing that the direction of regional politics would be controlled by his sector.5 This political maneuver snatched the control of the CDM from the right wing of the party, which was the main instrument used by the MNR’s right-wing faction to manipulate the peasant movement. Following this loss, the right-wing faction tried to retake the peasant union movement through the ministry of peasant affairs, creating an Avanzada Sindical Campesina (Peasant Union Vanguard) which would lead and control the peasant unions’ future political actions. These reactionary measures taken by the right-wing faction led the FSTCC to demand the resignation of the minister of peasant affairs, Vicente Álvarez Plata.6
Counting on the support of the main Cochabamba political authorities, the Ucureña central became the guiding force behind the Cochabamba peasant movement, directing the interests of the movement to align with the interests of the Paz’s left-wing faction and attacking the pro-Guevara’s Quillacollo peasant central. A plan conceived by the Ucureños to consolidate its leadership over the peasant movement was put into practice. First, Ucureña renovated its own revolutionary image by organizing a Bolivian peasant parliamentarian round table, contrived to strengthen the ties to Víctor Paz. Second, as the Quillacollo right-wing peasant central leaders Alejandro Galarza and Jorge Campos had recently commanded an armed intervention to the Quillacollo municipality, aiming to unseat the mayor, the Ucureña-controlled FSTCC set up a special tribunal to investigate and punish them. Thereafter, FSTCC took direct control over the Quillacollo central, nominating Jorge Solíz, a peasant leader from Ucureña, as its ad hoc general secretary (see figure 4.7). The special tribunal members were Salvador Vásquez (Ucureña), Facundo Olmos (Sacaba), and Enrique Encinas (Quillacollo). Enrique Encinas was a leader from Juan Lechín’s faction, who took control over the Quillacollo peasant center (see figure 4.2). He was born into a landless peasant family in the valley and never attended school. He had worked in the mines and was a miner’s union activist, who collaborated with Sinforoso Rivas in the Valle Bajo.7
At that moment, when the power of Ucureña was undisputed in the Cochabamba valley, the government observed that peasant support was tilting in Víctor Paz’s favor. In an effort to assimilate these forces under government management and lead them towards the MNR’s right-wing political aims, President Hernán Siles attempted a short-term political maneuver. He offered Salvador Vásquez the ministry of peasant affairs but then gave José Rojas the office.8 According to Vásquez’s testimony: “Don Hernán Siles told me that he was going to give me the ministry of peasant affairs [leadership position]. … José Rojas, who was an enemy of the right and of Hernán Siles, when he got to know [the invitation], he went to suck up to him and requested that he should be the minister of peasant affairs.”9 This presidential maneuver, borne of an attempted split of the peasant cadre in Ucureña, did not have the immediate expected effect, but it did indeed sow discord among the peasants. In any case, Hernán Siles obtained Ucureña’s transitory support at a crucial moment, when he was trying to institute a monetary stabilization plan to get Bolivia’s currency under control and confront the oppositional power of the miners’ unions.
Precisely when José Rojas was sworn in as minister of peasant affairs, a group of miners, backed by railway workers, began a strike which set the workers against the government.10 The Cochabamba peasant militias declared themselves to be in a state of emergency. They argued that the strike was organized by reactionary forces and declared that they were ready to be mobilized at any moment to any place in danger of an uprising.11 A few days later, in the presence of minister José Rojas and the government representative Colonel Eduardo Rivas, the Cochabamba peasant militias, along with loyal miner’s militiamen, ratified an inter-union pact in defense of the government. The pact was signed in La Paz by the Ucureña, Quillacollo, and Sacaba peasant centrals and by the Huanuni, Colquiri, Japo, and Morococala miner unions.12
Once the government gained control of the conflict with the help of the peasants, it allowed the FSTCC to launch the fourth departmental peasant congress at El Morro (Sacaba), in May 1959. It was during this congress that the final rupture between Rojas and Veizaga occurred. As the votes were counted, Veizaga received the majority of the ballots but Rojas did not concede defeat, but instead declared his candidate Crisóstomo Inturias the winner of the vote, backing his decision with the latent violent power of the Ucureña militia support. The Ucureña unionists dominated the proceedings of the congress and managed to direct debate sessions to reaffirm peasant support for the candidacy of Víctor Paz of the left-wing faction. Peasant leader Salvador Vasquez, in a report he presented to the congress regarding his term at the FSTCC, identified the right-wing faction of the MNR as the chief source of counter-revolutionary action and organization. As the election date approached, Vásquez claimed that the MNR’s right wing was seeking peasant leaders to counter the current leaders in their respective peasant unions, and in this way stunt the ability of the organized peasants to violently resist a right-wing power grab. In an interview with the press, Vásquez declared: “[The right] insists that Víctor Paz will not return to power again, this is the order of the old landlords to bring down the peasantry and set themselves up in power. But we will not allow this, Víctor Paz Estenssoro must return to rule our country.”13 When the congress ended, a national conference of peasant workers took place in Ucureña, and again this congress proclaimed support for Víctor Paz’s presidential candidacy. Yet, when the time came to select the vice-presidential candidate, Juan Lechín and Ñuflo Chávez remained on the table as viable options. The candidates were put to vote and Chávez received an overwhelming majority, demonstrating the peasants’ distrust of the miners’ leader Lechín.14
In mid-1959, the conservative Falange Socialista Boliviana (Bolivian Socialist Phalanx, FSB) attempted to assert control over Santa Cruz’s municipal government, and thus demonstrate their opposition to the MNR. The Cochabamba peasant militias were once again called to restore order, but the FSB organized protest demonstrations in Cochabamba city, mobilizing students from local high schools.15 Although limited to the urban areas, both the radical conservatives and the extreme left attacked the peasant movement and its leaders. For these political factions, the peasants presented a stalwart obstacle to their realization of political power. In the case of the right-wing faction, the peasant organizations and their militias provided peasants a bulwark against their attempts to unseat the revolutionary MNR government and replace it with a right-wing government. In the case of the extreme leftists, the peasants prevented them from radicalizing the revolution. In any event, both the conservative right as well as the workers’ left fabricated representations of peasants that depicted peasants as barbaric, politically capricious, and disloyal. These fabrications originated in as part of a backlash to the many mobilizations of the peasant militias that had been used to quell anti-MNR uprisings. The symbolic violence communicated by the deployment of these militias had generally mitigated the political aspirations of both the left- and right-wing factions in practice and upheld the revolutionary government. Consequently, for instance, the FSB’s lawmakers issued a draft law in 1958, which proposed the disarmament of the peasant militias in Bolivia: “[peasant militias] will hand over their weapons and ammunition to the national army or to the armed police, subject to a strict inventory and in a mandatory manner.”16
In September 1959, political campaigning in Cochabamba grew increasingly intense, beginning with the first presidential aspirant to make an official visit to Cochabamba, Víctor Paz, who was proclaimed the peasants’ candidate in massive peasant gatherings that took place in Quillacollo, Sacaba, and Ucureña. As a peasant leader declared to the press: “We are united in our support for the MNR, because thanks to them we are free. We will not allow alien interventions by the rosca (clique) of PORistas or Trotskyists. They have not given us freedom. It was the MNR [that gave us freedom]. The only leader recognized by us is Dr. Víctor Paz Estenssoro.”17
Walter Guevara arrived a day later and was proclaimed the chosen candidate of Cochabamba city, but not in the countryside.18 In the following month, Guevara visited the town of Cliza for an important gathering of peasants. At the meeting, the peasant leader Ramón Torrico—Miguel Veizaga’s right-hand man—told the audience that, some days earlier, several peasant unions had abandoned the Ucureña central and: “the 43 unions organized in Cliza now have their own central, as they want to get away from the demagogues who try to divide the peasantry.” In a speech given to the gathering, Walter Guevara claimed that there was a risk of a confrontation between the Cliza and Ucureña centrals. Guevara blamed José Rojas and the Ucureña leaders, describing them as “those who for some times have made use of the militias and continue to use those militias to punish and arrest their own brothers.”19 It is clear that both candidates fed and encouraged divisions and conflict between the peasant leaders and their organizations.
On the last day of October 1959, both candidates published campaign messages on the front page of the official El Pueblo newspaper, which when printed defined the pinnacle of political cynicism in Cochabamba during this period. Víctor Paz exhorted the peasants to maintain their unity and Walter Guevara demanded peace and brotherhood among the peasants20 That very afternoon a shooting match broke out between the Cliza and Ucureña militias, marking the beginning of the bloodiest period of peasant wars in Bolivian history. During this period politicians and peasants constantly fomented violent confrontations, and the tragic consequences of this violence cut deep marks into the memories of people who lived in the region then.
The Champa Guerra in Cochabamba
In response to this outbreak of violence, the regime mobilized officials to attempt to enforce the signing of a truce between the Ucureña and Cliza militias. Peasant violence in and around the Cochabamba Valle Alto was one of many violent confrontations in Bolivia that occurred during the 1960 presidential campaign. The minister of peasant affairs, José Rojas, was forced to resign in the political turmoil of the campaign, as a result of the demands of the right-wing faction of the MNR, who frequently and publicly accused Rojas of rural parochialism. The peasant clashes in Cochabamba and also the murder of Vicente Álvarez, the former minister of peasant affairs, in Achacachi (La Paz), were added to the list of charges against Rojas, with the reactionary side even accusing him of covering up Álvarez’s death. Álvarez had been an MNR right-wing militant who opposed peasant power in the altiplano of La Paz. A peasant parliamentarian, Toribio Salas, was accused of assassinating Álvarez and the deputy chamber opened an investigation, but the results were never made public.21
It was not only prominent peasant leaders that were removed from their posts because of political pressure, Walter Guevara was relieved from his post of minister of state and appointed to the ministry of foreign affairs, where he would have little influence over domestic policy, because of pressure from the left-wing faction of the MNR. Despite this setback, Guevara intensified his campaign in Cochabamba, which consisted of issuing public proclamations in a few valley towns, where the MNR’s right wing held some grassroots support. In Achamoco and Capinota he was well received by the townspeople (see maps 1.2 and 1.3). In his welcoming speech, peasant leader Jorge Campos disavowed, “the false preaching of those bad elements who try to confuse the thoughts of the majority, depicting Dr. Guevara Arze as a reactionary, when in fact he is the joint author of the fundamental policies of the agrarian reform.”22 The peasants, however, associated Guevara’s political image with the upper echelons of the MNR’s right wing and—as that sector was holding power and applied anti-union strategies—the association was difficult to deny. Therefore, despite his efforts, Guevara did not manage to convince the peasantry that they shared common interests. Although he used the Quechua language in his harangues, the content of his rhetoric centered around a characterization of his peasant opponents as the “bad” leaders, trying to divert attention away from his own reputation among the peasants. In a speech at Capinota, for instance, Guevara pointed out that some peasant leaders were becoming substitutes for the old abusive landlords and that, “it was mandatory to destroy this evil.”23 Guevara further intensified his attempts to split peasant unionism through the founding of a parallel FSTCC under Miguel Veizaga’s command, who ratified his support for Guevara’s presidential campaign.
