Bolivia -- Geography --
Official Name: Republica de Bolivia
Capital City: La Paz
Languages: Spanish - 60,7% (official), Kechua - 21.2%
(official), Aymara - 14,6% (official), Feoreign Langiages -
2,4%, others - 1,2%
Official Currency: Boliviano
Religions: Catholics - 95%, Protestants - 5%
Land Area: Overall - 1,098,580 sq m(land: 1,084,390 sq m, water:
14,190 sq m)
Landforms: rugged Andes Mountains with a highland plateau
(Altiplano), hills, lowland plains of the Amazon Basin.
Land Divisions: 9 departments
Bolivia -- History --
The Andean region probably has been inhabited for some 20,000
years. Beginning about the 2d century B.C., the Tiwanakan
culture developed at the southern end of Lake Titicaca. This
culture, centered around and named for the great city of
Tiwanaku, developed advanced architectural and agricultural
techniques before it disappeared around 1200 A.D., probably
because of extended drought. Roughly contemporaneous with the
Tiwanakan culture, the Moxos in the eastern lowlands and the
Mollos north of present-day La Paz also developed advanced
agricultural societies that had dissipated by the 13th century
of our era. In about 1450, the Quechua-speaking Incas entered
the area of modern highland Bolivia and added it to their
empire. They controlled the area until the Spanish conquest in
As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars,
sentiment against colonial rule grew. Independence was
proclaimed in 1809, but 16 years of struggle followed before the
establishment of the republic, named for Simon Bolivar, on
August 6, 1825.
Independence did not bring stability. For nearly 60 years, coups
and short-lived constitutions dominated Bolivian politics.
Bolivia's weakness was demonstrated during the War of the
Pacific (1879-83), when it lost its seacoast and the adjoining
rich nitrate fields to Chile.
An increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia a
measure of relative prosperity and political stability in the
late 1800s. During the early part of the 20th century, tin
replaced silver as the country's most important source of
wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic
and social elites followed laissez-faire capitalist policies
through the first third of the century.
Bolivia's defeat by Bolivia in the Chaco War (1932-35) marked a
turning point. Great loss of life and territory discredited the
traditional ruling classes, while service in the army produced
stirrings of political awareness among the indigenous people.
From the end of the Chaco War until the 1952 revolution, the
emergence of contending ideologies and the demands of new groups
convulsed Bolivian politics.
Twelve years of tumultuous rule left the MNR divided. In 1964, a
military junta overthrew President Paz Estenssoro at the outset
of his third term. The 1969 death of President Rene Barrientos,
a former member of the junta elected President in 1966, led to a
succession of weak governments. Alarmed by public disorder, the
military, the MNR, and others installed Col. (later General)
Hugo Banzer Suarez as President in 1971. Banzer ruled with MNR
support from 1971 to 1974. Then, impatient with schisms in the
coalition, he replaced civilians with members of the armed
forces and suspended political activities. The economy grew
impressively during most of Banzer's presidency, but human
rights violations and eventual fiscal crises undercut his
support. He was forced to call elections in 1978, and Bolivia
again entered a period of political turmoil.
Elections in 1978, 1979, and 1980 were inconclusive and marked
by fraud. There were coups, counter-coups, and caretaker
governments. In 1980, Gen. Luis Garcia Meza carried out a
ruthless and violent coup. His government was notorious for
human rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, and economic
mismanagement. Later convicted in absentia for crimes, including
murder, Garcia Meza was extradited from Brazil and began serving
a 30-year sentence in 1995.
After a military rebellion forced out Garcia Meza in 1981, three
other military governments in 14 months struggled with Bolivia's
In the 1985 elections, the Nationalist Democratic Action Party
(ADN) of Gen. Banzer won a plurality of the popular vote (33%),
followed by former President Paz Estenssoro's MNR (30%) and
former Vice President Jaime Paz Zamora's Movement of the
Revolutionary Left (MIR, at 10%). But in the congressional
run-off, the MIR sided with MNR, and Paz Estenssoro was chosen
for the fourth time as president. (Hyperinflation had reached an
annual rate of 24,000%.)
