Archives On The Air 153: Escape From Bolivia—Gale McGee Papers

May 16, 2019

From 1978 to 1980 Bolivia was in crisis. There was a series of military governments and coups. U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Gale McGee was in the middle of one of these coups in 1979.

He and his wife Loraine were in Bolivia for an Organization of American States assembly. They had meetings and went sightseeing. One day they woke up to tanks in the streets.

It was the “the cocaine coup.” It was financed by a drug cartel. Another diplomat offered to fly the McGees out on his private plane. But the plane was too small for McGee’s staff. He would not leave them. They drove to a mountain airfield and were rescued by the US. On the way they passed checkpoints manned by teenage soldiers and were close when soldiers opened fire.

You can see photos from the hair-raising drive in the Gale McGee papers at UW’s American Heritage Center.