151. Telegram From the Department of State to All American Republic Posts1

836. Subject: Bolivia. President Paz Estenssoro has fled the country and arrived in Lima with his family afternoon November 4. General [Page 341] Ovando Candia, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, announced today the formation of a military junta which he would head, but full junta has not been named.2 General Suarez, Army Commander, announced he was a member. The situation is extremely fluid, reports indicating the possibility that Vice President Barrientos and Ovando may vie for the leadership of the military government, possibly through force.3 There is thus some uncertainty regarding the unity of the armed forces as well as over the relationship of Communist-led miner militia to army units in Oruro, leading mining center. The relationship of pro-Communist workers in La Paz to the junta is also uncertain. Fighting between pro-Paz militia and the Army broke out November 4, but has subsided. Sporadic rioting and sacking of buildings continues, however. The military possess only a limited capacity to preserve public order.4

We are principally concerned by the extent of Communist power in the country and the possibility that in the developing situation the Communists may gain control of the government. Our overriding objectives in the present situation, therefore, are to prevent the collapse of authority, civil war and a Communist takeover, and to protect U.S. lives and property. We have no present intention of recognizing any group which may be contending for power, and would wish at appropriate time to consult with other American governments this subject. We are, however, endeavoring to maintain informal contact with the military [Page 342] leaders and Barrientos with a view toward learning their intentions and the likely orientation of a successor government.5

In discussing the Bolivian situation with officials of other American governments you may in your discretion say that the U.S. government supported the constitutional government of Bolivia until it fell and that just prior to his departure President Paz through his foreign minister conveyed to our ambassador his thanks for the support and assistance we had given him during recent crisis.

For Lima, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas: Embassies should make special effort brief appropriate officials because situation might arise in which we would wish consult on urgent basis on situation and attitude toward successor government.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 BOL. Secret; Priority. Drafted by William L.S. Williams and Roger Brewin (ARA/BC) and approved by Adams. Also sent to Paris for TOPOL.
  2. A November 4 situation report from Mann to the Special Group (Counter-Insurgency) indicated that the coup began when pro-Barrientos commanders of the Ingavi Regiment in La Paz rebelled early on November 3. By late evening military garrisons in all major cities except La Paz had joined the Barrientos cause. When the army high command in the capital told Paz that the army would no longer support him in office, the President fled. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 70 D 443, Political Affairs and Relations, 1964, POL 23, Internal Defense Plan)
  3. In a conversation with Bolivian Ambassador EnriqueMann expressed the view that “it was not at all clear who was in control.” (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 BOL) Reporting in telegram 496 from La Paz, November 4, Henderson indicated that “Ovando claim to government has no color of constitutionality while Barrientos’ does,” and that Barrientos had referred to the Bolivian Government as “his government.” Following a demonstration at the presidential palace that day, Ovando allowed Barrientos to assume leadership of the junta while he took on the position of commander in chief of the armed forces. (Ibid., POL 23–9 BOL)
  4. Two separate reports prepared on November 5, one by the Central Intelligence Agency ([text not declassified]), and one by the Defense Intelligence Agency, provide details on the political situation and prospects in Bolivia resulting from establishment of the military junta. Both reports projected that the newly established junta would maintain the pro-U.S. position of the Paz government. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. II, Memoranda, July–November 1964)
  5. The Department instructed the Embassy in La Paz to “take every appropriate action to ensure continuation of a non-communist Barrientos government during this interim period.” It stated that the Barrientos government should be encouraged to consolidate and strengthen itself by reaching a political truce with key non-Communist parties and leaders in order to ensure a Lechin defeat in future elections, which “should be scheduled for such time as Barrientos or other non-communists are confident they can win.” (Telegram 267 to La Paz, November 4; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 BOL)