One week after installing himself in the presidency through a military coup, Army Gen. Luis Garcia Meza traveled 300 miles north of the Capital today to express his "gratitude on behalf of my institution" to the people of a town called Trinidad, where the military uprising began a week ago.
Accompanied by the other two members of a newly installed armed forces junta, the commanders of the Air Forces and Navy, Meza told citizens of Trinidad they had begun a process of "nationalism in Bolivia" that would reject "foreign doctrines and theories that do not coincide with the interest and welfare of the Bolivian people."
While many Bolivians are quick to reject any gratitude Garcia Meza may feel and to deny support for the coup, the fact that Garcia Meza's junta feels secure enough to leave the capital is strong evidence that the armed forces now control the country.
There is still some resistance. An gry workers outside the iron gates of Bolivia's largest textile factory declared today that "our strike is indefinite. We will never go back to work for this fascist government."
But most of the resistance, including a nationwide strike called by political opposition and union leaders following the coup last Thursday, has been broken by the Army's repression.
While the death toll in La Paz apparently is limited, there is little reliable news on the fate of opponents in the countryside. Here in La Paz most labor, religious or political leaders have been imprisoned or exiled. Deposed civilian president Lidia Gueiler Tejada has taken asylum in the residence of the Vatican's representative.
Leftist ex-president Hernan Siles Zuazo is in hiding. His victory in the recent first-round popular elections for a democratic presidency provoked the military coup. He has issued a communique calling on "democratic nations of the world to help the Bolivian people in their fight for democracy."
[In Washington, the Organization of American States met to consider a resoulution deploring the coup and expressing "deepest concern with the loss of life and serious violations of human rights as a direct consequence." It called for an on-scene investigation of rights violations].
[Venezueula, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, members with Bolivia of the Andean Pact, introduced the resolution and said they had the votes to pass it. The U.S. delegate spoke in firm support of condemning the takeover].
Much of the repression has been directed at the Roman Catholic Church. The offices of the Jesuit radio station were destroyed on the day of the takeover by heavily armed individuals in civilian clothes who arrived in ambulances. They beat up the director and a reporter and fired their automatic weapons at the telex machine and smashed typewriters, telephones and all broadcasting equipment because, they said, the station was broadcasting "subversive information about human rights."
The offices of church-owned La Presencia, Bolivia's main newspaper, were occupied until a few days ago. Several of the paper's reporters among the 25 journalists seized initially are still being detained.
The Rev. Patrick Hudson, who describes the current government as "extreme right-wing, fascist," said tanks "did fancy little circles in front of our parish house, to frighten us." The next day, armed Air forces officers searched Hudson's parish house in Alto Lima, a dusty adobe village 14,000 feet up in the Andes.
"They forced their way into the house, then searched every room, even reading our personal letters," said the Franciscan priest from Ireland. He has been in Bolivia for six years.
Four Jesuit and three Salesian priests have been detained. The government refuses to provide any information about their condition.
In a public statement, Archbishop of La Paz Jorge Manrique deplored the military takeover and "the scandalous use of ambulances to carry out the repression." While the government-controlled newspaper carried a banner headline, "Government Guarantees Press Freedom," several reporters were forced into hiding. Two Brazilian reporters left Bolivia after an official said, "We cannot guarantee your safety except from here to your hotel." The Brazilian ambassador accompanied them to the airport.
A Newsweek photographer, Olivier Rebbot, a Frenchman, was arrested yesterday coming through customs. "He had Nicaraguan and Cuban visas in his passport," said officials, who assumed he will be deported on the next plane.
All foreigners have been ordered to register here, because "extremists have entered our country," in the words of the minister in charge of internal security.
But Bolivia has been one of the few Latin American countries spared leftwing violence. Bankers, politicians and international executives walk the streets without fear of being kidnaped.
"There probably isn't a communist guerrilla in the entire country," a U.S. military adviser here said recently.
What violence Boliva has experienced has come mostly from the right -- bombs planted during the election campaign and now the military takeover.
"Suppressing the people and gaining military control is easy," said one businessman. "Now they have to find some money to run the country."
Bolivia's two major financial backers, the United States and Venezuela, have terminated all economic assistance, money desperately needed in this poorest of South American countries. It has a $3.1 billion foreign debt, and is dependent on tin exports -- and hence miners.
Asked where the military government was going to get the money, a colonel replied confidently, "from Argentina and Brazil for sure, and maybe Saudi Arabia."
So far, no country has recognized the military government and many have strongly condemned the coup.