Bolivia in the 1950’s

The most recent cartometric measurement of Bolivia indicated an area of ​​1,098,581 km 2.

Population. – The population census carried out in September 1950 gave 3,019,031 residents, which an evaluation raises in 1959 to 3,400,000 (3 per km 2).

Economic conditions. – The crops of barley (62,000 ha), rice (19,000 ha) and above all those of potatoes (113,000 ha) and wheat (84,000) have considerably expanded (data from 1954). Wheat production has risen to 460,000 q. On the other hand, the production and export of rubber has decreased (from 4100 tons in 1945 to 1058 tons in 1957). In 1950 the first livestock census was carried out, which gave the following results: cattle, 2,226,600; sheep, 7,223,600; goats, 1,228,900; pigs, 508,800. Among the minerals produced, tin continues to hold the first place, of which Bolivia normally produces 15% of the world total and exports huge quantities (28,240 tons of concentrate in 1957). In 1952 some mining companies of the Patiño, Hochschild and Aramayo groups, which produce about 60% of Bolivian tin, have been nationalized. The production of lead, zinc, copper, tungsten and antimony increased, of which tonnes were exported in 1957 respectively. 26.300, 19.700, 3900, 2600, 6400 (concentrated mineral); so was the production of silver, of which 167,180 kg were exported in that year. Oil abounds in the foothills, where according to some geologists lies the potentially richest oil field in South America. Production began in 1936 and rose in 1957 to 466,000 tons. The greatest increase has occurred since January 1954, when the oil pipeline from Camiri to the Cochabamba refinery was completed: and now production not only satisfies internal demand, but is also partly exported.

Communications. – In December 1953 the Santa Cruz de la Sierra-Corumbá railway (Brazil), 680 km long, was completed, and in December 1957 the Santa Cruz de la Sierra-Yacuiba railway (border with Argentina), 500 km long: so that the total development of the Bolivian railways at the beginning of 1958 was 3,221 km. Also in December 1953 the large road (500 km) from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz de la Sierra was opened to traffic. In 1957 the road network had a development of 10,547 km; as of that date, Bolivia owned 33,250 vehicles. Following negotiations undertaken in 1950, Chile in 1953 declared Arica a free port and granted special facilities to Bolivian trade.

Commerce. – In the five-year period 1953-57 the average annual value of imports was $ 76.8 million, and that of exports $ 107.0 million. In these, about 95% of the mining products enter (tin alone represents 60% of exports and tungsten 15%). The United States ranks first in Bolivian foreign trade, closely followed by Great Britain.

Finances. – The pace of inflationary expansion that has characterized the country’s economy over the past decade has marked dizzying peaks in recent years. The cost of living rose in 1958 to a level equal to 110 times that of 1949. Bank loans in favor of the private sector increased to a greater extent, but those granted to the public sector even more. The continuous recourse of the Treasury to the central bank has led to a conspicuous increase in domestic means of payment, which is partly due to the higher outlays for the state acquisition of foreign currencies that have become necessary due to the continuous devaluations of the Bolivian.

The continuity of the deficit in the external balance of payments practically exhausted the country’s foreign exchange reserves, which at the end of 1958 fell to an almost negligible level. Since the beginning of 1954 all exports have been centralized by state agencies and, in a sense, no exchange rate was involved. Indeed, the last parity declared to the Monetary Fund of 190 bolivianos per US dollar did not apply. The exporters were paid in Bolivianos based on the cost of the products plus an additional fee. Importers could obtain currencies at the rate of 190 with the application of a surcharge that even reached 15 times the official rate. Despite the reforms of December 1956 and October 1958, which replaced the previously existing system of multiple exchange rates with a single floating exchange rate, the financial situation remains a serious threat to the economic and political life of the country.

