Government of Bolivia - History

Government of Bolivia - History

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Government type:
presidential republic
name: La Paz (administrative capital); Sucre (constitutional [legislative and judicial] capital)

Administrative divisions:
9 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento); Beni, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, Pando, Potosi, Santa Cruz, Tarija
6 August 1825 (from Spain)
National holiday:
Independence Day, 6 August (1825)
many previous; latest drafted 6 August 2006 - 9 December 2008, approved by referendum 25 January 2009, effective 7 February 2009; amended 2013; note - in late 2017, the Constitutional Tribunal declared inapplicable provisions of the constitution that prohibit elected officials, including the president, from serving more than 2 consecutive terms (2018)
Legal system:
civil law system with influences from Roman, Spanish, canon (religious), French, and indigenous law
International law organization participation:
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction
citizenship by birth: yes
citizenship by descent: yes
dual citizenship recognized: yes
residency requirement for naturalization: 3 years
18 years of age, universal and compulsory
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Juan Evo MORALES Ayma (since 22 January 2006); Vice President Alvaro GARCIA Linera (since 22 January 2006); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Juan Evo MORALES Ayma (since 22 January 2006); Vice President Alvaro GARCIA Linera (since 22 January 2006)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
elections/appointments: president and vice president directly elected on the same ballot one of 3 ways: candidate wins at least 50% of the vote, or at least 40% of the vote and 10% more than the next highest candidate; otherwise a second round is held and the winner determined by simple majority vote; no term limits (changed from two consecutive term limit by Constitutional Court in late 2017); election last held on 12 October 2014 (next to be held in 2019)
election results: Juan Evo MORALES Ayma reelected president; percent of vote - Juan Evo MORALES Ayma (MAS) 61%; Samuel DORIA MEDINA Arana (UN) 24.5%; Jorge QUIROGA Ramirez (POC) 9.1%; other 5.4%
Legislative branch:
description: bicameral Plurinational Legislative Assembly or Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional consists of:
Chamber of Senators or Camara de Senadores (36 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote; members serve 5-year terms)
Chamber of Deputies or Camara de Diputados (130 seats; 70 members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote, 53 directly elected in single-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote, and 7 - apportioned to non-contiguous, rural areas in 7 of the 9 states - directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote; members serve 5-year terms)
elections: Chamber of Senators and Chamber of Deputies - last held on 12 October 2014 (next to be held in 2019)
election results: Chamber of Senators - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - MAS 25, UD 9, PDC 2;
Chamber of Deputies - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - MAS 88, UD 32, PDC 10
Judicial branch:
highest court(s): Supreme Court or Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (consists of 12 judges or ministros organized into civil, penal, social, and administrative chambers); Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (consists of 7 primary and 7 alternate magistrates); Plurinational Electoral Organ (consists of 7 members and 6 alternates); National Agro-Environment Court (consists of 5 primary and 5 alternate judges; Council of the Judiciary (consists of 3 primary and 3 alternate judges)
judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court, Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal, National Agro-Environmental Court, and Council of the Judiciary candidates pre-selected by the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and elected by direct popular vote; judges elected for 6-year terms; Plurinational Electoral Organ judges appointed - 6 by the Legislative Assembly and 1 by the president of the republic; members serve single 6-year terms
subordinate courts: National Electoral Court; District Courts (in each of the 9 administrative departments); agro-environmental lower courts
Political parties and leaders:
Christian Democratic Party or PDC [Jorge Fernando QUIROGA Ramirez]
Movement Toward Socialism or MAS [Juan Evo MORALES Ayma]
National Unity or UN [Samuel DORIA MEDINA Arana]

Destination Bolivia, a Nations Online Project country profile of the landlocked state in west-central South America. The region of present-day Bolivia was once part of the ancient Inca Empire.

After the War of the Pacific (1879–84), a war between Chile and a Bolivian–Peruvian alliance, Bolivia lost access to the Pacific Ocean and became one of the two landlocked states in South America. The country borders Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru.

Bolivia occupies an area of 1,098,581 km² (424,164 sq mi), it is about twice the size of Spain, or slightly less than three times the size of the U.S. state of Montana. The Andean mountain range covers about one-third of the country.

Bolivia has a population of 11,8 million people (est. 2021) indigenous people make up about two-thirds of the population. Spoken languages are Spanish (official), Aymara, Quechua, Guaraní and 34 other native languages.

Bolivia is one of the few states in the world with two capitals: La Paz (officially: Nuestra Señora de La Paz) is the seat of the government, and Sucre the legal capital and the seat of the judiciary.

Bolivia is named after the independence fighter Simon Bolivar it broke away from Spanish rule in 1825 much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of nearly 200 coups and counter-coups.

Comparatively democratic civilian rule was established in the 1980s, but leaders have faced difficult problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and drug production.

Current goals include attracting foreign investment, strengthening the educational system, continuing the privatization program, and waging an anti-corruption campaign.
(Source: CIA - The World Factbook)

Official Name:
Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia
short form: Bolivia
int'l long form: Plurinational State of Bolivia

Bolivia changed its official name from Republic of Bolivia to Plurinational State of Bolivia in 2009.

Local Time = UTC -4h
Actual Time: Sun-June-20 07:57

Capital Cities:
La Paz (administrative, seat of the government pop. 800,000)
Sucre (legislative/judiciary pop. 300 000)

Other Cities:
Santa Cruz (1,500 000), Cochabamba (587,000), El Alto (860,000).

Type: Republic.
Independence: 6 August, 1825.
Constitution: 1967 revised 1994.

Location: West-central South America
Area: 1 million km² (424.164 sq. mi.)
Terrain: High plateau (altiplano), temperate and semitropical valleys, and the tropical lowlands.

Climate: Varies with altitude--from humid and tropical to semiarid and cold.

Nationality: Bolivian(s).
Population: 11.8 million (2021)
GNI per capita PPP: $ 3,049 (year)
Ethnic Groups: Quechua 30%, mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian ancestry) 30%, Aymara 25%, white 15%.
Religions: Predominantly Roman Catholic minority Protestant.
Languages: Spanish (official) Quechua, Aymara, Guarani.
Literacy: 85.5%.

Natural resources: tin, natural gas, petroleum, zinc, tungsten, antimony, silver, iron, lead, gold, timber, hydropower.

Agriculture products: soybeans, coffee, coca, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, potatoes, timber.

Industries: mining, smelting, petroleum, food and beverages, tobacco, handicrafts, clothing

Exports - commodities: natural gas, mineral ores, gold, soybeans and soy products, tin

Imports - commodities: machinery, petroleum products, vehicles, iron and steel, plastics

Imports partners: Brazil 22%, Chile 15%, China 13%, Peru 11%, Argentina 8%, United States 7% (2017)

Official Sites of Bolivia

Plaza Murillo is the central square in La Paz with Bolivia's National Congress (left) and the Government Palace of Bolivia (popularly known as the Palacio Quemado right). The square was one of the flashpoints for political protests in Bolivia.
Image: Mauricio Aguilar

Note: Due to the political crisis in Bolivia, some websites may not work. External links will open in a new browser window.

Presidencia de la República de Bolivia
Site of the Bolivian presidency (in Spanish).

Presidencia de la Asamblea Legislativa
The Vice President of Bolivia is also the President of the Legislative Assembly.

Plurinational Legislative Assembly
Bolivia's assembly is bicameral there is a lower house (Chamber of Deputies) and an upper house (the Senate).

Cámara de Diputados
Bolivia's Chamber of Deputies

Diplomatic Missions
Misión Permanente de Bolivia ante las Naciones Unidas
Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations (in Spanish).
Consulado General de Bolivia Washington, DC
General Consulate of Bolivia in the U.S., Washington D.C. (mostly in Spanish)
Embajada de Bolivia en la República Argentina
Embassy of Bolivia in Argentina.

Map of Bolivia (click map to enlarge)
Image: ©

Administrative Map of Bolivia
Map showing Bolivia's administrative divisions.
Detailed Map of Bolivia
Political Map of Bolivia.

Google Earth Bolivia
Searchable map and satellite view of Bolivia.
Google Earth La Paz
Searchable map and satellite view of Bolivia's capital city.
Google Earth Sucre
Searchable map and satellite view of Bolivia's legislative capital.

Map of South America
Reference Map of South America.

Online News from Bolivia (in Spanish)

Correo del Sur
Sucre, local and national news.
El D
Santa Cruz de la Sierra - National news.
El Diario
La Paz - National and international news.
El Mundo
Santa Cruz - National and international news.
El Nuevo Dia
Santa Cruz - National and international news.
Diario el Potosí
Potosi - National and international news.
Los Tiempos
Cochabamba - National news.
La Razon
La Paz - National and international news.

International News sources
The Associated Press
AP news from Bolivia.

The Guardian | Bolivia
News by The Guardian about Bolivia.

Facade of the Basílica de San Francisco in La Paz. The facade is an example of an architectural style known as Andean Baroque.
Image: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

Arts & Culture

Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Bolivia. (in Spanish).

Museo Nacional de Arqueologia
The National Archaeological Museum (in Spanish).

Museo de la Coca
Coca Museum site by International Coca Research Institute ICORI, background and history of a disputed plant.

Bolivian Thoughts in an Emerging World
Bolivia related blog with translated news and other information about the country.

Business & Economy of Bolivia

Two BoA airplanes at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport Cochabamba. Boliviana de Aviación (BoA) is a state-owned company and the country's largest airline.
Image: Russland345

Bolivia is a low middle-income country. Bolivia's most lucrative products are coca, lithium, natural gas, tin, and silver.

Entel is a major Bolivian telecommunications company, headquartered in La Paz.

The state-owned Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) is Bolivia's largest oil and gas company.

Boliviana de Aviación (BoA)
BoA is the flag carrier of Bolivia, owned by the Bolivian Government. BoA has its main hub at Bolivia's largest international airport, Viru Viru International in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Línea Aérea Amaszonas
The airline has its hub at El Alto International Airport, La Paz.

Bolivian domestic airline.

Transporte Aéreo Militar (TAM)
TAM is based in La Paz it offered flights to rural communities. TAM ceased operations in September 2019

El Alto International Airport
The international airport is located in the city of El Alto, about 8 mi (13 km) south-west of La Paz.
Viru Viru International Airport
Bolivia's largest international airport and the main gateway for international flights.

Rail transport in Bolivia
Wikipedia's comprehensive page about rail transport in Bolivia.

Spectacular reflections on the great salt lake of Salar de Uyuni. The world's largest salt flat is located at an elevation of 3,650 m (11,980 ft) in the Bolivian Basin, an ancient endorheic basin on the Altiplano of southwestern Bolivia.
Image: Haceme un 14

Destination Bolivia - Travel and Tour Guides

Discover Bolivia:
accommodation, hotels, attractions, festivals, events, tourist boards, the Andes, Salar de Uyuni, Lake Titicaca, Amboró National Park, Torotoro National Park, Tiwanaku, biking, hiking, climbing, tours, and much more.
The official website for tourism in Bolivia.

Another official website for tourism in Bolivia (in Spanish.)

Bolivia Turismo
About Bolivian Tourism, with travel and tourism information (in Spanish.)

Bolivia Milenaria
Tourism operator in La Paz. Bolivia.

Bolivia Web - Travel
Somewhat outdated Bolivian community website.

