Luis García Meza Tejada

Luis García Meza
68th President of Bolivia
In office
17 July 1980  4 August 1981
Preceded by Lidia Gueiler
Succeeded by Celso Torrelio
Personal details
Born Luis García Meza Tejada
(1929-08-08) August 8, 1929
La Paz, Bolivia
Nationality Bolivian
Political party None
Profession Military
Military service
Allegiance Bolivia Bolivia
Service/branch Bolivian Army
Years of service 1952–1981
Rank General
Commands Bolivian Army

Luis García Meza Tejada (born August 8, 1929, La Paz, Bolivia) is a former Bolivian dictator. A native of La Paz, he was a career military officer who rose to the rank of general during the reign of Hugo Banzer (1971–78). García Meza was between 1980-1981 the dictator of Bolivia.

Prelude to dictatorship

García Meza graduated from the military academy in 1952, and served as its commander from 1963 to 1964. He then rose to division commander in the late 1970s.

He became leader of the right-wing faction of the military of Bolivia most disenchanted with the return to civilian rule. Many of the officers involved had been part of the Banzer dictatorship and disliked the investigation of economic and human right abuses by the new Bolivian Congress. Moreover, they tended to regard the decline in popularity of the Carter administration in the United States as an indicator that soon a Republican administration would replace it—one more amenable to the kind of pro-US, more hardline anti-communist dictatorship they wanted to reinstall in Bolivia. Many allegedly had ties to cocaine traffickers and made sure portions of the military acted as their enforcers/protectors in exchange for extensive bribes, which in turn were used to fund the upcoming coup. In this manner, the narcotraffickers were in essence purchasing for themselves the upcoming Bolivian government.

Coup d'état

This group pressured President Lidia Gueiler (his cousin) to install General García Meza as Commander of the Army. Within months, the Junta of Commanders headed by García Meza forced a violent coup d'état—sometimes referred to as the Cocaine Coup—of July 17, 1980, when several Bolivian intellectuals such as Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz were killed. When portions of the citizenry resisted, as they had done in the failed putsch of November 1979, it resulted in dozens of deaths. Many were tortured. Allegedly, the Argentine Army unit Batallón de Inteligencia 601 participated in the coup. Former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Michael Levine had arrested the two most prominent leaders of the Roberto Suarez cartel (the primary cartel linked to the coup), and he claims that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) intervened to drop charges against one of them and reduce bail for another, allowing both to escape their US trial in 1979; subsequently they returned to Bolivia and participated in the coup, along with the aid of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. Levine has alleged CIA cooperation with the coup.[1] These allegations were the basis for the dismissal of the DEA from Bolivia by current President Evo Morales in 2007.

Dictatorship, 1980-81

Of rightwing ultra-conservative anti-communist persuasion, García Meza endeavored to bring a Pinochet-style dictatorship that was intended to last 20 years. He immediately outlawed all political parties, exiled opposition leaders, repressed trade unions, and muzzled the press. He was backed by former SS officer and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Italian neofascist Stefano Delle Chiaie. Further collaboration came from other European neofascists, most notoriously Ernesto Milá Rodríguez (accused of the 1980 Paris synagogue bombing.[2] Among other foreign collaborators were professional torturers allegedly imported from the notoriously repressive Argentine dictatorship of General Jorge Videla.

The García Meza regime, while brief (its original form ended in 1981), became internationally known for its extreme brutality. The population was repressed in the same ways as under the Banzer dictatorship. In January 1981, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs named the García Meza regime, "Latin America's most errant violator of human rights after Guatemala and El Salvador."[3] Some 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the Bolivian Army and security forces in only 13 months.[4] The administration's chief repressor was the Minister of Interior, Colonel Luis Arce, who cautioned that all Bolivians who opposed to the new order should "walk around with their written will under their arms."

The most prominent victim of the dictatorship was the congressman, presidential candidate, and gifted orator Marcelo Quiroga, murdered and "disappeared" soon after the coup. Quiroga had been the chief advocate of bringing to trial the former dictator, General Hugo Banzer (1971–78), for human right violations and economic mismanagement.

Drug trafficking

The García Meza government's drug trafficking activities led to the complete isolation of the regime. In contrast to his position regarding the other military dictatorships in Latin America, the new conservative US President Ronald Reagan kept his distance, as the regime's unsavory links to criminal circles became more public. Eventually, the international outcry was sufficiently strong to force García Meza's resignation on August 3, 1981. He was succeeded by a less tainted but equally repressive general, Celso Torrelio.

All in all, the Bolivian military would sustain itself in power only for another year, and would then beat a hasty retreat to its barracks, embarrassed and tarnished by the excesses of the 1980-82 dictatorships (it has never returned to the Palacio Quemado).

Exile and jail

At that point, García Meza left the country, but was tried and convicted in absentia for the serious human rights violations committed by his regime. In 1995, he was extradited to Bolivia from Brazil and is still serving a 30-year prison sentence, in the same prison where he once kept his enemies. His main collaborator, Colonel Arce, was extradited to the United States, where he served a jail sentence for drug trafficking.

García Meza has reportedly been living in considerable comfort whilst in prison, with a barbecue, gym, telephone, sauna and the occupation of three cells. These privileges were later revoked in response to protests from human rights organizations and victims.[5][6]

See also


Political offices
Preceded by
Lydia Gueiler
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Celso Torrelio
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