Bolivian military leader and president 1971–78 and democratically-elected conservative president 1997–2001. He overthrew the leftist government of Gen Juan José Torres in 1971, and repressed opposition to his policies. He became leader of the centre-right party Acción Democrática Nacionalista (AND; Nationalist Democratic Action) in 1992. His second term of presidency marked the fifth successive peaceful transition of government in Bolivia.
In 1974 Bánzer postponed elections and banned political and trade union activity, after an attempted coup. He was forced to resign in 1978, but ran in the presidential elections the following year, and in 1985. In 1989 he entered into a power-sharing agreement with the leftist Jaime Paz Zamora, after Zamora narrowly defeated him in his bid for the presidency.
From 1997 Bánzer's government launched a successful offensive against drug trafficking and illegal plantations of coca (the raw material to make cocaine), which were reduced from 45,000 ha/111,200 acres in 1997 to 2,000 ha/4,900 acres in 2001. He also initiated a rural literacy campaign, but faced popular unrest in 2000 over fuel and water price rises. Revelations in 2001 implicated his 1970s government in Operation Condor, a covert cross-border ‘dirty war’ fought in conjunction with other South American right-wing dictators to eliminate opponents.
Bánzer was born in Concepción, was educated at a military college in Bolivia, and trained in the USA. He held many important military roles, including head of the military intelligence unit. He was minister for education 1964–66.