Wikivoyage Bolivia
Wikivoyage travel guide for Bolivia.

La Paz from El Alto with Illimani mountain in the background.
Image: EEJCC

La Paz
La Paz, officially known as Nuestra Señora de La Paz, is the highest administrative capital in the world at more than 3,500 m, situated about 50 km east of Lake Titicaca on the Andes’ Altiplano plateau.

The Municipality of Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia, is located at an elevation of 2,810 m in the southern highlands of Bolivia. The Spanish founded the city in 1538 under the name Ciudad de la Plata de la Nueva Toledo.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Gateway of the Sun from the Tiwanaku civilization in Bolivia.
Image: Mhwater kking in the country.
Image: Cleide Isabel

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia
There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia, six cultural and one natural. In addition, five properties are included in the UNESCO Tentative List, an inventory of those properties which each State Party intends to consider for nomination. (see the List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bolivia).

Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos
Six Jesuit Missions situated on the former territory of the Chiquitos in Santa Cruz department in eastern Bolivia.

Historic City of Sucre
Sucre was the first capital of Bolivia, founded by the Spanish in the first half of the 16th century.

Fuerte de Samaipata
"El Fuerte", is a pre-Inca archaeological site in Florida Province of Bolivia.

Tiwanaku: Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture
Tiwanaku is situated near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca it was the capital of a powerful pre-Hispanic empire and the spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku Culture.

The facade of the University Andina Simon Bolivar in Sucre.
Image: CEUB

Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar
Post-graduate university in Sucre (since 1985), with national headquarters in Quito, Ecuador (since 1992) and regional offices of Caracas, Venezuela, Bogotá, Colombia (since 2005) and La Paz.

Universidad Católica Boliviana
Oldest private university in Bolivia situated in La Paz.

Universidad Mayor de San Andrés
UMSA in La Paz is Bolivia's leading public university, founded in 1830.

Universidad Mayor de San Simón
UMMS is a Bolivian public university located in the city of Cochabamba.

Madidi National Park in the upper Amazon river basin in Bolivia. The huge park is ranging from the glacier-covered peaks of the high Andes Mountains to the tropical rainforests of the Tuichi River.
Image: Dirk Embert / WWF - World Wide Fund for Nature

Asociación de Organizaciones de Productores Ecológicos de Bolivia AOPEB
The Association of Ecological Producers' Organizations of Bolivia with the purpose to improve the ecological producers' level of self-sufficiency based on ecologically sustainable agriculture.

Servicio Nacional de Áreas Protegidas
Bolivia's national service is responsible for safeguarding the country's protected areas.

Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza/ Friends of Nature Foundation
FAN is a private non profit organization, founded in 1988, dedicated to conserve Bolivian biodiversity.

Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado
The Noel Kempff Mercado Natural History Museum is a research center in biodiversity conservation in Bolivia.

Sustainable Bolivia
SB is a non-profit organization based in the United States with offices in Riberalta, Bolivia and initiatives in the Bolivian Amazon it offers volunteer program in Riberalta.

Statue of Simón Bolívar in La Paz, Bolivia. Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) was a Venezuelan patriot and statesman known as the Liberator. He succeeded in driving the Spanish from Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. Then Upper Peru was named Bolivia in his honor.

History of Bolivia
Bolivia's history from pre-colonial times to the 21st century.

World History Archives: History of Bolivia
Compilation of information on Bolivia's history.

Wikipedia: History of Bolivia
Wikipedia article about the History of Bolivia.

Indigenous People of Bolivia

A traditional Aymara ceremony in Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on the shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The flag is kown as Wiphala, representing various native peoples of the Andes.
Image: Kilobug

Native Bolivia
Bolivia is the South American country where indigenous peoples constitute the largest ethnic group. There are 36 recognized peoples in Bolivia 62% of Bolivia's population are indigenous.

Minority Rights Group - Bolivia
The international human rights organization about indigenous peoples in Bolivia.

Indigenous peoples in Bolivia
IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs about indigenous peoples in Bolivia.

Indigenous peoples in Bolivia
Wikipedia entry for Indigenous peoples in Bolivia.

Selected country profiles of Bolivia published by international organizations.

Amnesty International: Bolivia
Amnesty International is a non-governmental organization focused on human rights.

BBC Country Profile: Bolivia
Country profiles by the British public service broadcaster.

BTI Transformation Index Bolivia
Bolivia Country Report by Bertelsmann Stiftung.

FAO: Bolivia
UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Bolivia.

Freedom House profile Bolivia
The U.S. government-funded non-profit organization whose goal is to promote liberal democracies worldwide.

GlobalEDGE: Bolivia
Global business knowledge portal - Global Insights by country, Bolivia.

The Heritage Foundation: Bolivia
Index of Economic Freedom by The Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think tank.

Human Rights Watch: Bolivia
HRW conducts research and advocacy on human rights.

OEC: Bolivia
The Observatory of Economic Complexity provides the latest international trade data.

Reporters Without Borders: Bolivia
RSF (Reporters sans frontières) is an international NGO that defends and promotes media freedom.

Bolivia - LANIC
Latin American Network Information Center on Bolivia.

Wikipedia: Bolivia
Wikipedia's Bolivia page in many languages.

The CIA World Factbook -- Bolivia
CIA World Factbook intelligence on Bolivia.

A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Bolivia

Bolivia declared its independence from Spain on August 6, 1825 . The United States recognized the Peru-Bolivian Confederation on March 16, 1837, by the appointment of James B. Thornton as Chargé d’Affaires. Thornton was commissioned to Peru but received by the Peru-Bolivian Confederation. The Confederation dissolved in 1839, but it was not until May 30, 1848 that the United States recognized Bolivia as a separate state and established diplomatic relations by the appointment of John Appleton as Chargé d’Affaires.

Legislative Branch Of The Government Of Bolivia

The legislative branch is made up of the Chamber of Senators and the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Senators consists of 36 members, who are elected into office based on proportional representation of a list of specific political parties. Each senator is elected to serve a 5-year term. The Chamber of Deputies consists of 130 representatives. Of these seats, 70 are elected by their district, 63 are elected in the same manner as senators, and 7 are elected by indigenous people of the majority of departments of Bolivia.

This branch of government is responsible for debating, creating, and enacting new laws and regulations for the executive branch to carry out.


The State of Bolivia has been a remarkably unsuccessful state. Bolivia is now poor and backward but this was not always the case for the area that is now Bolivia. In pre-Columbian times the high plains, the Altiplano , had an economy based upon irrigated agriculture and was relatively densely populated compared to other areas of South America. At that time the Altiplano was closely linked with the area that is now Peru. Sometimes there were kingdoms of the Aymara-speaking natives of the Altiplano which controlled the Quechua-speaking natives of Peru and at other times the roles were reversed. In the era immediately before Spanish contact it was the Quechua-speaking kingdom of the Inca that controlled the Altiplano and sent Quechua-speaking colonists into the Altiplano such that today the native speakers of Aymara and Quechua language are of equal importance in the population of Bolivia.

Shortly after the Spanish conquest, silver deposits were discovered at Potosí and these silver mines made the region one of the wealthiest and most heavily populated in the Spanish Empire. In 1800 Bolivia had a population that was second only to Brazil among the regions of South America. The wealth however did not trickle down to the native population, who were forced to supply labor for the mines. During the Spanish Imperial era and up until indpendence the area was known as Upper Peru. For a period of time the Spanish authorities decreed that all contact between the provinces of Rio de la Plata (what later became Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) should be through Upper Peru (Bolivia). In 1800 Bolivia's population was five times that of Argentina's and 50 percent larger than the population of Chile.

By the end of the 18th century the silver deposits had been worked out and the region was economically depressed. When Napoleon gave the Spanish crown to his brother Joseph rebellion broke out in 1809 in the cities of Upper Peru. The area was finally liberated in 1825 by Simon Bolivar forces under the command of Antonio José de Sucre. The leadership of the independence forces initially intended that Upper Peru would be joined with Peru or Argentina but leaders from the region convinced them that the region should be an independent country. As part of the campaign for an independent state the local leaders chose to name the state after Bolivar and selected the leader of the forces that liberated it, Antonio José de Sucre, as its first president. The original territory of Bolivia was considerably larger than the present nation. The original Bolivia had territory on the Pacific Coast, territory that is now part of Chile. The state of Acre, now in Brazil, was originally Bolivian. Territory now in western Paraguay was originally claimed by Bolivia. This failure to maintain the original territory reflects the weakness of the Bolivian state.

The loss of the Pacific Coast territory came as a result of Bolivia's inability to develop the nitrate deposits in the territory. As a result of the catastrophic decline in silver mining Bolivia lacked capital and Bolivian politics was in the hands of local military bosses who primarily concerned with their own survival. One of these leaders, Marshal Santa Cruz, did rise above local politics and engineered a confederation of Bolivia and Peru that lasted from 1836 to 1839. This confederation was looked upon as threatening to Chile and so the Chilean army attacked, first defeating the Bolivian army and then the Peruvian army.

After the defeat of the confederation of Bolivia and Peru commercially important nitrate and guano deposits were discovered in the Bolivian Pacific Coast territory. When Bolivia did not pursue the development Chilean interests secured leases and with British financial backing started marketing the nitrate and guano for fertilizers. When Bolivia in 1879 tried to exert control over the nitrate operations Chile invaded Bolivia and the War of the Pacific began. It lasted from 1879 to 1884 and ended with defeat of the Bolivian and Peruvian armies by Chile. Chile then annexed the Pacific Coast territories of Bolivia. As a result of their defeat in the War of the Pacific the military in Bolivia lost status and the power shifted to entrepreneurs who were trying to resurrect Bolivian mining. There had been some recovery of the silver industry but declining silver prices and the exhaustion of deposits cut that recovery short. The new mining bonanza was in tin. In the latter part of the 19th century new uses for tin were developed such for coating steel in so-called tin cans. The new higher price of tin brought prosperity to the old mining areas. Fabulous fortunes were made.

One tin-mining fortune was made by Simon Patiño, who worked as a clerk in a general store that sold supplies to mining prospectors. One day a prospector came into the stores for supplies but had nothing of value to pay for them except a deed to a mine. Patiño took pity on the miner and accepted the mine deed as payment. When the owner of the store found out about the transaction he was furious. He told Patiño that he was fired and that his wages would be paid in the form of the dubious mine deed taken in trade for the store's supplies. Patiño , not able to find another job, went to the mine to see what he could do with it. The mine appeared to be worth little but Patiño discovered a vein of tin ore in 1899 and ultimately became one of the world's wealthiest individuals. Patiño proved to be a master of organization, something that probably no one realized during the early part of his life when he worked for others.

Two political parties were formed in the 1880s. Both were parties of the upper classes and both were conservative politically. One was called the Conservative Party and the other the Liberal Party. (Outside of the United States the term liberal means what conservative means in the U.S. and in Latin America conservative means something that is outside the U.S. political spectrum. Roughly it means maintaining the control by the large land holders and the Catholic Church.) The two parties were in agreement on economic policy and only differed in how they perceived the role of the Catholic Church.

Bolivia was ruled by the Conservative Party from 1880 to 1899. The Liberal Party won power in 1899 over the issue of which city, Sucre or La Paz, would be the capital of Bolivia.

