Siles Zuazo, Hernán (1914–1996)

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Siles Zuazo, Hernán (1914–1996)

Hernán Siles Zuazo (b. 21 March 1914; d. August 1996), president of Bolivia (1956–1960, 1982–1985). Born in La Paz, the son of Hernando Siles Reyes, president of Bolivia (1926–1930), Siles Zuazo studied there at the American Institute and the National University. One of the founders of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) in 1941, he personally commanded the MNR forces in the April 1952 revolution. That year Siles became vice president of Bolivia, and in 1956 he was elected president. His principal task in office was to control the high inflation rate set off by the revolutionary process. Confronting organized labor, a faction of which supported the MNR, he was responsible for the implementation of an International Monetary Fund stabilization program. In 1960 he stepped down and was named Bolivian ambassador to Uruguay.

When the military overthrew the MNR in 1964, Siles became the consummate opponent of the authoritarian rulers, searching for ways to restore civilian rule. Unlike other founders of the MNR, Siles never allied himself with any faction of the military; instead he suffered imprisonment on several occasions and exile in Uruguay. In 1972 Siles founded a leftist offshoot of the MNR, which he called the MNR de Izquierda (MNRI). When the military convoked elections in the late 1970s, Siles led his MNRI into a coalition dubbed the Popular and Democratic Union (Unidad Democrática y Popular—UDP) that included the Communist Party and the young Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). As the UDP's presidential candidate, Siles won three consecutive elections in 1978, 1979, and 1980; each time he was denied victory either because his coalition did not achieve the 50 percent plus required or because the military prevented him from taking power.

In October 1982, Siles Zuazo was elected president of Bolivia by the Congress. Over the next three years, he presided over one of the most difficult periods in Bolivian history. His government faced the impossible task of both resolving the country's worst economic crisis, caused by years of military mismanagement, and responding to the pent-up demands of social groups. At the same time, Siles faced extreme pressure from international financial institutions to implement harsh austerity measures and from the United States to combat the booming cocaine industry. Governing Bolivia under these circumstances proved to be a daunting task. By late 1984, the economy had fallen to a historic low, reaching a yearly hyperinflation rate of 26,000 percent. Faced with tremendous pressure from every sector of Bolivian society, Siles was forced to convoke elections for July 1985 and step down one year before his term expired. Siles was largely responsible for launching Bolivia on the route to democracy.

Siles retired from politics in 1985 and returned to Uruguay. He died there in August 1996.

See alsoBolivia, Political Parties: Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR); Drugs and Drug Trade.


James M. Malloy and Eduardo A. Gamarra, Revolution and Reaction: Bolivia, 1964–1985 (1988).

Luis Anteza Ergueta, Hernán Siles Zuazo: El estrategy y la contrarevolución (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Andrade, Charles W. Escenas y episodios de la historia: Estudios Bolivianos, 1953–1999. La Paz: Editorial Los Amigos del Libro: Werner Guttentag, 2004.

Crespo, Alfonso. Hernán Siles Zuazo: El hombre de abril. La Paz, Bolivia: Plural Editores, 1997.

Klein, Herbert S. Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

                                      Eduardo A. Gamarra

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Siles Zuazo, Hernán (1914–1996)

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