Germán Busch

For the province of Bolivia, see Germán Busch Province.
Germán Busch
41st and 43rd President of Bolivia
In office
13 July 1937  23 August 1939
Preceded by David Toro
Succeeded by Carlos Quintanilla
In office
17 May 1936  20 May 1936
Preceded by José Luis Tejada Sorzano
Succeeded by David Toro
Personal details
Born Germán Busch Becerra
(1904-03-23)March 23, 1904
San Javier, Bolivia
Died August 23, 1939(1939-08-23) (aged 35)
La Paz, Bolivia
Nationality Bolivian

Germán Busch Becerra (San Javier, Santa Cruz or El Carmen de Itenez, Beni, Bolivia, March 23, 1904 August 23, 1939) was a former Bolivian military officer, hero of the Chaco War (1932–1935, in which Bolivia was defeated by Paraguay), and president of Bolivia between 1937 and 1939. Busch also served as president for three days during May 1936.

Germán Busch's birthplace is still under dispute, some historians pointing to San Javier, in central Bolivia's hot, fertile, coffee-growing region, others to El Carmen de Itenez, in a northern cattle-growing region. His father was a physician, a German immigrant, and his mother was of Italian descent.[1] At some point in Busch's childhood, his father went to Germany, while sending the young boy and his mother to live in Trinidad. He attended provincial school there and entered military college at the age of 18.[2]

Known for his torrid, fearless, and reckless temperament, he seemed to dominate the Bolivian army by force of his personality alone (in addition to his feats of bravery on the field), despite his relatively lower rank. In the first stages of the Chaco War, he saved an entire division from certain destruction[2] during the battle of Gondra, as well as a part of his own cavalry regiment -fighting on foot- which he drove out from the Campo Vía pocket.[3] As a Major, he took part, and carried the bulk of the action, in the highly controversial coup d'état that overthrew the Constitutional President Daniel Salamanca in November 1934, right in the middle of the war and in the very theater of operations. The reason for this was the constant butting of heads of the Bolivian High Command with Salamanca over the conduct of the war and the issuing of military appointments and promotions. Busch again conspired in 1936, this time overthrowing Salamanca's successor and former vice-president, José Luis Tejada, and installing his higher-ranked friend and comrade David Toro as de facto President. Toro presided over a reformist experiment called Military Socialism (championed by Busch) for a bit over a year, before Busch himself overthrew Toro and installed himself in the Palacio Quemado on July 1937, alleging that Toro's controversial past made him a liability to the regime and he was better off leading it.

Always tempestuous and volatile, Busch was filled with grand ideas that he seemed unable to bring to fruition in the context of the polarized Bolivian political landscape of the late-1930s. He called a Constituent Assembly and restored the Constitution which was suspended after the 1936 coup. In 1938, he even managed to be proclaimed Constitutional President by the Assembly. He also made various attempts to restore the nearly collapsed Bolivian economy. Later still, he got tired of the "political game" and, totally untrained in the art of compromise, declared himself Dictator, thus nullifying the very political order he had painstakingly created. Bogged down for most of his presidency in the procedural aspects of enacting a new political framework (the Assembly, the new Constitution) he was not able to pass many meanigful reforms, despite his stated aim of "deepening" the Military Socialism of Toro.

Because historically, the Bolivian army contained some German advisers and German-trained soldiers, Busch (of part-German ancestry himself) was suspected to have Nazi tendencies, this was reinforced by the fact that one German officer that served in the Bolivian army during the Chaco War (Major Achim R. von Kries) managed to form the Landesgruppe-Bolivie from the NSDAP-OA in La Paz, along with some other German expatriates. It has also been suggested that German management of the air travel services of the time was indicative of Nazi support.[4] However, Busch strongly denied this, claiming that his regime was "uniquely Bolivian." In fact the only known relationship between Busch and the Nazi leaders was a car (a black Mercedes-Benz Cabriolet 770K Series II - W150) sent to him as a present by Adolf Hitler at the beginning of 1939, that Busch never used. In fact, the car remained abandoned in a junkyard until the 1970s, when a private citizen recovered it and restored it. The car is currently located in San Jose, Costa Rica.

As a measure of Busch's volcanic, unpredictable nature, he once had one of Bolivia's foremost writers and intellectuals of the 20th century, Alcides Arguedas, brought to his office, and proceeded to physically beat him up for a column critical of his regime. Arguedas was 60 years old at the time and Busch 35.

Unable to control events the way he would have liked, President Busch committed suicide at about 5 AM on August 23, 1939, shooting himself in the right temple. Though it is suspected by some that he may have been murdered, the explanation of suicide is generally accepted.

Following the President's death, the more conservative and pro-oligarchic elements in the Bolivian reasserted themselves, concluding that reformism had gone entirely too far. Since Busch had proclaimed himself dictator, there was no constitutional succession to speak of, and General Carlos Quintanilla was proclaimed president by the armed forces. Quintanilla was charged with calling new elections and returning matters to the status quo pre-Toro.

Colonel Alberto Natusch, a later ruler of Bolivia, was the nephew of Germán Busch.


  1. Bailey, Nasatir, pg 639
  2. 1 2 "Busch Putsch". Time Magazine. 1939-05-08. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
  3. Farcau, Bruce W. (1996). The Chaco War: Bolivia and Paraguay, 1932-1935. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 157. ISBN 0-275-95218-5
  4. No byline (July 22, 1941). "Nazi Intrigue in Bolivia". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 9 February 2013.


Political offices
Preceded by
José Luis Tejada Sorzano
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
David Toro
Preceded by
David Toro
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Carlos Quintanilla
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