The Liberal Party governed from 1899 to 1920. A rebellion had broken out in the province of Acre which was within the Amazon region and was affected by the rubber boom. The Liberal Party decided not to try to fight for control of the distant province but instead sold Acre to Brazil in 1903 and used the funds to build the transportation system of Bolivia. The Liberal Party so politically overwhelmed in the elections that the Conservative Party dissolved itself. Political opposition re-emerged in 1914 with the formation of the Republican Party which differed very little from the Liberal Party in economic policies.

The Republican Party was able to take control of the government in 1920. By 1930 the tin mining industry was in financial difficulty because the price of tin dropped as a result of the outset of the Great Depression whereas the tin deposits that were left involved higher production costs.

In the 1930s Bolivia fought another disasterous war. The territory between Bolivia and Paraguay, known as the Chaco, was in dispute. Paraguay claimed a greater portion of the Chaco than Bolivia was willing to recognize. The President of Bolivia provoked a war over the disputed territory which lasted from 1932 to 1935. Bolivia initially had a larger, supposedly better trained army but it was defeated by the army of Paraguay. In the Chaco War Bolivia suffered losses and casualties of about one hundred thousand and lost more territory to Paraguay than Paraguay had initially claimed. The people of Bolivia, particularly the veterans, recognized the enormity of the failure of the Bolivian government and looked for radical solutions to their political and economic problems. In 1936 a group of military officers carried out a coup d'etat and tried to institute a military variety of socialism. Standard Oil properties in Bolivia were nationalized and the social welfare-oriented constitution was adopted.

  • The Movement of National Revolution (MNR): nationalistic socialist (ideologically fascist)
  • The Party of Leftist Revolution (PIR): pro-Soviet Marxist

In 1943 the elected president was overthrown in a military coup d'etat under the leadership of Gualberto Villaroel. The military junta allied itself with the MNR and Villaroel was president from 1943 to 1946. During this period the Bolivian peasants were organized and mobilized by the MNR. But Villaroel was opposed by both the political right and left. He governed so ineptly that he was hanged by a revolutionary mob outside the presidential palace in 1946.

The radical leftist PIR tried to governed the next four years but failed and in 1950 it was replaced by the Bolivian Communist Party. In the presidential election of 1951 the MNR candidate won a plurality but a military junta took control of the government. The MNR foresook its fascist ties and allied itself with organized labor including Trotskyite labor unions. The Trotskyite labor unions were enemies of the Communist-dominated labor union whose leadership was Stalinist in its orientation. One important figure of the labor union leadership was Juan Lechin, an individual who wielded major power in Bolivia from behind the scenes.

This alliance undertook a series of more and more violent revolutionary actions and finally in 1952 defeated and virtually destroyed the army and the military regime in power.

Despite the fact that the Bolivian army has never won a war the military had long been a major force in Bolivian politics.

From the rise of tin mining until 1952 Bolivia was dominated by the tin oligarchy, nicknamed la Rosca , literally a small, hard kernel but sometimes translated as The Screw . In that year miners and peasants combined with middleclass elements to overthrow the government dominated by the tin oligarchy.

The Bolivian National Revolution of 1952 was a major social revolution carried out under the leadership the MNR. After the military victory of the revolution, a political revolution was carried out under the leadership of Victor Paz Estenssoro of the MNR. The largest tin mines were nationalized and the workers in these mines were given a role in their management. A sweeping land reform gave land to the peasants. The peasants as well as the tin mine workers were given weapons. The literacy requirement for voting was abolished. Paz Estenssoro held the presidency from 1952 to 1956. This was his first term as president.

After the episode of sweeping, radical reforms of Paz Estenssoro there was extensive inflation. The president that followed Paz Estenssoro, Hernando Siles Zuazo devoted his term to curbing inflation and moderating the radical programs of his predecessor. Siles Zuazo's term was a period of reversal of the revolution. The role of the workers in the administration of the nationalized tin mines was eliminated. The social welfare programs were reduced.

Paz Estenssoro returned to the presidency in 1960 and he continued the policies of Siles Zuazo. A political crisis arose in 1964 when Paz Estenssoro tried to continue in office for another term and the military under the leadership of Vice President and General René Barrientos deposed him.

Barrientos took control of the government and continued the process of his predecessors of moderating the programs and policies of the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. In 1969 Barrientos was killed in a helicopter accident.

Barrientos was replaced as President by Vice President Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas who was soon deposed by a military coup which placed General Alfredo Ovando Candía in the presidency. President Ovando Candía nationalized the properties of Gulf Oil. Ovando Candía was a militarist with noted organizational abilities. Politically he was a corporatist and willing to nationalize private property if it was to his political advantage but he was no socialist. His successor's political orietation was quite different. In October of 1970 General Juan José Torres deposed Ovando Candía. Torres was from a humble background and rose to prominence in the military but his political orietation remained socialist, even radically socialist.

Juan José Torres

President Torres was perceived as a man of the people and enjoyed a remarkable degree of popularity compared to the other military figures who took the presidency through coup d'etat . Torres went so far as to sanction the replacement of the National Congress with a national workers' assembly, which was labeled a Soviet by its critics.

In 1971 Torres was deposed and another military figure Colonel Hugo Banzer took the presidency. (Such a lot of political turmoil followed the helicopter crash of Barrientos in 1969!)

General Hugo Banzer Saurez

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The poor soil conditions and high altitude make agriculture difficult. It has been the frequent victim of aggression by neighbors. Bolivia is now landlocked but this was not always the case. In the nineteenth century Bolivia had an outlet on the Pacific Ocean, but lost it in a war with Chile. In the twentieth century Brazil simply took away a substantial share of Bolivian territory. Despite the fact that the Bolivian army has never won a war the military is a major force in Bolivian politics.

Until 1952 Bolivia was dominated by a tin oligarchy, nicknamed "The Screw". In that year miners and peasants combined with middleclass elements to overthrow the government. The revolutionary government headed by Victor Paz Estenssoro called for drastic land reform and nationalized the large mines.

The governments of Bolivia were generally corporatist in the sense that they asserted that they were committed to capitalism but with significant state control and regulation in the interest of social justice. In the late 1950s the second post-revolutionary government, headed by Hernan Siles Zuazo, adopted an IMF stabilization program. In the 1960s union and leftist elements broke away from the government party and in the political turmoil the military took power in 1964. In 1969 a leftist faction of the military came to power and nationalized more industries, including oil, and gave benefits to the working class. This faction lost power in 1971 to General Hugo Banzer. Under Banzer in the 1970s there was political repression but economic growth financed by debt. International pressure forced Banzer to call for civilian elections in 1978.

The election of July 1978 was voided as a result of charges of voting fraud and Banzer resigned later in that month. After a rapid series of changes in government Lydia Tejada was chosen as interim president.

Siles Zuazo returned to lead a leftist coalition in the late 1970s. His party won the plurality in three elections, but each time military coups and parlimentary maneuvers prevented Siles Zuazo from taking the presidency. A coup in 1980 brought to power a military faction with strong ties to the drug trade. An economic collapse under this faction led to a new military regime which restored the civilian Congress which had been elected in 1980. This Congress gave the presidency to Siles Zuazo.

  • 1. stabilization of the exchange rate with a "dirty" float
  • 2. reduction of government deficits to reduce the growth of the money supply
  • 3. liberalization of exchange operations to attrack back the capital that had "flown"
  • 4. cuts in real wages and suppression of the labor movement
  • 5. negotiation with international creditors.

Overnight the government devalued the peso from 75,000 to the dollar to one million to the dollar. Three months of stability resulted but later tin prices collapsed and inflation rose to 33 percent per month. Further devaluation was called for, but Paz Estenssoro followed the advice of U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs who called for the supporting of the peso by buying pesos in international markets with Bolivia's foreign exchange reserves. This resulted in an appreciation of the peso by 10 percent and monthly inflation quickly fell to zero. Paz Estenssoro reduced employment in the government mining corporation by 75 percent and broke the power of the tin miners union. He also instituted a value-added tax. Bolivia obtained favorable treatment from the IMF and other international source of funds. Later, in May of 1989, a principal architect of the NEP, Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada won a plurality in the elections. Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada is an individual with profound economic insights to the problems of Bolivia Jeffrey Sachs referred to him as a genius.

Although Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada won a plurality in the election of 1989 he did not gain the presidency at that time. In 1993 he became president and governed until 1997. He was re-elected president in 2002 but social turmoil led to his resignation.


Source: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library: Lyndon B. Johnson Papers: National Security File (hereafter LBJL: LBJP: NSF) : Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68).

After visiting Bolivia and meeting President Barrientos, U.S. General William Tope assesses the guerrilla situation in the Andes, warning of major challenges ahead. Barrientos informs the Americans that the Bolivian Army is investigating reports of “a group of bearded armed men…” spotted around Chuquisaca. Barrientos says the guerrillas are a “well organized, highly trained and well supplied group… and are at present maintaining contact with Salta, Argentina Venezuela and even Cuba.” Concerned about the broader security implications of the guerrilleros, Barrientos stresses that “the army must come up with some kind of a quick success.” Yet, General Tope counsels that “unfortunately, all of their quick fixes are unsound, would waste precious resources and probably would get them in worse trouble than they already have.” Tope further laments that “Since we have not yet figured out how to pull a rabbit out of the hat for them either, they are very difficult to divert from this line of thinking.” He recommends that Barrientos use “individuals who have received counterinsurgency training from us in the past,” to which the Bolivian responds that they had already done so. Fearing Bolivian incompetence, Tope concludes the telegram by highlighting the need for a significant U.S. role, “It is obvious we must take a practical, pragmatcw [sic] approach, building on what they now have, forcing improvements toward sound objectives, assisting all we can when there is the goal, and preventing the waste of either US or Bolivian resources when it is not.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

In this sobering memo on the counter-insurgency capabilities of the Bolivian government, staffer William G. Bowdler forwards to National Security Adviser Rostow the Embassy’s April 22 cable (see Document 1), which he calls a “grim report,” and warns that “The problem is not only adequacy of the troops in the field, but the attitude of those at the top, including Barrientos.” Bowdler explains that supplies have been sent to support U.S. troops already in the field and “We are concentrating on the training and equipping of a new Ranger battalion.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

This is the first CIA field report of “persons who claimed to have seen and talked with ‘Che’ Guevara since he disappeared in March 1965.” Based in large part on the interrogations of several captured persons, including Régis Debray, the CIA explains that Guevara “was present with the main group of Bolivian guerrillas in Southeast Bolivia from late March until at least 20 April 1967.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this memo, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow explains to the President that there is a credible report (Document 3) that Guevara is “alive and operating in South America” (highlight in original). Rostow concludes by noting that “we need more evidence before concluding that Guevara is operational – and not dead, as the intelligence community, with the passage of time, has been more and more inclined to believe.” A previous release of this document redacted the source for this report – “interrogation of guerrillas captured in Bolivia, among them Jules Debray, the young French Marxist who has been close to Castro.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

This intelligence summary based on the interrogation of Régis Debray describes three meetings the French intellectual had with Guevara. Debray explains that Guevara is trying to create a movement and funding source outside of Cuba as, “Guevara and Fidel Castro were not in total agreement, and that Guevara was trying to build mechanisms independent of Cuba, to support his personal revolutionary efforts.” The support was to come mainly from Europe, according to Debray, as the movement, “was to be organized and backed by Bertrand Russell of England, Jean Paul Sartre of France and Alberto Moravia of Italy, and was to support ‘Che’ Guevara and his guerrilla movement in Latin America … the moral and financial support was to come from individuals in Europe.”