In early January 1960, the MNR’s right wing organized a national peasant conference in La Paz which proclaimed their support for Guevara’s candidacy, but the party’s militiamen violently dispersed it.24 Meanwhile, in Cochabamba, the original FSTCC held a departmental conference that demanded Guevara’s resignation and the expulsion from the union ranks of Miguel Veizaga, Alejandro Galarza, Jorge Campos, and Agapito Vallejos.25 Such factional confusion soon extended far into the MNR’s contingent organizations; in Cochabamba, two CDMs coexisted and they began fighting, each accusing the other of corruption.26 As the eighth MNR convention approached, both Paz and Guevara intensified pressure on the peasants, resulting in an extremely bellicose political context wherein violent confrontations and massacres took place one after another. This situation resulted in the deployment of a military contingent to the conflict area.27 Once the war climate was solidified, both candidates visited the Cochabamba Valle Alto on the same day, each competing to demonstrate that they were the most effective and committed peasant pacifier. Paz had managed to whip up his peasant supporters into a frenzy in Ucureña and Guevara had done the same in Cliza, yet this feverish and violent atmosphere was only the beginning. Soon, in an act of utter humiliation for Paz, Guevara’s militants ambushed him on his way to Cochabamba city and took away his revolver and other personal effects, which only further fostered the mutual belligerence between the two politicians and their respective supporters.28
In February 1960, the eighth party convention decided to support the Paz-Lechín formula for president and vice-president, provoking great discomfort in the ranks of the MNR’s right wing. Roughly a month later, the rebellion of a police battalion—which was part of another failed FSB-planned coup d’état—occurred in La Paz.29 The fact that a high-standing member of Walter Guevara’s newly founded Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario Auténtico (Authentic Nationalist Revolutionary Move-ment, MNRA), was involved in the coup suggested a political alliance between the MNRA and the FSB, who had decided to seize power by force.30 In later interviews, Guevara put forth the idea that his party was ready to set up an oppositional front with the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party, PL) and the Partido de la Union Republicana Socialista (Republican Socialist Union Party, PURS), both on the extreme political right. Furthermore, Guevara demanded the reform of the electoral statute in order to give “a greater possibility of representation to the minorities and the inhabitants of the cities.”31 Both controversial ideas further alienated him from the peasant voters. Moreover, his proposals further inflamed the spirited peasants in the Cochabamba valley; rumors that militiamen from Ucureña would soon try to capture Cliza town ran rampant, which added even more fuel to the fire of their violent cacophony.
Following the election, the electoral court confirmed the victory of the Paz-Lechín ticket in Cochabamba by a wide margin. In the Esteban Arce (Tarata) and Germán Jordan (Cliza) provinces, the votes favored Guevara (see map 1.2). In Quillacollo he almost drew even with Paz, but in the rest of the provinces Guevara got very few votes. In the Cochabamba, in total, with slightly more than two hundred thousand votes, the MNR got 75 percent, the MNRA 22 percent, and the FSB 2 percent.32 This illustrates the localized nature of Guevara’s campaign and how low peasant support for his candidacy—really limited to just the departmental capital and a handful of towns—actually was. As soon as the election result was made known, Cliza leaders became nervous, realizing they had put themselves into a politically precarious situation. Meanwhile, the Ucureña peasant leaders considered themselves victorious in the election and believed that they had bested the peasants of their rival town, Cliza.
Ucureña immediately began to put Cliza under political pressure. The government appointed a military commander for Cliza, closing the circle on Veizaga and his collaborators.33 These events unfolded in a difficult moment since, days before, an army officer had killed two adolescents from the town of Cliza, and clashes among peasant factions had resulted in several more casualties.34 Cliza’s besieged forces then ambushed an Ucureña’s militiamen patrol, slaying several dozens of its members, in what soon became known as the Mulofalda massacre.35 The massacre reinforced Rojas’s demand that Veizaga and his cadre be captured, as he believed them to be instruments of Walter Guevara’s policy of violence and confrontation between peasant factions.36 The government opted instead for opening a dialogue with the Cliza leaders, who had not only rejected Guevara’s leadership by renouncing their participation in the MNRA but had also held massive meetings in Cliza reaffirming their loyalty to Víctor Paz.37
Paz, as president, did not pick sides, but instead met with and offered support to both the Cliza and Ucureña peasant unions. It is not clear if he did this because he considered Cliza a powerful force that needed to be reckoned with or because he was consciously trying to deepen the split between the two peasant unions and thus weaken peasant power. At the same time, he sent his minister of state to meet with the leaders of Ucureña, Paz held a parallel meeting in the presidential palace with Veizaga and his cadre.38 In the meeting with the president, Cliza issued three demands: new elections in the peasant centrals, an end to caudillismo in the peasant centrals, and government support for increasing agricultural production.39 The leaders of the Ucureña central reacted quickly, deciding to blockade the city of Cochabamba and invade the town of Cliza if the government gave no clear signs that Veizaga and his cadre would be arrested. In response, the government ordered the arrest of those implicated in the Mulofalda massacre and sent the police to Cliza to detain them. Veizaga and his supporters agreed to hand themselves over for arrest and they were held for some hours in Cochabamba city, but were released due to local political pressure.40
The threat of attacking Cochabamba city, issued by the Ucureños, created an opportunity for urban politicians to enter the political scene in Cochabamba as the leading actors. Among them were the representatives of former landlords, who believed that Veizaga’s capture meant Rojas’ triumph, that is, the peasants’ victory over the townspeople. As a consequence, they further magnified the peasant threat and provoked extreme reactions among the urban population. For example, a civil defense association was organized in Cochabamba city, Chaco War veterans enlisted as volunteers for the armed defense of the city, and groups of women began to prepare homemade grenades. Diomedes de Pereyra, leader of the town’s civil council stated: “There cannot be a satisfactory solution if the only aim is to disarm Cliza. Cliza with arms is, at the present circumstances, the first line of Cochabamba city’s defense. Once it has gone, the Ucureños will have an open road to the city.”41
Right-wing phobia about armed peasant militias was skillfully manipulated by Vice-President Juan Lechín who, immediately after being sworn into office, declared his full-frontal opposition to Víctor Paz’s policy. Both of the heads of state clashed with each other during their administration, the president tried to adjust his economic policy to be in line with the United States’ capitalist model, while the vice-president, at the same time, kept an ambiguous position between support for socialism and flirting with the United States, whose support was vital if he were to achieve his presidential ambitions.42 Lechín and other members of the Bolivian left had already begun to approach the Cliza peasant leaders during the 1960 presidential campaign. The Central Obrera Departamental (Departmental Workers’ Central, COD), for instance, worked hard to attract the interest of Miguel Veizaga, calling on him to attend their union meetings, when Veizaga had been leading a parallel FSTCC. Another example includes the El Morro (Sacaba) peasant leader, Facundo Olmos, who signed supportive communiqués for Lechín’s candidacy for the vice-presidency. As such, the COD and the left ended up organizing demonstrations that rejected the Ucureña peasant’s blockade threat, standing arm in arm with right-wing political parties and reactionary sectors of the urban society in Cochabamba. From the left’s point of view, it was politically profitable to foster the peasant split. Even though Ucureña and its militiamen gave unconditional support to Víctor Paz, Cliza and Sacaba were now open for the left to assert more influence over them, thus creating an environment that fostered the creation of future rural guerrillas. Trying to further exacerbate the situation, the left insisted on an amnesty for the peasant leaders who had been involved in the Mulofalda massacre, while they were aware that this proposal, rather than being any solution, was indeed part of the problem.43
This unexpected turn of events convinced Víctor Paz that he ought to look for support in Ucureña and put an end to the dangerous emerging power of Cliza. The president chose a solution which startled the Cliza group and left it paralyzed, while Ucureña took control of the situation: he called a private meeting with his main collaborators in which he decided to take over the town of Cliza and capture its leaders. Paz named new government officials in Cliza, issued judicial orders for the arrest of Veizaga and his principal supporters, and mobilized a force of fifty militiamen from the Ucureña central to capture the fugitives.44 While attempting to capture the fugitive leaders, however, the Ucureña militiamen committed abuses against the town dwellers, which provoked a violent reaction from Miguel Veizaga’s command group. After many hours of fighting, the clash ended with the defeat of the Ucureña militia forces. This government maneuver ignited a political crisis and gave an air of martyrdom to Veizaga. Juan Lechín and the left took advantage of the opportunity to criticize the government and organize violent urban demonstrations. Finally, Lechín went to the town of Cliza, where he met with its leaders and offered to mediate the conflict himself.45 In the heat of the combat, the commander of the Quillacollo peasant militia, Sinforoso Rivas, was pressured by MNR politicians to intervene in the conflict in support of Ucureña. The peasant leaders of the Valle Bajo, however, opposed the intervention due to the danger of amplifying the clash between peasant militiamen.46
As a public relations measure, the government organized a departmental conference of peasant leaders in Santivañez, where four leaders—Salvador Vásquez (Ucureña), Facundo Olmos (Sacaba), Julián Chávez (Cliza), and Sinforoso Rivas (Quillacollo)—were nominated to conduct a pacification commission (see figure 4.3). Debates at the conference were so passionate that, at one point, Cliza representatives decided not to recognize the authority of the conclusions the body reached.47 The meeting was riled by the permanent interference of left-wing activists, who purposely misinformed and confused the attendees to avoid any peacefully negotiated solution. There was also an acknowledgement that some of the MNR leaders were deliberately seeding and inflaming divisions between peasant groups, which, in the words of Salvador Vásquez, meant that:
Although the intellectuals indicate that the differences in the countryside are of a union nature, it is necessary to say that this is a political question. In order to obey Guevara, the peasants of Cliza took up a wrong position. I would like to ask [former landlords and current MNR parliamentarians] Eduardo Cámara de Ugarte and Alfredo Galindo why the agrarian reform was carried out, whether it was for them to bribe corrupt bureaucrats so that they could have their land returned, or if it was to improve the situation of the peasantry.48
The pacification commission fostered hope for peace in the valley, but the conflict remained a long way from coming to an end. When the military forcibly inserted itself into the political arena in the 1960s, in response to widespread violent conflict and the reckless leadership of civilian politicians, it forced Cold War tensions to the forefront in Bolivia. The international conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, fought mostly through proxy wars and intelligence agencies, came to drastically alter events on the ground in Bolivia as the 1960s wore on.
