THE CHANGE of government yesterday in Bolivia is best described as an anti-coup. The rapacious military regime having stripped the government of every asset that it could get its hands on, it has now allowed an elected president, Hernan Siles Zuazo, to take office. It remains to be seen how much actual power the generals will allow him. The Bolivian military has been deeply involved in the international traffic in cocaine, and it does not appear that the people engaged in that highly profitable line of business intend to get out of it voluntarily.

The previous regime having driven the country to the point of insolvency, the elected civilians are now left to deal with the debts and the mess. Mr. Siles Zuazo, who has been in exile, returned home on a great wave of popularity. But popularity usually fades quickly as austerity programs take hold.

Americans have often seen Bolivia as a test of Latin American democracy and strategies for national development. But once again, democracy gets its chance only after the generals and colonels have bankrupted the country, in the moral sense as well as every other. Nor is the ambiance promising. Most of Bolivia's neighbors are under military rule, and Argentina in particular has a record of meddling in Bolivia's affairs.

The United States owes the new Bolivian administration its encouragement and, through the International Monetary Fund, a measure of material aid. If there is to be any degree of hope for democratic government in Bolivia, it is going to have to come from sources beyond South America.