A Sacrificial Llama? The Expulsion of the Peace Corps from Bolivia in 1971 by James F. Siekmeier & note on Yawar Mallku
A Sacrificial Llama?
The Expulsion of the Peace Corps from Bolivia in 1971
By JAMES F. SIEKMEIER
(The author is a member of the history department at Angelo State University. This article is from the Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 65-87 This article consists of 23 pages. Footnotes are at the bottom of the article.)
The Peace Corps just won't be stopped. Like young love, or spring plants, or the south wind in Kansas, it comes on despite all opposition, in fact thrives on it. Hutchinson (Kansas) News.
"At least we did not get nationalized." Gerald Baumann and Fred Caploe, respectively the director and deputy director of the U.S. Peace Corps in Bolivia, 1967-1971, notifying Corps personnel that Bolivia wanted them out.
In the last few years, scholarly interest in the U.S. Peace Corps has greatly increased, yet no works have systematically examined any host nation's decision to break the initial agreement that invited the Peace Corps inside its borders1. This article aims to fill that void by looking at the case of Bolivia. That Andean nation asked the Peace Corps to leave because of rising anti-U.S. sentiment stimulated in part by the release of a popular 1969 movie, Blood of the Condor. Because some members of Bolivian society (most particularly, left-wing Bolivians) saw the Peace Corps as an infringement on their country's sovereignty, and Bolivian President Juan Jose Torres agreed, the Peace Corps suffered the disgrace of expulsion from Bolivia in 1971.
In her recent book on the history of the U.S. Peace Corps, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman argued that in most cases the Peace Corps significantly improved U.S. relations with the developing world.2 In Bolivia, however, the opposite occurred. The Peace Corps brought Bolivian-U.S. relations to a historic low by the early 1970s. In fact, the Peace Corps came to symbolize the degeneration of relations between the two nations, despite the good intentions of many Peace Corps volunteers, and even though the Peace Corps' development projects helped poor, rural Bolivians. Under pressure from the Bolivian left, government officials eventually concluded that they then had to do something to show that the United States was not controlling Bolivian economic and social development. The Peace Corps was a casualty of anti-U.S. sentiment and its expulsion a sign of just how widespread that sentiment was. As such, the story of the Peace Corps in Bolivia during the 1960s helps us to understand more clearly the complex, multifaceted nature of recent Bolivian history, as well as that nation's ties to the United States.3
To understand why Bolivia forced the Peace Corps to leave, this article proceeds in four steps. First is a brief overview of the 1952 Bolivian Revolution. Second, the article explains the origins of the Peace Corps as an experiment in U.S. foreign policy. Third, the study summarizes the cultural, social, and political history of 1960s Bolivia, which produced a strong critique of the Corps (and the U.S. presence overall) and ultimately the Corps's expulsion. Last, the article summarizes some of the ramifications and legacy of the Corps's forced exit.
A brief background on Bolivia’s 1952 revolution partially explains the Peace Corps's high-profile presence in 1960s Bolivia, as well as its later dismissal. Before the revolution, only small Bolivian elite benefited from the Andean nation's wealth. Going back at least as far as the nineteenth century, the distribution of income, even by Latin American standards, had been shockingly unequal. In 1952, however, a revolutionary organization offered hope for the impoverished masses and Bolivia’s small middle class. In that year, in a four-day military battle, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) forcibly took power and reordered Bolivian society in very significant ways, producing one of only four twentieth-century social revolutionary upheavals in Latin America (the others were in Mexico , Cuba , and Nicaragua ).
The MNR had been a political movement, and later a party, for about a decade before it took control in 1952.4 A middle-class and working-class coalition, the MNR found it repugnant that military regimes and elitist political parties served the interests of the oligarchy only. In Bolivia, the most hated members of this class were the "tin barons," three mining magnates whose companies were largely foreign-owned and together produced 80 percent of the nation's considerable output of metals. These mine owners ranked among the richest people in the world, whereas the miners whom they employed often lived in dire poverty.
On taking power, the MNR quickly implemented many reforms that radically transformed the country. Three of the most significant mandates included giving women and Indians the vote, redistributing land from wealthy rural elites to poor Bolivians in the countryside (agrarian reform), and nationalizing the holdings of the despised "tin barons." For the first time, Bolivia appeared to be on the road to democracy. This meant, among other things, that women and Indians, at least theoretically, could demand equal treatment under the law. The agrarian reform's effects reverberated beyond simple redistribution of land. By breaking up the large haciendas, the reform effectively ended the centuries-old practice whereby many landless Indians worked essentially as serfs (colonos or pongos) for the large landholders.
