It often seemed last week as if foreign news agencies and governments, especially the United States, were far more interested in what was going on in Bolivia than were most Bolivians.
A military coup that brought to power Juan Pereda Asbun as Bolivia's new president did not produce surprise among Bolivians. This is a country where coups are not unusual - there have been more than 180 in the country's 153-year history.
The difference this time was all the international attention focused on the July 9 presidential election that was called to return a civilian government to Bolivia after 12 years of military rule.
"You could say the thing that has changed is not Bolivia, but the outside world," said a leading politician. "For the first time, we had a coup during the age of human rights."
While the news agencies were chronicling the confusing political events that led to Pereda's coup and embassies were sending reports and policy recommendations back to their capitals, Bolivians, while not indifferent to the situation, appeared to be taking it mostly in stride.
Early last week, everyone assured everyone else that things were serious and that the new government could not last very long. But the country's oppositions unions and political parties were unable to organize the strikes of popular uprisings that they had promised if Pereda assumed power.
Tension began to build in Bolivia after the election was annulled by the national election board amid charges of widespread fraud on candidate Pereda's behalf. The July 21 coup began when air force units decided that Pereda really had won the election and should be president.
By the end of the week, whatever tension and uncertainty that existed had dissipated. The new government seemed to have won a measure of support from most of its opponents and seemed to be making the right political and economic moves to head off trouble in the near future.
La Paz, located at 12,000 feet in the Andes at the bottom of a giant crater, seemed even more remote, desolate, quiet and surreal than ever. It did not look or feel like a city in crisis.
There were no more policemen on the streets than usual and Pereda adroitly defused a potentially serious problem last week when he ordered about 100 human rights workers and union activitiest who had been arrested in the days following the coup to be released.
Only in lawyers' offices and political party headquarters and in embassies were the latest political events being discussed and analyzed.
The consensus was that Pereda's government is weak, seeking popular support and undivided military backing, despite the coup. This was seen as favoring the opposition political parties that went against Pereda in the election. Most of them believe that the new president will be open to their suggestions and will make no move to clamp down on either political or union activity as long as they do not seek a direct confrontation with new government.
Significantly, Hernan Siles Zuazo, who led a Communist-backed leftist coalition in the elections, failed last week to persuade Bolivia's two other major political parties, led by Rene Bernal and Victor Paz Estenssoro, to join in organizing strikes designed to bring down the Pereda government.
The parties of Bernal and Paz decided that they are better off with time to reorganize before new elections, which Pereda has said he will probably call in 1980. Otherwise they fear they would risk a confrontation which they believe would lead to a harsh, rightist military dictatorship.
Before new elections are held, Pereda has said he will appoint a high-level commission to rewrite the country's antiquated election law. Many observers believe it contributed to the problems that arose during and after the July 9 election.
Pereda also has said that another election would be impossible next year, when Bolivia will amount a major effort to obtain a Pacific coast port from Chile. Bolivia lost its outlet to the sea to Chile in the War of the Pacific 100 years ago and became a landlocked nation.
Not even a return to democracy is as important to the most Bolivians as avenging this national dishonor. Pereda said that elections next year would contribute to national disunity at a time when the whole nation's attention should be focused on redressing its grievance with Chile. The Bernal and Paz forces agree with Pereda on this point.
In the next 18 months, Pereda also must face serious economic problems that loom for Bolivia. There will be pressure for substantial wage increases for public employes, such as the country's miners. Government-owned corporations account for about 70 percent of Bolivia's business activity.
Inflation is already running at an annual rate of more than 20 percent, while Bolivia's production of tin and petroleum, its two major exports, is decreasing. Bolivia also has substantial international debts, which are coming due in larger amounts each year.
The Carter administration is now considering a reduction in aid to Bolivia if Pereda does not commit himself to a definite date for new elections or fails to honor the political and human rights of his opponents. In all, the United States had scheduled more than $70 million in economic and military assistance to Bolivia during the current fiscal year.
Two of Pereda's closest aides said last week, however, that while U.S. aid is important, the threatened cut-off will not force the new president to move toward elections more quickly than he thinks prudent.
Pereda's new foreign minister, Ricardo Anaya, said he is hopeful that "the clear mind of the State Department" will recognize that cutting of aid is not the way to solve Bolivia's political problems.
"Letting us out of poverty will allow us to diminish the factors of discontent and to then enjoy human rights in all its aspects," Anaya said. "We trust that the United States will use no method, open or hidden, to force any type of pressure on our country. The government of President Pereda will do everything possible to improve human rights, not only in Bolivia, but in the whole world.