Barrientos Ortuño, René (1919–1969)

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Barrientos Ortuño, René (1919–1969)

René Barrientos Ortuño (b. 1919; d. 27 April 1969), army officer and president of Bolivia (1966–1969). Barrientos, a native of Cochabamba, graduated in 1943 from the military academy from which he had earlier been expelled for supporting the government of President Germán Busch (1937–1939). He played an active though very junior role in the 1944 peasant congress sponsored by the regime of President Gualberto Villarroel (1943–1946) and the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR). Although he stayed in the army after the overthrow of Villarroel, he was retired for participating in an MNR insurrection against the conservative government.

He participated in the 1952 MNR revolution that launched the Bolivian National Revolution. While the MNR was in power, he became head of the air force and of the "military cell" of the MNR. In the 1964 election, as a result of military pressure, the civilian selected to run as the MNR candidate for vice president with President Víctor Paz Estenssoro was forced to step down. René Barrientos was put in his place. Even before becoming vice president in August, Barrientos was leading a conspiracy to overthrow Paz Estenssoro, which came to fruition on 4 November 1964. For some time after Paz Estenssoro's overthrow, Barrientos and General Alfredo Ovando were "copresidents." During that period, there were violent clashes between the regime and organized labor, particularly the miners. The mining camps were occupied by troops and many miners and members of their families were either killed or wounded.

In 1966 General Barrientos was elected president. Although his regime continued to rule in a highhanded fashion and was particularly hostile to organized labor, it did enjoy wide support among the peasantry. Barrientos spoke Quechua, and spent much time traveling in rural areas. He also continued to support the land redistribution that had taken place under the MNR government as well as extensive programs of extending technical help to the Indian peasants. Peasant support was of key importance in helping the Barrientos government to defeat the guerrilla effort launched in 1967 by Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Guevara was executed by the Bolivian army unit that captured him. Barrientos died in the mysterious crash of a helicopter he was piloting.

See alsoBolivia, Political Parties: Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) .


Christopher Mitchell, The Legacy of Populism in Bolivia: From the MNR to Military Rule (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Soto S., Cesar. Historia del Pacto Militar Campesino. Cochabamba, Bolivia: Ediciones CERES, 1994.

                                 Robert J. Alexander

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Barrientos Ortuño, René (1919–1969)

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