Tradition and legal strictures forced the poor to provide a panoply of feudalistic services, including handing their daughters over to the landowner as mistresses. Finally, nationalization of the holdings of the "tin barons" undercut their political influence. The expropriated mines were now to produce income that the government planned to use for a variety of purposes, among them curtailing the Bolivian economy's dependence on mining. Economic diversification, the MNR hoped, would provide the Andean nation a modicum of self-sufficiency.5
From the beginning, the MNR leadership thought it necessary to ensure amicable relations with the United States. The leaders of the revolution, notably President Victor Paz Estenssoro, placed great importance on good foreign relations with the rest of the world.6 Because of the radicalism of the revolution, Paz understood that he would have to work very hard to convince the United States that Bolivia opposed communism and favored private property, democracy, and, most importantly, the United States. Paz and other Bolivian leaders were successful in this regard. The United States not only refrained from opposing the Bolivian revolution but gave the Andean nation a significant amount of economic aid-about $200 million over the course of the 1950s. U.S. officials feared that, without some economic assistance, Bolivia would slide into chaos-and then, perhaps, into communism.7
In a sense, the United States had little choice but to support the MNR. After all, the revolutionary coalition was a broad- based party with a great deal of public support. In part due to the extreme power of the oligarchy, the political system had atrophied in the early twentieth century -- with the sole exception of the MNR. Therefore, as the oligarchy lost its political power during the revolution, no other viable groups could govern Bolivia.8
In addition, the MNR was willing to work with the United States, most importantly by accepting U.S. financial assistance. Washington leaders understood their leverage: Given the poverty of the majority of the Bolivian people, the Bolivians' acceptance of foreign aid would -- and eventually did -- give the United States a great deal of influence. U.S. foreign policymakers used this power to prod Bolivia to enact legislation facilitating the investment of foreign private-sector capital, a move that Washington officials argued would provide a propitious environment for economic growth and, eventually, pro-United States stability. This predicted outcome, however, did not obtain by the end of the 1950s, nor even by the early 1970s.9
Even though significant numbers of Bolivians grew to dislike U.S. policy by the late 1950s and early 1960s, relations between the MNR and its North American "neighbor" remained generally good during the MNR's first twelve years, 1952 through 1964. Harmonious relations were important to both Bolivianos and norteamericanos. lO Although few Washington officials during the early Cold War period argued that U.S. credibility in world affairs rested on its Bolivian policy, in some respects Bolivia proved critical for U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s. As Bolivian Ambassador Victor Andrade Uzquiano phrased it in 1956, [t]he case of Bolivia is a "test case" of economic cooperation and technical assistance which can help to assemble the present factors toward a successful conclusion: a major crisis, potential riches to develop, and a government and people willing to develop them. If technical assistance and aid do not work in Bolivia, they will not work in the rest of Latin America.
Andrade's statement summarized the importance of Bolivia as a foreign policy test case for the United States -- if U.S. diplomats could not promote a free-market economy and a stable democratic government that benefited middle- and lower-class Bolivians, norteamericano policy would be called into question throughout the Americas. However, U.S. officials maintained that Bolivia could become a showcase. Economic assistance provided a way for the United States to show that it supported democratic reform abroad, as well as a means by which Washington could demonstrate that even one of the poorest nations in the world would benefit from close, harmonious relations with the United States.12
The norteamericanos' lofty goals required economic development in the nonindustrialized South American nation. When the Kennedy administration established the Peace Corps in 1961. Bolivia, therefore, seemed a good laboratory for the intelligent, young, energetic Peace Corps workers, and over 100 volunteers were sent there in the first two years of the program. 13 This contingent was one of the largest in Latin America and offered a way for the United States to show its support for a noncommunist, pro-norteamericano, democratic country that many perceived as having a progressive leadership. Sending so many volunteers would thus signal to Latin America that the United States did not support only repressive dictators but had a sincere interest in the success of progressive democracies trying to implement social change. For a decade, both nations saw the benefits of a Corps presence in the Andean nation.14
Although the Peace Corps is now an accepted part of U.S. diplomacy, it was an experimental institution in the 1960s. For the first time, U.S. citizens, nonexperts in foreign relations, were thrust onto the stage of U.S. diplomacy.15 The Corps intended to tap the energy of well-educated young people to promote economic development in poorer areas of the world. For nearly all Corps volunteers, often idealistic youth in their twenties, it was the first time they had lived abroad -- and in cultures that contrasted sharply with the U.S. way of life. At the same time, for residents of the small, isolated villages in nonindustrialized nations in Asia , Africa , and Latin America , where volunteers were often stationed, Peace Corps volunteers were (perhaps with the exception of missionaries) the first norteamencanos they had ever met.
