The U.S. Paid Money to Support Hugo Banzer's 1971 Coup in Bolivia

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For nearly four decades, there’s been an open question about the 1971 coup that brought dictator Hugo Banzer Suárez to power in Bolivia: was the U.S. government involved? Thanks to newly declassified documents, we now have an answer.

Banzer was a dictator of Bolivia from 1971-8 and a democratically elected president from 1997-2001. His three-day coup in August 1971 was significant not only for the fighting that accompanied it, which left 110 dead and 600 wounded, but for the seven-year regime that followed, one of the most repressive in Bolivia’s history. Under Banzer’s rule, more than 14,000 Bolivians were arrested without a judicial order, more than 8,000 were tortured—with electricity, water, beatings—and more than 200 were executed or disappeared. (I’m writing a long article about the legacy of the regime for Narrative Magazine. It will hopefully be out by the end of the year.)

American support for Banzer before and after the coup was never in doubt. He had trained at the School of the Americas in Panama and the Armored Cavalry School in Texas, and in the late 60s served as military attaché in Washington. In the five months after he ousted left-wing dictator General Juan José Torres, Banzer was rewarded with $50 million in grants and aid from the Nixon Administration.

But while U.S. support for Banzer during the coup has been widely assumed among Bolivians and historians of Latin America, the only proof (until now) was a Washington Post report published a week after the event, which said that U.S. Air Force Major Robert J. Lundin had advised the plotters and lent them a long-range radio. The report was never substantiated, however, and the State Department denied it immediately, asserting unequivocally that the U.S. played no part in the overthrow of Torres....

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