Bolivia flag

PRESIDENT: Evo Morales (Jan. 2006 - 2010)

POPULATION: 8.8 million

KEY EXPORTS: Natural gas, coca, silver, tin

Andrew Clem blog

Bolivia



Bolivia blog archives


Recent chronology

Apr. 2000Several people were killed during protests against econ. emergency.
Aug. 2001Pres. Hugo Banzer, dying of cancer, resigns, replaced by V.P. Jorge Quiroga.
Dec. 2001Pres. Jorge Quiroga urges free trade as the solution to Bolivia's poverty.
May 2002Ex-Pres. Hugo Banzer died of cancer. Enron Corp. obtained OPIC guarantee for a natural gas pipeline project in eastern Bolivia.
July 2002MNR won a plurality of votes in pres. elections. Evo Morales (MAS, a coca-growers lobby), was second.
Aug. 2002MNR (right) and MIR (left) allied, enabling Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (MNR) to become president. Constitutional reforms to make political system more open.
Oct. 2002.Pres. Sanchez de Lozada pressured Central Bank chief Juan Morales Antonio into rescinding a decision that would have made purchasing U.S. dollars more costly.
Jan. 200324-hour strike by transport workers, protesting hike in premiums for liability insurance. Govt. compromised with coca growers, who had set up roadblocks to protest coca eradication.
Feb. 200327+ people died as La Paz police mutinied to protest tax increase. Pres. Sanchez de Lozada seeks balanced budget to qualify for renewed foreign credit. Govt. accuses Evo Morales of coup plot.
Mar. 2003Landslide buried town of Chima, about 120 miles north of La Paz, blamed on improperly dug "wildcat" gold mine tunnels. 24+ people died, 150+ may be missing.
June 2003Hunger strike by 25 legislators of MAS and Pachakuti Indigenous Mvt. (MIP), and striking miners put up road blocks to demand changes in economic policies during special session of Congress.
Oct. 2003After protests (mostly by Indians) against natural gas exports become violent, Pres. Sanchez de Lozada resigns, replaced by V.P. Carlos Mesa, who promises early election.
July 2004Referendum on natural gas exports. Strike shut down all the airports for one day.
Mar. 2005More tumult in the streets. Interim Pres. Carlos Mesa offers to resign, but not accepted by Congress.
June 2005Interim Pres. Carlos Mesa resigns amid protests demanding energy nationalization, repl. by Ex-Supreme Court chief Eduardo Rodriguez.
Oct. 2005Constitutional dispute over allocating seats in Congress delays elections scheduled for Dec. 4. Morales campaigns on the issue of exploitation.
Dec. 2005Evo Morales is elected president, winning 55%, so no second round. He pledges to end cooperation with U.S. in fighting drugs.
Jan. 2006Prior to inauguration, Morales travels to Cuba, Ven., Europe, etc. Indians rejoice at historic ceremonies.
Feb. 2006Morales threatened to mobilize his supporters unless Congress approves constituent assembly to rewrite constitution.
Apr. 2006"Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas" (Cuba-Venezuela-Bolivia trade alliance) is announced in Havana.
May 2006Morales sent troops into natural gas installations to back up govt. takeover.
June 2006Morales says he intends to expropriate 77,000 square miles of farm land, for redistribution to peasants.
Aug. 2006Ex-pres. Ed. Rodriguez, is upset that the U.S. is not backing him up in the renewed uproar over the hasty Oct. 2005 removal of 28 ground-to-air missiles made in China.
Sept. 2006Opponents of Morales' constit. assembly staged a protest strike, mainly in the state of Santa Cruz.
Oct. 200611+ miners died in a clash between rival unions over control of a tin mine southeast of Oruru.
Dec. 2006Huge march in Santa Cruz protested Morales' plans to centralize government authority in La Paz.
Jan. 2007Deadly protests in Cochabamba by supporters of Pres. Evo Morales, demanding resignation of Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa.
Feb. 2007Indep. Bolivian miners (co-ops) compromised over tax obligations, calling off protest in La Paz. (Dynamite blasts) Floods...
Mar. 2007Coca growers demand that Coca-Cola remove "coca" from its corporate name.
July 2007Some opponents of Morales want to move seat of government from La Paz to Sucre, the capital until 1890s.
Oct. 2007Protests in Santa Cruz demand local control over energy, occupying city airport. Morales sent Army troops.
Nov. 2007Constituent assembly reconvened in Sucre, but Opposition leaders are boycotting.
Dec. 2007Renewed protests against proposed new constitution. Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando, and Beni demand more autonomy.
May 2008Referendum in Santa Cruz asserting more state's rights is approved by over 60 percent. Morales declared the vote "illegal."
June 2008Referendum in Tarija, asserting greater autonomy, is approved by a large margin. (80%?)
Sept. 2008Morales ordered the prefect of Pando, Leopoldo Fernandez, to be arrested. Army troops took over in the department, after state of emergency was declared there.
Sept. 2008U.S. Peace Corps withdrew all 113 of its volunteers from Bolivia; a few stayed.
Nov. 2008Morales halted cooperation with U.S. govt. in the fight against drug traffic, accusing U.S. of subverting his government.
Bolivia map Lat Am & Bolivia map

Geography

Bolivia is mostly mountainous, but there is a substantial flat upland area known as the Altiplano. In the middle of this region is Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. It divides Bolivia from Peru. In the Yungas region northeast of La Paz and the Chapare region north of Cochabamba, coca is widely cultivated, and most of the crop is processed into a paste that is refined into cocaine. The north and northeast of Bolivia are part of the Amazon rain forest. The territory along the coast to the southwest used to belong to Bolivia until it was defeated by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Bolivia has been landlocked ever since, a major impediment to its national development. Eastern Bolivia consists of mixed farmland and woodland that turns into desert scrubland the farther southeast you go. That is the harsh region where petroleum and natural gas are found and where the Chaco War was fought with Paraguay in the 1930s.

