133. Telegram From the Embassy in Bolivia to the Department of State1

5803. Subject: Initial Approach of Pereda Government.

1. I met informally at the residence last evening with Pereda representative Edwin Tapia. Tapia was Pereda’s campaign manager and will now be one of his ministers.

2. Tapia asked me if I had any official reaction yet from Washington to Bolivia’s new government. I told him that the Department would be saying Saturday2 that we were disappointed by the latest turn of events in Bolivia, which seemed to indicate an interruption in the process of return to democratic rule, but that we hoped this interruption would be temporary and that it would not result in any reversal of human rights progress of the last 8 months or so. Beyond that, I said, we were very concerned and would have to know what the plans of the government were with regard to the process of democratization and human rights before we could define our our position further.3

3. Tapia said the Pereda government had not yet developed its position fully, but Pereda wanted to pass on three concepts that would figure prominently in his objectives. First, he would continue to seek a government of national unity and offer participation to all political parties. Second, he would offer worker participation in the management and ownership of the major public enterprises. (He interjected that elections were not the only way to “democratize” society.) Third, [Page 420] Pereda wanted an open government and did not intend to lock up the opposition, “or anything like that.” I asked Tapia if he thought the opposition parties would buy a piece of a military government when they had declined to participate in a democratic coalition under an elected, congressional government. Tapia shrugged and said Pereda would try, at least.4 Reagarding his third point, I told Tapia that I understood that 50 politicians were being arrested today. He said he knew nothing about that but would find out.5

4. I told Tapia that the interruption of the democratization process by a coup (a characterization he did not challenge) had to be a great disappointment for the U.S. and many other friendly countries, and therefore, we would have to proceed with caution in our relationship until we could see what kind of government this was going to be. We could not condone an interruption of the process anymore than we could condone fraudulent elections. Nevertheless, we had no desire to drive a Pereda government into a corner and to give it any excuse to be a repressive government that would undo the human rights progress Bolivia had achieved. If this happened it would not be because of us. I asked Tapia if he could explain why Pereda had called for new elections on Wednesday and led a coup on Friday.

5. Tapia said he was not sure he could explain this. He felt that Pereda had been forced into the move calling for annulment and new elections and had accepted this out of despair of forming a viable government. Subsequently, however, the outpouring of support Pereda had received from the military and civilians in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba had convinced them that he did have the base to govern and that he had been robbed of his victory by Banzer and his cohorts.

6. Tapia then launched into his own analysis of what had gone wrong. He readily admitted that the central problem was that the generals were ready for democracy. He said that the majority of the generals in the government were against elections right up to the last day. A critical contributing factor in the debacle, said Tapia, was that the opposition parties refused to recognize how delicate this military support was. The military would never have tolerated a government led by anyone other than Pereda because they saw a “transitional” government between military and civilian rule as an essential element [Page 421] in an acceptable “retorno” process. But the intransigent opposition parties refused to recognize this and insisted in going for broke. The final blow was Hernan Siles hunger strike which recalled for the military their humiliation in the January hunger strike and convinced them Siles was going to get power or die a martyr.

7. Some of this was valid, I said, and I had tried to convince some of the opposition leaders of these grey “facts of life,” but there was no doubt that the fatal hardening of positions would not have occurred without the Pereda forces’ disastrous and unnecessary mistake in commiting widespread election rigging. Tapia shrugged again and whined a little about all Bolivian elections having been sloppy, Siles having committed his share of fraud, and Watergate being unnecessary as well, but it happened.

8. Tapia asked what aid the U.S. had pending and what we would now do. I told Tapia that the authorized, or virtually authorized, assistance for FY 78 that had not been negotiated or committed yet consisted of 3 aid projects of an uncertain total around $40 million, a housing guarantee of $16 million, the FMS credit of $14 million and some small grants, for a total of about $70 million. I had no precise instructions on this question, but I expected a request to hold up on all of this until the character of the Pereda government was established.6 I personally did not see how we could proceed with new aid decisions until we had further clarifcation on three questions which, frankly, were at the heart of why the U.S. was particularly interested in Bolivia at this moment in history. First, what were the government’s plans for new elections and democratization process in general? Second, what would be the government’s commitments with regard to treatment of the opposition? And third, would the government maintain the progress on human rights in general that had been achieved in Bolivia in the last 8 months or so—much of it the work of General Pereda himself?

