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David Toro

José David Toro Ruilova (born in Sucre on June 24, 1898; died in Santiago de Chile, on July 25, 1977) was a former colonel in the Bolivian army and member of the High Command during the Chaco War (1932-35). Of controversial participation in the conflict (he was one of the leaders of the coup that deposed President Salamanca in November, 1934), he became de facto President of the Republic in May 1936 as a result of a military uprising headed by his friend and comrade, Major Germán Busch.

Installed in the Palacio Quemado, Toro immediately faced a number of pressing crises, not least of which were a massive federal deficit stemming from the war and continued economic dislocation associated with the ongoing Great Depression. More narrowly, he tackled a dispute with the Standard Oil Corporation, which had been at least not supportive enough of Bolivia during the war and at most, downright duplicitous and disloyal to the country. Apparently, a number of grave irregularities had been committed, including alleged smuggling of Bolivian oil to Argentina, Paraguay's most steadfast (if always under the table) supporter. In March 1937, the Toro government nationalized all Standard Oil holdings in Bolivia to the rejoicing of much of the population. This nationalization would prove to be the first step toward the statism that would characterize Bolivian politics in subsequent decades.

Moreover, the nationalization signaled the beginning of the end of the Oligarchic Republic, inaugurated in 1880 upon Bolivia's devastating loss to Chile in the War of the Pacific. This was a period of civilian control of Bolivian politics and little intervention of the army in the political process, except on brief occasions and always either on behalf of a civilian caudillo or in order to call elections. The Chaco War, however, had changed everything. Tens of thousands of Bolivian Indians had been conscripted to fight in the war and had made major sacrifices on behalf of a government that discriminated against them and barred them any meaningful participation in national affairs. Coincidentally, the 1930s had witnessed the onset of much political ferment throughout the world, and Bolivia was not completely at the margin of those trends. During the turbulent, crisis-racked decade, a number of Communist, Stalinist, Trotskyite, anarchist, and reformist parties had been created, and new currents of thought began to call for major changes in Bolivian society. Toro and the young officers who had installed him (professing to be clean, untainted exemplars of the Bolivian military men allegedly "sold out" by partisan civilian politicians during the war) called their experiment "Military Socialism," but, fearful of the still considerable power of the economic elites, failed to go too far with their reforms. Still, an important new Worker's Law was unveiled, spelling a wider set of rights for working men and women. He later then married a woman of a name still unknown.

Worrisome to many was the fact that much of the stylistic trappings adopted by the new regime inevitably seemed to ape some of the features of the European Fascist regimes then in vogue in Europe, especially of the Franco and Mussolini variations (the latter still billing itself as reformist and worker-oriented, as the Military Socialist officers aspired to be).

In the end, it was Colonel Toro's own questionable credentials that doomed his presidency. Despite all efforts exerted by the military, the populace knew of his controversial performance during the war, both on the battlefield and in terms of his repeated machinations and clashes with the constitutional government. It got to the point where the younger, tempestuous Busch (always the power behind the throne) concluded that Toro and his personal conduct were a liability to the military regime. No doubt he also had harbored presidential ambitions of his own, and, by mid 1937, the time seemed right to bring them to fruition. It was thus that, on July 13, Toro resigned the presidency. Lieutenant Colonel Germán Busch assumed the presidency and control of the ever-more bizarre "Military Socialism" experiment in Bolivia. As for Toro, he attempted to dislodge Busch from power a year after his ouster, but his coup attempt failed. At that point he marched off to a long exile in Chile, where he died — forgotten by many, highly questioned by others, especially in terms of his behavior during the war — in 1977, at close to 80 years of age.


  • Querejazu Calvo, Roberto. "Masamaclay."
  • Farcau, Bruce W. "The Chaco War: Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935."
  • Mesa José de; Gisbert, Teresa; and Carlos D. Mesa, "Historia De Bolivia."
Preceded by
José Luis Tejada
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Germán Busch

People of the Chaco War



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