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Germán Busch

In office
13 July 1937 – 23 August 1939
Preceded by David Toro
Succeeded by Carlos Quintanilla

Born April 23, 1904(1904-04-23)
San Javier, Bolivia
Died August 23, 1939 (aged 35)
La Paz, Bolivia
Nationality Bolivian

Germán Busch Becerra (San Javier, Santa Cruz province, Bolivia, March 23, 1904 - August 23, 1939) was a former Bolivian military officer, hero of the Chaco War (1932-35, in which Bolivia was defeated by Paraguay), and president of Bolivia between 1937 and 1939.

Germán Busch was born in San Javier, in central Bolivia's hot, fertile, coffee-growing region to a physician, a German immigrant and a mother of mixed Italian [1] and Amerindian descent.[2] At some point in Busch's childhood, his father went to Germany, while sending the young boy and his mother to live in Trinidad. He attended provincial school there and entered military college at age 18.[3]

Known for his torrid, fearless, and reckless temperament, he seemed to dominate the Bolivian army by force of his personality alone (in addition to his feats of bravery on the field), despite his relatively lower rank. As a Major, he took part, and carried the bulk of the action, in the highly controversial coup d'état that overthrew of the Constitutional President Daniel Salamanca in November 1934, right in the middle of the war and in the very theater of operations. The reason for this was the constant butting of heads of the Bolivian High Command with Salamanca over the conduct of the war and the issuing of military appointments and promotions. Busch again conspired in 1936, this time overthrowing Salamanca's successor and former vice-president, José Luis Tejada, and installing his higher-ranked friend and comrade David Toro as de-facto President. Toro presided over a reformist experiment called Military Socialism (championed by Busch) for a bit over a year, before Busch himself overthrew Toro and installed himself in the Palacio Quemado on July 1937, alleging that Toro's controversial past made him a liability to the regime and he was better off leading it.

Always tempestuous and volatile, Busch was filled with grand ideas that he seemed unable to bring to fruition in the context of the polarized Bolivian political landscape of the late 1930s. He called a Constituent Assembly and restored the Constitution which was suspended after the 1936 coup. In 1938, he even managed to be proclaimed Constitutional President by the Assembly. He also made various attempts to restore the nearly collapsed Bolivian economy. Later still, he tired of the "political game" and, totally untrained in the art of compromise, declared himself Dictator, thus nullifying the very political order he had painstakingly created. Bogged down for most of his presidency in the procedural aspects of enacting a new political framework (the Assembly, the new Constitution) he was not able to pass many meanigful reforms, despite his stated aim of "deepening" the Military Socialism of Toro.

Because his army contained thousands of German advisors and German-trained soldiers, Busch (of part-German ancestry himself) was suspected to have Nazi tendencies. However, Busch strongly denied this, claiming that his regime was "uniquely Bolivian."

As a measure of Busch's volcanic, unpredictable nature, he once had one of Bolivia's foremost writers and intellectuals of the 20th century, Alcides Arguedas, brought to his office, and proceeded to physically beat him up for a column critical of his regime. Arguedas was 60 years old at the time and Busch 35.

Unable to control events the way he would have liked, President Busch committed suicide at about 5 AM on August 23, 1939, shooting himself in the right temple. Though it is suspected by some that he may have been murdered, the explanation of suicide is generally accepted.

Following the President's death, the more conservative and pro-oligrachic elements in the Bolivian reasserted themselves, concluding that reformism had gone entirely too far. Since Busch had proclaimed himself dictator, there was no constitutional succession to speak of, and General Carlos Quintanilla was proclaimed president by the armed forces. Quintanilla was charged with calling new elections and returning matters to the status quo pre-Toro.

Busch is still regarded as a Bolivian hero, and as well-meaning if erratic proponent of the changes that would later be carried out in the 1952 National Revolution.

Colonel Alberto Natusch, a later ruler of Bolivia, was the nephew of Germán Busch.


  1. ^ The New West Coast Leader, pg 5
  2. ^ Bailey, Nasatir, pg 639
  3. ^ "Busch Putsch". Time Magazine. 1939-05-08.,9171,761219,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 


  • 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."
  • "Busch Putsch". Time Magazine. 1939-05-08.,9171,761219,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-10. ], 1939)]
  • Latin America: The Development of Its Civilization, By Helen Miller Bailey, Abraham Phineas Nasatir, Published by Prentice-Hall, 1968
  • The New West Coast Leader, Published by s.n., Item notes: v.28 no.1429-14541939
Preceded by
David Toro
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Carlos Quintanilla


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