Source: NSF: Intelligence file, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This dire CIA intelligence assessment warns that there are currently seven distinct guerrilla groups in Bolivia and “Their presence poses a grave threat to Bolivian stability.” The analysts highlight the role played by Cuba and worry that the USSR could also intervene, “It has been evident from the outset that Cuba has played a key role in the initiation, implementation and execution of guerrilla activity in Bolivia.” The report explains that “Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara according to several reports from different sources, is personally directing Bolivian guerrilla activities and has been physically present with the guerrillas in Bolivia.” Consistent with past intelligence assessments, the CIA sees the government of President Barrientos as incompetent, having “repeatedly demonstrated its total inability to cope with the guerrillas.” The analysts think it is possible that the guerrilla situation could create a climate for a left-wing coup in Bolivia and broader regional instability, “This could lead to a government composed of a loose coalition of leftist parties. Both President Juan Carlos Ongania, of Argentina and President Eduardo Frei, of Chile agreed at a summit conference in Uruguay in April 1967, that if Barrientos is overthrown and replaced with a left-wing leader like Juan Lechin Oquendo, they will intervene with their armed forces.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

This memo to the president from his national security adviser presents an update on the Bolivian guerrilla situation and highlights the “interrogation of several deserters and prisoners, including a young [sic] French communist – Jules Régis Debray – closely associated with Fidel Castro and suspected of serving as a Cuban courier.” The interrogation of these individuals “strongly suggests that the guerrillas are Cuban-sponsored, although this is hard to document. There is some evidence that ‘Che’ Guevara may have been with the group. Debray reports seeing him.” Rostow then explains U.S. efforts: “Soon after the presence of guerrillas had been established we sent a special team and some equipment to help organize another Ranger-type Battalion. On the military side, we are helping about as fast as the Bolivians are able to absorb our assistance” and “CIA has increased its operations.” Rostow concludes by noting that “while the outlook is not clear,” U.S. efforts should make a positive difference.

Source: LBJL: NSF: Intelligence File, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This intelligence assessment from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) downplays some of CIA’s more dire conclusions. On the threat posed by guerrilla movements, it notes, “There have been rumors of possible new guerrilla ‘fronts’, but such reports seem somewhat overdrawn and unrealistic in view of the small size of the guerrilla movement, estimated to number about 60 members. We have seen no evidence of successful recruiting efforts by the guerrillas … The present guerrilla movement can probably evade and harass the counterinsurgent forces for an indefinite period, but it does not in itself and at its present size constitute a serious threat to the government.” Ultimately, the analysts at State conclude that the stability of Bolivia is dependent on whether Barrientos makes concessions with disaffected groups or uses repression. “The greatest danger in the short term would lie in the coalescence of groups or movements capable of violence. If the government should take harshly repressive measures against the miners, that coalescence [sic] might occur. However, Barrientos has not authorized such measures thus far and his chances of avoiding drastic action seem somewhat better than even.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

This startling memcon by Bowdler summarizes his discussion with Bolivian Ambassador Julio Sanjines-Goytia, who requests U.S. assistance for the establishment of “what he called a ‘hunter killer’ team to ferret out guerrillas.” The ambassador explained that “this idea was not original with him, but came from friends of his in CIA.” Bowdler then asks if “the Ranger Battalion now in training were not sufficient,” to which Ambassador Sanjines-Coytia replies that what he had in mind are, “50 or 60 young army officers, with sufficient intelligence, motivation and drive, who could be trained quickly and could be counted on to search out the guerrillas with tenacity and courage.” Bowdler tells the ambassador that “his idea may have merit, but needs further careful examination.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v.4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

This brief cover note from Bowdler refers to its lengthy CIA attachment: “This does not constitute proof that Che Guevara is alive and operating in Bolivia but it certainly heightens the possibility. I think the President night like to read this one.” The report is based on the written statement by captured Argentine revolutionary Ciro Roverto Bustos, who explained that when he arrived at the Bolivian guerrilla camp, one guerrillero with a Cuban accent told him that the commander, “Ramon,” was none other than Guevara. Guevara did not want his presence known because, “the struggle should be a Bolivian movement, and only when it was well developed and his participation, along with his Cubans, was a simple fact of proletarian-revolutionary internationalism, should his presence be made known.” The report explains in detail Guevara’s strategic objective which places the U.S. at the center of the revolutionary struggle: “the underlying political basis for this is that the struggle against imperialism is the factor common to all Latin American nations. Imperialism is the real enemy, not the oligarchies, which are enemies of form rather than substance. Because the real enemy is a common one for all of Latin America, a new strategy is necessary. This strategy must start from the premise that in Latin America no single country can now or in the future carry out the revolution alone, not even a government supported by its own army and by its people. It would merely produce palliatives and imitations of change, but it would not make revolution. One country alone is quickly surrounded, strangled, and subjugated by the imperialists because revolution is a socio-economic fact and not a romantic, patriotic event. Economic underdevelopment in Latin America is caused by imperialism and its total control. Change will be possible only when there is total opposition. It is necessary, therefore, to unite the total strength of the Latin American nations in a decisive confrontation against the United States” [underlining in the original].

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this intelligence assessment, the CIA concludes that, the success of the guerrilla movement in Bolivia “is due largely to the ineptitude of the Bolivian military.” Conversely, Bowdler in his cover note to Rostow, describes the report as “the next thing to a whitewash and is being rewritten. Autocriticism is sometimes hard to take. A great deal of the fault lies with the Bolivians. But there are areas where we clearly fall down.” In the report, CIA analysts highlight the unique strengths of the Bolivian guerrillas: “one major point is clear. The Bolivian guerrillas are a well trained and disciplined group. The insurgents are better led and better equipped than the untrained, poorly organized Bolivian military forces” [underlining in original]. On the leadership of the guerrillas, the CIA carefully qualifies the intelligence on Guevara: “A few known Bolivian Communists have been identified as leaders of the insurgents. Other reports from within Bolivia and elsewhere allege that one of the leaders is Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who was a key figure in the Castro government in Cuba until he dropped out of sight in March 1965. These reports, which come from sources of varying credibility, are in essential agreement on the details of where and when Guevara is supposed to have been with the guerrillas, but conclusive evidence of Che’s direct participation has not been obtained. Whether Guevara is a participant, or indeed whether he is even alive, it is plain in any case that the guerrilla leaders are well-schooled in the insurgency techniques and doctrines previously espoused by Guevara” [underlining in original]. The agency concludes by suggesting that this case might have broader repercussions: “because worldwide publicity has been given both to the alleged presence of Che Guevara with the guerrillas and to the capture of [Régis] Debray, this insurgency movement will be kept in the public eye. It could become a focus for the continuing polemical debate in the Communist world over the wisdom of political versus militant revolutionary action.”

Source: LBJL: NSF: Intelligence File, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This memorandum presents several proposals for handling captured documents taken from Che Guevara’s camp by Bolivian troops in early August and turned over to the Americans. The concern is that the revelation of the U.S. as the sole authentication source of the documents might carry some risks. The strategic value of the documents is assessed. Recommendations are that Bolivia only make public some documents and that La Paz should seek public assistance from the U.S. and other countries simultaneously in order to minimize U.S. exposure. Option 3, in which Bolivia announces possession of captured documents and publicly asks the U.S. for help analyzing them, and Option 4, in which Bolivia would expand the circle to include all OAS members, garner the most support. American officials are aware of the Bolivian desire that the documents be used as evidence in the Régis Debray trial. The U.S. role should be protected given that, “The Communists, for example, may assert we fabricated the documents. The French press may charge we are out to get Debray, etc.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this memorandum for the president, Rostow explains two major developments concerning the Bolivian situation. First, after the capture of several guerrilla documents, “The preliminary reading from CIA shows rather conclusively that ‘Che’ Guevara travelled to Bolivia via Spain and Brazil in late 1966 using false documents.” Second, “Bolivian armed forces on August 30 finally scored their first victory and it seems to have been a big one. An army unit caught up with the rearguard of the guerrillas and killed 10 and captured one … two of the dead guerrillas are Bolivians and the rest either Cubans or Argentines.” Rostow recommends that “it is not in our interest, or the Bolivians’, to have the U.S. appear as the sole authenticating agent for the documents.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Intelligence File, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This memo shows that after further analysis of the captured guerrilla documents in Bolivia, “two of the passports bearing different names carry the same photograph and fingerprints.” The Agency has concluded that, “the fingerprints are identical to examples of prints of Guevara furnished to CIA [REDACTED] in 1954 and [REDACTED] in 1965.” The photographs, the CIA assesses are “most probably” of Guevara “in disguise.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.

Bowdler makes no comment in forwarding these field reports of rebel activities in Bolivia to National Security Adviser Rostow, but the attached CIA intelligence cables reveal the dire straits into which Che Guevara’s band had fallen. One tells the story of the battle with Bolivian army troops which effectively destroyed Guevara’s rearguard. The other, reporting information from the interrogation of one of the guerrillas, gives an inside account of developments within the rebel band. Che Guevara is discussed under his nom de guerre “Ramon.” He is reported to be angry and upset at various developments in the movement.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

Bowdler sends Rostow a copy of the CIA’s preliminary analysis of the documents that were captured from Che Guevara’s rebel band in Bolivia. The agency focuses on evidence related to the question of whether Che is actually in that country, which has been one of the major mysteries from the beginning. The evidence includes two passports, identity cards, health certificates and photographs. The passports show a correspondence to fingerprints Argentine authorities gave CIA in 1954 and 1965, and indicate that Che most likely went from Brazil to Bolivia in November 1966. “These findings lead to a strong presumption . . . but they are still short of conclusive proof. The CIA report does not draw conclusions at this stage.” Bowdler also tells Rostow the Bolivians want to use the captured documents in the trial of Régis Debray. The staffer worries the documents may be tarred as a CIA hoax, and recommends that Rostow approve a course of action under which countries other than the U.S. authenticate the material, as in an option approved by the 303 Committee by telephone the previous day.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

This State Department cable to Ambassador Henderson in La Paz makes clear Washington’s determination to get maximum use out of Che’s captured documents. State Department officials deem it essential that the documents be publicized before they are brought into the Organization of American States (OAS). To this end the Department wants to make use of President Barrientos’s and General Ovando’s desire to put the documents into evidence at the trial of Régis Debray. While U.S. officials admit the documents have no direct evidence against Debray, “the trial would be [the] most convenient setting for making [the] documents public.” Henderson is to see Bolivian officials and urge them to surface the documents in the Debray trial, and take the occasion to advise the Bolivians to inform other OAS member states that they intend to bring these materials before the regional group as proof of Cuban subversion in the hemisphere.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File, Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

State Department instructions to Embassy La Paz inform Ambassador Henderson that Bolivian Foreign Minister Guevara-Arce is being given a “narrative” and “props” he can use at the Organization of American States (OAS) conference. The narrative is to account for where the materials being presented came from, how the Bolivian government dealt with them, and what they show. The Bolivians are supposed to rewrite this exposition so it appears to come from them. The props are versions of the captured documents. Ambassador Henderson is ordered to present copies of the same material to Bolivian leader Barrientos and military strongman General Ovando, and to obtain from them a clear understanding that Bolivia will take complete responsibility and make no attribution whatever to the United States.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting File, b. 31, f.: National Security, Intelligence (8).”

