Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Happy Ending?

The following is an excerpt from Six Crises, the bestselling memoirs penned by Richard Nixon during the period between his vice presidency (1953-1961) and his presidency (1969-1974). This section describes a conversation he had in 1958 with the president of Bolivia.
While reviewing Bolivia's economic plight, President Hernan Siles pointed to the pictures of his two predecessors on the walls of his office. One, he said, had become despondent at the futility of his own efforts and had committed suicide. The other had been taken by a mob and hung from a lamppost in the street outside the window of the President's office. "I often wonder what my fate will be," he said with a wry smile.

For those who are curious:

- The first leader to whom Siles referred was German Busch (1937-1939), a brilliant but hotheaded war hero who (1) led numerous coups that deposed not one, not two, but three different Bolivian presidents, (2) eventually became president himself, (3) launched an ambitious plan to democratize his country, reform its corrupt government and save its collapsing economy through what was dubbed "Military Socialism", (4) restored the old Bolivian constitution and thus transformed the state into a democracy, (5) scrapped the new free government and declared himself dictator when he found that it was impossible to get anything done in a democracy, (6) succumbed to hopelessness as he realized that it was just as impossible to get anything done even when he was an authoritarian ruler, and (7) killed himself.
- The second leader was Gualberto Villarroel (1943-1946) whose important progressive reforms (such as having the government officially recognize labor unions and the right to voluntarily retire with a pension) caused Bolivia's right-wing, led by wealthy mining corporations, to stir up resentment against him from the general public, a development exacerbated when the newly-empowered left-wing workers movements also began making demands that Villarroel viewed as excessive and thus brutally repressed. After a particularly bloody incident in which Villarroel's government executed various members of Bolivia's intelligentsia and then pushed their bodies off a cliff, a revolution was launched against him, leading to his being shot, thrown from a balcony, and lynched on the aforementioned lamppost.
If it makes you feel any better, though, Siles himself stayed in power for an additional two years after this conversation with Nixon. What's more, he managed to stay alive for long enough after leaving the presidency that he wound up serving another term from 1982 to 1985, a full twenty-two years after his first term ended. That said, this only came about after he had already won three earlier presidential elections (in 1978, 1979, and 1980), had the presidency stolen from him all three times by a military dictatorship, and then had that same military dictatorship personally beg him to take over the country and relieve them of power after they concluded that Bolivia's problems were more than they could handle. After Siles's miserable tenure came to an unwanted close, he decided to spend his remaining years in the country he loved most... Uruguay.

At least Siles lived a long and (mostly) successful life. As you can see, even leaders in a nation like Bolivia can have happy endings.

Sort of.

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