1938 Bolivian National Convention

The 1938 Bolivian National Convention was a meeting of the unicameral Bolivian legislature composed of an elected constituent assembly made up of the Chamber of Senators and Chamber of Deputies.[1] It met in La Paz from 25 May to 30 October 1938 and was charged with rewriting the Constitution of Bolivia.[2] President David Toro had called for the National Convention in 1937, but by the time it was held he had been forced to resign in a coup d'état which brought the young lieutenant colonel Germán Busch to power on 13 July 1937.

1938 National Convention of Bolivia

Convención Nacional de Bolivia de 1938
Coat of arms or logo
HousesChamber of Senators,
Chamber of Deputies
Preceded by1931–36 Congress
Succeeded by1940–42 Congress
President of the National Convention
Renato Riverín, FPP
since 23 May 1938
18 Senators
103 Deputies
Senado de Bolivia elecciones 1938.svg
Chamber of Senators political groups
  FUS (18)
  •   PL (8)
  •   PRS (4)
  •   FPP (2)
  •   ??? (4)
Cámara de Diputados de Bolivia elecciones 1938.svg
Chamber of Deputies political groups
  FUS (96)

  Ind. (7)

  Ind. clerics (2)
Party-list proportional representation
Additional Member System
Chamber of Senators last election
13 March 1938
Chamber of Deputies last election
13 March 1938
Chamber of Senators next election
10 March 1940
Chamber of Deputies next election
10 March 1940
Meeting place
Palacio Legislativo Boliviano.jpg
Legislative Palace

The Congress was elected as part of that year's legislative election. Voter rolls for electing Convention members were opened in August 1937 and the vote was held on 13 March 1938.[3]


President David Toro, who called the National Convention, had presided over a clearly left-wing ideology known as Military Socialism. His successor Germán Busch, however, was politically enigmatic with both the left and the right alike assuming he would reverse course from the leftist Toro back to the traditional conservatism of the pre-Chaco War establishment.[4]

The coming assembly was the first national legislative body to meet in Bolivia in over three years.[5] With it, the traditional establishment parties (The Liberals and the Genuine and Socialist Republicans) hoped to reassert themselves in national politics. However, the Busch regime soon took a left-wing political stance, implementing the Toro-era concept of union representation in government by allowing the Trade Union Confederation of Bolivian Workers (CSTB) and the Legion of Veterans (LEC) to present candidates in the legislative elections.[4]

Soon, the CSTB and LEC joined with multiple left-wing parties, from the moderate socialist United Socialist Party (PSU) to the more radical Independent Socialist Party (PSI), and formed the Socialist Single Front (FUS), a united electoral alliance backed by the Busch government.[5] Faced with a unified left-wing coalition, the traditional parties withdrew from the elections, save for the Socialist Republicans who joined with the FUS and certain dissident Liberals who chose to collaborate with the new regime.[4]

With the path to victory cleared, the FUS won the 1938 legislative election in a landslide, winning all 18 seats in the Chamber of Senators and 96 of the 103 seats in the Chamber of Deputies with just 7 seats going to independents and 2 being won by independent clerics from La Paz.[6] Thus, when the Convention finally opened in May 1938, the so-called Generación del Chaco (Chaco Generation) finally and for the first time found itself with a national platform from which to constitute its ideas into law.[4]

The ConventionEdit

The National Convention opened on 25 May 1938, electing Renato Riverín of the Popular Front of Potosí (FPP) as its president.[2] It was the first time workers were included in a Bolivian constituent assembly.[7] The Convention dominated the political scene nationwide, becoming the debate grounds of ideologues and thinkers of the entire left-wing spectrum, from moderate socialists to economic nationalists and hard line Marxist labor leaders.[8]

Presidential electionEdit

One of the first acts of the new assembly was to formally elect Germán Busch constitutional president on 27 May. Enrique Baldivieso, a Deputy for Potosí and the leader of the United Socialist Party, was elected Vice President. The pair were formally inaugurated as part of a national holiday the following day with terms set to last until 6 August 1942.[9]

1938 ConstitutionEdit

With its dominant position in the assembly, the left-wing quickly overpowered more conservative elements, rejecting liberal concepts of limited government and laissez-faire which had shaped the entire constitutional history of Bolivia.[8] The classical Constitution of 1880 would be thrown out and the new one written under the guidelines of a revolutionary concept known as "social constitutionalism" in which the State was given the expanded role of providing for the economic and social needs of the population. At the same time, the concept of private property was reworded, limiting it from a natural right to a government-given right which was granted only so long as it fulfilled a "social function".[10]