The 1959 Cuban revolution threw the whole Latin American region into turmoil. Havana suddenly appeared remarkably menacing, and remarkably close, to the United States, which was not about to allow for a pro-Soviet Communist regime on an island that until recently had been considered a playground for rich Americans. The Soviet Union provided Fidel Castro and revolutionary Cuba with material support and began to install offensive missile sites on the island, capable of striking all major American cities. These adversarial acts of posturing would eventually climax in the 1962 “Cuban Missile Crisis.” During the 1960s, the influence of Cuba’s revolutionary ideas impregnated the Latin American political environment, mainly finding support among workers and middle-class intellectuals. The United States considered Latin America to be their strategic area of influence and was not well disposed to risk losing any more control over the area. Therefore, US policy-makers launched the Alliance for Progress program, designed to fuel funds into Latin America and to help Latin American countries adopt a development-oriented approach towards modernization. Moreover, in order to fight communism, a national security doctrine came into practice in the mid-1960s that aimed to strengthen the military forces of Latin American countries. In the case of Bolivia, an additional program of military civic action in the countryside was created, “which aimed to put USAID funds to work in rural development projects carried out by Bolivian army engineering battalions created with US training and equipment.”49 The US was particularly generous with revolutionary Bolivia, “and by 1964 the country was the second highest per capita recipient of US aid in the world, with the Alliance for Progress development program providing roughly 20 percent of Bolivia’s gross domestic product (GDP).”50 In other words, the Bolivian revolution was highly dependent on US influence.
Cochabamba felt the effects of these new circumstances as the influence of the worker’s political organizations became more evident in the political actions of peasant unionists. If previous relationships between the peasants and the MNR’s left and right wings modulated the political tone of the revolutionary regime, in Cold War influenced Bolivia the COD held more weight in the decisions of the peasant unions, especially in Cliza and Quillacollo centrals. The peasant leaders most closely associated to the political left, who were both within and outside the MNR, were Miguel Veizaga and Gregorio Arias in Cliza, and Sinforoso Rivas and Enrique Encinas in Quillacollo. A case in point in illustrating the influence of the workers’ organizations over the peasants’ political actions, was the debate which arose within the COD when the government offered Miguel Veizaga a “study grant” abroad, in order to exclude him from regional politics. Some factions of the MNR, who interpreted the peasant conflicts as personal struggles between rural bosses, suggested ostracizing specific leaders as a means to solve the problem of peasant violence. In response to this proposed plan, the COD surprisingly decided that “the peasant who has been invited [Miguel Veizaga] cannot leave Cliza until the tasks of pacification have been completed,” expressing an uncharacteristic interest in mitigating peasant conflict.51 The left wing faction, which stretched ideologically from left leaning MNR functionaries such as Lechín all the way to hardcore communists and Trotskyism, which were both evident in Veizaga, and also including the Cliza peasant central, a practical and symbolic alternative to counteract and replace the political influence of Rojas and the Ucureña peasant central.
For this reason, the left widened Veizaga’s leadership expectations, connecting him with the regional workers’ cadres. This situation, in turn, provoked the ire of his opponents in Ucureña, who accused Veizaga of having ambitions to lead the FSTCC. In addition, the left-wing sectors promoted symbolic acts in Cliza, where peasant militiamen from the Valle Alto and northern Potosi paraded in warlike demonstrations of power. At these festivals—which the Cochabamba mayor, provincial authorities, and workers’ delegations attended—a cornerstone was laid in the town of Cliza in anticipation of the building of a monument in honor of the “free Indian.” This was certainly a challenge to the symbolism of the agrarian reform monument raised in Ucureña. During the Cliza festival, medals were awarded to the “heroes of the town of Cliza defense,” and the recipients turned out to be Miguel Veizaga and four other members of his group of supporters.52
This confrontational climate between Cliza and Ucureña, which was fostered by the left and upheld from Cochabamba city by means of violent urban demonstrations, drove José Rojas to denounce an impending coup, which, according to him, was to be led by both the left- and right-wing political factions. In the face of this believing themselves to be in a state of emergency, the Ucureña peasants reaffirmed their faithfulness to President Paz, in contrast to the attitude of “some bad leaders of the COD … who were betraying the national revolution.” The Ucureños’ political horizons included widespread, important events in Latin America at the time, and understanding and interpreting these events helped them to shape their own revolutionary position in Bolivian politics. As Salvador Vásquez asserted: “just as in Cuba, the counter-revolutionary forces invaded and wanted to drown the people in blood, the reactionaries who have used Cliza to return power to the landlords and Judas [Walter] Guevara wants to do the same to us.”53 The interference of all MNR factions and left oriented political parties in the union leadership of Cliza caused a crisis among its leaders. Three groups emerged, each one supporting a different political line. One, headed by Miguel Veizaga, showed its sympathy for Lechín’s left wing. Another, led by Macedonio Juárez, maintained the right-wing line of Walter Guevara. The third was led by Julián Chávez, an agent of Víctor Paz sent to infiltrate the peasant organization in Cliza (see figure 4.4). As the results of the parliamentary elections of May 1962 were favorable for the MNR and meagre for Guevara’s newly created Partido Revolucionario Auténtico (Authentic Revolutionary Party, PRA), José Rojas perceived a splendid opportunity to get rid of Miguel Veizaga.54
Ucureña sought an alliance with Macedonio Juárez, whose stronghold comprised the communities of Huasacalle, Chillijchi, and Mosoj Rancho, promoting a “peace hug” with Cliza (see map 1.3). The government authorities planned this step with Rojas because they knew that if Ucureña allied with Juarez and with the government-monitored Julián Chávez’s faction, Miguel Veizaga would be isolated and unprotected. To witness the formation of this the peasant alliance, regional officials traveled to Cliza, and both peasant sides embraced each other. Once the first part of the plan was accomplished, Ucureña took control of the original “2nd of August” Cliza peasant central and cornered the leaders who were under Veizaga’s command. A new “4th of July” Cliza peasant central was organized, under the command of Jorge Solíz (Ucureña) and a committee that included representatives from both sides. Simultaneously, Rojas ordered Juarez’s forces to go in search of Veizaga and his cadre. Yet they carried out this task with such arrogance that the population of Cliza, and Julián Chávez himself, rejected the legitimacy of their presence. This clumsiness allowed for Veizaga’s political resurrection, who challenged Rojas to a duel, “so that my class comrades will know that they have not been abandoned.” Government officials were denounced as accomplices of Rojas for having sent militias to control the population of Cliza.55
The ambivalent reaction of President Paz and his government, who had initially ignited the conflict between Ucureña and Cliza and later on denied responsibility for this act, kept the peasants in a state of permanent tension. With the help of Rojas and the Ucureños, the president and the regime had managed to quell Cliza central’s power grab. Despite this, when the time came that the Ucureños required the support of the president, which they felt was due to them because of their alliance, they were left to face their crisis alone. They became pessimistic as they realized the promises the president had made to them were false and grew ever more of “those damned [government] intellectuals,” who they believed had tricked them to engage in political conflict without ever intending to fulfill their part of the bargain.56 In response, the Ucureños began a campaign of selective violence against leaders of factions that challenged their power.
The first of a series of political murders in this peasant campaign took place in the town of Cliza in early August 1962. A month before this, Ucureños had replaced Cliza’s original peasant central with a new one, and placed it under Jorge Solíz’s command. When it became clear that this measure had achieved its aim of expelling the Cliza leaders and strengthening the power of Ucureña, Vice-President Juan Lechín held a meeting with the displaced leaders from Cliza and gave his support for their immediate return to Cliza. Even the Cochabamba prefect, General Armando Fortún, was stunned by Lechín’s attitude and reported to the minister of state: “I made mister vice-president take note that, for the moment, I considered that this return [of Cliza’s leaders] was inconvenient and that it was preferable to wait [until] we take measures to guarantee the safety of those persons in the town of Cliza and the neighboring settlements.”57 Nevertheless, Lechín insisted that the prefect guarantee Veizaga’s return to Cliza, which took place in late July. The Ucureños were outraged when they saw their rivals being protected by the same government they were supporting:
The general secretary of the ‘4th of July’ peasant central, comrade Jorge Solíz, presented himself in this office [of the prefecture] to inform me that Miguel Veizaga, Ramón Torrico, Román Casilla, Liborio Guevara, and others who were leaders of the ‘2nd of August’ central had made demonstrations in Cliza and in other places, expressing that they would reorganize the peasant central which they previously led and that, to that end, they counted with the support of the government and that, in case of need, they would take revenge on their pursuers [from Ucureña].58
Ucureña militiamen decided to enter the town of Cliza in search of the leaders, under the pretext of looking for arms in their private dwellings (see figure 4.4). They found peasant leader Román Casilla before the army arrived, took him towards the Ucureña barracks and murdered him on the road. When the prefect found out about the crime, he called José Rojas over the radio and Rojas brusquely accused the government authorities of acting ambivalently. In the following day’s newspapers, fake stories appeared that claimed José Rojas had threatened to “take the city [of Cochabamba] and cut the throats of its inhabitants.” Although the prefect denied such claims, the COD took advantage of the climate of panic to organize mass meetings in the main square of Cochabamba city against Rojas’ alleged threats and demand the armed defense of Cliza by Veizaga’s forces.59
This political set-up by the left stirred up the hatred of urban people for the peasants once again, as it had been consciously orchestrated to do, and directed the focus of this hatred upon José Rojas and Ucureña. The prefect himself ratified this action:
In the demonstration sponsored by the departmental workers’ center [COD] in rejection of José Rojas’ threats of entering the city of Cochabamba, there are personal interests, propositions of limiting the political growth of this peasant leader [and] attitudes of vengeance for political and union disagreements … the local press, also in the hands of people who do not sympathize with Rojas, has published exaggerated and alarmist news with the same aim. For that reason, the people vituperated have included the comrades Walter Revuelta and Alfredo Cassab. On the other hand, the reactions, attitudes, and words of Miguel Veizaga, Ramón Torrico, Julián Chávez, and other leaders of Cliza have been magnified.60
The left’s political push continued until it managed to occupy some key spaces in the Valle Alto and the FSTCC’s leadership. First, the left supported the reorganization of the original “2nd of August” Cliza peasant central, placing Gregorio Arias at its head, thus exacerbating the division between Cliza and Ucureña peasant leadership (see figure 4.7). Second, going against the government’s attempts to unify the Valle Alto’s leadership into a central única (sole central), the left managed to set up an additional “5th of September” peasant central, whose committee was formed by delegates from Cliza and Ucureña. Finally, in the fifth departmental peasant congress held in the city of Cochabamba in October 1962, Facundo Olmos (Sacaba) and Enrique Encinas (Quillacollo), both from the Lechín sector, were elected as heads of the FSTCC. As expected, the El Morro (Sacaba) peasant central supported the proclamation of Juan Lechín as the candidate for the presidential election in 1964, a motion that the peasant congress approved (see figure 4.5).61
In November 1962, another peasant leader from Cliza (Narciso Escobar) was murdered. Several leaders from Ucureña were blamed, Jorge Solíz and Salvador Vásquez among them. When both leaders were arrested, the Ucureños reacted on two fronts. First, they demanded the police arrest the Cliza leader, Gregorio Arias. Second, the Ucureña militiamen, together with army troops, besieged the hamlet of Toco (Cliza) searching for weapons and looking Miguel Veizaga, who they believed to be hiding near there, based on the allegation that the Toco population had built-up political connections with sectors of the radical left.62 Once again, the left took advantage of the situation to present itself as the defender of unionism by loudly calling for the protection of Cliza leaders.63 Meanwhile, José Rojas launched a solitary counter-attack on his left-wing detractors by having himself proclaimed as the presidential candidate in a mass meeting in Totora. In his speech to the crowd, Rojas proclaimed:
Víctor Paz does not realize what is happening in our country while the political situation becomes more difficult and delicate due to the action of the demagogues, who after forming factions, leave Bolivia with ambassadors’ positions [referring to Juan Lechín], as if they were little angels. … We must combat these false communists and traitors, history will judge them, including Juan Lechín Oquendo.64
At this moment, the morale of the Ucureña peasants reached its lowest point. The ambivalent attitude of President Paz—who had centralized the management of peasant politics in his office but directed it with short-sighted perspectives—was eroding the support of the Ucureña central, his most loyal ally in the Valle Alto of Cochabamba.65 Disputes between the left-wing faction and its peasant allies in the FSTCC came to light when the workers organized an economic departmental conference to debate regional problems. The FSTCC asked for an increase in its delegation because the peasants made up the vast majority of the population in the region. Many of the delegates drawn from the urban workers opposed the petition, claiming that, “the peasants cannot have [so many] delegates because they still do not know how to think,” implying that the peasants lacked the consciousness to grasp their position of exploitation, and that only workers could lead a communist revolution, a conceit central to literalist Marxism.66
The spate of politically motivated murders continued in the Valle Alto. Isidoro Borda—a Cliza trader who was possibly involved in arms trafficking—was assassinated in his own house by peasants from the Veizaga faction. A few days later, Ucureña retaliated, killing two peasants from Cliza. The requisite judicial trials were opened and the suspects were arrested, but it did not take long for judicial authorities to end the trials, and the government itself ordered the release of those detained. As the press offered ample coverage of these events, public opinion grew more hostile to the MNR regime, which was characterized as too permissive and incapable of calming the violence. The MNR was quickly losing what little governing legitimacy it had left.67
At the same time as peasant violence grew to out of control levels, a press campaign began in which the military was represented as a benevolent friend of the peasant. Front page news stories depicting the military handing over school buildings to peasant communities and promoting medical aid programs in the countryside became commonplace. The social programs described in these stories were funded by the civic action plan, which was managed by the Bolivian armed forces under the leadership of the air-force General René Barrientos. Financing for the civic action plan came from the United States, again through the Alliance for Progress program. Consequently, a developmentalist military discourse stood out, which implicitly challenged the MNR’s nationalist revolutionary project and established the military as a viable political alternative.68 Thus, when the press asked general Barrientos to describe military policy, he cleverly declined to state that the military had political aims, pointing out that they could not take sides in the factional struggles of the MNR.