At the State Department, INR officers responsible for the Department’s dealings with the 303 Committee prepare a memorandum reminding committee members of the proposals made for the documents captured in Bolivia (Document 16), affirming that 303 had made a telephonic decision, confirmed at a September 8 meeting, and now noting actions taken on that basis that will enable the Bolivian government to unveil the documents at the Organization of American States meeting the next day. INR specifies that the Bolivian government will take complete responsibility for the documents but calls it an acceptable risk if circumstances oblige the United States to admit it has given Bolivia an opinion interpreting the material.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In a brief note forwarding copies of field reports, NSC staffer William Bowdler informs Rostow that Bolivian leader René Barrientos is claiming Che’s capture in a battle with Bolivian troops in the mountains. Bowdler affirms that the unit which engaged the guerrillas is the same Ranger battalion the United States had helped train. He reports that, before confirming the presence of Che Guevara among the wounded, the CIA wants to verify his fingerprints.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

In a brief field report the CIA in Bolivia confirms a battle action in the highlands east of La Paz on October 8. The battle lasted through the afternoon and resulted in several guerrillas killed and two captured. “One of those captured may be Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna, who is either seriously wounded or very ill and may die.” The rebel remnants appeared to be trapped and were expected to be wiped out the next day.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

Here National Security Advisor Rostow reports the tentative information that Guevara had been taken by the Bolivian military and was dead, attributed to President Barrientos’s private contacts with journalists in La Paz the morning of the 9 th . The note correctly identifies several members of Che’s guerrilla band, including the man who had been with him when he was captured. Nightfall, according to this report, prevented the Bolivians from evacuating the prisoners and wounded from the highlands. (In reality, the Rangers were awaiting instructions on whether to kill the rebels.)

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivie, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

The CIA monitoring service known as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) typically listens in to radio broadcasts from many different sources. This compendium on Guevara’s death included material from La Paz radio (La Cruz del Sur), the French press agency AFP, and the Argentinian agency ANSA. Bolivian military officers holding a press conference not only claimed Guevara had died of battle wounds, they revealed that his diary had been captured. A French reporter recorded that the diary book was colored red and had been manufactured in Germany. Another report noted the diary contained daily entries that had detailed events in his Bolivian guerrilla campaign.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this memo, CIA Director Helms calls attention to the fact that published accounts of Che’s death have been based on a Bolivian army press conference the previous day, which attributed his death to battle wounds and claimed Guevara had been in a coma when captured. Helms noted the agency had received contrary information from its officer, Felix Rodriguez, who was with the 2 nd Ranger Battalion. Helms now reported Che had been taken with a leg wound “but was otherwise in fair condition.” The CIA added that orders had come through from Bolivian Army Headquarters to kill the Argentine revolutionary and that they had been carried out the same day “with a burst of fire from an M-2 automatic rifle.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

Walt Rostow reports to President Johnson that “CIA will not give us a categorical answer” as to whether Che is dead. Rostow is “99 percent sure,” but that is deemed not good enough. CIA reported that Che was taken alive, questioned for a short time to establish his identity, and then killed on the orders of Bolivian chief General Ovando. “I regard this as stupid,” Rostow adds, “but it is understandable from a Bolivian standpoint.” He notes that this “marks the passing of another of the aggressive, romantic revolutionaries” and that “it will have a strong impact in discouraging would-be guerrillas.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File, Latin America, b. 8., f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

“‘Che’ Guevara’s death was a crippling—perhaps fatal—blow to the Bolivian guerrilla movement and may prove a serious setback for Fidel Castro’s hopes to foment violent revolution” in Latin America, proclaimed this State Department wrap-up analysis. INR observes that Bolivia has been a testing ground for the foco theory of revolution. While Castro would not escape the “I told you so” criticisms of Latin communists, INR predicts, he would still hold the esteem of Latino youth. Guevara’s demise would set up a test, however. “If the Bolivian guerrilla movement is soon eliminated as a serious subversive threat, the death of Guevara will have even more important repercussions among Latin American communists. The dominant peaceful line groups, who were either in total disagreement with Castro or paid only lip service to the guerrilla struggle, will be able to argue with more authority against the Castro-Guevara-Debray thesis.”


Here the CIA director recounts for senior administration officials some of what Che Guevara said at La Higuera while he lay wounded on October 9. Helms affirms that Guevara refused to be interrogated but did not mind a conversation reflecting on recent history. Che talked about the Cuban economy, the relationship between Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos (whom some thought Castro had had executed, but Guevara insisted had died in a plane crash), and Castro himself, whom Che said had not been a communist until after the success of the revolution, breaking another frequently-held belief in the U.S. Guevara spoke of his campaign in the Congo, the treatment of prisoners in Cuba, and the future of the guerrilla movement in Bolivia—“he predicted a resurgence in the future.” Helms also details the telegraphic code the Bolivians used to decree life or death for Che.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

Che Guevara’s diary, among his effects taken at La Higuera, would be published widely, including by Cuba, in the U.S. by the magazine Ramparts, in book form by Ramparts editors, and by others. Before any of those publications, however, the U.S. Government already knew what was in the diary, because the CIA made a copy and summarized it for Washington officials. In this field report, which Walt Rostow forwarded to President Johnson, there are highlights of the Guevara diary. The account began by putting a date on Che’s arrival in Bolivia and focused on details such as who had accompanied him, Che’s account of his break with the Bolivian communists, and the precarious situation at the end of September. Another, more extensive, summary appeared in a CIA report on November 9 (also part of the Digital National Security Archive’s CIA Set III) as the full diary was still being translated. Comparison of these summaries with the diary readily confirms the CIA was working from the actual diary materials.

Source: Assassination Records Review Board release, NARA.

In 1975, the “Year of Intelligence” (see Digital National Security Archive CIA Set II), both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission investigated assassination plots attributed to the CIA. At this time Felix Rodriguez (“Benton H. Mizones”) was interviewed on his Bolivia assignment by colleagues at the Latin America Division, for the Inspector General’s office to compile a record of his time fighting Che. Rodriguez was of interest because it was he who had passed along instructions from the Bolivian high command that Guevara be killed. The Rodriguez interview record provides a straightforward chronology of his work in Bolivia, commencing with his recruitment by CIA, his trip to La Paz, meeting with President Barrientos, and his work with the 2 nd Ranger Battalion. In the account which the CIA Inspector General passed along to the Church committee, Rodriguez takes credit for saving the life of one guerrilla prisoner, from whom he recounts obtaining information critical to catching Che, and for the suggestion to put the Rangers into action, which led to the gun battle in which Che Guevara would be wounded and captured. Rodriguez would be the only American to see Che alive, and the only one to speak with him before his death. In these interviews the CIA contract officer says little about what he and Che discussed, but a fuller account of that conversation was reported by Director Helms in Document 27. This release of the Rodriguez statement goes further than previous versions of the document in revealing the name of CIA colleague Villoldo, and mentioning the Deputy Chief of Station in La Paz.

Bolivia: History

The altiplano was a center of native life even before the days of the Inca the region was the home of the great Tihuanaco empire. The Aymara had been absorbed into the Inca empire long before Gonzalo Pizarro and Hernando Pizarro began the Spanish conquest of the Inca in 1532. In 1538 the indigenous inhabitants in Bolivia were defeated.

Uninviting though the high, cold country was, it attracted the Spanish because of its rich silver mines, discovered as early as 1545. Exploiters poured in, bent on quick wealth. Forcing the natives to work the mines and the obrajes [textile mills] under duress, they remained indifferent to all development other than the construction of transportation facilities to remove the unearthed riches. Native laborers were also used on great landholdings. Thus began the system of plunder economy and social inequality that persisted in Bolivia until recent years. Economic development was further retarded by the rugged terrain, and conditions did not change when the region was made (1559) into the audiencia of Charcas, which was attached until 1776 to the viceroyalty of Peru and later to the viceroyalty of La Plata.

The revolution against Spanish control came early, with an uprising in Chuquisaca in 1809, but Bolivia remained Spanish until the campaigns of José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar. Independence was won with the victory (1824) at Ayacucho of Antonio José de Sucre. After the formal proclamation of independence in 1825, Bolívar drew up (1826) a constitution for the new republic. The nation was named Bolivia, and Chuquisaca was renamed Sucre, after the revolutionary hero.

Bolivia inherited ambitions and extensive territorial claims that proved disastrous, leading to warfare and defeat. At the time of independence it had a seacoast, a portion of the Amazon basin, and claims to most of the Chaco in little more than a century all these were lost. The strife-ridden internal history of Bolivia began when the first president, Sucre, was forced to resign in 1828. A steady stream of egocentric caudillos plagued Bolivia thereafter. Andrés Santa Cruz, desiring to reunite Bolivia and Peru, invaded Peru in 1836 and established a confederation, which three years later was destroyed on the battlefield of Yungay.

Although a few presidents, notably José Ballivián, made efforts to reform the administration and improve the economy, the temptation to wholesale corruption was always strong, and honest reform was hard to achieve. The nitrate deposits of Atacama proved valuable, but the mining concessions were given to Chileans. Trouble over them led (1879), during the administration of Hilarión Daza, to the War of the Pacific (see Pacific, War of the). As a result Bolivia lost Atacama to Chile, and no longer had direct access to the Pacific. The next serious loss was the little-known region of the Acre River, which had become valuable because of its wild rubber. After a bitter conflict, Bolivia, under President José Manuel Pando, yielded the area to Brazil in 1903 for an indemnity.

Attempts at reorganization and reform, especially by Ismael Montes, were overshadowed in the 20th cent. by military coups, rule of dictators, and bankruptcy. This repeated sequence led to an increase in foreign influence, through loans and interests in mines and oil fields. Attempts to raise Bolivia from its status as an underdeveloped country met with little success, although great personal fortunes were amassed from tin mining by tycoons such as Simón I. Patiño.

Conflicting claims to the Chaco, which was thought to be oil-rich, brought on yet another disastrous territorial war, this time with Paraguay (1932–35). The fighting ended in 1935 with both nations exhausted and Bolivia defeated and stripped of most of its claims in that area. Programs for curing the ills of the nation were hampered by military coups and countercoups. World War II proved a boon to the Bolivian economy by increasing demands for tin and wolframite. International pressure over pro-German elements in the government eventually forced Bolivia to break relations with the Axis and declare war (1943).

Rising prices aggravated the restiveness of the miners over miserable working conditions strikes were brutally suppressed. The crisis reached a peak in Dec., 1943, when the nationalistic, pro-miner National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) engineered a successful revolt. The regime, however, was not recognized by other American nations (except Argentina) until 1944, when pro-Axis elements in the MNR were officially removed. In 1946 the leader of the MNR-backed government, Major Gualberto Villaroel, was lynched. The conservative government installed in 1947 was soon threatened by opposition from the MNR and the extreme left.

