Bolivia became an independent state in 1825. Before the Spanish colonization, what is today Bolivia consisted of various peoples. The highlands were part of the Incarct and inhabited by the Quechua and Aymara people. In the lowlands lived various smaller groups of people.
The Spanish colonization created enormous differences between a Spanish-linked aristocracy and citizenship and the country’s indigenous population, a distinction that is still prominent in Bolivian society. A country rich in natural resources such as silver, tin, copper, nitrates, natural gas and coal, has led to much corruption, high levels of conflict and foreign interference in the two hundred years after independence.
Despite wars both against Chile and Paraguay, Bolivia never gained access to the sea; in return, the country received a soaring foreign debt. In the 1900s, Bolivia set a world record in the number of coups, at most two in one day, and civil war-like conditions. Not until the late 1980s did the country begin a cautious democratization process, culminating in 2005 with the election of Evo Morales as president; a trade union leader and former cook farmer who belongs to the country’s indigenous people.
Bolivia’s history before the Spanish colonization is closely related to Peru because of the common Quechua culture. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Bolivia. In the Andean highlands there are traces of nomads from about 4000 BCE. Ceramic finds from around 1300 BCE. suggesting semi-nomadic settlements. Agricultural communities have been proven from around 200 BCE. For a period of 800 years – from 200 BCE. to 600 AD – the Tiahuanaco urban community on Lake Titicaca was a rich cultural center in the Aymara kingdom that encompassed large parts of the Bolivian highlands and the Pacific coast. Until the whole of the Bolivian Highlands was incorporated in the Incaret (between 1200 and 1400), the population was divided into smaller tribal groups and allies.
The colonial past
The present Bolivia was subjugated to the Spanish Viceroy of Peru, the notorious conqueror Francisco Pizarro, and the current capital Sucre was founded in 1538. It was in particular the great deposits of silver that made Bolivia attractive to the Spaniards. The main mining town of Potosí had 120,000 inhabitants as early as 1573, and has become one of the most magnificent cities on the continent. In the 18th century, Potosí was rapidly decaying as the silver deposits ended. In 1780, Bolivia (then called Charcas) became subject to the Viceroy of Río de la Plata, with its seat in present-day Buenos Aires. The liberation movement in the early 1800s was not very successful in Bolivia. Only in 1824 with the triumph of Simón Bolívar did the country become its own republic and named after the liberator. The Republic was proclaimed August 6, 1825, and Bolívar himself formulated an almost useless constitution for the country. Military presidents succeeded one another in quick succession. Violent conflicts characterized the relationship between the poor indigenous miners and the aristocracy.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Bolivia on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Bolivia.
Independence until the First World War
The nitrate and copper deposits in the Atacama Desert and Chile’s expansion north, led in 1879 to Chile occupying Bolivia’s only port city of Antofagasta. Chile’s war against Peru and Bolivia lasted until 1883, causing both Antofagasta and the Peruvian port city of Arica to fall into Chilean hands. Bolivia was suspended from the sea, but entered into an agreement on the free use of the railway that Chile established between La Paz and its new port city of Arica. Nitrate is an important ingredient in fertilizers, but the nitrate mines lost much of their value when Norwegian engineer Sam Eyde developed a method for extracting nitrogen from air.
Bolivia later had to give up Acre province, which was rich in natural rubber, to Brazil. In this case, too, Bolivia achieved a rail link; this time to the Madeira River in the Amazon and thus also the connection to the Atlantic. Around the turn of the century, German and British capital led to a rapid development of mining operations. It was tin which is now accounted for the bulk of Bolivia’s economy. Germany also provided a strong military development. When Bolivia broke off relations with Germany in 1917, North American capital quickly assumed control of the tin mines. The harsh exploitation of the miners repeatedly led to riots and military siege of the mining towns. The military constituted an even stronger degree of political power than before.
