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

9552. Subject: Coup Day Plus One; Elections Set for July 1979. Ref: La Paz 9543.2

1. Summary: As its first two official acts, the new Bolivian military government November 24 approved decrees providing for new national elections to be held on July 1, 1979, with the transfer of power taking place on August 6, 1979 and reinstating the 1967 constitution, but with a possibly significant qualifier. General Pereda, who reportedly is under no restrictions but is staying out of sight, has taken sharp issue publicly with the decision to move up the day of elections. End summary.

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2. As its first official act, the new cabinet November 24 approved a decree calling for new national elections on July 1, 1979. The decree provides that election procedures will be established by decree and that the armed forces will turn over power on August 6, 1979 (National Day) to the “legitimate” winner of the elections.3

3. Taking sharp issue with the new Junta’s decision to move up the date of the elections from May 1980 to July 1979 was now former President Juan Pereda. Pereda said in a statement [he] had set May 1980 for elections because democracy could not be established with the economy in crisis, and his government had to “rearrange” the economy which is in a state of “extreme gravity.” “The country is not in a condition to support an election process with all its effects on the economy without placing on the shoulders of all the people all the rigor of unnecessary and irresponsible sacrifice. The country needs a moral rearmament and a unification of its citizens regarding the viable political options. Neither exist at the present time.” Pereda, clearly referring to Hernan Siles, then said that “the call for elections in six months means nothing more than to act in complicity with a political group which is with determination seeking power to impose its dictatorship, one repressive of citizen liberties and one characteristic of its ideological orientation. I withdrew from government to avoid a sterile confrontation in my institution. My conscience is clear.”4

4. Pereda is reportedly now in Santa Cruz and not subject to any restrictions on his activities. Similarly the Embassy understands that no action has been taken against any of his Cabinet ministers. President Padilla has said that Pereda and the former Cabinet ministers will all be treated as “comrades.”

5. While Pereda publicly suggested that the coup d’etat helps Hernan Siles, Edwin Rodriguez and Manuel Morales Davila, leaders of the MNRH and FRI respectively, both expressed concern to an Embassy officer that Siles at least knew of the coup in advance if he was not actually involved in the plotting. While neither has any hard evidence to support their allegations, Siles was apparently the first civilian political [Page 433] leader contacted by the coup conspirators once the coup began to unroll. According to Presencia, Siles was contacted at 0230 hours November 24 by coup leader and present minister of the interior Lt. Col. Raul Lopez Leyton and told that the military had seized power with the only objective of restoring constitutional government and turning over power to the winner of elections which will be held in July 1979. Lopez Leyton contacted Siles again at about 0630 hours that same morning regarding the consolidation of the coup. At about that same hour Lopez Leyton also made contact with Rodriguez to inform him of the purpose of the coup. The FRI was never contacted and it is unknown if contact was made with the Christian Democrats.

6. In the only new significant political party reaction since those reported reftel Victor Paz, interviewed November 24 in Tarija, said “The overthrow of General Pereda had to take place because of his obstinacy in not holding elections during 1979. The banner of a prompt democratization, which the government and General Padilla has raised, must be supported by all the opposition political parties which solidly sustained that position. However, it is the specific actions which the new government will take to implement the elections process which will ultimately be persuasive (to US) that there indeed exists the objective of holding a genuine popular election. Among these steps are fundamental ones including the opening of new electoral registers, the establishment of a proportional representative system in the congress and no support for an official candidate. It will be necessary to avert the danger of a resurgence of Banzerism in the armed forces at the decision level.” Paz, according to Edwin Rodriguez, may return to La Paz November 27.

7. Finally, the new junta as its second official act declared the 1967 constitution in effect, but added a phrase reminiscent of the Banzer years, i.e., that the constitution is in effect “in all that is not inconsistent with the spirit and nature of the national government and its actions.”

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780486-0322. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to Asuncion, Buenos Aires, Lima, Quito, Santiago, DIA, and USCINCSO.
  2. In telegram 9543 from La Paz, November 24, the Embassy reported on the UDP demonstration of that date, and also noted that press statements by leaders of the principal political parties “reflect the caution with which the opposition political parties have received news of the coup.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780485-0224)
  3. In a November 24 memorandum to Carter, Vance summarized the coup and the new election date and added, “the new junta may suspend negotiations with the IMF and postpone a program of economic austerity, living off the country’s scarce remaining reserves through the transition of an elected government.” Vance initialed the memorandum. In the upper left-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum, an unknown hand wrote, “Sent to C.D. [Camp David]” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Evening Reports (State): 11/78)
  4. In telegram 9513 from La Paz, November 24, the Embassy reported that Padilla had told a journalist “that ‘his government had no commitments with anyone,’ perhaps a reaction to the image of close coordination between the coup and the political coalition of Hernan Siles Zuazo.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780484-0850)