In 4 years, Paz Estenssoro's administration achieved economic
and social stability. The military stayed out of politics, and
all major political parties publicly and institutionally
committed themselves to democracy. Human rights violations,
which badly tainted some governments earlier in the decade, were
not a problem.
In the June 2002 national elections, former President Gonzalo
Sanchez de Lozada (MNR) placed first with 22.5% of the vote,
followed by illegal-coca agitator Evo Morales (Movement Toward
Socialism, MAS) with 20.9%.
On December, 18, 2005 new elections were held. They were won by
Evo Morales with 54%
Bolivia -- Economy --
Since 1985, the Government of Bolivia has implemented a
far-reaching program of macroeconomic stabilization and
structural reform aimed at maintaining price stability, creating
conditions for sustained growth, and alleviating poverty. A
major reform of the customs service in recent years has
significantly improved transparency in this area. The most
important structural changes in the Bolivian economy have
involved the capitalization of numerous public sector
enterprises. (Capitalization in the Bolivian context is a form
of privatization where investors acquire a 50% share and
management control of public enterprises by agreeing to invest
directly into the enterprise over several years rather than
paying cash to the government).
Parallel legislative reforms have locked into place
market-oriented policies, especially in the hydrocarbon and
telecommunication sectors, that have encouraged private
investment. Foreign investors are accorded national treatment,
and foreign ownership of companies enjoys virtually no
restrictions in Bolivia. While the capitalization program was
successful in vastly boosting foreign direct investment (FDI) in
Bolivia ($1.7 billion in stock during 1996-2002), FDI flows have
subsided in recent years as investors complete their
capitalization contract obligations.
The government held a binding referendum in 2004 on plans to
export natural gas and on hydrocarbons law reform. Protest and
wide-spread opposition to exporting gas through Chile led to the
resignation of President Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003. By
May 2005, the hydrocarbons law draft was being considered by the
In April 2000, violent protests over plans to privatize the
water utility in the city of Cochabamba led to nationwide
disturbances. The government eventually cancelled the contract
without compensation to the investors, returning the utility to
public control. The foreign investors in this project continue
to pursue an investment dispute case against Bolivia for its
actions. A similar situation occurred in 2005 in the cities of
El Alto and La Paz.
Bolivia's trade deficit was $460 million.It's trade with
neighboring countries is growing, in part because of several
regional preferential trade agreements it has negotiated.
Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community and enjoys nominally
free trade with other member countries (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia,
and Venezuela). The U.S. Andean Trade Preference and Drug
Enforcement Act (ATPDEA) allows numerous Bolivian products to
enter the United States free of duty on a unilateral basis,
including alpaca and llama products and, subject to a quota,
The United States remains Bolivia's largest trading partner.
Bolivia's major exports to the United States are tin, gold,
jewelry, and wood products. Its major imports from the United
States are computers, vehicles, wheat, and machinery.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 15% of Bolivia's GDP. The
amount of land cultivated by modern farming techniques is
increasing rapidly in the Santa Cruz area, where weather allows
for two crops a year. Soybeans are the major cash crop, sold
into the Andean Community market. The extraction of minerals and
hydrocarbons accounts for another 10% of GDP and manufacturing
less than 17%.
The Government of Bolivia remains heavily dependent on foreign
assistance to finance development projects. At the end of 2002,
the government owed $4.5 billion to its foreign creditors, with
$1.6 billion of this amount owed to other governments and most
of the balance owed to multilateral development banks. Most
payments to other governments have been rescheduled on several
occasions since 1987 through the Paris Club mechanism. External
creditors have been willing to do this because the Bolivian
Government has generally achieved the monetary and faget targets
set by IMF programs since 1987, though economic crises in recent
years have undercut Bolivia's normally good track record.
Rescheduling agreements granted by the Paris Club have allowed
the individual creditor countries to apply very soft terms to
the rescheduled debt. As a result, some countries have forgiven
substantial amounts of Bolivia's bilateral debt. The U.S.
