149. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • The May 31 Elections in Bolivia

Government Party in Transition

When President Paz decided that it was time for the Bolivian revolution to enter a new, “constructive,” development phase, internal stresses in the governing National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) which had grown over the years since 1952 were intensified. These tensions were brought to the breaking point late last year by United States pressure on the Government to carry out reforms in the state-owned tin mines, since these reforms tended to undercut the power base of leftist Vice President Lechin, his followers in the MNR, and the Communists who support him.2 The result was Lechin’s expulsion from the MNR, and his own candidacy against Paz for election to the Presidency on May 31.

In April, former President Siles (1956–1960) returned from his ambassadorial post in Spain to reenter politics as a champion of party unity (presumably under his leadership). He advocates the return of Lechin and other splinter elements to the MNR. Paz has resisted this, and so far opposition groups have been unable to unite against him.

Military Appear Loyal to Paz

Former Air Force Chief Rene Barrientos is Paz’ vice presidential running mate. He was involved in a plot to overthrow Paz earlier this [Page 338] month but now seems to have abandoned his anti-Paz activities.3 Paz believes the military high command is loyal and able to control sporadic violence by the opposition as well as any further attempts by Barrientos or Siles to use middle and junior grade officers to advance their personal ambitions. President Paz has declared that the elections will be held on May 31 even though all of the opposition parties which had presented presidential candidates have announced their intention to abstain.

Implications for the United States

Negative Factors

Instability in the months following the elections is very likely. There will be continuing resistance within the party and outside it to the course Paz has set, especially to his close association with the United States and the Alliance for Progress. Lechin, Siles, and other opposition leaders will probably continue to plot a coup d’etat since they do not believe the way to power is open to them by constitutional means; and Paz’ decision to succeed himself poses the question of personal as distinct from party dictatorship. If, on election day, Paz is the only candidate as now seems likely, the validity of his claim to a popular mandate will be suspect.4

Positive Factors

Paz seems committed to Bolivia’s economic and social development under the Alliance for Progress. Now outside the government party, Lechin is in a less advantageous position to obstruct Government efforts to rehabilitate the state-owned tin mines and in other ways to strengthen Bolivia’s economy. Nevertheless, Paz’ government inevitably will have further clashes with the Lechin and Communist-led miners if it is determined to carry out its rehabilitation program. If Paz is resolute, however, our aid policy should begin to show dramatic [Page 339] results in the near future and forces of political instability may be weakened.

Benjamin H. Read 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. I, Memoranda, December 1963–July 1964. Secret. According to a State Department copy, this memorandum was drafted by Nicholas V. McCausland (ARA), cleared by Henry E. Mattox (INR) and Allen D. Gordon (AID), and approved by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs Robert W. Adams. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 BOL)
  2. In particular, the United States pressed for better financial management of the Bolivian tin mines. The issue was discussed in a meeting between President Kennedy and President Paz on October 23, 1963; see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, American Republics and Cuba, Microfiche Supplement.
  3. Information on Barrientos’ role in the alleged coup plot is in telegrams 575 to La Paz, May 4; 1515 from La Paz, May 16; and 1547 from La Paz, May 25. (All ibid.) On May 15 Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Fox, Jr., the Air Attaché in La Paz, met with Barrientos at the Bolivian’s request to discuss relations with Paz. Fox told Barrientos to “use his head for something other than a hat rack. He [Barrientos] agreed and stated that he would get with the program and even though he would lose many Paz-haters, he would positively support Paz.” (Department of the Army cable IN 293440, May 18; Central Intelligence Agency, Job 90–1156R, Directorate for Operations, Latin America Division, [file name not declassified])
  4. The Embassy in La Paz reported Paz’s victory in the Presidential election in telegram 1580, June 1. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 BOL)
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Grant G. Hilliker signed for Read above Read’s typed signature.