After being expelled from the Pacific in 1883, Bolivia’s military officers and politicians turned their eyes east toward the Atlantic. Paraguay stood in the way, and the historic disagreement over the rights of the Gran Chaco district and the Paraguay River, as well as the possibility that this almost uninhabited area had oil deposits, led the two countries into the Chaco War in 1932. Bolivia considered itself militarily superior, but the troops consisted mainly of indigenous people from the Highlands who had little progress in the hot plains against an invaded Paraguayan army. The losses were large, and following mediations from the League of Nations and the Organization of American States(OAS), an armistice was entered into in 1935. An independent Argentine commission was commissioned to resolve the conflict over the Chaco area, and the new border was drawn following the troop position when the armistice was implemented. The outcome was that Paraguay secured most of Chaco.
The Chaco War led to considerable political instability in Bolivia, but also marks the start of a greater political awareness among poor workers and indigenous peoples. The Chaco War was a war started by and for the upper class, but it was the lower class that had to pay the price. The war can thus be seen as the start of the process culminating in the 1952 revolution.
Bolivia’s revolution in 1952 was largely due to the election the year in advance which was canceled because Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (MNR) was victorious. The candidate for the MRC, Professor Victor Paz Estenssoro, was named president in 1952. His program was ambitious and included the right to vote for illiterate people (that is, most of the indigenous people), nationalization of the mines, drastic land reform, and strong criticism of US involvement in the country. The miners had increasingly organized themselves during the reign of the MRC and had an active spokesman in Juan Lechín (1914–2001), who was one of the founders of the MRC and who led the COB from 1952 to 1986. The most important change in Bolivian society was that after 1952 it was no longer politically possible to ignore the demands of the poor. From now on, any legally elected president or dictator would have to take into account the powerful unions.
Due to corruption and subsequent division within the MNR, which led to greater influence for the army, the expectations of farmers and miners were far from being met. In 1964, Paz Estenssoro was deposed by his own Vice President, General René Barrientos (1919-1969). The mining areas were militarized, and several mining strikes were brutally beaten down by military forces that on several occasions targeted massacres of entire mining communities. Guerrilla war was waged in parts of the country, and in 1967 Che Guevara was liquidated in this battle.
The long dictatorship of the 1970s
President Barrientos perished in an accident in 1969, and a few months later followed the coup d’etat of General Alfredo Ovando (1918–1982) who, surprisingly, embarked on a nationalist course, including by nationalizing the US oil company Gulf Oil. In October 1970, Bolivia experienced two coups in one day; the latter under the leadership of Juan José Torres (1920–1976) had a radical profile. This became the prelude to General Hugo Bánzer’s coup in 1971.
Bánzer had strong ties to the military regime in Brazil and continued the political ideology from there based on “national security” in 1974. The seven-year Bánzer era inflicted enormous foreign debt on Bolivia, and the corruption was extensive. A horse trade with Chile’s President Augusto Pinochet over a land corridor through northern Chile to reunite Bolivia with the sea failed in 1978. The same year’s election was canceled due to electoral fraud, but Bánzer’s own candidate Juan Pereda (1931-2012) took power bargain two weeks later.
A few months later, General David Padilla (1927–2016) made the next coup and proclaimed new elections in July 1979. Like the previous year, it was the coalition UDP (the radical MNR wing, the Communists and the revolutionary left (MIR)) with former President Hernán Siles Zuazo who got the most votes. Nevertheless, another MNR veteran, Walter Guevara (1912-1996), was inaugurated as interim president in 1979 in an attempt to organize elections for the third year in a row, in July 1980. After disagreements with the army and allegations against Bánzer, Guevara also had to get off in the same way as many of his predecessors. The coup of Major Alberto Natusch Busch (1933–1994) was carried out in November 1979, but only two weeks later Bolivia’s first female president was appointed: Lidia Gueiler (1921–2011), former secretary of Paz Estenssoro. Her powerless government could not prevent the military from regaining power under General Luis García Meza (1929–2018) after the UDP won the election for the third time. The country was in complete financial crisis and protest actions broke out again.
Democratization in the 1980s
The military changed its presidents, but in 1982 it was clear that Bolivia was no longer able to govern in this way. The congress elected in 1980 was convened, and Hernán Siles Zuazo became president again at the age of 70. But the hopeful democratization process led by an old revolutionary hero would prove to be difficult. In 1983, there was talk that the national organization COB and its powerful leader Juan Lechín would join the government to calm the displeasure of the miners. Disagreements over financial austerity measures led to MIR breaking with the coalition in January 1984. A scandalous abduction by the president led to the arrest of more than a hundred officers. Siles’ powerlessness in Bolivia’s economic chaos also heightened fears of a new coup. Inflation in 1984 was several thousand percent. The election victory lord in 1985 eventually became veteran Paz Estenssoro. Hernán Siles Zuazo’s faction lost all its seats in the National Assembly.
