Jaime Paz Zamora

Jaime Paz Zamora (born 1939) moved from being an extreme leftist revolutionary to become a middle-of the-road president of Bolivia. His party, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, also evolved over a period of 20 years.

Jaime Paz Zamora was born on April 15, 1939, in the city of Cochabamba. His father was a general in the Bolivian army. Victor Paz Estenssoro, an influential Bolivian politician, was his uncle. Paz Zamora attended the Jesuit high school in Sucre and studied for the priesthood at a seminary in Cordoba, Argentina. He abandoned that career shortly before being ordained. Later, he studied social sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.

Advertisement

Academics

Upon returning to Bolivia in the mid 1960s, Paz Zamora taught sociology and international relations at San Andrés University in La Paz. He joined the Christian Democratic Party, but gradually adopted more radical politics. In 1970 some members of his Revolutionary Christian Democratic Party (PDC-R) participated in a brief and ill-fated guerrilla action in which Paz Zamora's brother died.

Movement of the Revolutionary Left

Paz Zamora was among the founders of MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) in 1971. This party drew its support from a broad spectrum of organizations and ideological currents. Adopting an extremely radical posture to the left of orthodox communist parties, MIR called for Bolivia's "national liberation" from imperialism through the creation of a "social revolutionary block" of peasants, workers, and middle-class groups. It represented a revival of revolutionary nationalism. From the beginning, the party showed internal cleavages. During the authoritarian regime of General Hugo Banzer (1971-1978), MIR and other leftist organizations were outlawed and its leaders persecuted. Paz Zamora spent most of these years either in exile or underground in Bolivia, coordinating MIR's resistance campaign against the Banzer regime. For these activities he was imprisoned in 1974.

Between 1978 and 1982, when Bolivia plunged into political and economic chaos, Paz Zamora emerged as a prominent figure in national politics. He led MIR into a moderate left-of-center alliance, the Democratic and Popular Union (UDP). This group achieved a growing plurality of votes in two national elections in 1979 and 1980, but was denied power. In both elections Paz Zamora stood as candidate for the vice-presidency beside the UDP's presidential candidate, Hernan Siles Suazo, leader of the left wing of the National Revolutionary Movement. During the 1980 electoral campaign Paz Zamora narrowly escaped death when the small plane carrying him and four other UDP leaders to campaign crashed immediately after taking off from La Paz airport. The remaining passengers and crew were killed.

In January 1981, during the brutal and corrupt Garcia Meza military regime, security forces tortured and killed eight MIR leaders in La Paz. In October 1982, however, the military was forced to hand over power to the recognized winners of the June 1980 elections and Paz Zamora became Bolivian vice-president in the UDP administration headed by Siles Suazo. MIR had taken increasingly moderate political stances since the late 1970s, becoming the Bolivian affiliate of the Socialist International.

Only three months after assuming office, in January 1983, the MIR cabinet ministers collectively resigned from the increasingly unstable Siles Suazo administration because of disagreements over economic policies. Paz Zamora stayed on as vice-president until December of 1984 when he resigned in order to run for president in the June 1985 elections. At this point the old cleavages within MIR came to the surface and the party broke into three different movements. Paz Zamora became undisputed leader of the trunk MIR, now a social-democratic, populist party devoid of any Marxist leanings.

From Vice-President to President

In the June 1985 elections Paz Zamora came in third with ten percent of the vote. Two months later his uncle, Victor Paz Estenssoro, candidate of the MNR, once again became president. He immediately embarked upon a rigorous economic austerity program which succeeded in bringing down inflation and reducing the foreign debt at a high cost to miners, industrial workers, and the urban poor. Paz Zamora and MIR pursued a moderate congressional opposition to his uncle's administration, which depended on support from the major right-wing party. MIR became the second strongest party in the municipal elections of December 1987.

