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Aniceto Arce

Aniceto Arce Ruiz (1824–1906) was President of Bolivia from 1888 until 1892. The Aniceto Arce Province is named after him. Arce was a native of Tarija but was educated as a lawyer and resided most of his life in Sucre, where he became one of the country's foremost silver-mining tycoons. A supporter of Linares and Constitutionalist government, he later served in Congress during the 1870s until the time of the Daza dictatorship.

Unlike other capable leaders of his day, Arce did not enlist to serve when the War of the Pacific developed in 1879. Indeed, his became one of the most accommodationist voices in the political spectrum, perhaps as a result of his extensive business connections to Chile, where he sold much of his silver, invested his profits, and sought financing for his projects. His position was that the Litoral was, for various lamentable reasons, largely indefensible. Thus, the country should cut its losses and seek an alliance with Chile rather than with Peru. Despite this minority position, what ringed more clearly in the ears of most Bolivians was Arce's steadfast call for the establishment of a conservative democratic order, with the primacy of law, regular elections, and rule by enlightened pro-business elites such as himself. To this end, he founded the Conservative Party, participated as one of the principals in the 1880 Congress that toppled Hilarión Daza, and had a role in the drafting of the country's new Constitution. Moreover, he agreed to become Narciso Campero's vice-president for the crucial, nation-building 1880-84 period.

Early on, however, vice-president Arce's pro-Chile stance clashed with those of the patriotic President and retired General, who favored rearmament and a sustained diplomatic offensive against Chile, perhaps leading to a mediation of the conflict and if not, to a reinsertions of Bolivian troops in Peru's aid. Arce, as explained, favored a "realistic" policy of recognition that Bolivia had indeed lost its access to the Pacific, and that the best that could be done was to reach a modus vivendi with Santiago (which had the upper hand), even if this meant abandoning the hitherto sacrosanct alliance with Lima. President Campero took this to be a sign of treason and in 1881 expelled Arce, his own vice-president until then, to exile.

Eventually, Arce's name was cleared and he was allowed to return to the country. He promptly entered his name as Conservative Party candidate in the May, 1884 Presidential elections, the first under the new charter and since 1873. Arce was widely expected to win too, but very narrowly lost to the "dark-horse" candidate Gregorio Pacheco, a man even wealthier than Arce and the country's chief philathropist, who ran on a platform of apolitical "efficient administration." Being privileged silver miners from the South who shared a conservative, pro-business philosophy, the 2 reached an understanding, with Pacheco agreeing to become President in exchange for making Arce his vice-president and pledging himself to support the Conservative party candidate in the 1884 elections.

As had been agreed upon, President Pacheco supported Arce in the 1888 elections, which the latter not surprisingly won, quite possibly with official "help" (i.e., electoral fraud). It is thus that Arce, the Conservative Party caudillo, at long last came became President in August 1888, at the age of 64. Even more so than Pacheco, Arce ruled repressively, but also consolidated many advances, including the completion of the first intra-Bolivian railway (leading from the Chilean border to Oruro) and the electrification of a number of Bolivian cities. He also promulgated a modern new set of banking and investment laws. Unabashedly pro-capitalist, devoted to practically unrestricted free entrepreneurship in the English tradition, anti-Indian, and pro-insertion into the international economy under the aegis of foreign investment, he faced many pro-Liberal rebellions but somehow managed to hold on to power by the force of his assertive personality. He completed his term and in 1892 passed the baton to another Conservative, his understudy and vice-president Mariano Baptista.

Aniceto Arce at that point ostensibly retired from politics (he was 68 years old), although he served as an unofficial but very mportant adviser to the Conservative Presidents Baptista (1882-86) and Fernandez-Alonso (1896-99). He was forcefully returned to the political limelight at the turn of the century when he suffered political prosecution at the hands of the hated Liberal Party, which had at long last seized power in the so-called Civil War of 1899. Surprisingly, the elderly Arce was nonetheless allowed to present himself as candidate for President in the 1904 elections, presumably because he was 80 years old, unpopular, and therefore quite beatable. Finding the party he founded demoralized, vilified, and acephalous, the combative Arce accepted the difficult challenge of running against the officially-supported, popular Liberal candidate Ismael Montes. He was trounced, losiing by a wide margin—the largest in Bolivian electoral history up to that point. The former president then returned to retirement in his vast rural estate, where he died 2 years later in 1906, at the age of 82. He is best remembered for his assertive temperament and firm stance in favor of a civilian democratic (although oligarchic) order and for having laid the foundation for the functioning of a modern party system in the country.

Preceded by
Gregorio Pacheco
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Mariano Baptista


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