Enrique Peñaranda

Enrique Peñaranda

Enrique Peñaranda del Castillo (born in La Paz, Bolivia, on November 15, 1892; died in Madrid, Spain, on December 22, 1969) was a Bolivian general who served as commander of his country's forces during the second half of the Chaco War (1932-1935). He was later elected President of Bolivia in 1940, serving in that capacity until being overthrown in 1943.

Peñaranda's performance in the Chaco War is debatable and controversial. Hailed as a hero for breaking the deadly Paraguayan siege in the Battle of Campo Via (a claim probably exaggerated by the government of Daniel Salamanca to distract attention from the devastating Bolivian loss in that battle), he took over as Bolivia's top general upon the December, 1933 demotion of the German general Hans Kundt. As Commander of the Army, Peñaranda continuoulsy clashed with the elderly and demanding Constitutional President Daniel Salamanca (1931-34), who understandably was not very happy with the military's performance in the war. Further disagreements ensued over the issue of appointments and promotions, Peñaranda believing that this was a purely internal military matter and the President insisting that it was part of his mandate as Commander in Chief. In November 1934, Salamanca decided to replace Peñaranda with a new military commander, sparking a coup d'etat led by General Peñaranda, Colonel David Toro, and Major Germán Busch, all future presidents of Bolivia. Because the country was still at war, the military agreed to acquiesce to the swearing-in of Vice-President José Luis Tejada.

After the war, Peñaranda's star seemed to dim a bit, as his younger and more left-leaning fellow officers took over the government under Toro and Busch (1936-39) in the so-called Military-Socialist experiment. Interestingly, Peñaranda's experience dealing with Republican Party civilian politicians during his tenure as Commander of the Army seems to have made him more amenable to compromise with the old-style parties than the younger, more impetuous officers like Busch. Following Busch's suicide in 1939, conservative forces re-asserted themselves and, fearful of the growing power of new reformist parties committed to dismantle the existing order, decided to unite under one candidate in a pact called the Concordancia. The Concordancia proclaimed General Peñaranda (a war hero, after all) as its candidate, and he was elected at the polls.

The Peñaranda government wad difficult and marred by repression. The President did not enjoy the benefit of a congressional majority, and was mistrusted by many in his own coalition, not to mention the gathering forces of the reformist left. Economic conditions continued to deteriorate, prompting a number of crippling strikes that, in turn, led to the proclamation of extra-constitutional means to restore order. A massacre of discontented miners at Catavi in 1942 further tarnished the Peñaranda administration. On the international front, the general drew close to the American position in World War II, accepting military missions and aid in exchange for unconditional support for the Allied effort. But the spiraling domestic situation proved difficult to control, despite the government's popularity with Washington, and Peñaranda was overthrown in 1943 by a coup led by reformist, younger military officers under Major Gualberto Villarroel. It was, in essence, a movement of the pendulum back to the status quo of Toro and Busch, and a setback to conservative forces.

Enrique Peñaranda at that point headed for a long life in exile and never participated in Bolivian politics again. He died in Madrid, Spain, on December 22, 1969.


*Querejazu Calvo, Roberto. "Masamaclay."
*Farcau, Bruce W. "The Chaco War: Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935."
*Mesa José de; Gisbert, Teresa; and Carlos D. Mesa, "Historia De Bolivia," 5th edition., pp. 551-573.

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