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Chaos at Bolivia's Central Bank

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The 27-story Central Bank tower here is the tallest building in Bolivia. It may also be the emptiest. About two-thirds of the bank's 1,200 employees quit in March when the government offered them generous severance payments.

A dramatic shrinkage of the institution's work force was President V'ictor Paz Estenssoro's solution to end corruption and break the power of a militant union that shut down the Central Bank at will under the previous government of Hern'an Siles Zuazo.

But so far, President Paz's plan has caused as many problems as it has solved, as 200 employees more than the government expected quit, including almost the entire professional staff.

This has left bankers furious, because the Central Bank no longer has a staff able to regulate the banking industry or provide statistics on the economy that banks - and government agencies - need to carry out their duties.

``The government has replaced anarchy caused by the union with anarchy caused by administrative incompetence,'' said Miguel Fabbri, general manager of Banco Nacional de Bolivia, the country's largest bank.

Private bankers agree with government officials that Mr. Paz had to curb the power of the Central Bank's union. Taking advantage of the chaos caused by an inflation rate that eventually spiraled to 24,000 percent, the union came to dominate the Central Bank during Mr. Siles' 1982-85 presidency.

Union leaders regularly blocked Central Bank decrees they opposed and called frequent strikes to demand greater pay and fringe benefits.

At one point, union leaders telexed Bolivia's finance minister in Washington, where he was negotiating with the International Monetary Fund, saying he had no right to represent the country, since he had not consulted with them beforehand.

Paz took office two years ago this month, determined to impose radical policies to stop the hyperinflation cold and halt the Marxist-dominated union movement, which he believed responsible for the country's economic woes.


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