Congress set forth the goals of the Peace Corps in 1961. Above all, the Peace Corps was to help people of nonindustrialized countries to meet their nations' needs for trained manpower. The lawmakers also stipulated that the Peace Corps was to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. Finally, Congress hoped the members of the Peace Corps would, after their tours of duty, educate the U.S. citizenry on Third World affairs.16 President Carlos Lleras Restrepo of Colombia touted the Corps in high-flying rhetoric: The organi- zation would "awaken the civic spirit. . . orient the community in the realization of its own effort. . . overcome the problems of ignorance, sickness, and backwardness. . . introduce new aspirations and new ideals to the popular masses, all with the desire to start forming a more equal society, more identified with the same purposes of excelling."17
In the end, officials in the U.S. State Department -- indeed, throughout the executive branch as a whole-proved to be much more hard-headed when it came to setting up the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was to solidify relations between the United States and its traditionally close allies in the developing world -- such as the Philippines, the first nation that received Peace Corps volunteers. In addition, the development work of the Peace Corps would serve as an important tool in the worldwide fight against communism, promoting "Western economic influence," especially in rural areas.18 In Latin America, and particularly in Bolivia, the Peace Corps focused on health, agriculture, and community development in the countryside, and on education in both rural and urban areas.19
The Peace Corps harmonized well with existing U.S. programs for Latin America.20 The Alliance for Progress represented the largest distribution of economic assistance to the nonindustrialized world in history up to the 1960s; in that decade it totaled $20 billion dollars in U.S.-sponsored aid (an- other $10 billion was to come from the Latin American governments). But despite the efforts of both Latin American and norteamericano officials, by the end of the 1960s the Alliance for Progress was widely considered a failure.21 Nonetheless, at the decade's start, the U.S. government and its citizenry thought that economic aid could help the nonindustrialized world develop along Western, capitalistic lines and stem the spread of communism in the developing world.
The U.S. public thought the same about the Peace Corps. Yet the Peace Corps represented something else for many in the United States, particularly those who did not work in the U.S. government. Domestically during the early 1960s the Peace Corps fulfilled a need among many U.S. citizens to feel that at least one part of their foreign policy was helpful to the world. The Cold War forced many Americans to come to terms with aspects of the dark underside of U.S. diplomacy, most notably the threat to use nuclear weapons and the increasing reliance on covert and paramilitary operations in the developing world. Many in the United States wanted to feel good about their nation's relations with other countries, and the Peace Corps provided them such an opportunity. To many, the Peace Corps implemented the nation's best ideals and sent abroad some of its smartest people -- a great example of the world's wealthiest nation serving the world.22
But was the Peace Corps really for the benefit of the poor in the nonindustrialized world or mainly for the benefit of the volunteers and their sponsors, the U.S. government and citizenry? Was its primary purpose to soothe the nation's conscience? Important recent studies of the Peace Corps in the 1960s give different assessments. One study has maintained that top Peace Corps officials did not care whether the Corps developed the host nation's economy or not. Only U.S. interests mattered. 23 Other recent commentators have presented more positive views of the Peace Corps.24
In the case of Bolivia, available evidence shows that Peace Corps workers "on the ground" (both Peace Corps volunteers and Bolivian nationals working for the Peace Corps), thought that serving the interests of poor campesinos was important. Although U.S. volunteers received only a few months of training before being sent out into the field, for most a relative lack of understanding of the place of assignment proved to be no significant problem. 25 The volunteers learned a great deal in their stints overseas, and their host villages benefited from their work. As it did around the world, the Peace Corps undertook a wide range of activities in Bolivia : helping Bolivians tap their natural resources for economic use, improving health care, and stimulating community development.