History. – In the troubled life of the country, a relatively quiet period took place under the presidency of Enrique Hertzog who, by strengthening the oil industry, managed to obtain an economic improvement. In this period, however, the government was forced to declare illegal the activities of the Movimento Nacional Revoluconario (May 31, 1949) and the Communist Party (April 11, 1950). But in May 1981 the MNR, a left-wing nationalist movement, supported by the PIR “social-Marxist party with full national autonomy”, sensationally won the elections, leading Víctor Paz Estenssoro to the presidency, who had taken refuge in Argentina following the lynching of G. Villaroel. The current president, M. Urriolagoitía, by annulling the result of the elections, handed over the power to a junta military led by General H. Ballivián and supported by the three great families who controlled the production of tin, Patiño, Aramayo and Hochschild. However, the abnormal situation did not last long and in April 1952 the 114th coup d’état brought the legitimate president Paz Estenssoro to La Paz who immediately began the fundamental reforms that aimed to give a new face to the country. His main collaborators were the trade union organizers Juan Lechin, Minister of Mines, and Germán Butrón. The new government granted (21 July) the right to vote to women and the illiterate, guaranteeing it for future consultations. On October 31, a presidential decree nationalized the tin mines largely belonging to the aforementioned three magnates who had dominated the Bolivian political scene for thirty years. The provision, opposed by powerful interested groups, it caused a series of problems: the repatriation of foreign engineers and technicians, the need to import new equipment and the need to refine the ore in England and the United States, countries that were believed to be damaged by the expropriation. Furthermore, the price of Bolivian tin increased as a result of the improvement in wages, and this at a time when the price of tin fell on world markets; the tightening of sales and the rise in the cost of living accentuated the inflation which began to become alarming. In 1953, in order to remove some obstacles in its foreign policy, the government had to compromise and compensate some American, British, Swiss, French and Chilean groups. On 2 August 1953 in Bolivia the agrarian reform was started, comunidades rural and agricultural cooperatives, with legal personality and subsidized by the state. For Bolivia history, please check

The reform also aimed at better exploitation of the fertile eastern territories, sparsely populated and without communications. The construction of a vast road network is planned but the Indians who live in the western highlands refuse to go down to the lowlands; it is thought that the difficulty can be circumvented through immigration. To the assets of the Paz Estenssoro regime it should be noted that for the first time in Bolivian history the budget of the Ministry of National Education exceeds that of Defense. Land reform was largely aided by the USA and FAO. The implementation of the reforms, of course, exacerbated the opposition, which sparked a first rebellion in January 1953 and another, larger one, in November. The movement was organized by the Bolivian Socialist Falange, a right-wing grouping comprising purged landowners, industrialists, officers and officials. This rebellion was also quashed and the promoters arrested or exiled. But also the The extremist and nationalist wing of the MNR did not appear satisfied and accused the head of state of subjection to the USA. such as Juan Lechin, who represented the extremist tendency. The more moderate tendency thus prevailed personified by the vice-president Hernán Siles Suazo (head of the revolution of 1952), who was taken to the highest office of the state in the elections of June 17, 1956 and could thus continue the work begun by Paz Estenssoro. It is also difficult for the new president to find the right balance between the extremists, proponents of a populist policy in contrast with the reality of Bolivia, and the moderates, willing to implement reforms gradually and with the assistance of foreign aid. In relations with foreign countries Siles Suazo has concluded agreements with Argentina (December 1957) and with Brazil (27 January 1958) and has created the railway connection between Santa Cruz and Yacuiba (border with Argentina) and Corumbá (Brazil). This latter railway would have to be paid for with Brazil’s exploitation of a Bolivian oil zone. On the other hand, Bolivia has granted large areas to a US company for the exploitation of oil. This product should constitute the main factor of the Bolivian economic recovery, which however must be subordinated to a certain political stability: in recent times strikes have multiplied and various attempts at rebellion have been suffocated in blood. One of the most serious occurred on April 19, 1959, promoted by the socialist Falange whose leader, Oscar Unzaga de la Vega, committed suicide. On June 5, 1960, the presidential elections took place: the candidates of the MNR obtained a clear victory that brought Víctor Paz Estenssoro to the highest office of the state and the secretary general of the Central Obrera Boliviana Juan Lechín.

Bolivia in the 1950's