The new constitution also provided for many benefits and securities for organized labor which would now enjoy the direct protection of the State. Annual paid leave, a minimum wage, insurance for accidents and disability, and guarantees for unions were all included. The legal existence of indigenous communities was also recognized.[11]

The so-called "Labor Sector" which represented the most extreme left of the convention also called for full-scale land reform. The leader of the Independent Socialists, the Tarijeño deputy Víctor Paz Estenssoro, also called for complete government control of the country's expansive tin industry, which up until then had been dominated by the tin barons of the mining oligarchy. While these more radical reforms were shot down, they received a voice on the national stage for the very first time.[8]

Finally, after months of deliberation and debate, the Political Constitution of 1938 was promulgated on 30 October.


For all its successes and contributions, one notable absence from the Convention was President Germán Busch himself. Politically naïve, Busch contributed little to the writing of the new Constitution.[8] The Socialist Single Front, which created a united front of the left-wing parties, only lasted through the legislative elections. From there, the different factions of the left remained in a state of instability, forming and breaking apart from one another in their attempts to create a viable political coalition. Despite attempts by Renato Riverín and Busch's advisor Gabriel Gosálvez to form a government-backed Socialist Party, it suffered from a lack of commitment on the part of Busch and collapsed entirely when Vicente Leyton, his own Minister of Government, refused to join it.[12]

Further fracturing occurred on 19 January 1939 when nine deputies and three senators announced the formation of the Eastern Socialist Party (PSO), also known as the Orientalist Party. The new party was aligned with the traditional liberalism of the pre-Chaco War parties and its political program expressed its intent to "proclaim the intangibility of the Eastern territory" and "to accept as a basic principle the integrity of each of the eastern departments, leaving established their historical and racial identity." For these reasons it was described by its critics as both "regionalist" and "racist" and was condemned by various social and cultural institutions, regional centers, trade union organizations, veterans, journalists, and even the Liberal Party.[13]

Nevertheless, the PSO on 1 February appealed for President Busch to join. However, on 14 February Busch warned that the "founding [of] a regionalist party [...] constitutes an attack against national unity." Busch's harsh condemnation came amidst calls that the members of the PSO be expelled from the legislature. Given the weight of the pressure and "In compliance with the order of His Excellency Mr. President," the PSO was dissolved on 18 February, less than a month after its formation.[13]

The PSO was the last attempt made by the more traditionally-oriented parties to ally themselves with the Busch government. Just a month later on 22 March, the Liberals and both Republican parties broke with their previous policy of interacting with the fringes of the moderate left and formed the Concordance coalition in direct opposition to the government.[14] The Concordance came forth demanding the end of military involvement in government and announced their intent to present candidates for the May legislative elections.[15]

As a result, the left-wing stood without a united front against the resurgent and combined traditional parties, resulting in a bleak outlook on the coming legislative elections. Finally, tired of political manoeuvring and disappointed with the lack of results his regime had produced, Busch took matters into his own hands. On 24 April 1939, Busch declared totalitarian rule in a self-coup to the shock of the nation. The May legislative elections were cancelled and the assembly was permanently adjourned, bringing an end to the only legislature of the military socialist era.[16]


National ConventionEdit

  • President: Renato Riverín (FPP), from 25 May 1938[2]
    • First Vice President: Alfredo Mollinedo (PSU)
      • Secretary: Agustín Landívar Zambrana
      • Secretary: Augusto Guzmán (PSU)
      • Secretary: Roberto Jordán Cuéllar (PSU)
      • Secretary: Jesús Lijerón Rodríguez (Ind.)


Vice President
National Convention President

Chamber of SenatorsEdit

1938 members of the Chamber of Senators:[17][18]

Senator Department Party
Gregorio Mendizábal Chuquisaca PRS
Sebastián García Agreda Chuquisaca ???
Eduardo Rodríguez Vásquez La Paz PL
José P. Bilbao Llano La Paz ???
José Antezana Cochabamba PL
Otoniel Quiroga Cochabamba PRS
Luis Herrero Oruro PRS
Ricardo Rivera Oruro ???
Carlos Medinaceli Potosí FPP
Renato Riverín Potosí FPP
Bernardo Navajas Trigo Tarija PL
Julio Pantoja Estenssoro Tarija PRS
Germán Chávez Santa Cruz PL
Julio Salmón Santa Cruz PL
Napoleón Solares Arias Beni PL
Sócrates Parada Suárez Beni PL
Gregorio Balcázar Pando ???
Pablo Saucedo Barbery Pando PL

Chamber of DeputiesEdit

1938 members of the Chamber of Deputies:[19][18]