In the elections of May 1989, Paz Zamora, as presidential candidate of MIR, came in third with nearly 20 percent of the votes. During the campaign no major ideological differences emerged between Paz Zamora and his two major conservative competitors. Calling for the creation of a "new majority," he sought to portray a young, dynamic image, often compared to the Kennedy mystique. He received the backing of Hugo Banzer's Democratic National Action Party (AND) for the congressional run-off elections, virtually assuring his victory. Paz Zamora took office as Bolivia's president on August 6, 1989, heading a formal MIR-AND coalition. As late as the mid 1980s a coalition with Banzer would have been unthinkable. But by 1989 Paz Zamora and his party had followed the conservatives in abandoning many of the state-interventionist policies in place since the 1952 MNR-led revolution.

Advertisement

The Paz Zamora Administration

During his first year in office, Paz Zamora continued liberal economic policies designed by Harvard economist Jeffrey Sacks. Hoping to create the "institutional and juridical framework of the new Bolivian state," Paz Zamora and his team sought to reduce the foreign debt, attract investment in mining and industry, and privatize government-held businesses, including the national airline and railroad companies. A new foreign investment law passed in September 1990 lifted curbs on capital transfers. A bill liberalizing foreign investments in joint mining ventures was pending in Congress in late 1990. Paz Zamora was walking a tightrope between demands by his conservative coalition partner for faster economic liberalization and protests by the unions, small retail merchants, and peasants about a "sellout" of Bolivia. In several instances he had to slow down or retrench in the face of adamant popular protests. Paz Zamora also took up a favorite theme of Bolivian nationalism—access to the Pacific Ocean. In bilateral negotiations in December of 1989 he achieved approval from Peru's president, Alan Garcia, for a Bolivian corridor to the sea in Chilean (formerly Peruvian) territory. This concession was immediately rejected by Santiago.

Paz Zamora found himself caught between interest in receiving economic assistance from the United States and his reluctance to allow the U.S. military to form an alliance with Bolivian forces to fight drug production. His government was pushing hard to receive more funds from the U.S. for coca crop substitution, but resisted pressures to involve the army in drug eradication programs. Arguing that military intervention would be ineffective and would risk undermining fragile civilian control of the Bolivian military, Paz Zamora dragged his feet until economic threats forced him to allow U.S. Special Forces to train Bolivian army personnel. The concession was unpopular at home and fueled anti-American feelings. Armed forces officials eventually called for the expulsion of U.S. drug agents.

Paz Zamora passed the presidential baton to the MNR's Sanchez de Lozada in 1993. Lozada had defeated the AND/ MIR coalition's candidate by a 34 percent to 20 percent margin in an election deemed fair by observers. In 1997 General Hugo Banzer was returned to power. Paz Zamora placed in third, winning 17 percent of the vote.

Advertisement

Further Reading on Jaime Paz Zamora

No biography of Paz Zamora exists in English. The best, although opinionated, political history of contemporary Bolivia is James Dunkerley's Rebellion in the Veins; Political Struggle in Bolivia, 1952-1982 (1984). Solid structural analyses are offered by Jerry Ladman, editor, Modern-Day Bolivia, Legacy of the Revolution and Prospects for the Future (1982) and James M. Malloy and Eduardo Gamarra, Revolution and Reaction: Bolivia 1964-1985 (1988). The best overall history in English is still Herbert S. Klein, Bolivia, The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society (1982).

Accounts of Paz Zamora's years as president, including discussion of his resistance to the involvement of the United States military in fighting drug production, can be found on the Internet in background notes prepared by the National Trade Data Bank of the U.S. Department of Commerce and posted in April 1997, in a Lindesmith Center's drug policy briefing paper entitled "A Fundamentally Flawed Strategy: the U.S. 'War on Drugs' in Bolivia," (September 18, 1991) and in a paper written by USAF Major Antonio L. Pala entitled "The Increased Role of Latin American Armed Forces in UN Peacekeeping: Opportunities and Challenges."