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José Luis Tejada


In office
December 1, 1934 – May 16, 1936
Preceded by Daniel Salamanca
Succeeded by David Toro

Born January 12, 1882(1882-01-12)
La Paz, Bolivia
Died October 4, 1938
Nationality bolivian

José Luis Tejada Sorzano (born in La Paz on January 12, 1882; died in Arica, Chile, on October 4, 1938) was installed by the military as president of Bolivia during the Chaco War. A life-long member of the Liberal party of Bolivia (which was in control of the Presidency from 1899 to 1920), Tejada was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1914, and appointed Minister of Finance by President José Gutiérrez Guerra in 1917. In 1931, his party joined forces with the Republicano-Genuino party of Daniel Salamanca for the general elections, and Tejada was sworn-in as Salamanca's Vice-President in March of that year. That administration was immediately plagued by serious difficulties stemming from the Great Depression and the eruption of the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932-35).

A relatively hands-off Vice-President, the portly Tejada deferred to Salamanca in all matters, and distinguished himself very little in his own right during his term as Vice-President. He seems to have been "second-fiddle" even on intra-party matters, as the true leader of the Liberals was the septuagenarian, twice-elected former President Ismael Montes (who died only in 1933). Things changed considerably, however, when President Salamanca was suddenly deposed by the Bolivian military on November 27, 1934, as a result of long-festering differences with the High Command regarding the conduct of the war. For a variety of reasons, the army decided to maintain democratic appearances and deferred taking power itself, at least for the time being, and Tejada became president after Salamanca was forced to resign.

It can safely be argued that the military acquiesced to the assumption of Tejada to the presidency with the understanding that the latter would be far more malleable and agreeable to the wishes of the High Command than Salamanca had been. This indeed proved to be the case.

With Tejada's assumption to the presidency, the Liberals returned to power for the first time in 14 years. Almost immediately, Tejada engineered in the Congress the extension of his term by one year in order to see through the end of the war, whose cause had been rather disastrous to Bolivia. A spate of relatively small successes (mostly of a defensive nature) toward the end of the conflict did not prevent Paraguay from maintaining control of much of the disputed region at the time that agreement on a ceasefire was finally reached in June 1935. However, the Bolivian military and most political leaders concluded that no better terms could be achieved given the circumstances or in the conceivable future. Eventually, a final peace treaty would grant most of the Chaco to Paraguay, reducing Bolivia's territory considerably.

Despite his best intentions, Tejada seems to have been disdained by the Bolivian military leaders from the very beginning. He was considered part of the political elites that, as they saw it, got Bolivia into the war with their irresponsible demagoguery (for example, Salamanca's insistence that Bolivia 'stand firm in the Chaco" and his orders to build more forts in the disputed region, in direct competition with Paraguay) and then refused to provide the needed material support to win the conflict. They apparently had no explanation as to why Paraguay, which was even poorer and smaller than Bolivia and thus supplied even less adequately, still managed to prevail in the field of battle simply with better tactics and superior leadership. In any case, at this point two competing myths emerged as to why Bolivia had lost: one, advocated by important civilian political elites (but not President Tejada), placed all the blame on the personalistic, undisciplined Bolivian commanders, ever-eager to increase their own individual ambitions and even willing to overthrow the President of the Republic (as indeed happened in 1934) rather to expend all its energy in the conduct of the war. The alternative myth, emanating from the defeated armed forces themselves (who had to explain the debacle somehow), held that it was the politicians who had "sold out" the simple, honor-bound soldiers by leading them precipitously to war and then not suitably equipping them to win it. Of the two, the latter myth seemed more acceptable to the populace, and generalized anger began to be displaced toward Tejada.

At the same time, Tejada was still confronting crippling economic difficulties (made even worse by the long war). Furthermore, he was facing a looming crisis over the controversial role of the U.S.-based Standard Oil Corporation during the conflict. At the very least, Standard had refused to help Bolivia in its direst hour during the war, and at worst it was guilty of illegal activities contrary to the wishes and interests of the Bolivian government. Unable to make headway on either problem, Tejada provided the malcontent younger officers of the Bolivian military just the excuse they needed to overthrow the Constitutional order and install themselves in power. This would also allow them to continue to "cleanse" the image of the Bolivian armed forces and further propagate the myth that the war had been lost by politicians rather than by the men in uniform. It was thus that Tejada was finally removed from office in a coup d'état which was led by Major Germán Busch and which installed as de-facto President of Bolivia Colonel David Toro on May 17, 1936.

Forced into exile, Tejada died in Arica, Chile, only 3 years later, on October 4, 1938.

Sources

  • 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
Daniel Salamanca
President of Bolivia
1934–1936
Succeeded by
David Toro
Preceded by
Vacant
Vice President of Bolivia
1931–1934
Succeeded by
Vacant
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