Bolivian Leader, Fighting Cancer, to Resign
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
BUENOS AIRES, July 27 -- Bolivian President Hugo Banzer, who is battling
lung and liver cancer, will resign from office next month and hand the
reins of South
America's poorest nation to Vice President Jorge Quiroga, a government spokesman said today.
Banzer, 75, has been undergoing treatment at Washington's Walter Reed
Army Medical Center since July 1, but will return to Bolivia next week
to hand over power
on Aug. 6, his country's independence day. He will then return to Washington to continue treatment, the spokesman said.
Banzer had been facing calls for his resignation for health reasons
since soon after he began treatment in the United States and temporarily
powers to Quiroga. Bolivian Information Minister Manfredo Kempff said today, however, that Banzer "is resigning voluntarily, without pressure from anybody."
The decision means Banzer, a former dictator who returned to power through
the ballot box in 1997, will be cutting short his mandate by one year.
Quiroga, a 41-year-old former IBM executive and Texas A&M University graduate, at the helm at a time when Bolivia faces massive internal strife from its faltering
economy and efforts to combat drug trafficking.
But Banzer, whose election in 1997 caused much trepidation, actually
accomplished far more during his term than many analysts and U.S. diplomats
After he first came to power in a bloody military coup in 1971, political repression and cocaine trafficking flourished in Bolivia, a desperately poor nation of 8 million.
During his seven-year dictatorship, Banzer allegedly used as an adviser Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon" who was extradited to France in
When Banzer returned to power, foreign observers initially feared a
resumption of political repression. Instead, after being elected by a thin
plurality, Banzer took
important steps toward human rights and judicial reforms, his supporters say. He also forged a successful partnership with Washington to forcibly eradicate much of
the nation's crop of coca, the leaf used to make cocaine -- an effort that cost him popularity at home.
"There are an awful lot of positive aspects to mention from Banzer's
term," said Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latin American and Caribbean
Center at Florida
International University in Miami. "He hired a new human rights ombudsman and created new codes of criminal procedures. And he achieved a reversal of his
reputation on narcotics."
But the widespread eradication of coca has left thousands of Bolivians
without livelihoods and sparked violent uprisings across the nation. Troubles
have worsened as
studies have shown that profits from free-market reforms and privatization undertaken in the 1990s have been concentrated in the hands of a tiny, rich elite.
Quiroga, who was Banzer's most trusted adviser, is expected to continue
Banzer's trajectory, but only for one year. The Bolivian constitution prohibits
seeking the presidency in elections scheduled for August 2002.