Paz’s new economic policy provided greater leeway for foreign capital. In addition to significant austerity in government spending, strike bans were also imposed. COB nevertheless responded with a general strike. At the same time, Bolivia was hit by a dramatic collapse in the tin market in 1986; The extraction of tin accounted for 40 percent of the country’s economy. Extensive production of cocaine prevented a complete economic collapse.
In 1987, the United States deployed military forces to combat cocaine production. The National Assembly objected to this military interference and also feared that it would challenge powerful forces in the country involved in the illegal cocaine economy and which had ramifications far into Bolivia’s highest political and military circles. Hyperinflation was brought under control towards the end of the 1980s with severe tightening following the prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which in turn led to high unemployment.
Neoliberal revolution in the 1990s
The 1989 election became an indication that voters had confidence in Paz Estenssoro and the IMF adjustments. Although both MNC veterans Paz and Siles had decided to withdraw from politics, the party made a good choice that did not appoint a convincing victory lord. A sensational coalition government was formed with Jaime Paz Zamora (born 1939) of the Left Radical Movement (MIR) as president and the right-wing National Democratic Action (ADN) led by Hugo Bánzer Suárez. Bolivia, under Paz Zamora’s leadership, became a pattern country for the IMF. The mining operation had lost much of its importance and this weakened the trade union COB. Agriculture and the countryside had increased in importance, and the state austerity in particular affected the population of the cities. The government coalition ran for election in 1993 with Hugo Bánzer as presidential candidate, but his credibility was weakened by serious allegations of corruption in Paz Zamora’s government. The 1993 election was won by the MRC with businessman Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada (born 1930) as the new president. Sánchez de Lozada emphasized economic and social reform, and introduced 50 percent privatization of all public sector enterprises.
Economic policy began to produce results throughout the 1990s, with annual growth of around four percent. Inflation was reduced to around five percent. The policy was continued when the political veteran – and former dictator – Hugo Bánzer returned to power in the 1997 presidential elections. As one of South America’s two poorest countries, Bolivia also came under a foreign debt forgiveness scheme.
Partly as a measure to strengthen the country’s international reputation, and following particular pressure from the United States, in 1998, Bánzer launched an ambitious plan to make Bolivia cocaine-free by the end of its presidential term in 2002. The country was one of the world’s three largest producers in the 1990s. of coca leaves – a business that accounted for almost a quarter of the legal export revenue. The United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNCDP) registered some progress, and in 2000 the government was able to declare that the coca plant was virtually extinct in the Chapare region. But when they next went out on a broad front and offered the farmers an annual compensation of US $ 900 for eradicating their coca bushes, one could feel that the counter-forces are strong in the drug fight. Cocoa farmers spokesman Evo Morales got strong wind in the sails.
The opposition parties agreed to investigate the role of Hugo Bánzer in the 1970s, when he led the military dictatorship in the country for seven years. In 2001, however, he had to retire due to illness and died the following year. Vice President Jorge Quiroga Ramirez served until the election in 2002, where there was a very smooth race between former President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada, farmer leader Evo Morales and Manfred Reyes Villa (born 1955) of the Republican Party. In the end, Sánchez was voted through a vote in the National Assembly.
The contemporary history of Bolivia
In Bolivia’s recent history, there are several examples that governments with conflicting ideologies have switched to governing: socialists who have nationalized industry have been replaced by right-wing governments that have privatized the same companies. Evo Morale’s election victory in 2005 can be seen as yet another socialist government with nationalization as an important political goal. But Morales also represented something new in that he was the first president with indigenous background. He is also a coalition leader for unions representing coca -bøndene. It should turn out that Morales changed both politics and the economy in a more leftist nationalist direction, while being a more unifying president than his contemporary colleagues in Ecuador and Venezuela; both nationally and internationally.