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Narciso Campero

Narciso Campero

General Narciso Campero Leyes (29 October 1813 – 12 August 1896) was president of Bolivia from 1880 to 1884. The Narciso Campero Province was named after him.

The offspring of a rich land-owning family from Tarija, he was educated at Chuquisaca's St. Francis Xavier University but nonetheless chose a military career, inspired by the heroes of the lengthy wars of South American independence. Considered an officer of unimpeacheable credentials, Campero fought as a young man in the battles of the Confederation (1836–39) and at Ingavi (1841) against Peru. He was a graduate of the prestigious St. Cyr military academy in France, but as a supporter of José Ballivián chose to retire from the army and remained in France during the Belzu era (beginning in 1847) as a sign of disgust with the period the historian Alcides Arguedas has referred to as the apogee of "the savage caudillos."

Although retired from politics and official affairs, Campero did not hesitate to enlist his services when the War of the Pacific against Chile ignited in February 1879. He was then in his mid-60s. Unfortunately, it was his fate to command the Bolivian 5th Division in a number of catastrophic battles, among the last skirmishes fought by Bolivia before withdrawing to the highlands behind the Andes in early 1880. Campero's patriotism, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice despite his advanced years were nonetheless noted, and the emergency Congress of Notables convened in La Paz in December of that fateful year resolved to tap him for the difficult post of Constitutional President following Hilarión Daza's overthrow.

It was thus that the 66-year-old General Campero took control of his country's fate in early 1880 at the most critical juncture in its history, it having essentially lost the War of the Pacific, surrendered its entire access to the Pacific to Chile, and abandoned its ally Peru to fight the rest of the war alone. His Congress-designated vice-president was the Conservative leader Aniceto Arce. Although Campero was given a full four-year term, much remained to be done, not least of which was the task of repairing the torn institutional and economic fabric of the nation, restoring confidence, writing a new constitution, founding a democratic republic based strictly upon the rule of law, and perhaps concluding some sort of ceasefire or armistice with Chile, should the war, as expected, come to an end on the Peru front. Despite the poignant grimness of the moment, it seemed a propitious one to establish a new foundation in the country. It was ironic that the task of sounding the death knell to the era of rampant military intervention in politics fell to a retired military man, but Congress' choice of Campero for this job proved to be an inspired one.

The respected Campero had the support of the two largest political parties of the time, the Liberals of Eliodoro Camacho and the Conservatives of Aniceto Arce. A proponent of rearmament and reinsertion into the war against Chile with an eye to recovering the lost territories, Campero was opposed in this endeavor by his vice-president, the Conservative Arce. Arce was linked to Chilean monetary and financial interests and favored an "accommodation" with Santiago, essentially advocating the giving up of the Litoral in exchange for investment and perhaps a promise to obtain a port through previously Peruvian but now Chilean-occupied at Arica. Campero soon accused Arce of treason and exiled him precisely to Chile. It was his foreign minister Daniel Nuñez del Prado who discovered the treason.

Although as president Campero tried to rule in an apolitical manner, he gravitated increasingly toward the Liberal party of Eliodoro Camacho, joining it after he left office in 1884. Campero died in Sucre on December 11, 1896, and is best remembered as the founder of the most stable era of Bolivian politics, with regular elections and rare and brief coups. The status quo he helped create would last until the 1930s, although within the framework of a plutocratic and severely restricted version of democracy, in which only white or mestizo propertied elites could vote.


Political offices
Preceded by
Pedro José Domingo de Guerra
President of Bolivia
Succeeded by
Gregorio Pacheco
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