History

One of the last former colonies of Spain to be liberated in South America, Bolivia took its name from Simon Bolivar, "the Liberator." It had been a part of the Viceroyalty of Lima and was originally known as "Upper Peru." During the colonial era, Potosi was one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the entire world, but the silver ores gradually became depleted and the region stagnated. For several years in the 1830s Bolivia and Peru became politically united, but military defeat by Chile forced the two countries to split up again. Another war with Chile in 1879 resulted in the loss of Bolivia's sea coast, and it has been landlocked ever since. Bolivia benefited from growing tin exports in the early 20th century, but the depression of the 1930s left it in a desperate situation. In 1932 the military ruler sought to rally popular support by launching a war against its neighbor to the southeast, Paraguay. The "Chaco War" backfired terribly as the highland Indians in Bolivia's army were ill-suited to the hot, dry climate of the Chaco Desert, and Bolivia actually lost land. This ignominious defeat set the stage for growing social ferment, culminating in the Revolution of 1952, led by Victor Paz Estenssoro and his National Revolutionary Movement (MNR). Paz Estenssoro was overthrown in 1962 and Bolivia was ruled by a succession of military dictators of various ideological stripes for the next twenty years. Gen. Hugo Banzer held power longer than any other, from 1971 until 1978. His downfall unleashed a period of political chaos which resulted in the collapse of government authority in the early 1980s as the generals finally gave up and let the civilians run things. Unchecked spending and foreign borrowing resulted in hyperinflation, and prices rose over 10,000% in 1985! It was at that point that Paz Estenssoro was elected president again, but to the surprise of many he pushed strict monetary austerity and free-market reforms that undid much of the "reforms" his MNR had enacted back in the 1950s! It saved the country from economic ruin, though at a high human price: many thousands of workers lost their jobs and many families went hungry. Even the left-leaning government that won power in 1989 recognized the success, refraining from any major relapse into economic folly.

For most of the 1990s Bolivia made steady progress on the economic front, but the high national debt burden has yet to be lifted and it still causes human suffering. The country survived the economic turbulence that swept the continent in 1998, but there have been sporadic outbreaks of violent protests. Former dictator Hugo Banzer won the 1998 elections but respected democratic norms and earned a measure of respect from his former enemies. His major initiative was to increase cooperation with U.S. anti-drug policies.

Culture

Bolivia is an extreme example of the social stratification that exists to varying degrees in much of Latin America. It has a small European-descended elite, a smaller middle class, and a poor majority of mostly indigenous ancestry. The country's culture is heavily influenced by the Indian heritage. The language of the Tiahuanaco civilization, Aymara, is widely spoken in the countryside; a smaller number of people speak Quechua, the language of the Inca empire. As in Peru, Indians in Bolivia still use coca for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, just as in ancient times.



CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:

Congress and Presidential palace, Plaza de Portillo, in La Paz.

Mountain road in the Yungas, north of La Paz.

The modern skyline of La Paz.

Mount Illimani, overlooking La Paz at dusk.

Church bell tower in Sucre.

Indian folk musicians.

Supreme Court building in Sucre.



Politics

Because of the sharp social divide between rich and poor, which is accentuated by the ethnic component, politics in Bolivia tends to be unstable, and democracy is not firmly established. During the 1990s there was a broad consensus that the severe economic austerity measures introduced by President Paz Estenssoro were necessary, and that Bolivia had to maintain a good reputation with international creditors. Since the rise of indigenous movements in the 1990s under coca-growing advocate Evo Morales, however, this consensus has collapsed. The stunning electoral victory of Morales in December 2005 raises big questions about whether he is a dedicated radical leftist like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, or is more of a pragmatist like Brazil's Lula da Silva. So far, the former prospect seems more likely. Bolivia is now reverting to old fashioned statist populism, putting its credit standing at high risk. Under the government of Morales, Bolivia has emphatically rejected the free trade alternative, and is pursuing regional integration with Venezuela, turning its back on other Andean Group members. For the immediate future, the proposed natural gas pipeline (either through Peru or Chile) will not be built.

Movement Toward Socialism National Unity
(??)
National Revolutionary Movement Poder Democratico Nacional
(ex-National Democratic Action?)
President Evo Morales Samuel Jorge Doria Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada Jorge Quiroga
S: 12
CD: 73
S: 1
CD: 8
S: 1
CD: 6
S: 13
CD: 43

NOTE: Width of each column shows each party's approximate strength. Colors and positions (left to right) represent ideological leanings, which are often vague. Numbers show how many seats each party has in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Minor parties are not shown.

SOURCES: CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Dept.


External links (in Spanish)