The Bolivian Army colonel who seized power a week ago announced tonight that he would immediately reinstate the elected congress, free all political prisoners, end press censorship and respect union and political rights in an effort to end the violent crisis that began with the coup.
Shortly after the speech by President Alberto Natusch Busch, labor leader Juan Lechin called an end to the general strike that has paralyzed Bolivia. The strike was a protest against the coup.
The strike also closed the LaPaz airport to regularly scheduled flights, and today the United States sent two C130 transport planes from the Panama Canal Zone to evacuate American travelers stranded here.
The two Air Force planes picked up 102 Americans and about 25 persons of other nationalities and flew them to Lima, Peru, where they made commercial flight connections.
Tonight's twin announcement by Natusch and Lechin were part of eleborate, behind-the-scenes dealings under way here since Monday when the military government began negotiations with the country's unions and political parties. Army troops earlier had fired indiscriminately into crowds of anti-Natusch demonstrators here.
The announcements seemed to bring an end to the most dangerous and uncontrollable aspects of the week-long crisis, which many observers here thought might lead to war between the armed forces and the civilian population. t
The fate of another part of the negotiated settlement was unclear. That involved a three-member junta composed of Natusch; the president of the congress, Lidia Geiler, and a representative of the labor condederation.
Lechin indicated in his announcement that his Bolivian Workers' Central had no intention of joining the junta.
The junta was to serve as the executive branch of government until new presidential elections in May.
Tonight, Natusch invited Geiler to join him in governing the county. But he said nothing about a representative of the labor confederation, apparently because he already knew that Lechin had rejected the idea.
Several members of the Congress said earlier that the proposal could not work without the labor participation -- highly organized workers dominate mining of tin -- Bolivia's main export.
But there were indications tonight that the Congress might accept a two-member executive when it meets Thursday.
"The signs are now positive," said Sen. Jose Luis Roca, a Christian Democrat who is an influential member of the National Revolutionary Movement Alliance, the most powerful political coalition in the fragmented congress.
Asked if the proposal was constitutional, Roca said that in Bolivia's unstable and almost byzantine political history "there are many things that aren't strictly constitutional. But we must be practical."
Even before Lechin's announcement calling off the general strike, La Paz began to return to normal. Most shops were open today as were several banks, easing the serious shortages of consumer goods and cash.
But food was still in short supply and prices for what was available had tripled because transportation into La Paz from rural areas was still largely nonexistent.
Most of those evacuated this morning had spent the night in this city's El Alto airport, located on a plateau 13,000 feet high in the Andes mountain range. The airport, which reopened today to scheduled service, had been closed since last week, except for special evacuation flights.
There were no moves to evacuate U.S. Embassy personnel or American residents here. While about 70 Bolivians have died in clashes since the coup, there have been no known casualties among foreigners.
The group of foreigners had been taken to the airport in a convoy of buses and jeeps escorted by Bolivian Army tanks because of continuing armed resistance near El Alto to the government headed by Natusch.
Last Thursday, Natusch overthrew Walter Guevara Arze, Bolvia's first civilian president in more than a decade.
As the temperature at the unheated airport dropped below freezing last night, the evacuees huddled in blankets and tried to sleep on the ceremonial red carpet, which was unrolled for their comfort after U.S. Embassy personnel bribed airport custodians.
During the night, snipers near the airport fired on troops stationed along its perimeter. A blackout, caused by saboteurs who blew up a power pylon, left both the airport and La Paz, a city of 700,000, without electricity for 4 1/2 hours.
"We were very frightened because in Switzerland you don't have this kind of thing," said Hanne Brogens, 28, of Zurich, one of those evacuated with the Americans. "The Bolivians were laughing and we were crying."
William Delp, 31, of Sandpoint, Idaho, a private contractor working on a rural electrification project in southern Bolivia when the coup occurred, said it took him five days to reach La Paz.
"Nobody knows what is going to happen next," Delp said, explaining his decision to walk, hitchhike, take buses and planes, when possible, to reach La Paz.