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Gualberto Villarroel

Gualberto Villarroel Lopez was the head of state of Bolivia from December 20, 1943 to July 21, 1946. A reformist, he is nonetheless remembered for his alleged fascist sympathies, and is sometimes compared with Argentina's Juan Domingo Peron. Above all, he is remembered for his violent demise, which occurred on the day when he was overthrown.

Villarroel was born in Villa Rivero, Cochabamba, on December 15, 1908. He participated in the Chaco War (1932-35) against Paraguay. In the aftermath of Bolivia's disastrous defeat in that conflict, he became convinced that Bolivia needed profound structural changes and supported the progressive Military-Socialist dictatorships of David Toro Ruilova and German Busch (1936-39). Following Colonel Busch's suicide in August 1939, conservative forces reasserted themselves, took power, and propitiated the 1940 elections in which the tradiational (oligarchic) parties linked to the country's big mining interests (known as "La Rosca") triumphed at the polls with General Enrique Penaranda. Villarroel was part of the younger, more idealistic military officer corps that had supperted Toro and Busch.

In December 1943, a coup d'etat crystallized against President Penaranda, and Major Gualberto Villarroel became de facto President of Bolivia. He formed a coalition with the main reformist party of the time, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, as well as with a hitherto-secret military faction known as Radepa inspired on the ideals of former president Busch Becerra.

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