Government reached an agreement at the Paris Club meeting in
December 1995 that reduced by 67% Bolivia's existing debt stock.
The Bolivian Government continues to pay its debts to the
multilateral development banks on time Bolivia is a beneficiary
of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Enhanced HIPC
debt relief programs, which by agreement restricts Bolivia's
access to new soft loans.
Bolivia -- Culture --
Bolivian culture has been heavily influenced by the Quechua, the
Aymara, as well as by the popular cultures of Latin America as a
The cultural development of what is present-day Bolivia is
divided into three distinct periods: pre-Columbian, colonial,
and republican. Important archaeological ruins, gold and silver
ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from
several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include
Tiwanaku, Samaipata, Incallajta, and Iskanawaya. The country
abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen
little archaeological exploration.
The Spanish brought their own tradition of religious art which,
in the hands of local native and mestizo builders and artisans,
developed into a rich and distinctive style of architecture,
painting, and sculpture known as "Mestizo Baroque". The colonial
period produced not only the paintings of Perez de Holguin,
Flores, Bitti, and others but also the works of skilled but
unknown stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths.
An important body of native baroque religious music of the
colonial period was recovered in recent years and has been
performed internationally to wide acclaim since 1994.
Bolivian artists of stature in the twentieth century include
Guzman de Rojas, Arturo Borda, Maria Luisa Pacheco, and Marina
Nunez del Prado.
Bolivia has a rich folklore. Its regional folk music is
distinctive and varied. The "devil dances" at the annual
carnival of Oruro are one of the great folkloric events of South
America, as is the lesser known carnival at Tarabuco.
The best known of the various festivals found in the country is
the "Carnaval de Oruro", which was among the first 19
"Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,"
as proclaimed by the UNESCO in May of 2001.
Bolivia -- Political system --
The 1967 constitution, amended in 1994, provides for balanced
executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The traditionally
strong executive, however, tends to overshadow the Congress,
whose role is generally limited to debating and approving
legislation initiated by the executive. The judiciary,
consisting of the Supreme Court and departmental and lower
courts, has long been riddled with corruption and inefficiency.
Through revisions to the constitution in 1994, and subsequent
laws, the government has initiated potentially far-reaching
reforms in the judicial system and processes.
Bolivia's nine departments received greater autonomy under the
Administrative Decentralization law of 1995. Departmental
autonomy further increased with the first popular elections for
departmental governors (prefectos) on 18 December 2005,
after long protests by pro-autonomy-leader department of Santa
Cruz. Bolivian cities and towns are governed by directly elected
mayors and councils. Municipal elections were held on 5 December
2004, with councils elected to five-year terms. The Popular
Participation Law of April 1994, which distributes a significant
portion of national revenues to municipalities for discretionary
use, has enabled previously neglected communities to make
striking improvements in their facilities and services.
The departments of Tarija, Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz are
sometimes known as the "half moon" due to the crescent shape of
the departments when looked at together in the East of the
country. They also have in common conservative politics and rich
fossil fuel deposits.
The president is elected to a five-year term by popular vote.
Elected president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned in October
2003, and was substituted by Vice-president Carlos Mesa. Mesa
was in turn replaced by chief justice of the Supreme Court
Eduardo Rodriguez in June 2005. Six months later, on December
18, 2005, the Socialist native leader, Evo Morales, was elected
Bolivia's government is a republic. The Congreso Nacional
(National Congress) has two chambers. The Camara de
Diputados (Chamber of Deputies) has 130 members elected to
five-year terms, seventy from single-member districts
(circunscripciones) and sixty by proportional
representation. The Camara de Senadores (Chamber of
Senators) has twenty-seven members (three per department),
elected to five-year terms.
Bolivia has had a total of 193 coups d'etat from independence
until 1981, thereby averaging a change of government once every
ten months. Credit for the past quarter century of relative
political stability is largely attributed to President Victor
Paz Estenssoro, who ceded power peacefully after cutting hyperinflation
which reached as high as 14,000 percent