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One step forward one back on Latin America's road to civilian rule

Within hours of Bolivia's mid-July military coup, neighboring Peru's Army chieftains were meeting to discuss the event. An immediate spate of rumors circulated in Lima, the capital, that the Peruvian military was about to abort the scheduled July 28 inauguration of Fernando Belaunde Terry as the country's first civilian leader in 12 years.

Mr. Belaunde Terry, however, became President without incident and Peru's military has given the US-trained architect assurances that it will say in the barracks while the civilians grapple with Peru's long list of political and economic problems.

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Whether they will stay on the sidelines remains to be seen. It is not overlooked in Lima, the Peruvian capital, that the military began their 12-year rule in 1968 by ousting the very Mr. Belaunde Terry who became President this week. They could do it again.

But at the moment, the expectation is that the military will honor its word. Peru's military is less caught up in the kind of personal ambitions that are the hallmark of Bolivia's Army leaders. There are ambitious officers, but apparently none with the overpowering drive for power that dozens in Boliva have.

And the Peruvians are less skittish about leftist civilian politicians than their Bolivian counterparts, who took power because they did not like election results that would have put left-leaning Hernan Siles Zuazo in the presidency.

Peru's Belaunde Terry is hardly a leftist. He is a reformer -- but Peru's military also claims to be reformist.

The result is a return to democratic rule in marked contrast to the heavy hand of authoritarian military rule so evident in Bolivia, where many charges of human-rights violations have been confirmed.

The two contrasting approaches present one of the dilemmas facing many of the countries in Latin America, and particularly in South America -- whether to move toward democratic rule or continue with authoritarian military governments.

Military rule tends to go in cycles in Latin America. The 1950s were years of military rule; the 1960s saw the return of democratic governments. The 1970s unshered in an era of tough military rule, with only Colombia and Venezuela in South America espacing the military boot.

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A new trend toward civilian rule appeared to be developing -- particularly among the Andean nations. The scenario called for Ecuador, then Peru, and finally Bolivia to confirm the trend. Ecuador did so last year; PEru had done it this year. But Bolivia movement in this direction has derailed.

Beyond the Andean countries, it was expected that Argentina and perhaps Uruguay would take the civilian path in the next year or so. There was great uncertainty about Chile's intention.

But following Bolivia's coup, the scenario is coming unglued. Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte has no plans to step down for at least another five years. Argentina, caught up in a bitter border dispute with Chile, is unlikely to opt for civilian rule at this time.

Brazil, governed by the military for longer than most (since 1964), talks of going back to civilian rule, but the timetable is indefinite.

Meanwhile, Paraguay remains under Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, in his sixth term as President. Colombia and Venezuela continue under civilian rule, building solid 20-year democratic traditions.

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