In the 1951 presidential elections Victor Paz Estenssoro, the MNR candidate, won a majority of the votes, but was prevented from taking office by a military junta. The MNR, with the aid of the national police (the carabineros) and of a militia recruited from miners and peasants, rebelled and took power. The revolutionary government proceeded to expropriate and nationalize the tin holdings of the huge Patiño, Hochschild, and Aramayo interests and inaugurated a program of agrarian reform. Civil rights and suffrage were extended to the indigenous people. Education, health, and construction projects were begun.

In 1956 the MNR candidate, Hernán Siles Zuazo won the presidential election, and in 1960 the MNR further consolidated its power with the reelection of Victor Paz Estenssoro. The United States, in spite of losses incurred by American investors, stepped up its program of technical and financial assistance, and Siles Zuazo temporarily succeeded in stemming inflation. But economic and political factors weakened the government, and the eruption of dissident splinter groups, some fostering acts of political terror, brought all attempts at further reform to a virtual halt.

In 1964 the government was overthrown by the military. A junta dominated by Gen. René Barrientos Ortuño assumed power. The regime used troops to occupy the mines but did not rescind the important reforms of the MNR. Barrientos was elected president in 1966. A radical guerrilla movement, led by the Cuban Ernesto Che Guevara, was set back seriously when government troops killed Guevara in 1967. Barrientos died in 1969 his successor, Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas, was overthrown by Gen. Alfredo Ovando Candia. Ovando nationalized the Gulf Oil Company facilities in Bolivia.

A rightist military junta overthrew Ovando in 1970 but lasted only one day, succumbing to a leftist coup led by Gen. Juan José Torres. Under Torres relations with the Soviet Union, which had been established by Ovando, became closer, to the detriment of ties with the United States. Torres was overthrown in 1971 by Col. Hugo Banzer Suárez, who was supported by both the MNR and its traditional rightist opponent, the Bolivian Socialist Falange. Banzer closed the universities, arrested opposition politicians, and returned Bolivia to a pro-U.S. foreign policy. In 1974 an all-military cabinet was installed. Banzer was forced to resign in 1978 by the military, which soon gained control of the government and imposed martial law.

Civilian rule and democratic government were restored in 1982, when Siles Zuazo again became president. He served from 1982 to 1985, when he was succeeded by Victor Paz Estenssoro. During the 1980s, hyperinflation and labor unrest led to internal disturbances, which were intensified by government austerity programs. The government, however, made progress in its efforts to suppress the drug trade. Jaime Paz Zamora succeeded Paz Estenssoro as president in 1989. In the early 1990s the government offered tax incentives to attract foreign investment in the mining industry.

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a mining entrepreneur and former planning minister, was elected president in 1993. He pursued a policy of privatization and continued the free-market reforms begun in the late 1980s. He also launched a social security program and granted greater autonomy and more resources to poor urban and indigenous communities. In 1997, Hugo Banzer Suárez once again came to power, this time through democratic elections. He continued his predecessor's reform programs and pursued an aggressive coca-eradication and alternative-crop program. The government's antidrug programs led to economic difficulties in some regions in Bolivia, which resulted in protests and clashes and the temporary declaration of a state of emergency in Apr., 2000. Protests again in September–October paralyzed the economy, forcing Banzer's government to grant economic concessions to indigenous groups, although it refused to alter its plans to end illegal coca production.

In Aug., 2000, illness led Banzer to resign the presidency the vice president, Jorge Fernando Quiroga Ramírez succeeded him. After a close election in June, 2002, in which no presidential candidate won 50% of the vote, the congress elected former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who had won a plurality. The country's economic difficulties and anti-coca campaign led to increasing political assertiveness by persons of indigenous descent roughly 60% of Bolivians lived in poverty at the beginning of 2003. Proposed tax increases, which were designed to reduce government deficits to the level demanded by the International Monetary Fund, sparked protests in La Paz (Feb., 2003) that turned violent and forced the president to flee the presidential palace.

Plans to export natural gas led to new demonstrations against the government beginning in Sept., 2003. As the demonstrations grew and led to violence in October, the government lost support in Congress and the president resigned and went into exile. Vice President Carlos Diego Mesa Gisbert, a former journalist, succeeded to the presidency, and subsequently won approval for exporting natural gas in a July, 2004, referendum. However, increases in fuel prices, autonomy for Santa Cruz prov., and other issues sparked a series of demonstrations in early 2005 that threatened to plunge Bolivia into chaos. Mesa offered some concessions, but when some of the protests continued he offered to resign (Mar., 2005). Congress rejected his resignation, and Mesa, who remained popular with many Bolivians, attempt to rally his supporters.

Passage in May of an oil and gas taxation law, which became law without Mesa's signature when he failed to veto it as he had said he would, led to protests by labor and indigenous groups, who demanded the industry be nationalized, and unsettled the oil-rich south and east. Continuing demonstrations by supporters of nationalization and roadblocks that isolated Bolivia's major cities led Mesa to resign in June Supreme Court president Eduardo Rodgríguez Veltzé became interim president. In July the congress scheduled new presidential and congressional elections for December, and also approved calling a constitutional assembly and holding a referendum on greater autonomy for Bolivia's departments. The December elections resulted in a solid victory for oppostion leader Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS). Morales, an opponent of the coca-eradication program, became the first Bolivian of indigenous birth to be elected president. The election also marked the beginning of increasing polarization between supporters of Morales, largely of indigenous descent and inhabitants of Bolivia's poorer western highlands, and his conservative opponents, largely of European descent and inhabitants of the wealthier eastern lowlands.

In May, 2006, Morales moved to nationalize the natural gas and oil industry, sparking anxieties in Argentina and Brazil, countries that were largely supportive of his presidency but were also Bolivia's major natural gas customers and investors. In August, however, the nationalization process was temporarily suspended because of a lack of resources on the part of Bolivia's state energy company. A move in September to nationalize Brazilian-owned oil and gas refineries without compensation was suspended after Brazil's government protested, but the refineries were sold to Bolivia in June, 2007. In Oct., 2006, the government signed new agreements with the foreign energy companies. The nationalizations, while increasing government development funds in subsequent years, also led Argentina and Brazil to proceed with energy projects that would reduce their dependence on Bolivia.

Meanwhile, in June, 2006, the government began a land redistribution program, which met with resistance from landowners in E Bolivia. despite the fact that, at least initially, only government-owned land was involved subsequent attempts to expand the program were stymied in Congress until late in 2006, but even then the program's passage depended on questionable votes by two senators' assistants. Also in June plans were announced to reassert government control over telecommunications, electric, and rail companies that previously had been privatized. Morales also formed a close relationship with the like-minded president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, who offered financial aid to (and later, military support for) Morales's government.

The July constitutional assembly balloting gave the MAS a majority of seats in the body but not the two-thirds majority required to enact constitutional changes freely, and subsequent attempts to limit the two-thirds requirement only to final approval of a new constitution provoked anti- and progovernment demonstrations. The referendum on increased autonomy for Bolivia's departments, voted on at the same time, failed to win a national majority, but four departments voted for it. The Morales government was also subjected to strikes and blockages by opponents of its policies and by supporters angered over unmet expectations.

In Jan., 2007, there were violent demonstrations in Cochabamba against the governor, who had denounced Morales and supported increased autonomy for the departments, and clashes between supporters of both men. The government announced in 2007 that it planned to extend its nationalizations to the mining and telecommunications industries and to the railways, and it later moved to nationalize the largest private electricity companies (2010–12) and three Spanish-owned airports (2013). By late 2007 the constitutional assembly had failed to deliver a new constitution on time and had its deadline extended a number of divisive issues frustrated its work, including the status of Sucre as the capital and land reform.

The approval (Nov.–Dec., 2007) of a draft constitution without the presence of opposition constitutional assembly members sparked sometimes violent protests and led four departments to declare themselves autonomous, but Morales and the governors subsequently agreed to negotiations concerning the constitution. In late Feb., 2008, however, the Congress approved a national referendum on the new constitution, setting it for May 4 the vote was taken largely in the absence of opposition legislators. The National Electoral Court subsequently ruled that the referendum date failed to meet the constitutional requirement that it be set at least 90 days after congressional approval.

In May–June, four eastern departments voted for autonomy in referendums rejected by Morales the governors of those departments and a fifth subsequently rejected Morales's call for a recall vote on himself, the vice president, and all the governors. The recall referendum was nonetheless held in Aug., 2008, and Morales and most of the opposition governors were returned to office. Turmoil continued as the country remained polarized demonstrations increased with violence on both sides and relations with the United States also worsened sharply. In October, however, an agreement was reached, setting a constitutional referendum for Jan., 2009, with new elections the following December. As part of the agreement, Morales agreed to seek only one additional term as president the constitution was approved by a substantial majority, but failed to win majorities in the eastern departments. In the 2009 elections Morales was easily reelected, and his MAS secured control of both houses of the legislative assembly. Manfred Reyes Villa, Morales's opponent, was subsequently charged with election fraud he accused the government of political prosecution and fled the country. In the Apr., 2010, regional and local elections MAS won six of nine department governorships but won the mayoralties of only two department capitals. The MAS subsequently used a new law that allowed for removal of an officeholder who had been charged with (but not convicted of) a crime to oust a number of prominent opponents, including a governor, from office.

Morales faced a number of protests from his ostensible supporters in the second half of 2010, including a nearly three-week-long one in Potosí in July–August involving a range of local demands. After subsidized fuel prices were nearly doubled in late December, protests and strikes forced the government to rescind the increases after less than a week. Antigovernment protests and union strikes recurred in 2011 and 2012, including one that forced the government to suspend constructing a road through an Amazon reserve.

In Apr., 2013, the constitutional court ruled that the presidential two-term limit did not apply to Morales's term before the 2009 constitution was adopted and he could run again. In Oct., 2014, elections, Morales easily won reelection, and MAS again won control of both houses of the legislative assembly despite losing a few seats. In the Mar. and May, 2015, regional elections, however, MAS suffered losses in its share of the vote and in the regional posts it controlled. A constitutional amendment that would have permitted Morales to run for a fourth term was rejected in a referendum in Feb., 2016, but in Nov., 2017, the constitutional court set aside the result, saying that term limits violated voters' and candidates' human rights and that an illegal defamatory campaign against Morales had influenced the vote. Wildfires in 2019 scorched more 15,400 sq mi (40,000 sq km), mainly tropical savannas in E Bolivia.

In the Oct., 2019, presidential election the final tally showed Morales winning a sufficient margin to avoid a runoff, but a delay in the reporting of the results raised suspicions of fraud and led to several weeks of demonstrations. In the legislative elections, the MAS won fewer seats but secured a majority. After an OAS audit determined (November) the presidential results to have been manipulated, the army chief called for Morales to resign, and he, the vice president, and the legislative leaders did. Morales fled the country, and deputy senate leader Jeanine Áñez, a member of the opposition, became president. Morales supporters demonstrated against the new government, but in late November both sides agreed to annul the October elections and hold new presidential and legislative elections (later scheduled for May, 2020, but then delayed to September by the COVID-19 pandemic) that would respect presidential term limits.