I believe that the military speak the language of the revolution for the peasant comrades. Keeping watch day and night in self-sacrifice so as to avoid that any peasants kill or wound each other, providing well-built schools. … At present we have plans to provide drinking water and health posts. This is our revolutionary language.69
Paradoxically, the first actors to occupy the new political spaces created by the military were the left-wing leaders of the FSTCC. In their pursuit to block the Ucureña leadership, they took on the task of reorganizing several Valle Alto unions with the help of the army. Essentially, the left allowed the soldiers to insert themselves into the peasant unions’ area of province by permitting them to expand their role in the region from one of simply benefactors and distributors of aid, into an additional political role as monitors of the peasant organizations.70 Political campaigning for the upcoming 1964 presidential election started in 1963 and Víctor Paz again presented himself as candidate for president. The government put José Rojas in charge of organizing a national peasant congress in the city of Santa Cruz, which proclaimed Paz as the MNR’s presidential candidate.71 Left-wing leaders abandoned the Santa Cruz congress and installed another parallel congress in Cochabamba, complaining that the government had manipulated the one in Santa Cruz. The COB supported the Cochabamba congress, which, before closing, issued a concluding manifesto employing Marxist and anti-imperialist rhetoric calling on Bolivians to radicalize the revolution. This was in concordance with other contemporary national liberation movements in Latin America and the world. Despite this revolutionary discourse, however, the left could not reach an agreement to nominate Juan Lechín as its presidential candidate, and this discord weakened the final decisions of the congress and watered down its practical political goals.72
Government officials were effective mobilizing peasant support, as proclamations for Víctor Paz’s presidential candidacy took place rapidly all over the Valle Alto. The MNR’s military cell in La Paz took advantage of this moment to express its sympathy for the nomination of General Barrientos as a candidate for the vice-presidency. They clarified, however, that “the military will not exercise any kind of pressure to advance this plan.” When the military proclamation was published, Barrientos declared that he was surprised by the recent news, “because we members of the armed forces have no interest in provoking proclamations in favor of the military, particularly in my favor.”73 According to Field, “General Barrientos visited the US Embassy on 24 April 1963, just before he was to depart to Washington for the Inter-American Air Force Chiefs Conference. Accompanied by Colonel Fox, Barrientos explained that the armed forces were preparing to declare themselves in support of Paz’s re-election, with Barrientos as running mate. … The wily general was perfecting the art of a reluctant leader, confidently telling Colonel Fox that his political career would extend twenty years or more into the future.”74
While the military continued to increase their focus on their innovative communication strategy, the left maintained its aggressive rhetoric against the official candidate and the military aspirant for the vice-presidency. When Gregorio Arias was sworn in as leader of the “2nd of August” Cliza peasant central, for instance, the left-wing peasant leader of El Morro (Sacaba), Facundo Olmos, declared:
We will not make proclamations, neither with outsiders nor with little generals (generalcitos), as we will wait and accept what the MNR convention decides. If Lechín is proposed, we will back him up, and we will do the same if Paz is elected. But at present, we will not lend ourselves to any maneuver in favor of either of the two.75
This doubtful position of the left regarding Juan Lechín as its presidential candidate, was because of Lechín’s vacillating political behavior. Initially he attacked the government, but later on accepted their offer of a journey abroad as a diplomat, leaving his followers without a leader. When Lechín arrived in Cochabamba and visited the Quillacollo and Sacaba peasant centers, Facundo Olmos asked him to stay on to fight in the country together with the peasants. Lechín assured him that his trip to Italy as an ambassador was only going to be for a short time. Nevertheless, when leaving for Europe he declared that he was going on “a journey without an itinerary or time limits.”76 Popular opinion mocked Juan Lechín for his decision to travel abroad, funded by the government, but without having any concrete purpose, calling it “la dolce vita.”77
At this point, the left unrolled a plan to radicalize its political actions against the regime by demeaning Víctor Paz as a presidential candidate. A coalition of miners and valley peasants signed a worker-peasant pact at the El Morro (Sacaba) peasant center, and this act was further ratified by the Quillacollo and the Independencia centers, but was ignored by the rest of the regional peasant centers. The Ucureños threatened to organize a parallel FSTCC, because “the current federation led by Facundo Olmos, Enrique Encinas, and others cheated the hopes of the peasants and instead of carrying out a purely unionist labor, they deviated into sectarian political aims.”78 A peasant congress in Ucureña elected the leadership of their new parallel FSTCC, which stayed under Jorge Solíz’s command and whose first resolution was to expel Facundo Olmos and Enrique Encinas from peasant unionism.79 Meanwhile, ever-present proclamations of the Paz-Barrientos ticket resounded throughout the valley, in contrast with the left’s indecisiveness. The left-wing leaders decided to start their electoral campaign by promoting an alternative Paz-Lechín ticket, which was really more a bit of political theatre than a real electoral possibility. During celebrations for the agrarian reform day in Quillacollo, worker and peasant speakers renewed their loyalty to Paz and Lechín. A few days later, the “2nd of August” Cliza central proclaimed their support for the Paz-Lechín candidacy in a public gathering.80
It became increasingly clear that the Lechín sector was beginning to fall apart, and its worker and peasant leaders were shuffling around for alternative policies and alliances, that would allow them to readjust to the leadership of President Paz. The Ucureña peasants noticed this situation and sent a categorical message to the leaders of Cliza: after a peasant gathering in Cliza, where left-wing peasant leaders proclaimed their support for Víctor Paz’s candidacy, they ambushed leader Basilio Lizarazu and shot him point-blank, killing him instantly.81 Cliza’s revenge followed quickly. A week later, leader Lorenzo Pedrozo was kidnapped, tortured, and cruelly murdered. The Ucureños accused Miguel Veizaga of the crime and began preparations for a final attack on the town of Cliza. In the midst of the combat among Cliza and Ucureña troops, Veizaga’s house was raided and set on fire. The Champa Guerra reached its climax when a total confrontation between both sides took place. An army patrol group arrested Veizaga and sent him to the political control office in La Paz. There, he was held until Paz ordered him to be freed, on the condition that Veizaga would not return to Cochabamba and much less enter the Valle Alto.82
Although the government now controlled the Valle Alto peasant unions, the Sacaba and Quillacollo peasant centers’ loyalty was unclear. In both centers, their leaders, Facundo Olmos and Enrique Encinas, enjoyed peasant support and, in contrast to the Valle Alto, they did not have any opposition. However, they openly confronted both the traditional networks that circled President Paz and the emergent political apparatus of the military forming around General Barrientos. Facundo Olmos’ criticism was especially cutting towards both of these power networks, thus placing him in a crossfire that eventually resulted in his murder. Olmos stated that the massacres in the Valle Alto were “part of a plan prepared by the ministry of state.”83 But, he also criticized the military assistance program: “While the Alliance for Progress, with a great fanfare, hands over one or two little classrooms, we have provided comfort for all our students, handing over classrooms wherever there is a peasant union.”84
Such powerful political enemies did not dally in brutal response. First, Facundo Olmos was ambushed and murdered by mercenaries who were protected by the government to avoid being trailed. The accused murderer, Donato Urey, soon became General Barrientos’ right-hand man and one of the most dangerous thugs of the peasant unionism movement in Sacaba.85 Second, Enrique Encinas was miraculously saved from death when another group of mercenaries assaulted his office at the Quillacollo peasant center. The person involved in the murder attempt, Rómulo Burgoa, declared that the plan was prepared by the MNR’s Frente de Unidad Nacional (National Unity Front, FUN) accusing Eduardo Soriano Badani, General Barrientos’ closest collaborator, of being the one who provided material assistance for the attack (see figure 4.6).86 In his memoirs, Enrique Encinas asserted that the minister of state, General Eduardo Rivas, and the head of political control, Colonel Claudio San Román, had offered him arms and money to murder Sinforoso Rivas, his union colleague in Quillacollo.87
These attacks on the left-wing peasant unionists were no longer part of the Champa Guerra clashes, but rather were the result of the strategies of the anti-communist struggle that the military put into practice in Bolivia. Moreover, it was clear from the attacks in Sacaba and Quillacollo that the central intention of the military in all of this was the replacement of the peasant leaders with urban mercenaries who would then control the unions. General Barrientos threw his advocacy behind this new political tactic, but faced resistance from the Quillacollo peasants, who refused to accept “controllers” (interventores) in their centrals. FSTCC leader Jorge Solíz supported the Quillacollo’s central position in a communiqué denouncing the controllers as elements from the city, who had attacked and stolen money from the Quillacollo peasant central and who would soon be brought to justice.88 Nevertheless, General Barrientos’ practice of bribing the leaders who succumbed to military policy ended up corrupting some members of the generation of peasant leaders that emerged with and in the revolution.
