The Chargé in Bolivia (Muccio) to the Secretary of State

No. 575

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following summary of events of the past week which, with the several telegrams and despatches already transmitted, form a background to the movements leading to the resignation of President Tejada Sorzano and to the subsequent attempts to form a government, the composition of which will probably be announced today.

General Strike

As reported in my despatch No. 569 dated May 15, 1936,13 the typesetters and employees of all newspapers in La Paz went on strike on May 9 demanding wage increases on a scale equivalent to that given to government employees effective January 1, 1936. (Report from Consulate dated February 6.)13 Attempts to settle this strike were futile. Although under the “state of siege” restrictions obtaining public assemblies were prohibited, workers agitations became increasingly frequent protesting against the mounting cost of Living which the Government had not been able to curb. On the evening of May 15 the Assembly of the Workers Federation of La Paz declared a general strike effective the next morning demanding primarily increases similar to those given government employees. The President of the Republic called in the Federation leaders, described the critical condition in which the country found itself, and urged that the strike [Page 230] be called off until the Government had time to study the question of wage increases for all non-government employees. Though an announcement was made by radio late that evening that the strike leaders had acceded to the President’s request, practically all workers went out on Saturday morning. (Telegram No. 18, dated May 16, 11 a.m.)14 A complete stoppage of all trade and industry became effective at once throughout the La Paz area although the Bolivian Power Company managed to maintain an uninterrupted service of electric current and water during the entire period. The La Paz Students Federation also announced that it would join the workers if the strike was not settled by Monday.

The President discussed the situation at a meeting of “Notables” on Saturday morning and shortly afterwards issued a decree (See telegram No. 20, dated May 16, 7 p.m. and Despatch No. 570 of May 1815 mobilizing all vital workers as reservists and subjecting them to military duties and laws. The workers took no heed of this decree and it soon became obvious that it could not be made effective.

Resignation of President Tejada

There were numerous conferences at the Government Palace Saturday afternoon and evening. The manifest impotence of the President and the chaotic condition of the Government soon made it obvious that they could not long face the critical situation. The President later retired to his private home. Sunday morning two Lieutenants called on President Tejada. When finally admitted, they placed before him a letter of resignation for signature, but he handed them a letter he had already written. Shortly thereafter a proclamation announcing the resignation, and that pending the selection of a mixed junta, the Army would be responsible for public order was issued by Colonel German Busch, Acting Chief of the General Staff. The Commander-in-Chief, General Peñaranda, and the Chief of Staff, Colonel David Toro, were both in Villa Montes supervising the repatriation of the Bolivian prisoners.

The text of the resignation, believed to have been considerably altered, and of the proclamation, were forwarded in Despatch No. 571, dated May 19, 1936.14

Proclamation of Mixed Junta

A proclamation issued by the Acting Chief of Staff Sunday afternoon announced that a mixed junta would assume charge of the government at 5:30 that day. (See telegram No. 22 dated May 17, 8 p.m. and Despatch No. 572 of May 19, 1936.16) The Junta was to [Page 231] consist of four military, two Socialist and two Republican Socialists members with Colonel David Toro as President of the Junta.

Sunday evening the Secretary of the Junta and the head of the Workers Federation announced by radio that an agreement had been reached settling the general strike and that the workers would return to their tasks Monday morning. (See telegram No. 23, dated May 18, 3 p.m.) The workers did not return, however, and in accordance with their agreement, the students of La Paz stayed away from their colleges and schools. On Monday, numerous demonstrations by workers groups took place demanding a specific declaration by the Junta that increases equivalent to those given government employees would be accorded all industrial, mine and commercial employees; and further, that a laborers’ representative be appointed to the Junta. As a part of these demonstrations, the members of the Workers Federation entered the Muncipal Building which has been used as their headquarters since.

Tuesday morning the laborers finally returned to their work. The terms of the agreement have not been announced. It is believed that verbal assurances only were made that the demands of the laborers would be sympathetically considered so soon as practicable. The satisfaction of the laborers will undoubtedly be the most crucial task facing whatever governing group is finally organized. It is generally realized that labor having felt its power in the past week, and incited by political agitators, will not readily forego the demands it has put forth for salary increases and direct representation on the Junta.

Dissolution of the Junta

Following the appointment of the Junta matters were at a practical standstill awaiting the arrival of Colonel Toro from Villa Montes. His procrastination in coming, which he could have done in a few hours by plane, and the lack of any public pronouncement from him resulted in a gradual increase of uneasiness. The feeling finally became prevalent that he was not satisfied with the Junta. The Junta dissolved during the night of May 18–19 (See telegram No. 25, May 19, 2 p.m.) and the Army again became responsible for public order.

It was generally known that Toro detested Doctor Bautista Saavedra, head of the Republican Socialists. Also that he had stated he would never associate himself with a Saavedrist. The repudiation of the proclamation establishing the Junta became inevitable, however, when the significance of sections four and five thereof providing that each member of the Junta was autonomous, and could be removed only by the party appointing the member, became evident to Toro.

It is evident that Lieutenant Colonel Busch a young militarist, 32 years of age, could not have drawn up a proclamation as politically [Page 232] subtle and astute as that announcing the resignation of President Tejada, nor have the political sagacity of inserting the ingenious sections four and five into the proclamation establishing the Junta. These are attributed to Doctor Saavedra. That Saavedra was cleverly manoeuvering for supremacy is indicated by his activity following the resignation of the Junta. At numerous gatherings he extolled the workers, the Army and the youthful hero, Busch. I have been reliably informed that he personally appealed to Busch to declare himself against Toro. At these meetings, there were frequent cries of “Down with Toro”. Toro is not popular with labor, ex-service men, nor with the students who blame him for the student massacres during the 1930 revolution.

It appears that the Army was not anticipating a change of Government at this time and was caught unaware with Colonel Toro in Villa Montes. It is even stated that Toro was furious with developments as he had tacitly agreed to Tejada Sorzano remaining as President till the expiration of his term on August 15, 1936. The general strike brought about a critical situation, however, which was used by the “leftists,” particularly the Saavedrists, to further their own ambitions and the Army had to step in to protect its dominant position.

Arrival of Toro

Colonel Toro arrived in La Paz on May 20 at 5 p.m. (See telegram No. 26, dated May 20, 4 p.m.) and immediately established himself in the Government Palace. He has made no public pronouncement concerning his plans except in a very nebulous interview granted the La Paz correspondent of the Associated Press. (Despatch No. 574, dated May 21, 1936.)18

Toro has been having continuous conferences since his arrival. Rumors indicate that he will establish a junta of ten members; six military, and four civilians—one a representative of labor. The civilian members will probably be Socialists and Republican Socialists appointed as individuals amenable to him and not as party representatives.

La Paz and the Country generally remain superficially tranquil. The dissolution of the first Junta and the delay in announcing the new governing group indicates a lack of unity and of decision. The frequent demonstrations by laborers and the socialist groups, and the general unpopularity of the Army leaders, are also causes for considerable uneasiness. Furthermore, the fundamental problems that the Tejada government was unable to settle, particuarly the exorbitant cost of living and inordinate government expenses with a deficit itself larger than the total budget for any former year, are [Page 233] critical issues which will have to be met by the Army and its associates in the new administration.

Respectfully yours,

John J. Muccio
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