The idea of community development proved difficult to define or to agree upon. A good definition of this concept comes from Richard Poston, the first head of the Peace Corps's community development program in Colombia :
"In community development. . . we are trying to reach in to the local community. . . to deal with the community as an entity in itself, or as a social unit. . . . We are trying to help the people fashion themselves into an organized civic body that will make it possible for them to do things for themselves and enable them to improve their life situation. . . We are trying to build into the community a set of social skills that will help the community acquire a greater ability to diagnose intelligently and discover its needs. . . [so] they will be able to identify and deal with problems -- human problems, social problems, physical problems."26
In the Peace Corps's early years, some of its top officials argued for the inclusion of community development as an integral part of the Peace Corps's overall agenda. R Sargent Shriver, the first director, and Frank Mankiewicz, country director of the Peace Corps in Peru from 1962 to 1964 and Latin American regional director from 1964 to 1966, both posited that community development should actually be revolutionary, empowering "the people" who lived in poor, rural regions. Other top officers, most notably Brent Ashabranner and Charles Peters, vehemently disagreed, rejecting the idea of volunteers' trying to teach self-government to poor Latin Americans or getting them to question the rigid social stratification of the region. These two camps clashed over how much direction local volunteers should be given in the area of community development. Mankiewicz thought the volunteers should have near-total leeway, while the opposing group wanted to impose more structure on their activities.27
Despite these disagreements, volunteers managed to implement many development projects: increasing agricultural production, improving health care, and teaching were examples. Even though the majority of the Peace Corps workers in the early years were inexperienced in the field of enhancing economic growth, Bolivian and U.S. officials, as well as volunteers themselves, all assessed the Peace Corps's activities as successful. The volunteers seemed by all accounts to have been doing a good job developing the Andean nation's vast natural and human resources and promoting public health. Poorer members of Bolivian society were, seemingly, benefiting from Peace Corps activities.28
Volunteers generally did not work in the mining sector, so their efforts proved beneficial in diversifying the Bolivian economy, a key goal of the MNR revolution. With their involvement in agriculture, Peace Corps volunteers helped implement one of the key goals of the revolution, agrarian reform.29 In turn, the volunteers appreciated the learning experience they received and believed their efforts had a significant effect on the Andean nation.30
One important reason for the Peace Corps's success in Bolivia was the relaxed yet productive working relationship between the Peace Corps and the Bolivian government. The Peace Corps closely consulted President Victor Paz Estenssoro regarding Bolivia's needs. The country director of the Peace Corps in Bolivia , Derek Singer, worked well with him in part because Estenssoro was familiar with U.S.-sponsored aid programs, most notably CARE, which operated in Bolivia in the 1950s with Estenssoro's support.31 Additionally, the Peace Corps worked extensively with Bolivia 's new National Community Development program, a project set up by the government to attack rural development problems by teaching campesinos technical skills.32
Overall, the good working relationship between volunteers and villagers reflected the generally harmonious U.S.-Bolivian relations in the 1950s and early 1960s. By the late 1960s, however, two important developments strained diplomatic relations and caused the Bolivian government to expel the Peace Corps. First, anti-U.S. sentiment swept over the nation, fueled in part by Bolivian opposition to U.S.-sponsored efforts to promote birth control in the nation. Second, and more specifically, a compelling, artistically innovative, and anti-U.S. movie struck a chord with the Bolivian left and, more generally, with Bolivian public opinion.
The causes of anti-U.S. feeling in Bolivia were multifaceted and complex. In 1967 Argentine leftist guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a close associate of Fidel Castro, was murdered by the Bolivian army and many Bolivians thought the army had done so under the direction of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Guevara's killing fueled anti-norteamericano sentiment amongst the Bolivian left -- to whom the Argentine represented the hope that the Cuban Revolution could be replicated in Bolivia.
In addition to the high-profile Guevara murder, another cause of anti-Yankee feeling in the South American nation was the lack of results from the much-heralded Alliance for Progress. U.S. actions in Vietnam and discrimination against African Americans in the United States also fueled resentment.33 But the most important factor behind increasingly virulent anti-U.S. sentiment in 1960s Bolivia was the controversy that erupted over the Peace Corps's program to provide birth control information and materials to Bolivians.
