Dynamite and Coca Leaves
The Bolivian Revolution of 1952
Ah, Latin America! At once evocative and mysterious… a continent of secrets. Who knows what strange exotic jewels lie in this continental Eldorado?
Well no-one in England will know anything about it for a start. Here we sit on our little island with the metaphorical Murdoch paper bag over our heads and very little knowledge of the outside world. Perhaps, you know, the BBC or someone could do a series on Latin America? Put in some history, politics, social and economic info, that sort of thing? After all when it comes to archeology, science or art they do whole series fronted by respected academics (Jim Al Khalili, Brian Cox etc.) Maybe they could do an in-depth one on 20th Century Latin America couldn’t they?
Well they can’t. What you get for your license money instead is a fucking know-nothing Dimbleby, bouncing around like pinball ball from cliché to cliché like the annoying little snot-monkey that he is. There’s Dimbleby dancing da-rumba-in-da-Cuba and over there he’s in Chile riding a horse. Ooh, he’s talking to real Latin Americans too. You know the ones, the ones that speak fucking English! So thanks, auntie beeb, thanks for fucking nothing.
But I digress. The purpose of this post is to celebrate, maybe bear witness would be more appropriate, the 60th anniversary of Bolivia’s national revolution. They call it ‘national’ because the political party and movement leading the charge, the MNR (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario) saw itself as separate from full-fat Marxist ideology. The MNR, however, tried playing both sides against the middle. It had radical left-wing grass roots and a fairly relaxed attitude to capitalism within its leadership. In fact, some of the leaders of the MNR had strong links within the military high command (and versi vicey).
To cut a long story short, the annulment of the April 1952 elections by the military led to a revolt led by the workers in Bolivia’s tin mines. The three main tin mining conglomerates (Patiño, Araujo and Hochschild) also controlled the banking system and the media. Known as ‘La Rosca’ (the screw), they bled the country dry in Goldman Sachs style. Land ownership still followed the colonial model that meant agricultural workers endured feudal conditions of repression. 8% of landowners held 95% of land.
So the MNR called a revolt. The police in La Paz soon defected to their side and the mine workers circled the city with the supplies of dynamite sticks kept in the mines. Some armed battles were fought, but the young conscript soldiers were no match for the workers (many of which had fought themselves in the Chaco War of the 1930s). The army soon saw the game was up and changed sides and the MNR and the miners took control on April 9th 1952.
New president Victor Paz Estenssoro soon realised that he had no choice but to satisfy his radical support base (you know, the ordinary guys who did all the fighting). The tin mines were nationalized, land reform was instituted and universal adult suffrage introduced (previously there hadd been literacy and other qualifications). A central trades union congress (The COB) ruled jointly with the government. In addition, rural education was given priority for the first time.
The revolutionary period came to an end with the coup of 1964. Ultimately Bolivia remained a poor country with few resources. Economic problems, social divisions and the propensity for the army and factions of the political class to ‘do deals’ have always lead to coups. Hopefully Evo Morales (in many ways the heir to the ‘reluctant revolutionaries’ of 52) can do better.
Anyway, paper bags back on your heads! You do know that James Goldsmith, founder of the anti-Europe Referendum Party married the heiress of the Patino tin mining conglomerate? A man who was relaxed about tin miners paid under a dollar a day and having to chew coca leaves to stave off hunger because they didn’t earn enough to eat. Still, all that Socialist EU health and safety… that’s the real enemy innit?