Not satisfied with other methods of destroying Bolivia’s trade union movement, the military junta has ordered that its greatest symbol - the headquarters of COB, the Bolivian Worker’s Union - be razed to the ground and replaced by a parking lot. According to the new president, General Luis Garcia Meza, the empty space left in the La Paz’s main street will be a reminder that ‘extremism’ has no place in the country. Champion of Bolivia’s workers and peasants from its foundation in 1953, the COB has clashed with successive military regimes. And since the fall of General Banzar in 1978, it has fought hard for a democratic government which could stand up for the country’s trade unions. The very day a left-wing coalition won the June elections the military intervened. With over 50 per cent of the popular vote, the Left led by Hernan Siles Zuazo’s UDP coalition, threatened to end the elite’s monopoly of economic and political power in South America’s poorest country. For two years the military had been hovering in the wings. In 1978 they helped stage a massive electoral fraud to ensure their candidate won. With a new round of elections a year later, they rallied around a centrist candidate. By manipulating the results they managed to achieve an electoral deadlock. This year fair elections were at last held, and Bolivians voted massively for the Left. The result? A military coup to put an end to electoral politics. General Garcia Meza seems intent on ruling by brute force for as long as it takes to destroy genuine popular organisations. He has banned all political parties and trade unions, shut down the country’s universities, ended press freedom and closed radio stations which are not to his liking. Paramilitary squads have been used to round up all known sympathisers of the opposition. Detainees, often following interrogation by torture, are dispatched to forced labour camps or exiled. Some simply ‘disappear’ -a pattern reminiscent of Argentina and Chile. But General Meza’s junta is fast running into trouble. Production is at an all time low in the mining sector (accounting for 70 per cent of export earnings), and important overseas aid programmes have been cut to protest the coup. As a result the government faces imminent bankruptcy. Forced to pay 68 per cent of export earnings to service external debt, the General is hard put even to meet the bill for public sector wages. The junta has few friends. The highly conservative private sector sees the present situation is bad for business and waits in vain for economic solutions. The only political party that welcomed the coup was the fascist Falange which scraped together barely one per cent in the elections. It represents little more than the voice of the super-rich, cocaine-trafficking mafia. Appeals for international recognition have fallen on deaf ears. The US has made it clear that it is unhappy about supporting a country run for the benefit of cocaine dealers. The European parliament has made an appeal for member states not to recognise the new regime. Four months after the coup, the junta has managed to persuade only a handful of countries (mostly likeminded right-wing dictatorships) to do so. Now there is speculation about a counter-coup. Again from the military, but this time with General Banzerbidding for a return to power and promising a facelift for the benefit of the US and other aid donors. Like his fellow generals, Banzer sees no virtue in democracy. The US may recognise a new dictator, but most Bolivians will be waiting to get their votes back.
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