José Gutiérrez Guerra

For other people named José Gutiérrez, see José Gutiérrez (disambiguation).
José Gutiérrez Guerra.

José Manuel Justiniano Gutiérrez Guerra, known as "the last Oligarch," (Sucre, Bolivia, 5 September 1869 Antofagasta, Chile, 3 February 1929) was an economist and statesman, President of Bolivia between 1917 and 1920. He was the grandson of Pedro José Domingo de Guerra, President in 1879, a man of high integrity and chief justice of the Supreme Court, who had died in office after he was forced to assume presidential responsibilities during the disastrous War of the Pacific.


Early Life and Family

The scion of two illustrious aristocratic families from Chuquisaca, which traced descent from Incan royalty, the first Spanish conquistadors who came into Peru and eminent judges of the Audiencia of Charcas, on his mother's side, he was also related to Irish physician Francis Rynd and British statesman Lord Palmerston. He was sent to England at an early age to receive the best education possible. There, he studied under the Jesuits at Stonyhurst College, later at St Bede's College,[1] and then at Merton College, Oxford, from where he graduated in 1890, aged 21.

He returned to Bolivia, where he worked in banking. An economist by training, he entered politics almost against his will. As one contemporary put it, "He never sought political preferment."[2] In 1914, he was elected to Congress as deputy from La Paz.[2] His rise was meteoric, however, as he was tipped to succeed Ismael Montes as Liberal party candidate in the 1917 presidential elections.


Having won at the polls, he took office but faced severe problems stemming from worsening economic conditions and mounting opposition from the recently formed Republican party. The 1917 assassination (never fully explained) of the founder of that party and former president, José Manuel Pando, further undermined Gutiérrez-Guerra's popularity. Worse, he failed to act decisively from the point of view of his opponents, despite his call on Congress to launch an official investigation into the alleged excesses and misdeeds of his predecessor and political chief, Ismael Montes. Twenty-plus years of unbroken Liberal control of the government (the longest by one party in the history of Bolivia) had fatigued most Bolivians and turned them against the ruling elites and their methods, and earned the red-bearded, green-eyed head of state of this Andean nation, where the majority of people are Indian, the nickname "the last Oligarch."

All of this culminated in the 1920 coup d'état which, with military help, brought to power the opposition Republican party under the leadership of Bautista Saavedra. Gutierrez-Guerra sought refuge in the United States legation at La Paz and went on to take a banking position at New York-based Chase National.[3] He lived the rest of his days in exile, dying in Antofagasta, Chile in 1929.


  1. Gregory, Lawrence R. (2014). A History of St Bede's College A Commercial Dream:. 1. Manchester: Salford Diocesan Archives.
  2. 1 2 Reid, William Alfred (1919). Bolivia, the Heart of a Continent: A Few Facts about the Country and Its Activities. 1. Washington, D.C.: Bolivian Legation. p. 2.
  3. Pike, Fredrick B. (1977). The United States and the Andean Republics: Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. 1. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 171.


Political offices
Preceded by
Ismael Montes
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Bautista Saavedra
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