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Rebels Slay President, Seize Power in Bolivia

Villarroel's Body Strung From Post Like Duce's

By United Press
The Washington Post
July 22, 1946

La Paz, Bolivia, July 21 -- President Gualberto Villarroel was killed today and his body hung from a lamp post in a public square as a revolutionary regime swept into power in a bloody climax to a week-long revolt by students and workers.

Villarroel was wounded badly in a bitter battle when the rebels stormed the presidential palace. His body was one of the first found when the students and workers swarmed into the palace.

The young revolutionaries seized Villarroel, who was still alive, and hurled him from a balcony. He fell to the street at the feet of other rebels, dying from his wounds and the fall. The revolutionists then hung the body from a lamp post in the plaza facing the palace.

Total of 130 Killed

The first conservative estimate of casualties by rebel leaders placed the number of dead on both sides at 130 and those wounded at 200.

Tonight the rebels announced the formation of a provisional government headed by Nestor Guillen, dean of the Supreme Court for the La Paz district. Other members, to be announced later, would be a representative each of the University of La Paz students, the faculty and the Federation of Labor Syndicates.

The new government also announced that it will call general elections for Bolivia, which had lived under a virtual dictatorship by Villarroel.

Although the rebels appeared strongly entrenched tonight, they were taking no chances against a counter-revolt. This capital still resembles a fortress with stern-faced, strongly-armed rebels patrolling the streets.

Political Prisoners Freed

The rebels liberated all political prisoners when they stormed the public hail and killed Villarroel's chief of transport, Maj. Max Toledo.

The climactic phase of the revolt began this morning when thousands of people began to swarm into the streets. Some of them were armed. Others acquired guns when they captured arsenals at the City Hall and at the municipal transport headquarters.

Fighting broke out in various parts of the city. The biggest battle was the one at the presidential palace, where Villarroel and a handful of his followers defended the building until they were borne under by the sheer weight of numbers and fire power.

Villarroel's dictatorship and death strongly resembled those of Benito Mussolini. Like Il Duce, his body was hung in a fanatic frenzy of revenge by his attackers.

Even as Villarroel was killed, an airplane with its motors running waited at the airport to fly him to Chile. But the street barricades set up by revolting students and workers cut off his escape.

A still unknown number of the President's followers were killed or wounded with him in the palace battle. Villarroel's military aide, Capt. Waco Ballvain, his paymaster, Soria, and a palace secretary, Louis Uria, all were killed.

When the rebels stormed toward the palace, Colonel Chavez, Minister of Education, tried frantically by shortwave radio to call enough automobiles for an attempt to crash through the barricades to the airport.

But the cars did not arrive, and the rebels, armed with guns and grenades, opened their attack. Villarroel and his aides fought back furiously, but they were outnumbered and outgunned. Finally the shooting from the palace was stilled, and the revolutionaries stormed into the building.

All Killed or Wounded

Everybody inside was either wounded or killed.

Villarroel had planned to fly to Arica, Chile.

Street fighting broke out at 10 a.m. today. The rebels seized an arsenal in the city hall. As the fighting continued and spread, police and some army troops joined the students.

A secret radio went on the air and broadcast instructions to the rebels.

At midday, Villarroel announced he had resigned and turned over the government to Gen. Damaso Arenas, commander in chief of the army. But fighting continued into the afternoon.

Villarroel ironically lost power the same way he himself had taken over in December, 1943, when he led a military coup which ousted President Enrique Penaranda.

Deserted by Army

Authoritative sources indicated that the army deserted Villarroel at the last minute.

Earlier unconfirmed reports said the President's family had fled to Buenos Aires for safety after the rioting became serious.

Students from the University of La Paz were considered the real heroes of the revolution. Their revolt actually began on July 9 when they joined their teachers in a strike. The students held mass meetings and demonstrations throughout the city.

Army troops fired on a crowd of students in the Plaza Murillo, and a short but bitter battle followed three students were killed.

Last Thursday and Friday the students went into the streets again to demonstrate. This time they had the backing of the workers' federation which called a general strike.

Forced to Surrender

The students fought with rifles and pistols against the superior equipment of the government troops. Early Friday the students were forced to surrender the university building, but they continued their fight until today's climatic battle.

Opposition to Villarroel centered mainly in the liberal newspapers La Razon, Ultima, Hora, La Noche and El Diario, and in the strong leftist revolutionary party (PIR). The PIR was the backbone of the so-called antifascist democratic front which was formed early this year to combat the government's Nationalist Revolutionary Movement group.

The last serious attempt to unseat Villarroel was the attempted coup d'etat on June 13, which failed after skirmishes in which several were killed and wounded.

Villarroel then arrested the editors of opposition newspapers and expropriated La Razon and Ultima Hora, the first time a Bolivian government had ever confiscated a newspaper's title and copyright. The newspapers were later restored to their owners, but censorship was maintained.

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