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Bolivia Government, History, Population & Geography

Natural hazards: cold, thin air of high plateau is obstacle to efficient fuel combustion, as well as to physical activity by those unaccustomed to it from birth flooding in the northeast (March-April)

Environment—current issues: the clearing of land for agricultural purposes and the international demand for tropical timber are contributing to deforestation soil erosion from overgrazing and poor cultivation methods (including slash-and-burn agriculture) desertification loss of biodiversity industrial pollution of water supplies used for drinking and irrigation

Environment—international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection

Geography—note: landlocked shares control of Lago Titicaca, world's highest navigable lake (elevation 3,805 m), with Peru

Population: 7,826,352 (July 1998 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 39% (male 1,559,149 female 1,526,646)
15-64 years: 56% (male 2,139,680 female 2,245,268)
65 years and over: 5% (male 161,431 female 194,178) (July 1998 est.)

Population growth rate: 2% (1998 est.)

Birth rate: 31.43 births/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Death rate: 9.89 deaths/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Net migration rate: -1.53 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.83 male(s)/female (1998 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 63.86 deaths/1,000 live births (1998 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 60.89 years
male: 57.98 years
female: 63.94 years (1998 est.)

Total fertility rate: 4.05 children born/woman (1998 est.)

noun: Bolivian(s)
adjective: Bolivian

Ethnic groups: Quechua 30%, Aymara 25%, mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian ancestry) 25%-30%, white 5%-15%

Religions: Roman Catholic 95%, Protestant (Evangelical Methodist)

Languages: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara (official)

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 83.1%
male: 90.5%
female: 76% (1995 est.)

Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Bolivia
conventional short form: Bolivia
local long form: Republica de Bolivia
local short form: Bolivia

Government type: republic

National capital: La Paz (seat of government) Sucre (legal capital and seat of judiciary)

Administrative divisions: 9 departments (departamentos, singular—departamento) Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Beni, La Paz, Oruro, Pando, Potosi, Santa Cruz, Tarija

Independence: 6 August 1825 (from Spain)

National holiday: Independence Day, 6 August (1825)

Constitution: 2 February 1967 revised in August 1994

Legal system: based on Spanish law and Napoleonic Code has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age, universal and compulsory (married) 21 years of age, universal and compulsory (single)

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Hugo BANZER Suarez (since 6 August 1997) Vice President Jorge Fernando QUIROGA Ramirez (since 6 August 1997) note—the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Hugo BANZER Suarez (since 6 August 1997) Vice President Jorge Fernando QUIROGA Ramirez (since 6 August 1997) note—the president is both the chief of state and head of government
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president from a panel of candidates proposed by the Senate
elections: president and vice president elected on the same ticket by popular vote for five-year terms election last held 1 June 1997 (next to be held June 2002)
election results: Hugo BANZER Suarez elected president percent of vote—Hugo BANZER Suarez (ADN) 22% Jaime PAZ Zamora (MIR) 17%, Juan Carlos DURAN (MNR) 18%, Ivo KULJIS (UCS) 16%, Remedios LOZA (CONDEPA) 17% no candidate received a majority of the popular vote Hugo BANZER Suarez won a congressional runoff election on 5 August 1997 after forming a "megacoalition" with MIR, UCS, CONDEPA, NFR and PCD

Legislative branch: bicameral National Congress or Congreso Nacional consists of Chamber of Senators or Camara de Senadores (27 seats members are directly elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms) and Chamber of Deputies or Camara de Diputados (130 seats members are directly elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: Chamber of Senators and Chamber of Deputies—last held 1 June 1997 (next to be held June 2002)
election results: Chamber of Senators—percent of vote by party—NA seats by party - ADN 11, MIR 7, MNR 4, CONDEPA 3, UCS 2 Chamber of Deputies—percent of vote by party—NA seats by party—ADN 32, MNR 26, MIR 23, UCS 21, CONDEPA 19, MBL 5, IU 4

Judicial branch: Supreme Court (Corte Suprema), judges appointed for a 10-year term by National Congress

Political parties and leaders:
Left Parties: Free Bolivia Movement or MBL [Antonio ARANIBAR] Patriotic Axis of Convergence or EJE-P [Ramiro BARRANECHEA] April 9 Revolutionary Vanguard or VR-9 [Carlos SERRATE] Alternative of Democratic Socialism or ASD [Jerjes JUSTINIANO] Revolutionary Front of the Left or FRI [Oscar ZAMORA] Bolivian Communist Party or PCB [Marcos DOMIC] United Left or IU [Marcos DOMIC] Front of National Salvation or FSN [Manual MORALES Davila] Socialist Party One or PS-1 Bolivian Socialist Falange or FSB Socialist Unzaguista Movement or MAS
Center-Left Parties: Movement of the Revolutionary Left or MIR [Oscar EID] Christian Democrat or PDC [Benjamin MIGUEL] New Youth Force [Alfonso SAAVEDRA Bruno]
Center Party: Nationalist Revolutionary Movement or MNR [Gonzalo SANCHEZ DE LOZADA]
Center-Right Parties: Nationalist Democratic Action or ADN [Enrique TORO] New Republican Force or NFR [Manfred REYES VILLA]
Populist Parties: Civic Solidarity Union or UCS [Johnny FERNANDEZ] Conscience of the Fatherland or CONDEPA [Remedios LOZA Alvarado] Solidarity and Democracy or SYD Unity and Progress Movement or MUP [Ivo KULJIS] Popular Patriotic Movement or MPP [Julio MANTILLA]
Evangelical Party: Bolivian Renovating Alliance or ARBOL [Marcelo FERNANDEZ, Hugo VILLEGAS]
Indigenous Parties: Tupac Katari Revolutionary Liberation Movement or MRTK-L [Victor Hugo CARDENAS Conde] Nationalist Katarista Movement or MKN [Fernando UNTOJA] Front of Katarista Unity or FULKA [Genaro FLORES] Katarismo National Unity or KND [Filepe KITTELSON]

International organization participation: AG, ECLAC, FAO, G-11, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO (subscriber), ITU, LAES, LAIA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, PCA, RG, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Marcelo PEREZ Monasterios
chancery: 3014 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 483-4410 through 4412
FAX: [1] (202) 328-3712
consulate(s) general: Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Donna Jean HRINAK
embassy: Avenida Arce 2780, San Jorge, La Paz
mailing address: P. O. Box 425, La Paz APO AA 34032
telephone: [591] (2) 430251
FAX: [591] (2) 433900

Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), yellow, and green with the coat of arms centered on the yellow band similar to the flag of Ghana, which has a large black five-pointed star centered in the yellow band

Economy—overview: With its long history of semifeudal social controls, dependence on volatile prices for its mineral exports, and bouts of hyperinflation, Bolivia has remained one of the poorest and least developed Latin American countries. However, Bolivia has experienced generally improving economic conditions since the PAZ Estenssoro administration (1985-89) introduced market-oriented policies which reduced inflation from 11,700% in 1985 to about 20% in 1988. PAZ Estenssoro was followed as president by Jaime PAZ Zamora (1989-93) who continued the free-market policies of his predecessor, despite opposition from his own party and from Bolivia's once powerful labor movement. By maintaining fiscal discipline, PAZ Zamora helped reduce inflation to 9.3% in 1993, while GDP grew by an annual average of 3.25% during his tenure. President SANCHEZ DE LOZADA (1993-1997) vowed to advance the market-oriented economic reforms he helped launch as PAZ Estenssoro's planning minister. His successes included the signing of a free trade agreement with Mexico and the Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur) as well as the privatization of the state airline, phone company, railroad, electric power company, and oil company. Furthermore, SANCHEZ DE LOZADA sponsored legislation creating private social security accounts for all adult Bolivians and capitalized these new accounts with the state's remaining 50% share in the privatized companies. Hugo BANZER Suarez took office in August 1997 and has proclaimed his commitment to the economic reforms of the previous administration.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$23.1 billion (1997 est.)

GDP—real growth rate: 4.4% (1997 est.)

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$3,000 (1997 est.)

GDP—composition by sector:
agriculture: 17%
industry: 26%
services: 57% (1995 est.)

Inflation rate—consumer price index: 7% (1997)

Labor force:
total: 2.5 million
by occupation: agriculture NA%, services and utilities NA%, manufacturing, mining and construction NA%

Unemployment rate: 10%

revenues: $3.75 billion
expenditures: $3.75 billion, including capital expenditures of $556.2 million (1995 est.)

Industries: mining, smelting, petroleum, food and beverages, tobacco, handicrafts, clothing

Industrial production growth rate: 4% (1995 est.)

Electricity—capacity: 786,000 kW (1995)

Electricity—production: 2.9 billion kWh (1995)

Electricity—consumption per capita: 370 kWh (1995)

Agriculture—products: coffee, coca, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, potatoes timber

total value: $1.4 billion (f.o.b., 1997)
commodities: metals 34%, natural gas 9.4%, soybeans 8.4%, jewelry 11%, wood 6.9%
partners: US 22%, UK 9.3%, Colombia 8.7%, Peru 7.4%, Argentina 7.2%

total value: $1.7 billion (c.i.f. 1997)
commodities: capital goods 48%, chemicals 11%, petroleum 5%, food 5% (1993 est.)
partners: US 20%, Japan 13%, Brazil 12, Chile 7.5% (1996)

Debt—external: $4.2 billion (1997)

Economic aid:
recipient: ODA, $588 million (1997)

Currency: 1 boliviano ($B) = 100 centavos

Exchange rates: bolivianos ($B) per US$1׫.3724 (January 1998), 5.2543 (1997), 5.0746 (1996), 4.8003 (1995), 4.6205 (1994), 4.2651 (1993)

Fiscal year: calendar year

Telephones: 144,300 (1987 est.)

Telephone system: new subscribers face bureaucratic difficulties most telephones are concentrated in La Paz and other cities
domestic: microwave radio relay system being expanded
international: satellite earth stationק Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)

Radio broadcast stations: AM 129, FM 0, shortwave 68

Television broadcast stations: 43

Televisions: 500,000 (1993 est.)

total: 3,691 km (single track)
narrow gauge: 3,652 km 1.000-m gauge 39 km 0.760-m gauge (13 km electrified) (1995)

total: 52,216 km
paved: 2,872 km (including 27 km of expressways)
unpaved: 49,344 km (1995 est.)

Waterways: 10,000 km of commercially navigable waterways

Pipelines: crude oil 1,800 km petroleum products 580 km natural gas 1,495 km

Ports and harbors: none however, Bolivia has free port privileges in the maritime ports of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay

Merchant marine:
total: 1 cargo ship (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 4,214 GRT/6,390 DWT (1997 est.)

Airports: 1,153 (1997 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:
total: 11
over 3,047 m: 4
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 4 (1997 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:
total: 1,142
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 73
914 to 1,523 m: 229
under 914 m: 837 (1997 est.)

Military branches: Army (Ejercito Boliviano), Navy (Fuerza Naval Boliviana, includes Marines), Air Force (Fuerza Aerea Boliviana), National Police Force (Policia Nacional de Bolivia)

Military manpower—military age: 19 years of age

Military manpower—availability:
males age 15-49: 1,859,823 (1998 est.)

Military manpower—fit for military service:
males: 1,209,537 (1998 est.)

Military manpower—reaching military age annually:
males: 82,670 (1998 est.)