Once the Cliza, Sacaba, and Quillacollo peasant centrals were under military control, General Barrientos called a joint meeting of the Ucureña and Cliza leaders at the air force base in Cochabamba on 25 September 1963, to sign a memorandum of mutual understanding.89 In the memo, peasants recognized the MNR as the only party of the national revolution, ratifying Víctor Paz as its leader. José Rojas and Ramón Torrico were named as the peasant peacekeepers in the valley. At the meeting, the peasants requested that the government exchange their militia weapons for ploughshares and exile the peasants known to have incited violence from the valley. After four long years of violence and murder, the peasants had had enough, and they were only too grateful for the military intrusion to pacify the region.
Once the truce pact between Cliza and Ucureña had been signed, the focus of political activity in Bolivia was transferred from the countryside to the city. This shift did not mean the end of violence, but only a change in how it was carried out. From massive confrontations among contending peasant militia troops, violence shifted to selective Fabian tactics which intended to eliminate, through terror or death, the key opposing figures in the political arena. The older generation of peasant leaders who rallied with Víctor Paz throughout the revolution had participated dynamically in the political arena, however, they abandoned their ideals and loyalties after they felt they had been betrayed by the MNR’s ambiguous policies. They believed that while the MNR had accepted their support, the revolutionary government had only paid lip service to the social and economic projects they had planned to help peasants. Some of these leaders retired from politics, while others continued with General Barrientos’ clientelist project. The remaining old peasant leaders, together with an incoming generation of leaders and political mercenaries who took over the peasant union leadership, all aligned themselves with the military.
In late 1963, President Paz’s government was mired in a conflict with the COB and with the leaders of the miners, who both supported Juan Lechín’s candidacy. In an effort to reduce Lechín’s political influence, the government decided to create a union organization parallel to the COB. It was named the Central Obrera Boliviana de Unidad Revolucionaria (Bolivian Workers’ Central of Revolutionary Unity, COBUR) and was led by a railway worker, Hugo Paz Torres.90 The government, as part of their plan, arrested several opposition leaders, sparking off a political conflict in the midst of a miners’ general protest strike, an event in which the miners took four North American visitors to the mines as hostages. The hostages were two USAID labor officers, Bernard Rifkin and Michael Kristula, a USIS labor officer, Thomas Martin, and Peace Corps volunteer Robert Fergerstom, all of whom were later freed by their captors.91 Local newspapers published alarmist news regarding a march of around three thousand militiamen from Ucureña towards the mines, in defense of the government, a narrative that was entirely speculative.92 What really happened, as told by the Ucureña peasant militias’ commander, Salvador Vásquez, was that José Rojas held a meeting with the minister of peasant affairs. Both politicians commissioned Vásquez to recruit a peasant force of three hundred men in Arani. The group marched towards the mines and was intercepted by an army emissary in the town of Sacaca, where they set up camp, while Vásquez traveled to Oruro in a military vehicle. In Oruro, the military ordered him to stop the march towards the mines. Vásquez considered this action to be a mockery of the peasant movement, for it was planned in such a way that the militiamen were simply bogeymen used by politicians with the aim of shocking the public. When Vásquez returned from Oruro, on his way to Sacaca, he was intercepted by a miners’ patrol commanded by Juan Lechín. Lechín ordered Vásquez to be shot for his betrayal of the revolution. Vásquez faced Lechín and declared that he, Lechín, was responsible for the current situation of the peasants, for he had willingly abandoned the peasants to travel around the world. Vásquez also reminded Lechín that, in November 1953, it was his peasant militias who saved him from being shot by coup supporters. Lechín—according to Vásquez’s testimony—“canceled his order for my execution.”93
On January 1964, the ninth MNR convention gathered in La Paz to elect its presidential and vice-presidential candidates. It was a tense event, even in its preparatory stages, for it brought together powerful internal forces with contradictory political aims. The first force was Víctor Paz’s palace gang, better known as “la maquinita” (the little machine). This was a team of power usufructuaries, which was trying to maintain the privilege they enjoyed under Paz and believed General Barrientos to be their primary enemy, as he represented a credible threat to their own vice-presidential nominee, Federico Fortún. The second force was that of the military, sponsored by their patrons from the United States and reinforced by anti-communist discourse. Although the military vowed to respect Paz as a political figure, its discourse burst out against the corruption that appeared to spread from the bureaucratic functionaries surrounding the president. The members of la maquinita believed, correctly, that the military had no intention of sharing power, but rather that they were preparing to take over the government wholesale with a coup d’état. As a result of their contention, they persuaded President Paz of the real intentions of Barrientos, triggering a political battle in which the army would eventually prove victorious. A third force was an amalgam of the MNR’s left and right wings, which sought to get into power at any price. On one side of this motley group was that of Juan Lechín and the miners, who held enough electoral power not to be discounted but were always in disarray because of the divisive and sectarian attitudes of the left-wing supporters. This faction did not hold much influence within the MNR and abandoned that convention to form the Partido Revolucionario de la Izquierda Nacional (National Left Revolutionary Party, PRIN), which quickly proclaimed Lechín as their presidential candidate.94 However, a minor political force supporting Walter Guevara still remained, although its party apparatus, the PRA, was so worn out that Guevara had to seek out bizarre alliances with groups such as the PURS, the FSB, and the PIR, and with them he set up the milk-and-water Alianza Popular Boliviana (Bolivian Popular Alliance).95 There was also the marginal figure of Hernán Siles, the MNR’s second-in-command, who began his campaign by attempting to mediate and settle conflicts within the party but it was all for naught, as he was left waiting in the wings for a nomination that never arrived.
After several stormy sessions and obscure councils, the ninth MNR convention decided Víctor Paz and Federico Fortún would be their candidates for president and vice-president. All of this took place in the midst of widespread social and political criticism and protest that weakened the legitimacy of an alleged prefabricated and authoritarian election. When the final decision became known in Cochabamba, around five thousand peasants gathered in the air force base, and from there their leaders, accompanied by some soldiers, marched to the prefect’s office. Once there, the peasants demanded the resignation of the prefect, the mayor, and the head of the CDM. The prefect was replaced by Walter Revuelta and, after an outbreak of violence, both the CDM and the mayor’s office were under the control of politician Eduardo Soriano Badani, who was General Barrientos’ trusted aide.96 The violent actions conducted by General Barrientos’ forces, who managed to then occupy key regional political posts, took place before Paz even considered the possibility of offering Barrientos the vice-presidential candidacy. In a masterly political set-up, the characterization of Barrientos as a selfless martyr, a reputation he had already acquired after being marginalized from the candidacy, was magnified when he supposedly suffered a murder attempt and had to travel abroad for medical assistance. Without any eyewitnesses to back up the narrative, the military explained that a bullet had been shot at Barrientos but had been deflected by one of the insignias on his uniform. A few hours later he left for Panama in a United States Air Force plane. The news of the supposed assassination attempt increased political tension in Bolivia to such a dangerous level that Paz was forced to replace his previous vice-presidential candidate, Federico Fortún, with General Barrientos.97 The people saw this as a political victory over the hated maquinita. The return to the country was Barrientos’ apotheosis, and a crowd received him in La Paz airport. The next day, he was acclaimed with “Barrientos, president!” cries when arrived in Cochabamba.98
Facing a weak opposition, whose electoral expectations were quite dismal, the struggle to control union leadership and occupy political posts was refocused on the competition between the maquinita and the military. Although the peasants were now aligned with the army, Lechín made a last attempt to split this alliance by trying to attract support from the powerful El Morro peasant central in Sacaba. Those who were on Lechín’s side denounced the arbitrary conduct of the leaders who supported Barrientos, pointing out that they were not peasants, “but rather drivers, blacksmiths, and delinquents, given that Jaime Guamán, Donato Urey, and Nemesio Sánchez have evaded truces and also have accounts to settle with justice for the murder of comrade Facundo Olmos.”99 Generals René Barrientos and Eduardo Rivas—the latter promoted to head of the Comité Politico Nacional del MNR (MNR’s National Political Committee)—were the mediators in this conflict. They solved the problem by ordering that both rivals be placed in charge of the El Morro peasant center, which would be guarded by militiamen of the FSTCC to avoid any violence. That same night, Donato Urey and Jaime Guamán occupied El Morro center with armed militiamen. They also sacked the house of left-wing El Morro leader, Víctor Torrico, and attempted to murder him. The message was clear; the military was not prepared to negotiate their newly acquired control over the peasantry, and threatened that the terror tactics they had employed in the recent past could be applied again if necessary.100 A peasant-military pact of mutual defense had been agreed upon on 25 September 1963 and was to be signed in Ucureña on 9 April 1964, providing even more fodder for a furious reaction against Torrico.101 Although this pact was oriented towards guaranteeing “the stability of the revolutionary government headed by the Paz-Barrientos formula,” it was, in reality, an instrument for backing Barrientos’ candidacy and upholding the army’s planned power grab, which was later realized through a military coup mounted against the MNR on 4 November 1964.102
While soldiers and MNR politicians were busy tuning their own political arsenals, the opposition sunk into a state of anxiety as they were unable to envision any possible route to power. Although the target of the opposition’s attack was the tarnished public image of Víctor Paz, the fact that the military now appeared to be on his side led to the evaporation of any immediate hopes of achieving a general alliance against the president. Hernán Siles and Juan Lechín did not lose hope of turning themselves into the armed forces’ civilian support, in the eventuality of a confrontation between the military and Víctor Paz. For this reason, Siles initially maintained a respectful silence concerning the military and its candidate. Meanwhile, Lechín chose to send the soldiers public messages displaying his willingness to agree to a political pact. Juan Lechín declared to the press that, “it was a serious mistake to claim that in the days of 9 April 1952 the army was defeated. What happened is that the soldiers did not wish to kill their brothers.”103 In full election campaign mode, Lechín also declared “that he had congratulated general Barrientos for taking the candidacy with much elevation, and for always soliciting unity in the MNR.”104 As election date came closer, the opposition lost control. Lechín’s party (PRIN) called for abstention, claiming that electoral fraud was planned.105 Siles went even further, heading an opposition front that openly asked the armed forces to take power “to avoid the attempts made by President Paz to remain in power.”106 An opposition commission met the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to ask him to lead a coup. Afterwards, they issued an explanatory document signed by the following political parties: PL, PURS, FSB, PIR, PSD, PSC, PRA, and PRIN. The military replied that they were apolitical, leaving the opposition without any viable political support.
