Bolivia's military government tries to polish its international image
La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivia's military government -- something of a pariah in South America -- is trying to improve its international image. Since seizing power by coup last July, the military leadership has met a hailstorm of criticism. Its rather heavy-handed approach to dissent has been denounced by many nations and human-rights organizations. Bolivia's sister nations in the Andean Pact condemned the coup. (Military leaders criticized pact members right back and pulled out of the regional economic organization.) Allegations of official involvement in drug trafficking penetrate the highest levels of the Bolivian government.
In a move aimed at blunting some of this criticism, Gen. Luis Garcia Meza recently brought two civilians into the Cabinet and removed his controversial interior minister.
The general, who is president, announced Feb. 26 it is likely that other civilians will be named to the Cabinet.
The removal of Col. Luis Arce Gomez as minister of interior is clearly aimed at improving Bolivia's image, particularly in the United States. Colonel Arce Gomez controlled the country's hated paramilitary security forces.
Colonel Arce Gomez and Colonel Ariel Coca, Bolivia's education minister, who also was removed last week, are widely believed to be active in cocaine trafficking. Together with military intellegence chief Col. Faustino Rico Toro, they allegedly have headed a billion-dollar-a-year cocaine-export ring, and have used their offices to further the trade.
Washington suspended $100 million in economic, technical, and military aid last July after the military seized power.
Whether the removal of these colonels will improve the Garcia Meza government's image or slow the cocaine traffic remains to be seen. Byt many observers are looking with favor on General Garcia Meza's appointment of jorge Tamayo Ramos, a civilian, to be finance minister.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, and its economic situation is deteriorating.Mr. Tamayo Ramos, a widely respected economist, will soon have to meet with a variety of international financial institutions and private banks to try to work out a rescheduling of Bolivia's debt payments, which now total $3 .5 billion.
This step is essential, for Boliviahs income fell during 1980 as world market prices for its one major export, tin, dropped sharly. In addition, the US announced plans to unload its huge stockpiles of tin on to the world market, a step that could lower tin prices even more.
The other new civilian in the government is Mario Rolon Anaya, who was appointed foreign minister. He served in the same post in the late 1960s under Gen. Rene Barrientos Ortuno. Both he and Mr. Tamayo Ramos are close to Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, Bolivia's president from 1971 to 1978.
General Banzer has been guardely critical of the Garcia Meza government -- and the appointment of the two civilians may indicate that the former president is exerting influence on his fellow officers, even to the po int of becoming the power behind the throne.