Few U.S. observers in the mid-1960s thought that birth control would be so controversial.34 In those years, fears of world overpopulation helped to forge in the United States a strong consensus among both Republicans and Democrats over the need to reduce the growth of world population through birth control.35 At the time, the Peace Corps perceived its birth control program to be nonaggressive, small, and voluntary -- a description that is accurate. Moreover, the Peace Corps's family planning activities were sanctioned by the Bolivian Ministry of Health, which worked out an agreement with the Peace Corps for the distribution of birth control materials.36 Peace Corps officials and vol- unteers simply failed to realize the explosive nature of the birth control issue; no one foresaw that it would ultimately contribute to the Corps's expulsion. Many Bolivians concluded that the Peace Corps meant to impose birth control distribution in the nation. But as the Peace Corps set up a number of clinics in the campo (countryside), these same clinics were staffed by Bolivian doctors.37
Bolivian attitudes toward contraception were the opposite of those widely held in the United States . Most Bolivians maintained that birth control was not needed, for the Andean country had a relatively small population of slightly more than 3 million and plenty of land and resources. In fact, some Bolivians argued that their country needed population growth; with more people, it could fill up its borderlands and protect against foreign encroachment.38 The Bolivian left took this argument a step further: It argued that limiting population growth was part of a U.S. conspiracy to reduce what little geopolitical power Bolivia had. Indeed, some on the Bolivian left charged that contraception was a form of genocide.39 Reinforcing anti- contraceptive attitudes was the fact that family planning had been brought into Bolivia by outsiders, for the most part North Americans and Europeans. Many Bolivians of Indian extraction continue to be wary of white foreigners, due to Bolivia 's geographic isolation and to traditionally racist attitudes on the part of whites and mestizos toward Indians.
Interestingly, the editors of El Diario , Bolivia 's oldest and most prominent newspaper, attempted to put the conflict over the use of family planning in historical perspective. In the mid to late 1960s, editorials in El Diario had a leftist slant. The editors argued that U.S. capitalists ("La plutocracia yanqui") were promoting developing world population control due to foreign business's own narrow, economic interests. If Bolivia's population remained stable or fell, the argument held, the Bolivian call to share the wealth generated by foreign investors would be relatively weaker.
A second aspect of El Diario’s position was its editors' support for the idea of birth control for all in Bolivia if the family chose it without coercion. This view ran counter to the widespread Bolivian opposition to contraception.40 The editors supported the idea of birth control; what they disliked was what they saw as outside coercion. They pointedly asserted that it was immoral for the Peace Corps -- and more generally the United States and even the World Bank -- to prod Bolivians to increase the use of contraception beyond what they would have used voluntarily.41
The Peace Corps in reality did little to reduce the size of Bolivia 's population, nor did it want to limit population growth in order to reduce the nation's power. To the contrary, the Peace Corps saw family planning as a means of giving women and families the option of having fewer children, freeing more resources for each individual child's economic welfare, and thereby offering those children hope for a brighter future.42 On this point, while the Peace Corps and the editors of El Diario agreed, the major- ity of Bolivians, most of them Catholic, did not.43 Nonetheless, the Peace Corps continued its program of distributing contraceptives.
For the Peace Corps, moral correctness superseded political expediency. This commitment to doing what it thought was morally Right -- typical of the Peace Corps -- blinded the Bolivian Corps to the political ramifications of their good intentions.44
In addition to many Bolivians' belief that population control was a danger to their country, two other considerations were at play. First, Bolivia 's high infant mortality rate, especially in the rural areas, meant that birth control could lead to a family's having few or no children. Since children are a peasant family's main form of wealth, campesinos logically feared anything that might reduce the number of their children. Second was the widely held societal/cultural value of machismo among men. Bolivian men feared that birth control would give women too much power over the process of reproduction. For many, machismo, virility, and power were measured in terms of the number of children a man fathered.45
Bolivia 's anticontraception sentiment coincided with rising anti-Yankee attitudes in the late 1960s. The consequences were profound. In 1969 the Bolivian government expropriated the holdings of Gulf Oil company. In the late 1960s and early 1970s student demonstrations against the United States reached a fever pitch. The offices of the Peace Corps were attacked, and the Centro Boliviano Americano had to be moved from its location near the Universidad Mayor de San Andres (a center of radicalism) to a more obscure side street. Allegations that Peace Corps volunteers (indeed, almost all North Americans in Bolivia) were CIA agents abounded.46
While such sentiments were important sources of strained Bolivia 's relations between the nations, the provocative 1969 film, Blood of the Condor (in the Quechua language, Yawar Mallku) provided the coup de grace. The film proved to be, first, a poignant dramatization of Bolivia's isolated Indians increasingly caught up in an urbanizing, modernizing Latin America , and second, a powerful anti-imperialist statement.47 The movie tells the story of an Indian family's need to move to the city to find work and the difficulties of city life for Indians who did not understand Spanish and were unfamiliar with urban culture.