In what would be their final and pathetic attempt to interfere in the presidential elections, Siles and Lechín mounted together a hunger strike in the San José mine (Oruro), which they declared as “the basis of pacific civilian resistance with the aim of getting Víctor Paz to revise his position [of seeking re-election].”107 Despite their attempts to stifle the elections, the opposition watched as the Paz-Barrientos ticket won the elections by a wide margin. Shortly after, Siles was expelled from the MNR, after being accused of conspiring against the revolution and, together with Lechín, declared themselves to be the opposition leaders.108
Instead of appeasing Barrientos’ political spirit, the electoral victory encouraged him to intensify his endeavor in the countryside. He visited peasant communities all over rural areas, reinforcing his propaganda campaign. In Cochabamba, Barrientos worked hand in hand with the FSTCC to control the elections of the CDM and place the former prefect, Gabriel Arze Quiroga, as the head of the CDM.109 Along with Arze, a group of the MNR’s “old militants” went into political action, functioning as a fifth column which upheld Barrientos’ coup plans from inside the governing party. With the pretext that there were conspiracies against the government in public offices, the MNR’s “old militants” organized a pressure group, which demanded Paz to place them in key posts with the supposed aim of defending him. In fact, these bureaucrats were the traditional members of the party’s right wing, which were now supporting the military’s coup attempt. At a national level, Vice-President Barrientos demanded that President Paz nominated José Rojas as minister of peasant affairs. The president refused to accept this demand, because he knew that Rojas was no longer faithful to him.110 Víctor Paz finally realized that he was besieged in the presidential palace. On 4 November 1964, the army forced President Paz to give up power.
The time frame of this study ends at this point in Bolivian history. Twelve years of MNR’s revolutionary rule came to an end in November 1964 and it was the military who inaugurated the post-revolutionary era. After twelve years of relentless struggle for political autonomy, the valley peasants of Cochabamba entered the post-revolutionary era renewed but exhausted. The renewal was achieved through regional and national political representation by way of their peasant unions. Peasant unionism was fully consolidated into the new regime and the peasants’ political image was now an integral part of Bolivian politics. But they were also exhausted from the four years of conflict during the Champa Guerra, which had completely discredited the older generation of peasant leaders in the view of the rank-and-file peasants. How did the new generation of peasant leaders in the Cochabamba valley negotiate power with the post-revolutionary military regimes? This is a fascinating query that ought to be investigated in a different study.
Old Discourses and New Actors: Peasants, MNR Politicians, and the Military
In this final revolutionary period (1959–64), peasant participation in regional politics reached its climax, although cities gradually displaced the countryside as the stage for political activity after the military began to assert influence over Bolivia’s political arena. Two moments can be identified when analyzing public discourse in this period. The first (1959–62) is related to the MNR’s left- and right-wing antagonistic power struggle, before and after the 1960 national election. The second (1963–64) corresponds to the military’s emergence as a political force that participated in the 1964 presidential election, and culminated with their coup against the MNR in November 1964.
Editorials in the first historical moment focused on what was interpreted as a struggle between the country and the city. Editorialists usually argued that urban politicians manipulated the peasant leaders in order to take advantage of their political influence in rural areas. They asserted, for instance: “the peasant forces, instead of being canalized in a constructive way, have been pushed toward infantile positions [which caused] a sharpening of the separation between the city and the countryside, as the criterion that the agrarian reform lacks an economic content and only answers to demagogic political ends is consolidated in our municipalities.”111 These calls for reflection to create “a climate of harmony and cooperation between the town dwellers and the peasants,”112 gradually changed their tone as the conflicts in the countryside intensified and the peasants defined their political stance as oppositional to the interests of the town dwellers:
[The city of Cochabamba] has trembled at the possibility that its streets and squares may come to be the place where sectarian irresponsibility leads the peasants to fight for interests which are not their own … those who instigated these incautious’ mobilizations are, of course, men of the city. [It is fine] that the peasantry should be considered as the most positive electoral material, but they [the urban politicians] do not have the right to take advantage of its healthy ingenuity.113
Initially, by using a paternalistic tone, editorials criticized the “use” that urban politicians made of the peasant’s alleged ingenuity. Very soon, however, editorials gave way to a biting polemic, here distilled is the vecino’s profound contempt for the peasantry:
The actual peasant fight lacks a real content of demanding their rights, as was the case, in every era, in the peasant wars, which really deserve such a name. … But what is also needed is a certain level of understanding among the city dwellers. It is true that, hardly seven years ago, the peasant was everything apart from a man. But in that time, a short while for history, a radical transformation has nevertheless taken place: the beast (semoviente) has become a citizen, or at least is going through a notable process in that direction.114
It was obvious that despite the revolutionary transformations, many backward components of the liberal discourse concerning the peasants continued to be deeply rooted in the minds of the vecinos, and counted among their ranks were the urban progressive intellectuals. These biases against peasants were further reinforced by public discourse when the armed clashes began and put the peasants on the offensive, demonstrating the relative weakness of the urban sectors in comparison to the rural groups. For instance, when the Ucureña peasants threatened to besiege the city of Cochabamba in an effort to pressure the regime to support them over their rivals from Cliza, the townspeople reacted by publicly contrasting the states of civilization and savagery regarding the attitudes of vecinos and campesinos.115
Under these circumstances, urban rhetoric that sought to discredit peasant political action flourished: “It should not be forgotten that the peasantry, due to its secular backwardness, does not have its own revolutionary objectives nor an ideology which it could call its own. It is obliged to act either under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie … or under the proletarian rudder.”116 Therefore, urban activists were exhorted by editorial writers to recall the peasant’s subordinate role in national politics and to protect the revolutionary process that peasants had joined through inertia:
Given the peasant agitation as a prelude to the agrarian reform—although those who gave it its initial life were ex-workers, miners, and proletarianized intellectuals, in summary people alien to the countryside—the choice was made of taking the comfortable but dangerous option of inventing the armed peasant militias with an excessive dose of fetishism, considering them as the genuine proof that the peasantry, with respect to the working class, was in a sui generis situation as “primus inter pares,” that is to say, first among equals.117
This class discourse, however, ran into serious limitations when applied to the interpretation of regional politics and attempts to understand the reasons for the fight between vecinos and campesinos in rural areas. The editorial writers queried the motive of such fights, alleging that they were senseless, for the editorialists considered that vecinos as much as campesinos belonged to a single social class with common interests, given that in Bolivia there was neither a bourgeoisie nor a proletariat:
How can the former labor tenant who has seen his plantations and house destroyed by unthinking hordes of class brothers be a rosca parte [an oligarchy supporter]? Or how can the smallholders, the primary school teacher, and the small artisans and traders of the provincial capitals be enemies of the peasants? Should it not rather be emphatically affirmed that one and the other have a solidary interest in taking the agrarian reform to its final consequences?118
The obvious conclusion was that those who instigated the confrontations and confused the rural inhabitants were the peasant bosses (caciques campesinos). Thus, the extirpation of caudillos in the rural areas was in the interest of both the peasantry and the country as a whole.119
Two aspects stand out in this kind of reasoning, which was also shared by many urban politicians. Firstly, the notion that the personal attitudes of the caudillos alone was causing the unrest in the countryside was a ludicrous fabrication, yet it was also a powerful one, as at the time, historical national political experience and its side effects of sectarianism were seen as marginal or even non-existent causal factors. Secondly, the concept of social class (together with its assigned territorial attributes) masked the important role of ethnic identities in the context of the neo-colonial Bolivian experience. Peasants complained about journalistic interpretations concerning rural conflicts, while journalists stressed the faithfulness of their news. In reality, the lack of communication between the country and the city was not due to the unreliability of the news (although it was often sensationalist), but rather because of an urban bias concerning the political behavior and consciousness of peasants, which further widened the breach between these two disconnected worlds. When severe crises erupted, peasant leaders came to intervene, protesting the sensationalist headlines of the press.120 On other occasions, peasant leaders’ angry protests were interpreted as a sign of the lack of democratic education among the people.121 Or when there was definitive evidence, journalists accepted that their sources were weak: “It often happens that some busybody or self-interested informers magnify the facts as is convenient for them.”122
The obsession in public discourse over the characterization of peasant bosses (caudillos) reached a climax in 1962, when confrontations between peasant militias were followed by the selective elimination of their leaders. Editorials started demanding an end to the caudillos’ power, arguing that these men had done much damage to the nation.123 Meanwhile, editorials also continuously denounced the government’s lack of clear agrarian policy from the government and its permissiveness with the peasants in allowing them to maintain armed militias 124 Finally, editorials demanded that bosses be replaced by leading peasant cadres (cuadros), that had been sufficiently politicized and vetted. 125 In most cases the weight of editorial criticism fell upon peasant leaders and in only a few instances was there an attempt to analyze the relationship between rural conflicts and urban political interests. Editorials argued that the overweening bosses often concealed their prioritization of their own personal interests in the countryside, thus representing the caudillos as the worst enemy of the peasants, even more so than the former landlords themselves.126
Peasant discourse, for its part, was present in the newspapers in a profusion of press conferences and communiqués, which were generally produced by the Cliza and Ucureña cadres. When expressing themselves, the leaders of both peasant unions analyzed the day-to-day political situation from their own political perspectives. Ucureña expressed its support for Víctor Paz while Cliza swung back and forth between Walter Guevara’s right wing and Juan Lechín’s left wing. Ucureña’s public discourse constantly used historical reflection as a means to give perspective to its political struggle. For instance, when the right wing accused Ucureña peasants of being communists during the 1960 election campaign, José Rojas reiterated that his union had always had a Marxist orientation, ever since the PIR had collaborated in organizing the union in 1936. He also reminded the public that in those days Walter Guevara was a Marxist and that the Ucureña peasants had helped him earn a parliamentary seat for the Arani province. However, Rojas continued, “after the national revolution’s triumph, once Walter Guevara was in the regime’s foreign ministry, he had Crisóstomo Inturias and myself taken to La Paz as prisoners. What morals does this politician have who is now an ally of the landlords and gives arms to Cliza so that they can attack us?”127