Deputy Department Constituency Party
Adrián Camacho Porcel Chuquisaca Oropeza PSU
Alberto Berdeja Chuquisaca Sucre ???
Alberto Echazú Chuquisaca Sucre ???
Alberto Zelada Chuquisaca Sucre ???
Desiderio M. Rivera Chuquisaca Nor Cinti PSU
Enrique Reyes Barrón Chuquisaca Tomina ???
Esteban Durán Chuquisaca Sucre ???
Germán Pareja Chuquisaca Sud Cinti ???
Jorge Arana Urioste Chuquisaca Yamparáez ???
José Romero Loza Chuquisaca Azurduy PSU
Óscar Emilio Arauz Chuquisaca Zudáñez LEC
Ricardo Gambarte Chuquisaca El Azero ???
Adolfo Paco Careaga La Paz Sica Sica ???
Adrián Oblitas La Paz Muñecas ???
Alfredo Mollinedo La Paz La Paz PSU
Carlos Gómez Cornejo La Paz Loayza PRS
Carlos Machicao La Paz Ingavi PRS
Federico Román La Paz Sud Yungas LEC
Félix Eguino Zaballa La Paz Omasuyos PSU
Félix Vargas Soto La Paz Inquisivi ???
Humberto del Solar La Paz Los Andes ???
Jorge Ballón Saravia La Paz Murillo PSU
José Bascón La Paz Larecaja ???
Luis Alberto Tapia La Paz La Paz ???
Luis Barbery La Paz Iturralde ???
Nazario Pardo Valle La Paz Caupolicán PSU
Rigoberto Villarroel Claure La Paz Pacajes ???
Rufino Saldaña La Paz Nor Yungas ???
Tomás Chávez Lobatón La Paz La Paz Ind.
Waldo Álvarez La Paz La Paz PO
Wálter Portillo La Paz Camacho ???
Ángel Jordán Cochabamba Cliza ???
Augusto Céspedes Cochabamba Cochabamba PSI
Augusto Guzmán Cochabamba Cochabamba PSU
David Ardaya Cochabamba Punata ???
Felipe Ayala Gamboa Cochabamba Cochabamba PSU
Humberto Montaño Cochabamba Cochabamba ???
Jorge Mercado Rosales Cochabamba Quillacollo PSU
José Anaya Cochabamba Tarata ???
José Antonio Camacho Cochabamba Campero POR
José Antonio Zegada Cochabamba Mizque ???
José Enrique Peña Cochabamba Chapare ???
Julio Espinoza Cochabamba Ayopaya PSI
Lucio Vargas Díaz Cochabamba Arque PRS
Luis Felipe Guzmán Cochabamba Capinota PL
Rodolfo Costas Cochabamba Carrasco PSI
Rodolfo Soriano Cochabamba Tapacarí PSU
Wálter Guevara Cochabamba Aran PSI
Abel Leyes Oruro Abaroa PSU
Ángel Mendizábal Oruro Oruro PL
Armando Renjel Oruro Poopó ???
Eduardo Fajardo Oruro Oruro ???
Enrique Liendo Oruro Oruro ???
Julián Montellano Oruro Carangas PSI
Telesforo Morales Oruro Oruro ???
Trifonio Delgado Oruro Huanuni PRS
Alfredo Arratia Potosí Potosí FPP
Carlos Cortez Potosí Quijarro ???
Carlos Gregorio Taborga Potosí Chayanta ???
Corsino Rodríguez Quiroga Potosí Potosí ???
Emilio Sejas Potosí Bustillo ???
Enrique Baldivieso Potosí Sud Chichas PSU
Eustaquio Bilbao Rioja Potosí Alonso de Ibáñez ???
Fernando Siñani Potosí Sud Lípez FPP
Gastón Pacheco Potosí Potosí ???
Guillermo Rivero Potosí Potosí PSU
José María Cortez Potosí Nor Chichas ???
Julio Velasco G. Potosí Nor Lípez ???
Lucio Lanza Solares Potosí Potosí PRS
Luis Ossio Ruiz Potosí Linares PSU
Severo Clavijo Suárez Potosí Cornelio Saavedra ???
Abel Márquez Tarija Tarija ???
Antonio Campero Arce Tarija Méndez PSU
Antonio Mogro Moreno Tarija Avilés ???
Gustavo Auzza Tarija Tarija PRS
Hugo Pizarro Aráoz Tarija O'Connor ???
Jorge Aráoz Campero Tarija Tarija PSI
Víctor Paz Estenssoro Tarija Tarija PSI
Adolfo Román Santa Cruz Santa Cruz ???
Agustín Landívar Zambrana Santa Cruz Warnes ???
Aquino Ibáñez Coruco Santa Cruz Chiquitos ???
Facundo Flores Jiménez Santa Cruz Velasco PSU
Fernando Justiniano Santa Cruz Ñuflo de Chávez ???
Francisco Hurtado Santa Cruz Cordillera ???
José Daniel Antelo Santa Cruz Sara ???
José Serrate Santa Cruz Ichilo ???
Mario Ortiz Suárez Santa Cruz Santa Cruz ???
Roberto Prado Santa Cruz Vallegrande ???
Sixto Montero Hoyos Santa Cruz Florida ???
Wálter Suárez Landívar Santa Cruz Santa Cruz ???
Adolfo Aponte Beni Yacuma Ind.
Antonio Munguía Beni Trinidad PSU
Augusto Chávez C. Beni Trinidad ???
Gonzalo Cuéllar Jiménez Beni Iténez ???
Gonzalo Suárez Dorado Beni Trinidad ???
Jesús Lijerón Rodríguez Beni Trinidad Ind.
Jesús Rioja Aponte Beni Marbán ???
Juan Manuel Suárez Beni Ballivián Ind.
Nataniel García Chávez Beni Vaca Díez ???
Adolfo Leigue Pando Puerto Rico ???
Ismael Zuazo Pando Porvenir ???
José Chávez Suárez Pando Cobija PL
Roberto Jordán Cuéllar Pando Cobija PSU



