Bolivia's new military rulers, who seized power two weeks ago, are conducting a massive crackdown on political opponents including an attempt to starve into submission thousands of tin miners and their families resisting the takerover.
Widespread arrests, torture and other means of pressure are reported underway as the Bolivian junta appears to be using methods similar to those employed by the Chilean military regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in the months following the 1973 coup there.
Military spokesmen are saying that "communist elements" were inciting resistance, especially among the tin miners in mountainous area south of La Paz.
The new Bolivian strongman, Gen. Luis Garcia Meza, has said that he ousted civilian president Lidia Gueiler to prevent a leftist takeover and that the armed forces would remain in power until the "Marxist cancer" is fully removed -- be it 5, 10 or 20 years."
In his first formal meeting with reporters since being named head of the three-man junta that seized power July 17, Garcia Meza criticized the Organization of American States for condemning the coup.
"We accept no impositions on our sovereignty, and we insist that the [Organization of American States] respect the principle of self-determination," he said. Garcia Meza refused to answer questions.
Diplomatic sources in La Paz said up to 1,000 persons had been arrested. Interior Minister Luis Arce Gomez, however, said it was too early to give figures "because arrests are still going on."
Only one country, Argentina, has extended diplomatic recognition to the new regime. The Catholic Church and liberal political groups led by former Union Democratic Popular presidential contender Hernan Siles Suazo have announced their opposition to the new regime.
With martial law and curfew in effect, the government has imposed news censorship. There were unconfirmed reports of major clashes between Army troops and miners. Air Force planes bombed into silence a clandestine radio station at Huanuni mine, near Potosi, last week following clashes there, these reports, said.
In effort to break the resistance of miners, Army troops have sealed off the mining area, especially Huanni, Siglo and Catavi, to prevent food shipments. Minors are demanding the release of detained union leaders. They also demanded the appearance of Juan Lechin, head of the labor federation, who was taken prisoner in the coup. Lechin's colleague. Marcelo Quiroga de Santa Cruz, was said to have been killed at that time.
In spite of the hard-handed tactics, the government has not been able to consolidate its grip on the country. A visit by Garcia Meza Sunday to Cochabamba went unannounced, and there were no public ceremonies or appearances of the new chief executive. Observers here see this as part of the military's efforts not to incite the population.
Foreign companies, meanwhile, are waiting to see how the regime's "nationalist and anti-imperialist" economic plans are defined.
Some foreign investors are clearly concerned. "My company is very worried about this new military man," says Maritza Villaroel, an accountant at the Texas-based Tesoro Corp., active in oil exploration in Bolivia's Tarija region south of here. "It looks like he is against foreign investment."
Aside from the country's politically active groups, the clergy appears to be hard hit by the new repression in Bolivia. Priests and nuns throughout the country have had their houses and church centers searched and ransacked by paramilitary troops searchings for opposition and labor leaders.
Some members of the clergy have been forced to go into hiding themselves. "Anyone who works with peasants is on the blacklist," a nun in Cochabamba commented. "Things are very tense for us."
The archibishop of La Paz and the Episcopal Conference of Bishop of Bolivia have reflected this state of affairs in their condemnation of the military's human rights abuses and called upon the government to release its many prisoners.