The Mulofalda massacre—in which Cliza militiamen ambushed and killed a patrol of Ucureña militiamen in June 1960—deeply shocked the Ucureña peasants and opened a space for reflection about the role of the revolutionary state in the administration of justice, as discussed in chapter three. As the regime had ignored their requests for punishment for the criminals, the Ucureña peasants threatened to blockade the city of Cochabamba and occupy the town of Cliza to put pressure on the authorities to either prosecute or hand over those suspected of having led the massacre. The Ucureños complained that the Cliza militiamen had been able to commit acts of heinous violence against them because of the government’s complete lack of authority in the region. In the end, they considered the government to have been the accomplice of Cliza, for it did not punish the criminals. As the Ucureña peasant leader, Salvador Vásquez, put it: “There are no longer guarantees or justice for all those men who sacrificed themselves for the national revolution. It would seem that neither authorities nor the government exist, because otherwise these savageries would not have taken place.”128 According to the Ucureña peasant leaders, the root of the problem was in Hernán Siles’ policy that gave rise to disorder and provoked the party’s division, for the promises of progress had not been kept and politicians had taken advantage “to deceive the Indians and make us fight among brothers.”129
These problems were of a political nature—the Ucureña leaders argued—because elements stripped by the revolutionary measures taken by President Paz have infiltrated themselves in the MNR’s right wing and in the Comité Pro-Cochabamba (Committee for Cochabamba), and from these positions had continuously attempted to split and abolish the peasant movement and thus return to power. The peasants in Ucureña had a clear idea of the political right’s machinations: “The absurd pretension of disarming the peasants is only with the aim of arriving in power once more, when there will no longer be anything with which to defend the revolution and its conquests.”130 Thus, while at least four political forces were influencing Cliza, and Cliza vacillated over who to support, Ucureña had always been faithful to the MNR. In spite of this, the MNR betrayed Ucureña.131 The Ucureños conclusion regarding the MNR’s political behavior towards their peasant union was definitive:
Ucureña is not the fruit of the MNR or of any political horse-trader (politiquero). Ucureña has grown up alone and since 1936 has sacrificed itself for its cause without going beyond human rights, the laws, and the authorities, nor betraying any cause, and this is its pride. Ucureña is the MNR, but does not belong to the MNR.132
Cliza’s public discourse, in contrast, lacked a historical horizon for it did not possess any retained experience of collective organization from before the revolution, nor of the consequent MNR project of peasant unionization. Although Cliza’s rhetoric revolved around their rejection of the caudillos, in reality, it was a discourse directed towards attacking José Rojas. It was under these terms that the speeches of the presidential candidate Walter Guevara and the Cliza peasant leader Miguel Veizaga coincided, as did their political ambitions. Both Guevara and Veizaga sought to destroy José Rojas in order to obtain the power he held. Guevara wished to have the peasant vote in the valley and Veizaga desired the regional peasant leadership.133 When the Cliza peasant center proclaimed Guevara as its candidate for the presidency, their leaders justified this decision by claiming that the climate of terror in the Valle Alto was because of Ucureña and Rojas.134 Cliza attempted to cover up its ideological flaws by using a discourse that exalted its leader’s political independence and allowed Miguel Veizaga to assert that he was not at the unconditional service neither of Walter Guevara nor of Víctor Paz, “since we are not interested in personalities.”135 This position would later on allow Veizaga to move closer to the left-wing line of Vice-President Lechín, thus displacing Guevara as Cliza’s favorite ally. As a result, Veizaga negotiated on his own behalf with Lechín for the conducting of peasant elections in Cochabamba, “with the exclusion of the regional authorities and under the auspice of the COD and the COB,”136 thus continuing his relentless race towards the FSTCC leadership.
Both wings of the MNR took advantage of the incoherent and confused political behavior of the Cliza peasant union cadre, leading to a very tense political climate. Thus, when Ucureña threatened to blockade the city of Cochabamba amid its struggle against Cliza, the COD and the Committee for Cochabamba joined together in their protests of this threat. The former, seeking to undermine Ucureña’s prestige and, the latter, requesting the disarmament of the peasant militias. Cliza’s alleged support for President Paz contradicted with a permanent campaign of sabotage against his plans. For instance, when President Paz’s representative invited Veizaga for a meeting in La Paz, the Cliza peasants first accepted and later on refused to accept it, despite the previous agreement. The jilted government representative reacted in anger: “I can no longer talk to people who are not serious like comrade Miguel Veizaga.”137 In contrast to Ucureña, Cliza’s discourse focused upon the social but not the political aspects of the peasant conflict in the valley.138 Although Cliza’s conceptualization of the “peasant problem” was never completely clarified, it was mainly based on a discourse that identified the Ucureña leaders with the old Indian curacas or the foremen of the haciendas.139 From this point of view, it was evident that the problem was less political and more sociological. The preference was to stress alleged essential features of the Ucureña peasant’s behavior which differentiated them from those of Cliza, giving rise to tainted ethnic discourse. Cliza had always been incapable of constructing a rhetorical foundation for a common ground where vecinos and campesinos might coincide.
When the military presence began in the Valle Alto, the editorials—which still insisted on the polarity between country and city as a central indicator of the difference between barbarous and civilized behavior—emphasized the responsibility of the MNR’s political factions in fomenting tension and protecting the perpetuators of acts of vandalism.140 The government—the editorial writers argued—encouraged both Cliza and Ucureña peasant unions to obstruct any unification efforts.141 This situation stimulated the persistence of local bosses whose actions reached an openly criminal nature, resulting in repercussions for peasants and a suspension of the norms of day to day social conduct that lasted for years. For this reason—editorialists insisted—instead of keeping a complacent posture, the government should have led the peasants towards a state of normalcy, even if it meant making use of their right to repressive force if necessary.142
Editorials shifted their rhetoric when General René Barrientos launched his candidacy for the vice-presidency, supported by the Tarata (Valle Alto) peasants of Cochabamba. The previous call to the peasants to avoid mixing their union activities with politics contradicted the tone of condescendence they began using when commenting on the “spontaneous mass meetings” of peasants who proclaimed their support for the Paz-Barrientos candidacy:
With reference to the peasant masses, almost all affiliated to the MNR, their thoughts already seem to be defined. The proclamation [of the Paz-Barrientos ticket] which we are commenting on, reflects in its depths, a strong internal tendency that exists in the governing party and which may well give the pattern for future actions by the peasant unions’ organizations.143
From the urban point of view there was no intention to emphasize the peasant’s right to political autonomy. Instead, the goal was to pressure the government to define mechanisms able to control the political actions of the peasants. Therefore, the editorials’ rhetoric swung within the limits of the old molds of liberal discourse, which still dominated the minds of Bolivian intellectuals and politicians despite their attempts to modernize. The intelligentsia in Cochabamba was still unable to consider peasants as citizens, despite the social changes brought on by the revolution.144
When the government attacked the left-wing peasant leaders and covered up the murder of peasant leader Facundo Olmos and their sacking of Enrique Encinas’ office, editorials continued to depict the peasants as those who had perpetrated the terrorist acts.145 There was no mention of the fact that the spiral of violence was fomented by right-wing politicians and the military, and that this was the result of contextual Cold War contradictions. On the contrary, a discourse favoring military participation in politics began to form deeper roots in the regional consciousness. Despite initial suggestions that the army’s participation should go hand in hand with the MNR—and the MNR indeed continued to be seen as the primordial political actor while the army was beginning to be seen as the possible executor of violent internal action in defense of the government—the partnership quickly led to the notion that the military ought to possess greater political autonomy.146 The turning point in the balance of power relations came when General Barrientos managed to get the peasants of the rival peasant centers of Cliza and Ucureña to sign on a peace accord. After this, not only did Barrientos’ public image grow a great deal in the political spectrum but it also was projected as being atop the highest spheres of national power. The editorials were thankful for his mediation in the conflict:
It would seem that the peasant’s pain and anguish did not cause serious worry to the persons called to intervene and put their influence in favor of pacification. This step has now been taken by a well-intentioned soldier whose labor should reach a peak in the months to come.147
Editorialists argued that it was not only the fact that this soldier [General Barrientos] had listened to the peasants’ anguished voices, but that he had also carried out a task that other politicians had been incapable of, thus placing Barrientos above the politicians and arm in arm with the peasants.
The participation of the military in national politics also generated a rhetorical intrusion by the armed forces into the political arena, with General Barrientos as its spokesman. Initially, Barrientos alleged that his discourse came from the armed forces, emphasizing that his presence in the political context was due to the army’s political participation in the revolutionary process and not to any kind of personal impulse:
For us [the military] politics is the alternative for the nation to overcome the anti-fatherland (antipatria), human backwardness, to materialize the ideals of liberation and fatherland which were initiated by Busch and Villarroel and which are now directed by Víctor Paz. … The armed forces in Bolivia, when they act in politics, are acting in the space of the fatherland, that is to say, in the space of the nation’s supreme interests, because no soldier is allowed to take politics as a simple instrument of his personal convenience.148
However, Barrientos considered that the soldiers’ participation in the political arena put the preservation of the institutional unity of the armed forces at risk, as he believed politics tended to deteriorate said unity. The central topic of his discourse, which he addressed to the military and to civil society, revolved around this issue of unity. This concept was quickly assimilated by Barrientos’ interlocutors into their rhetoric, in response to the state of political anarchy in Bolivia. Unity would allow the country to work towards economic development, but this unity would have to be based upon the ethical foundation of the armed forces, and upheld by order and discipline. According to military rhetoric, it was only through unity, discipline, and order that Bolivia could begin the task of constructing itself as a nation.149
The military discourse’s moralizing character was accompanied by a concomitant approach of benevolence in which the armed forces provided social assistance programs to the peasantry. Thus, when General Barrientos declared that “the armed forces have never had so much prestige as now,” he simultaneously claimed “we have handled publicity very well so as to inform the people about the armed forces’ involvement to make a platform not for a personality but for our institution.”150 General Barrientos meant that the military was using publicity to shape a new image of itself as an institution and this was begin done in preparation for it to enter into the political field and finally reach power. Consequently, when the armed forces suggested that the Paz-Barrientos ticket should run in the 1964 elections, Barrientos reacted with feigned surprise at the news, but his response was taken from a prewritten script. This carefully planned reticence improved Barrientos’ public image, as it characterized him as benevolent and politically naive. When journalists asked him about his vice-presidential candidacy, General Barrientos said that he had found out about it from the press and indicated that the issue “is not only premature, but also somewhat upsetting for me.”151 Afterwards, General Barrientos gave himself over to working with the peasants to agree to a negotiated truce. This not only allowed him to control an explosive political situation, but also put him in a highly visible spot, given the power which the peasant militias had at that time. This was a very laborious and slow task for Barrientos and his backers—one he had begun months prior, in strategic places in the valley where the military was setting up schools and health posts—before wading into the dispute between Cliza and Ucureña. Reports of his intervention in the countryside in the newspapers were printed alongside with well-planned photographs. The portrait of General Barrientos in military uniform surrounded by groups of grateful peasants was generally the icon that circulated in the press, reinforcing his paternal image.
