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Wálter Guevara

In office
8 August 1979 – 1 November 1979
Preceded by David Padilla
Succeeded by Alberto Natusch

Born March 11, 1912(1912-03-11)
Cochabamba, Bolivia
Died June 20, 1996 (aged 84)
La Paz, Bolivia
Nationality Bolivian
Political party MNR

Wálter Guevara Arze (March 11, 1912, Cochabamba, Bolivia - June 20, 1996, La Paz, Bolivia) was a Bolivian statesman, cabinet minister, writer, diplomat, and, rather briefly, president (1979).

Guevara was born in Cochabamba on March 11, 1912. Trained as a lawyer and economist, he studied in the United States. He co-founded the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) in 1941, alongside Víctor Paz Estenssoro, Hernán Siles, and others. When the MNR came to power following the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, Guevara served as minister of foreign relations in the cabinet of President Paz Estenssoro (1952-56). He was then appointed Minister of Interior by President Siles (1956-60). Often seen as the third-highest leader in the MNR hierarchy (after Paz and Siles), the relatively conservative Guevara clashed repeatedly on ideological grounds with Juan Lechín and others associated with the Left wing of the party. Fully expecting to be the party's official candidate for president in 1960, he left it abruptly to form his own political organization when Paz Estenssoro decided to return to Bolivia and run for re-election. The party Guevara founded was the Partido Revolucionario Auténtico, in whose representation he ran for president in 1960, finishing second to Paz. In 1964, Guevara supported the military coup d'état that toppled the MNR from power, and once more served as Minister of Foreign Relations, this time to President René Barrientos.

The long years in exile following the establishent of the 1971-78 dictatorship of General Hugo Banzer brought Guevara closer to the main body of the MNR, by now divested of its more left-leaning elements, including Siles and Lechín. When democratic elections were at long last called again in 1978, Guevara ran as Paz Estenssoro's vice-presidential running mate. Their ticket finished second. When that electoral contest was annulled due to evidence of fraud, a second one was held a year later. Guevara this time did not run on the main formula, but was elected Senator in representation of the MNR alliance. Soon, he was proclaimed President of the Senate by his peers. Since no presidential candidate in the 1979 elections had received the necessary 50% of the vote, it fell to Congress to decide who should be first executive. To the surprise of many, it could not agree on any candidate, no matter how many votes were taken. Positions hardened, and no solution seemed possible, until an alternative was offered in the form of the President of the Senate, Wálter Guevara, who was named temporary Bolivian president in August 1979 pending the calling of new elections in 1980.

Guevara's tenure was short and difficult. Faced with a mounting economic and fiscal crisis, the new president declared that it might be advisable to extend his mandate by an extra year in order to allow him to confidently take the adequate measures. This was seen by many as a naked power grab, and his popularity plummeted, to the point that he had to resort to a purely technocratic cabinet in the absence of any congressional support. This impasse was taken advantage of by some conspiratorial members of the military, who were displeased with the fast pace, the tone, and the results or the democratic restoration. On November 1, 1979, General Alberto Natusch surprisingly toppled President Guevara in a bloody coup d'état that was resisted heroically by the urban population. Natusch did take possession, but not without considerable bloosdhed. Moreover, the citizenry continued to resist, led by a nationwide labor strike called by the powerful Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) of Juan Lechín. In the end, Natusch was able to occupy the Palacio Quemado for only sixteen days, after which he was forced to give up his quixotic struggle. The only face-saving concession he extracted from Congress was the promise that Guevara not be allowed to resume his duties as president. This condition was accepted and a new provisional president was found in the leader of the lower congressional house (the House of Deputies), Mrs. Lidia Gueiler.

Guevara, although bitter by the strange circumstances that surrounded his ouster, resumed his senatorial duties and continued to support Paz Estenssoro in subsequent elections (1980, 1985). In 1982 he was appointed Bolivian Ambassador to Venezuela. In 1989 (already quite elderly) he again ran for office, this time as vice-presidential running mate to the MNR's Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Although they received a majority of the votes, Sanchez and Guevara did not accede to the Quemado, as Congress selected as president the third-place finisher, Jaime Paz. Guevara then retired from public life and died in La Paz on June 20, 1996.


  • Mesa José de; Gisbert, Teresa; and Carlos D. Mesa, "Historia De Bolivia."
Preceded by
David Padilla
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Alberto Natusch


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