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Juan José Torres González (5 March 1920, Cochabambamarker2 June, 1976) was a Bolivianmarker socialist politician and military leader. He served as President of Bolivia from October 7, 1970 to August 21, 1971. He was popularly known as "J.J." (Jota-Jota). Juan José Torres was murdered in 1976 in Buenos Aires, in the frame of Operation Condor.

Early life

Torres was born to a poor family of Mestizo heritage with mainly Aymara ancestry and joined the military as a young man, eventually rising to the rank of general. He became the reform-minded dictator Alfredo Ovando's right-hand man and commander of the army when the latter came to power as a result of a coup d'état in September 1969. Quickly, Torres became the most radical and left-leaning officer in the Bolivian military, urging Ovando to enact more far-reaching reforms and to stand up to the more conservative officers. On October 6, 1970, an anti-government coup d'état took place, led by right-wing military commanders. Much blood was shed on the streets of various major cities, with military garrisons fighting each other on behalf of one camp or the other. Eventually, President Ovando sought asylum in a foreign embassy, believing all hope was lost. But the leftist military forces re-asserted themselves under the combative leadership of general Torres, and eventually triumphed. Worn out by 13 grueling months in office, Ovando agreed to leave the presidency in the hands of his friend, general Torres, the hero of the moment. The latter was sworn in and went on to rule the country for 10 difficult and tumultuous months.

Presidency

Though most military leaders throughout Latin American history have been associated with right-wing politics, Torres - like his contemporaries Juan Velasco in Perumarker and Omar Torrijos in Panamamarker - was decidedly left wing and attempted to create a socialist state in Bolivia. He was known as a man of the people and was popular in some sectors of the Bolivian society. His mestizo and even native-Andean features enhanced his standing with the poorer sectors of society. Despite Torres' best intentions, his marked leftward drift led him to adopt measures that greatly de-stabilized the country. He called an Asamblea del Pueblo, or People's Assembly, in which representatives of specific "proletarian" sectors of society were represented (miners, unionized teachers, students, peasants). The Assembly was imbued with all the powers of a working parliament, even though opponents of the regime tended to call it a gathering of virtual soviets. Torres also allowed the legendary (and Trotskyst-oriented) labor leader, Juan Lechín, to resume his post as head of the Central Obrera Boliviana/Bolivian Workers' Union (COB) and to operate without a single restraint. To his surprise, Lechín proceeded to cripple the government with strikes.

In the end, "J.J." was a victim of the same condundrum that had plagued Ovando: he was seen as leading the country to Communism itself by his enemies on the right, but was essentially mistrusted by those on the left for being a member of the military. To the former, he was going too far and for the latter, not nearly far enough. The Nixon administration may also have played a role in sabotaging the Torres regime and calling for its ouster.

After less than a year in power, Torres was overthrown in a bloody coup d'état led by the Junta of Commanders of the Armed Forces. Despite massive resistance — both civilian and military — the conservative forces had learned the lessons of the failed October, 1970 uprising, and applied brutality without compunction. Banzer ruled the country for the next seven years. As for Torres, he fled the country and settled in Buenos Airesmarker, Argentinamarker remaining there even after the March 1976 coup that brought to power General Jorge Videla. In early June 1976 general Torres was kidnapped and assassinated, most likely by right-wing death squads associated with the Videla government but also—it has been argued—with the acquiescence of Hugo Banzer. His murder was part of Operation Condor [274405].

Despite his failings and the short duration of his government, Torres's memory is still revered by the poorest strata of Bolivian society. He is remembered as the smiling general who dared to break the norm of what a Bolivian military leader was supposed to be like. His body was eventually repatriated to Bolivia (in 1983), where it received a massively-attended state funeral.

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