Melgarejo, Mariano (1820–1871)

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Melgarejo, Mariano (1820–1871)

Mariano Melgarejo (b. 15 April 1820; d. 23 November 1871), president of Bolivia (1864–1871). Born in Tarata, Cochabamba, General Melgarejo was the archetypical bad caudillo during whose disastrous administration Bolivia gave up large territories to its neighbors, the first systematic assault on the Indian communities occurred, and the public financial system was ransacked. Melgarejo, a mestizo who had risen through the ranks of the army, achieved power after overthrowing General José María Achá and later killing former president Manuel Isidoro Belzú. Extremely corrupt and with the government always in deficit, Melgarejo and his cronies took advantage of the prosperity of the peripheral regions of Bolivia by selling them to its more powerful neighbors. Thus, in the Chilean treaty of 1866, Melgarejo agreed to all Chilean territorial claims in the nitrate-rich Mejillones region of the Atacama Desert. In 1868, Melgarejo signed a treaty in which he ceded 40,000 square miles to Brazil in the Amazon region.

In a desperate attempt to gain more revenue, Melgarejo also further debased Bolivian silver coinage. The dilution of the silver content in coins, though practiced by virtually every Bolivian administration, was so massive under Melgarejo that it led to difficulties in trade, especially in regions of adjacent countries that heavily used Bolivian coinage for circulation. Melgarejo's sales of Indian community lands in 1866 and 1868 also were tainted by corruption. The terms were exceedingly onerous for the Indians; if they did not purchase their own land within ninety days, it was put on the auction block for the highest bidder. Purchasers bought many lands with government bonds and others were given to friends and relatives, thus depriving the government of needed cash revenue. Most affected by these laws were community lands in the La Paz altiplano and the Cochabamba region.

Although his regime continuously had to combat movements against the government, Melgarejo was ousted in 1870 only when the creole opposition allied itself with the altiplano Indians. A massive Indian revolt forced Melgarejo to flee to Peru, where he died the following year. As a result of the revolt, Indian rebels retook many of their community lands.

See alsoCaudillismo, Caudillo .


Alberto Gutiérrez, El melgarejismo antes y después de Melgarejo (1916).

Herbert S. Klein, Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society (1982), pp. 135-141.

Additional Bibliography

Baixeras, José Luis. Melgarejo: Osadía, poder y muerte. La Paz, Bolivia: Ediciones Capricornio, 2002.

Peralta Ruiz, Victor, and Marta Irurozqui. Por la concordia, la fusión y el unitarismo: Estado y caudillismo en Bolivia, 1825–1880. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2000.

                                         Erick D. Langer