Blood of the Condor expressed an indigenous nationalism, arguing that Indians needed to separate themselves from U.S.-dominated mestizo society and reconnect with their indigenous roots. If violence were necessary to accomplish this goal, so be it.48 In director Jorge Sanjines's words, the movie's two goals were "to denounce the gringos and to depict one aspect of Bolivia's social reality" -- that is, to expose the reality of life for the Indians.49 The film portrayed Peace Corps volunteers in the campo as arrogant, ethnocentric, and narrow-minded imperialists out to destroy Indian culture. One particularly powerful scene showed Indians attacking a clinic while the volunteers inside sterilized Indian women against their will. Later, in a move that typified the deep-seated Andean Indian tradition of reciprocity, the Indians in the movie responded by forcibly sterilizing some of the female volunteers.
The movie was immensely popular in Bolivia and gained a following around the world as well, especially on university campuses. In Bolivia itself, the movie tapped into a traditional fear of foreign influence. In La Paz , the nation's capital, the movie's popularity increased when the city government, in the first censorship of a film since the 1952 revolution, inexplicably quashed its showing. The only statement made by the mayor's office was that, "Because of instructions from higher-up [instrucciones superiores], the release of Yawar Mallku has been delayed."50
Although the film dramatized the plight of Bolivia 's indigenous people, Indians in the campo had a hard time understanding its meaning. In the movie, an Indian family is used to represent the plight of all indigenous peoples in Bolivia . Many Bolivian Indians, however, in contrast to individualistically oriented mestizos, Europeans, and North Americans, saw themselves as part of a specific community, first and foremost. Indians' strong community orientation prevented many from comprehending the artistic vehicle of one family representing the whole, a technique used so powerfully in the film.51
As to sterilization, director Sanjines claimed that a friend of his, now deceased, had witnessed Peace Corps volunteers sterilizing women in a clinic near Lake Titicaca in northwestern Bolivia.52 However, Sanjines also stated that he was not interested in sterilization, per se. For him, as an artist, the issue served as a metaphor to make a broader point. The scene on sterilization was used to dramatize how U.S. influence, through the Peace Corps as well as the Alliance for Progress, reached the most remote places in Latin America.53 Metaphorically, Sanjines held, North American hegemonic power had sterilized the mestizo culture, cutting it off from its Indian roots.54
Yet for many Bolivians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially left-wing Bolivians, the sterilization issue was anything but a metaphor.55 To the contrary, it posed an immediate crisis that needed to be resolved by ending the supposed sterilization program. If that meant the Peace Corps volunteers had to leave, so be it. There is no documentary evidence, and the Peace Corps has denied, that the volunteers ever sterilized anyone.56 Nonetheless, after Blood of the Condor's release, few Bolivians were inclined to listen to the Peace Corps's statements on the policy of contraception.
Stimulated by Blood of the Condor, anti-United States sentiment grew dramatically, and the Juan Jose Torres government felt compelled to expel the Peace Corps.57 Torres, a top military leader who came to power in a 1970 coup, was not virulently anti-norteamencano. Nor was he anti-Peace Corps; in fact, he had worked closely with Peace Corps volunteers in El Alto, a suburb of La Paz , in the 1960s. Even so, in May 1971 the Bolivian government announced that the Peace Corps was no longer welcome in Bolivia.58 The government's announcement gave a vague reason for the expulsion, stating that "deep structural changes" were necessary in Bolivia 's relationship with the outside world, most notably the United States . The Torres administration used arguments typical of the left in the 1960s and 1970s-that foreign economic activity resulted only in dependency of the host nation and would never provide for economic development. Only by dismissing the Peace Corps could Bolivians achieve their goals of "national liberation and popular participation" or implement their conception of "national development."59
Although the Bolivian left pressured the Bolivian government to force out the Peace Corps, the government may also have been quietly happy to see the volunteers leave. One Bolivian official who served as ambassador to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s thought that some members of the Torres government feared the Peace Corps. Peace Corps volunteers were intelligent and ambitious, and they had effectively promoted reforms through community development. The Bolivian government feared that the volunteers might empower newly confident Indians and lead them to question their subordinate position in Bolivian society.60