The discourse Barrientos offered to the peasantry was intentionally broad so that it could be easily assimilated by the populace. His message offered the public a peaceful alternative to the violence promoted by MNR politicians. In a press conference, for instance, he stated that: “Every revolution means change, justice, effort, and work, but no aim can be fully achieved if unity is not maintained and the disagreements and different opinions come to an end. Rivalry is not revolution.”152 Barrientos’ rhetoric skillfully combined the revolution’s mystique with the promise of a peaceful and productive society in the near future.153 Moreover, when linked to a chronological perspective, his discourse led to the conclusion that the new stage of promised harmony he envisioned was not a possibility under the MNR regime, as they had already fulfilled their historic mission:
In a first period Busch and Villarroel gave an impulse to the people’s aspirations, opening a horizon for the revolution. The second period which began on 9 April 1952, served to destroy the machinery of the old system. Now we are entering a third period which has to be built with affection and love … the armed forces are a guarantee for all Bolivians, [because] unlike in other eras [the military are] now building schools, roads, and health posts.154
The implication that the MNR’s political practice lacked the ability to provide unity and peace—which was quite prevalent in military discourse—was reinforced on another level by employing ethnicity-based arguments that questioned the political manipulation of peasants. When Barrientos was campaigning for his vice-presidential candidacy, he stood by the peasants, warning the MNR leaders that old times were coming to an end: “I believe that although there are chasms of hate, these should not be deliberately deepened and that the so-called intellectuals or white leaders should know that the party will be most effective with the unity of all Bolivians.”155
General Barrientos’ posturing was related to another element of the military discourse’ criticism of the violent political struggle in the countryside, which he depicted as barbarous and uncivilized: “There is a need of incorporating civilization in our political life; [we must] put an end to current methods of barbarism and imposition … we argue for the use of democratic procedures of struggle.” 156 The peasants always issued complaints against the urban intellectuals who often had manipulated peasants through their monopoly on dispensing political information. When the military managed to consolidate their political pact with the peasantry, they promoted a discourse which legitimized both the military and the peasantry in detriment of politicians and intellectuals. The military rhetoric asserted that the social policies of the armed forces had allowed peasants to grow beyond their bondage to the old MNR politicians and achieve entry into a new stage of modernity, with the end result being their transformation into citizens. Barrientos’ discourse emphasized this issue constantly, attracting the peasants’ respect and admiration.
To the peasant comrades of the valley of Cochabamba and those of Cliza and Ucureña, I wish principally to manifest my absolute solidarity with them and my joyful applause for the form in which they are consolidating their worthy life together, their fruitful union, and their extraordinary understanding, drawing the applause and respect of all the citizenry. One sees that the peasant comrades have definitely won civilization and they will never go back down to the darkness of quarrels, of rivalry, of hatred or of pain.157
When General Barrientos was finally nominated as candidate and later on elected as vice-president, the media focused on his benevolent public image until the military coup d’état on 9 November 1964. After the coup, the military’s rhetoric shifted its institutional character towards a more personalized discourse, centered on Barrientos’ public image. Consequently, a messianic tone flourished in his discourse, relating his rural origins (he was born and raised in the town of Tarata, Valle Alto) with his mission of redeeming the peasant masses: “I have the mission of explaining to the peasants and the workers the achievements of the revolution, with the aim of drawing them out of that kind of sophistication of which they have been the object due to their poor understanding of national problems.”158 The military discourse—which originated from an institutional source and later on reached its peak when personalized in the image of General Barrientos—was contested by a dissident peasant discourse proposing an alternative socialist model. General Barrientos, as the military discourse’s spokesperson, pointed out that his electoral proposals were within the framework of a North American model and that he would be supportive of all United States’ efforts to improve the well-being of Bolivians: “When we can no longer do anything with our own resources, [the United States] help will come and will be very welcome. There are people who are interested in collaborating with us, but only when we give everything on our part, showing interest in seeking solutions for our problems.”159
In contrast, the leftist discourse emanating from the peasant centers of Quillacollo and Sacaba portrayed their political position as anti-imperialist and antifeudal. The left’s goal was to take the national revolution even further, with the final aim being the institution of a popular worker-peasant government. Accordingly, pacts between the peasants’ and workers’ unions were required if the regime was to attempt agricultural mechanization. The leftist-oriented peasant unions in Quillacollo and Sacaba joined the miners’ unions in demanding Bolivia accept a proposal by the Soviet Union to install blast furnaces in the mines to promote industrialization in the country. In the Quillacollo national peasant congress (February 1963), the left issued a political platform focused on class struggle, an idea to which left-wing workers and peasants subscribed.160 However, this internationalist and pro-Soviet Union line—whose model was the Cuban Revolution—was not firmly supported by the left-wing peasants, who gathered instead around the figure of Juan Lechín. The left’s discourse was weak and divided, as it was promoted by workers but contradicted by their peasant allies. The division in the national peasant congress was evident, when the COD’s delegate, Oscar Sanjines, asked for a worker-peasant alliance to achieve national development. He pointed out that, “we should look at the socialist project because it is capable of giving us machinery, while the only thing the North Americans do is send us their agricultural surplus.” The peasant leader and parliamentarian, Sinforoso Rivas, replied that, “four or five communists, who speak prettily about aid, about blast furnaces, are those who divert the worker’s mission, because the miners’ leaders who dress in rags when they go to their grassroots, are precisely the main reason why the nationalized mines do not produce anything.”161
The left-wing peasants were grouped in the FSTCC under the leadership of Facundo Olmos (Sacaba) and Enrique Encinas (Quillacollo) and their political position was ambivalent, given that they were pressured by the workers to radicalize their demands and by the peasants to maintain their political autonomy. The result was an ideologically ambiguous peasant movement that was also confronted by the rest of the viable political actors. This confrontational situation was another reason behind the peasant leaders’ obsession with exerting total control over their own territories and clienteles. As a consequence, the left’s discourse concerning the peasants lashed out at José Rojas and the Ucureña peasant center, criticizing them for using a bellicose rhetoric against their rivals in Cliza. Hence, when Ucureña proposed reorganizing the FSTCC to purge the left’s ideological influence on its ranks, Rojas’ image was tarnished by left-wing leaders from all political factions:
[José Rojas] has shown that he never at any moment acted on political principles, because he has none, but only in search of his personal interests, the protection of his abuses and exactions, his crimes and dirty deals (negociados), and his primitive and brutal hatred of the cities.162
Ucureña fought back against its political enemies by issuing the document titled “Ucureña Faces up to Deviations,” which was published in the press. In this declaration, Ucureños reaffirmed their trust in José Rojas and in the nationalist line of its union. The Ucureña peasants asserted that since the founding of their union in 1936, they had been faithful to the postulates of the national revolution and the agrarian reform program, without deviating towards left- and then right-wing orientations as other peasant unions like Cliza had done.163 By the end of the 1964 presidential campaign, José Rojas and the Ucureña peasants sent a rupture message to Víctor Paz, letting him know that:
[He] was surrounded by a circle of people who lie to him and falsify the facts, who have dynamited the party and left him without friends. This circle has already dug the grave in which they wish to bury him … the [MNR] old leaders will not be the ones who solve these problems because there is no one who will follow them, only the young soldiers can do it but not alone, rather with us the peasants and the workers.164
From the moment of rupture with Víctor Paz onward, the military was able to effectively monitor the peasant movement in Cochabamba by placing their political agents into key posts within the union apparatus. Peasant discourse at this point in time ceased to entirely signify the opinions and concerns of agrarian unionists and instead transformed itself into a textual production that became significantly influenced by non-peasant insiders, seeking only their own political ends. How and when peasant political discourse recovered its autonomy is a matter belonging to another different historical inquiry that goes beyond the time frame of this study.
The Champa Guerra (1959–64) in the Valle Alto of Cochabamba was ignited by the resistance of both politicians and urban dwellers to acknowledge the peasants’ mounting political power and autonomy, which had only been reached after more than a decade of revolutionary transformations. The political maneuvers by politicians aiming to split the peasant movement further exacerbated peasant factionalism, thus unleashing pervasive ethnically and racially-based perceptions, and representations, of alleged relations of domination and subordination between town dwellers and peasants.
To fully understand peasants’ political factionalism, however, it is necessary to approach the problem from different analytical angles. Firstly, due to revolutionary changes, peasants were empowered by a number of fortuitous events and, at the same time, the previous relations of domination and subordination that had always connected rural and urban societies were in the middle of a process of full reconstruction. Thus, while reluctantly accepting the issue of the homogeneity of the citizenry that was proposed in the discourse surrounding the modernizing processes of revolution, urban politicians built a negative image of the cacique campesino (peasant boss) with the conscious and unconscious aim of keeping peasants as subordinate political actors. Secondly, the struggles between the MNR’s left and right wing to take control of the government should also be considered: The two sectors sought peasant support, but both had an authoritarian position vis-à-vis the peasantry. The party’s right wing was affixed to the preconceived idea of the peasants’ inferiority due to their alleged ignorance, while the left wing believed that the peasantry represented a proto-social class with no independent political goals. Consequently, both factions of the MNR reinvigorated the ideas of domination and subordination which pitted city dwellers against peasants. It was this oppositional discourse that finally opened the door for the intervention of the military into the political arena. Lastly, Cold War tensions influenced the political context in Bolivia in the 1960s. The guerrilla warfare tactic that was adopted by the international left had alarmed the United States government, which launched a military-commanded control campaign over the peasantry in Latin America. As a consequence, a military nationalistic doctrine emerged that transformed Latin American soldiers into active political players. The plan to prevent socialist revolutions proved to be partially successful, for national armies defeated the so-called insurgents in practically all Latin American countries. In the case of Bolivia—after a decade-long revolutionary struggle for political autonomy—peasants did not participate in any guerrilla endeavor, but instead they supported the military’s fight against radical left-wing guerrilla warfare.
The Champa Guerra between Cliza and Ucureña had a mixed outcome for the peasants searching for political autonomy. On the one hand, the peasant movement had consolidated itself within Bolivian politics and the revolutionary peasant’s image was now firmly ingrained in the political arena. But, on the other hand, the older generation of revolutionary peasant leaders that led the conflict ended up politically exhausted and discredited in the eyes of the peasantry. The final peasant-military pact—in which peasants rejected their role under the MNR, which was mainly to serve as voters and shock troops for the regime—put them firmly under the political umbrella of the military. Ominously, General Barrientos’ government normalized a practice of rewarding loyalist peasant leaders with large sums of money, at least until his death in an accident in April 1969. The following military regimes chose terror as their preferred political weapon to control Bolivian society. Therefore, new research is necessary to write the history of the Cochabamba peasant movement more completely during the transitory period of General Barrientos rule (1964–69) and the military dictatorship era until 1982, in order to unveil the political fluctuations and strategies used by the peasants to continue negotiating power with the post-revolutionary state.