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l From 19 January – 18 February 1939


  1. ^ Klein, Herbert S. (1 January 1966). ""Social Constitutionalism" in Latin America: The Bolivian Experience of 1938". The Americas. 22 (3): 258–276. doi:10.2307/979170. ISSN 0003-1615.
  2. ^ a b c Rossana Barragán, "Ciudadanía y elecciones, convenciones y debates" in Barragán R., Rossana; José Luis Roca (2005). Regiones y poder constituyente en Bolivia : una historia de pactos y disputas. Cuaderno de futuro, 21. La Paz, Bolivia: PNUD. p. 336. ISBN 978-99905-0-960-1.
  3. ^ Rossana Barragán, "Ciudadanía y elecciones, convenciones y debates" in Barragán R., Rossana; José Luis Roca (2005). Regiones y poder constituyente en Bolivia : una historia de pactos y disputas. Cuaderno de futuro, 21. La Paz, Bolivia: PNUD. p. 361. ISBN 978-99905-0-960-1.
  4. ^ a b c d Klein 1967, pp. 168–171
  5. ^ a b Gotkowitz, Laura (2007). A revolution for our rights: Indigenous struggles for land and justice in Bolivia, 1880–1952. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 115.
  6. ^ Political handbook of the world 1940. New York, 1940. P. 12.
  7. ^ Rossana Barragán, "Ciudadanía y elecciones, convenciones y debates" in Barragán R., Rossana; José Luis Roca (2005). Regiones y poder constituyente en Bolivia : una historia de pactos y disputas. Cuaderno de futuro, 21. La Paz, Bolivia: PNUD. p. 279. ISBN 978-99905-0-960-1.
  8. ^ a b c d Klein 1967, pp. 171–172
  9. ^ "Bolivia: Ley de 27 de mayo de 1938". www.lexivox.org. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  10. ^ Querejazu Calvo 1977, p. 163
  11. ^ "Constitución social de Bolivia de 1938". APUNTES JURIDICOS. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  12. ^ Klein 1967, p. 176
  13. ^ a b "Busch y la efímera existencia del partido orientalista en Bolivia". www.paginasiete.bo (in Spanish). Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  14. ^ Fredrick B. Pike. The United States and the Andean republics: Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Harvard University Press, 1977. p. 255.
  15. ^ Klein 1967, p. 175
  16. ^ TIMES, Special Cable to THE NEW YORK (25 April 1939). "TOTALITARIAN RULE DECREED IN BOLIVIA BY PRESIDENT, 35; Busch Assumes Dictatorial Powers, Doing Away With Congress and Basic Law (Published 1939)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 October 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Valentín Abecia López. Montenegro: homenaje del Honorable Senado Nacional, a los 44 años de su muerte. Honorable Senado Nacional, 1997. Pp. 138.
  18. ^ a b "Bolivia: Constitución política de 1938, 30 de octubre de 1938". www.lexivox.org. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  19. ^ Valentín Abecia López. Montenegro: homenaje del Honorable Senado Nacional, a los 44 años de su muerte. Honorable Senado Nacional, 1997. Pp. 139-143.