Bolivia's most recently overthrown civilian president said Friday that he is pessimistic about the chances for democratic elections scheduled there next summer.
Walter Guevara Arze, who held the executive office for 13 weeks before being ousted by the Bolivian military Nov. 1, told reporters at his country's embassy here that, despite the installation of a compromise civilian government in his place, the armed forces hierarchy and the antidemocratic attitudes that fostered the November coup still exist.
Currently traveling the United States at the invitation of several academic institutions, Guevara was the president of the first democratically elected government in Bolivia in more than a decade. There have been more than 200 changes of government in Bolivia's 154 years of independence, including three military coups and six presidents in the last 17 months.
But despite Guevara's abbreviated presidential term, the traditional musical-chairs aspect of Bolivian politics at least temporarily has assured his political survival, Guevara, who spent nine of the past 10 years in exile, now serves as president of the Bolivian congress.
"Unfortunately, in Bolivia one never knows one's political future," Guevara said. "Next year, I may be a senator, or I may be in exile or in jail." Another coup, he said with a shrug and a slight smile, "could happen any day."
The Army colonel who overthrew Guevara lasted 16 days in office, during which crowds rampaged through the streets and more than 200 people were killed. Diplomatic pressure from the United States as well as from some of Bolivia's Latin American neighbors also helped bring about a return to civilian government.
Guevara had been appointed by the congress as a compromise when none of the three major candidates won a majority in elections last July. At least part of the military was unhappy enough with the choice to stage a coup last month and, when congress and the armed forces forged another compromise, Guevara was left out of the running.
Former congresswoman Lidia Gueiler was chosen to replace him until another election next summer. But in what Guevara interpreted as a bit of military sarcasm indicative of her future, Gueiler was made to ride through a recent parade atop a tank.
Guevara said he believes the civilian government of Bolivia, which is South America's poorest country, exists only "by the permission" of the military. The popular reaction against his overthrow, he said, reflects the "intense desire" of the Bolivian people for "something new." But whether they will get it, he said, "nobody knows."