Bolivia is in the hands of a military junta headed by Lieutenant General Rene Barrientos Ortuno following the overthrow of President Victor Paz Estenssoro on Wednesday (4 November).
Bolivia is in the hands of a military junta headed by Lieutenant General Rene Barrientos Ortuno following the overthrow of President Victor Paz Estenssoro on Wednesday (4 November). The overthrow came after several days of street fighting between pro-Paz and anti-Paz factions in La Paz and Cochambamba.
The uprising came when word was distributed that President Paz had fled the country. At first students and other anti-Paz element milled around the national palace trying to get in through the barred gates. Military officers attempted to enter the palace in order to assume the reins of government but refrained for fear the mob would rush in behind them and sack it. They urged the people to be calm.
Then the mob broke into a police station where terrified police surrendered arms and a ammunition to them. At first, the newly armed insurrectionists fired into the air and seemed to be having fun rather than anything else. When word came, however, that 25 thousand peasants were poised to swarm into the city in defense of Paz, the armed citizens began to attack the pro-Paz forces within the city.
Frightened women and children fled before them through the streets, seeking refuge in the churches. Open fighting broke out between the militia and the armed citizens. (The militia was pro-Paz). The revolutionaries also broke into the national palace through a side door, emerging with more weapons and with bottles of champagne. They stopped a truck with the Alliance for Progress emblem on it and, finding it full of arms, took them. They beat up the driver. Then they began shooting at anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Paz regime.
Aircraft attacked the rebels, apparently a last effort by the Paz government. But the air force itself, after sitting on the fence for a period, joined the revolt.
When the fighting was over, the revolutionaries paraded down the main avenues carrying flags.
(Since the fighting, General Barrientos, the former Vice President, has assumed control of the country. His junta appeared certain of support from the armed forces and the major political parties. Venezuela, refusing to recognize the junta, has broken diplomatic relations with Bolivia. Dr. Paz and his family are in Lima, Peru where they have sought exile.