9. Tapia asked me to go over these three points again and then said he would have to meet with me again around mid-week to [Page 422] respond,7 since the government’s position was not yet clear on all there points. Tapia said there were no plans for new elections at this point. I said in that case I was going to have an impossible time getting positive answers from Washington. Tapia said there was not time to organize a straight election in the remaining months of 1978. The following year, 1979, was the centenary of the War of the Pacific and neither the military nor the populace would want the turbulence of an election campaign in this critical year. How did I feel about congressional elections in 1980? I said that it was not my job to tell Bolivians what their election schedule should be. They had to work out a schedule that satisfied their own people who we felt had expressed a pretty clear judgment on July 9 in favor of return to civilian, elected government. All I could say was that if the Pereda government did not have a clear public commitment and plan to renew the process of return to democratic rule this would be a major negative factor in decisions we had to make and in our relationship.

10. Finally, I asked Tapia where Hernan Siles was and what the government’s plans were with regard to Siles. Again, Tapia said he did not know for sure, but he thought Siles was in hiding for the moment until things clarified. I told him we would be interested in this as well. Tapia claimed that some of Siles supporters in the Communist Party and the MIR had been involved in preparations for armed subversion and therefore there might be a distinction between the treatment of Siles and some of his followers.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780315-0067. Confidential; Niact Immediate.
  2. July 22. In telegram 186506 to La Paz, July 24, the Department transmitted a transcript of the portion of that day’s press briefing regarding Bolivia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780303-0986)
  3. In telegram 5819 from La Paz, July 24, the Embassy defined the “key decision” for the U.S. Government: “what support to give Pereda’s military government.” The Embassy concluded that “if Pereda has not taken a reasonable public position on new elections within the next 10 days,” the USG should reprogram monies for FY78 AID loans and FMS credits that had been planned for Bolivia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780303-0829) In telegram 187442 from the Department, July 25, the Department informed the Embassy: “Especially in cases where there are elements of continuity in the situation, the USG tends to take the position that no question of recognition arises. In Bolivia, where President Banzer handed the baton to the military junta, which in turn handed it to General Pereda, without any apparent important change in the form of government, elements of continuity are present.” The Department noted, however, that “the timing of a communication to that effect to the new Bolivian Government is still under consideration,” and instructed the Embassy that it “is important to avoid any implication that continuance of relations has been decided until Department has opportunity to learn more about Pereda’s plans.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780305-0357)
  4. In telegram 5835 from La Paz, July 24, the Embassy reported on the failure of Pereda to gain opposition support for his government. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780306-0481)
  5. In telegram 5976 from La Paz, July 28, the Embassy confirmed that the Government of Bolivia had arrested “a number of politicians, labor leaders, etc. However, GOB has now announced that all political prisoners will be immediately released.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780310-0149)
  6. In a July 25 memorandum to Carter, Vance wrote, “We have programmed FMS credit to Bolivia for another country and have suspended processing on a number of other pending AID project loans.” Next to this sentence, Carter wrote, “Let Pereda know privately that aid & democracy are related.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Evening Reports (State): 7/78) In telegram 188170 to La Paz, July 26, the Department noted, “We hope to use potential future assistance programs as leverage to move Pereda constructively on both maintenance of individual human rights and the restoration of democratic political development.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780305-0980)
  7. In telegram 5933 from La Paz, July 27, Boeker reported on his meeting with Tapia and Arce and requested Vaky’s authorization and guidance for a meeting with Pereda. The telegram reported on Pereda’s proposed plan for elections in 1980 and a speech tentatively scheduled for August 6 in which Pereda would announce this plan. Pereda asked the United States to recognize his government “a couple of days” before his speech and sign “a significant aid loan or two” soon after the speech. Boeker commented: “My personal view is that the Pereda plan is for us a bit better than half a loaf and perhaps the best we are going to get,” and “on the critical point of the rather late May 1980 election date, I suspect there is a trade off between a later date and Pereda himself agreeing not to run. If so, the better half of the trade is a public commitment for Pereda not to run.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153-1897)