This line of argument is supported by the fact that, as the Peace Corps became more effective at promoting rural development and public health, anti-Peace Corps sentiment in Bolivia rose. According to the country director from 1967 to 1971, Gerald "Gino" Baumann, in the late 1960s Peace Corps volunteers included a number of idealistic rebels -- student radicals who often lacked practical skills and were not effective in the field. But by 1971, with a pared-down group of volunteers and fewer radicals, the Peace Corps was a more effective force.61
In the final analysis, the expulsion was a concession to the strength of the Bolivian left. A day before Torres issued the fateful order, El Diario reported that two leftist groups, the Central Obrero Boliviano (COB) and the Comite Universitario Boliviano -- the nation's largest union and a large organization of academics and students, respectively -- called for the Peace Corps to be thrown out.62 Even though Torres forced the Peace Corps to leave, the head of state did not burn all his bridges with the United States . Throwing out the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the U.S. military (as some prominent Bolivian leftists demanded) would have proven too costly to the Bolivian economy and too damaging to U.S.-Bolivian relations. The expulsion of the Peace Corps, however, was sufficient to satisfy the anti-United States left. Some characterized it as a national victory, a conquista nacional. At the same time, the volunteers' adios did not excessively damage Bolivian-U.S. relations. 63 In that sense, the Peace Corps was a sacrificial llama. 64
Although the Bolivian left saw the dismissal of the Peace Corps as a necessary move to allow Bolivia to develop to its full potential economically, not all commentators agreed with the Torres government's anti-Peace Corps policy. Writer, journalist, and historian Mariano Baptista Gumucio Pointed out that the Peace Corps was invited in to help smaller, isolated, rural communities improve the well-being of the poor in the nation. The Peace Corps, he argued, was succeeding in these goals. He also claimed that urban Marxists were anti-Peace Corps because these radicals feared the Corps's activities would promote capitalism and petty, bourgeois attitudes among the poorer campesinos and cause the Indians to discard their long-standing traditions and ideas in exchange for the foreign, Western-style way of United States.65 In fact, in the countryside many campesinos did not want the volunteers to leave. After all, the norteamericano idealists were working with the villagers on long-term projects that would be abruptly terminated. In one instance, a volunteer who had worked planting trees in a small town proved to be so well-liked that the townspeople put up a roadblock to prevent him from abandoning the village.66
The expulsion of the Peace Corps proved to be a surreal and terrifying experience for some of the volunteers. After the announcement, they were given less than three weeks to exit the country. Anti-U.S. Bolivians took advantage of the volunteers' vulnerability, stealing some of their personal possessions. Demonstrators attacked some of the vehicles carrying departing volunteers on their way to the airport.67
The volunteers were given the option of returning to the United States or transferring to Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, or Costa Rica. The reassignment to the first three countries was guided by geography -- volunteers who had been posted in the Andean mountain regions of Bolivia had developed appropriate skills (for example, sheepherding, campo agricultural projects, and rural electrification) were sent to Peru and Ecuador. Those who had worked in the Bolivian lowlands were offered assignments in neighboring Paraguay.68 Costa Rica became an option when President Jose Figueres gave the volunteers an open invitation to work in his country.69
In the years since the Peace Corps was expelled, Bolivia and the United States again grew close.70 But although the diplomatic difficulties were repaired, this historical episode illustrates the fear many in the nonindustrialized world have of U.S. power and demonstrates how the left can galvanize that fear. While perhaps extreme in the case of the Peace Corps, this fear is very real. Moreover, the events detailed in this article show how a compelling visual presentation can sway opinion and create strong attitudes and beliefs -- especially in a culture where many people are illiterate and oral communication is so important. Finally, we learn that when people from one value system ignore deeply held customs of people of a different culture, relations between nations can turn sour very quickly.
I would like to thank the many people in La Paz , Bolivia , and Washington, D.C., who allowed me to interview them, and Barb Bergman, Arnoldo De Leon, Daniel Castro, Jerome Crowder, Walter LaFeber, Jane Mangen, and Stephen Streeter for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. I would also like to thank Albert (Ace) Freeman for help with word processing and Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman and Jonathan Zimmerman for their help when I first conceptualized the article. In addition, former Peace Corps country directors for Bolivia , Derek Singer and Gerold "Gino" Baumann, proved extremely helpful, even sharing parts of their personal archives.
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