Military expenditures—dollar figure: $154 million (1997)

Military expenditures—percent of GDP: 1.9% (1996)

Disputes—international: has wanted a sovereign corridor to the South Pacific Ocean since the Atacama area was lost to Chile in 1884 dispute with Chile over Rio Lauca water rights

Illicit drugs: world's third-largest cultivator of coca (after Peru and Colombia) with an estimated 46,900 hectares under cultivation in 1997, a 2.5% decrease in overall cultivation of coca from 1996 levels Bolivia, however, is the second-largest producer of coca leaf even so, farmer abandonment and voluntary and forced eradication programs resulted in leaf production dropping from 75,100 metric tons in 1996 to 73,000 tons in 1997, a 3% decrease from 1996 government considers all but 12,000 hectares illicit intermediate coca products and cocaine exported to or through Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile to the US and other international drug markets alternative crop program aims to reduce illicit coca cultivation

Government of Bolivia - History

History of La Paz: Pre-Hispanic Period

Based on the results of archeological excavations, historians believe that a culture called the Tiwanacotas (or Tiahuanacotas) inhabited the Cordillera Real (Andes) region first. This culture may have been of the Aymara ethnic group and dates back to about 1500 B.C. (although some archeologists believe it may date as far back as 5000 B.C.) in the Valley of Pampa Koani, near Lake Titicaca. They also believe that this warrior tribe conquered and colonized the entire Lake Titicaca region, extending in the valley carved by the Choqueyapu River (in which the capital city of La Paz now rests), and through portions of Oruro, Potosí, Northern Argentina, and Chile.

This pre-Incan civilization subsisted for a millennium and a half using advanced agricultural, lake navigation, and construction techniques, as seen from the ruins that they left behind. Later, although archeologists cannot explain why, the cities they inhabited were gradually abandoned and deserted. Their strange disappearance, near the 12th Century, has led to much speculation and many attempts at explanations, some of which are more plausible than others, including natural disasters, internal conflicts, etc., and others which are more extravagant, such as the explanation proposed by an English writer who believed the city of Atlantis had been located in the area occupied by the Aymara.

The Incan period begins when the Quechuas, under the Inca Pachacutec, invaded the western and central regions of Bolivia in the 15th Century. In these regions the indigenous peoples still conserved their own distinct languages and customs. The latter were absorbed into the Quechua culture either gradually or by force, and used as slave labor if they refused to be conquered, and many were exterminated. The Aymara were categorized by the Quechua as vassals (“cayaos”) and were allowed to continue living their own lifestyle to a certain degree in exchange for their submission and the payment of a vassalage tax to the Inca of Cuzco, despite the fact that they tended to frequently revolt.

The Quechuas, a Peruvian culture, considered themselves to be descendants of a couple called Manco Kapac and Mama Ocllo, of divine origin, who appeared on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca and from whom the Incan lineage originates. Legends aside, what is known is that their culture appeared around 1200 B.C. in the Valley of Qosqu (Cuzco) and that they expanded over five of the countries that currently occupy the region. They conquered nearly half of Bolivia except for the Eastern and Southern areas and called their new territory the Qullasuyu (or Collasuyo). It (the portion that is now Bolivia) became one of the 4 “suyos” or comarcas into which they divided their empire (the other three were called Antisuyo, Cuntisuyo and Chinchasuyo). Collectively, all four “suyos” were known as the Tawantisuyo.

This new “suyo” (now Bolivia) was governed by an “apo” (a territorial chief) who was based in Copacabana. The “suyo” was administratively organized into “ayllus” (communities), each governed by a “curaca” (cacique). They built some forts and cities in addition to a network of roads to articulate their new “suyo”, although they were not able to create a civilization of proportions equal to that which flourished in Peru because they concentrated more on extracting gold than civilizing the new territory. Just one century later they were conquered by the Spanish who dismembered the Tawantisuyo Empire. Despite being colonized first by the Quechua and then by the Spanish, the Aymara continue to be the largest ethnic group of Western Bolivia.

History of La Paz: The Colonial Period

The first Spaniard to explore what is now Bolivia was Diego de Almagro who founded a small town called Paria in the department of Oruro. It is presumed that the inhabitants of this town explored the rest of the altiplano (highlands) and a portion of Bolivia’s valleys. Almagro himself did not found any other cities as he was executed upon returning from his expeditions through Chile and Bolivia by a pair of rivaling brothers, Francisco and Gonzalo Pizarro. He died in Lima without heirs and a war began between Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards who were led by his younger brother Gonzalo, and others led by Viceroy Blasco Nuñez y Vela. Francisco Pizarro was defeated and a captain called Alonso de Mendoza was instructed to found a city that would serve as a connecting point between the commercial routes that led from Potosi and Oruro to Lima. Mendoza selected an area where the town of Laja exists today and there he founded a city which he called Nuestra Señora de La Paz on 20 October 1548 in memory of the peace treaty between the followers of Pizarro and the royalists.

However, just a few days later he headed to the valley of Chuquiago Marka where the Choqueyapu River ran, and saw that the waters contained gold nuggets. Also there were fields of potatoes and a more temperate climate. So he transferred his newly founded city to this new area and built the first buildings in a deep gorge to protect them from the cold winds that blew down from the Andes.

This new city prospered more slowly than those of the Charcas and Potosí areas which were very rich in gold and silver, but eventually became the third most important city in the Audiencia de Charcas region, which was created by King Phillip the 2nd of Spain in 1559 and it soon became known as the Intendencia of La Paz. However, Spain wasn’t interested in increasing the prosperity of its colonies, preferring instead to exploit the many mines and ship the gold and silver they produced to Europe. The rigid Spanish class system enslaved the indigenous peoples and ignored the rights of mestizos (Spanish and indigenous mix) and poor creoles (Spaniards born in the Americas). In addition, wealth was unequally distributed, there was much bureaucracy, and Spain did nothing to improve conditions in the Indias (as the continent was known at the time) and this led to revolts early on. As early as 1661 the house of the Corregidor of La Paz was assaulted by a group of creoles who demanded their freedom and killed the Corregidor. But this rebellion was suffocated and those who led it were killed in combat.

This did nothing to end the growing discontent. A century later another revolt took place, this time among the indigenous peoples. Their leader was an Aymara cacique called Tomás Katari who was able to expand the rebellion throughout the rest of the colony, but he died a short time later. He was replaced by his brothers who were defeated in the capital of the Audiencia of La Plata (today’s city of Sucre) and were executed. In 1780 another rebellion broke out, headed by another Aymara leader called Julián Apaza, better known by his war name: Tupac Katari. He headed an indigenous army, invaded the city of La Paz, and there was heavy fighting. He encircled the city hoping to cause its inhabitants to surrender from hunger, first for three and a half months and the second time for just over two months. He was also defeated and was taken prisoner by the Spaniard who executed him by quartering him (he was tied to four horses, each of which ran off in separate directions, thus tearing his limb from limb).

After this there were no more rebellions until 1809 when a band of patriots, led by Pedro Domingo Murillo, joined freedom fighters from the Charcas region, formed a Protective Junta, and proclaimed their government independent. They took over the city’s military garrisons on the 16th of July of the same year but this revolt also failed. The revolutionaries were defeated by royalist troops commanded by Brigadier José Manuel de Goyeneche, who took them prisoner and condemned them to death. In January 1810 the nine who headed the rebellion were hung: Murillo, Catacora, Figueroa, Lanza, Sagárnaga, Bueno, Jiménez, Graneros, and Jaén. Goyeneche hunted down the rest of their men and, as was the custom, exhibited their heads on stakes in the main plaza of La Paz, to scare off any more attempts by revolutionaries.

The fighting continued for the next fifteen years with both sides suffering defeats and enjoying victories. General Andrés de Santa Cruz attempted to expel the Spanish from La Paz in 1823 but was defeated and obligated to retreat to Peru. Only after the victories of Junín (by Simón Bolivar) and Ayacucho (by Mariscal Sucre) were the patriots able to finally cause the royalists to surrender. The colony was declared independent in 1825.

History of La Paz: The Republican Era

In 1826 Bolivia’s first president Antonio José de Sucre, signed a constitution for the new Republic of Bolivar, and decreed the creation of the department of La Paz on 23 January 1826. However, he was obligated to abandon the government and leave the country due to discontent among the population of the capital of Charcas (Sucre). He was replaced by General Santa Cruz who unified the country with Peru under the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation. This angered Chile and caused a war, first between the three countries, and then between Bolivia and Peru when Peruvian General Agustín Gamarra attempted to annex Bolivia. Gamarra lost to Bolivian General José Ballivián, the confederation was disbanded, and Bolivia was able to preserve its independence.

A series of internal disputes between political, military, and civilian factions ensued and there were several coups and changes in presidents over the next few years. One of these de facto presidents, Hilarión Daza, led Bolivia’s War of the Pacific (against Chile) between 1879 and 1883, which Bolivia lost. By 1898 the dispute between the Liberal and Conservative parties led to a civil war between La Paz and Chuquisaca (Sucre) over which city would be the country’s capital. The crisis began to worsen in 1896 when Severo Fernández Alonso, a conservative, was elected president. Two years after his election he passed the Residency Law which stated that the president of the republic must live in Sucre and not in La Paz, as had been the custom because until then most of the presidents had been men born in La Paz. In fact, the law stated the president could not leave the capital city without permission. The Liberals rebelled declaring La Paz a federal region.

Fernández Alonso marched to La Paz to squelch the rebellion but the Liberals, commanded by José Manuel Pando, started out to meet him and defeated him in the battle of Primer Crucero in Oruro. With help from the Ponchos Rojos (led by Aymara leader Pablo Zárate Villca) General Pando defeated the conservatives a second time in the battle of Segundo Crucero, also in Oruro. The conservative president was forced to resign. A triumvirate, led by Pando, formed a junta which governed for six months until a national convention was held in Oruro in 1899 in which Pando was voted in as the new constitutional president. He disbanded what remained of the Conservative party and his allies the Aymara because they had vindictive plans that were not convenient to him. This conflict is now known as the Federal War and is remembered in both departments (Chuquisaca and La Paz) because so many abuses and massacres took place and both sides blame each other. However, it is remembered mostly because La Paz won the seat of government and became the country’s virtual capital, leaving only the Judicial Branch in Sucre which even today, on paper, is known as the country’s constitutional capital.

History of La Paz: The Modern Era

During the first few years of the 19th Century mining continued to be the axis of the national economy, although no longer silver and gold mining, but tin. Several important inventions were created during the Industrial Revolution, such as moving pictures, railroads, telephones, and others. Mining was primarily in the hands of three large families: the Patiños, the Hochschilds, and the Aramayos, who monopolized the industry until the mines were nationalized by the government of Paz Estenssoro in the 1950’s. The city of La Paz experiences noteworthy growth after the 1920’s, and became the main urban center of the country. Buildings and highways were built, along with the largest stadium in Bolivia. In the 1980’s the altiplano (the highlands where the city of El Alto now exists) began to become populated. The army was modernized by German military instructors and it acquired modern armament which was used during the Chaco War (between Bolivia and Paraguay between 1932-1935), although Bolivia lost and was unable to avoid losing another large portion of its territory.

After the Chaco War, there were several decades of instability with military coups and weak governments. The military coups most remembered, because they were so bloody, are those led by coronels Hugo Bánzer, Alberto Natusch, and Luis García Meza. The second of these provoked the sadly famous massacre (in 1979) of many citizens who were shot by soldiers at point blank range on the streets. It wasn’t until 1982 that democracy returned to Bolivia under president Hernán Siles Suázo.

During recent years La Paz has been the protagonist of some of the worst battles between the population and the police. Due to its geography, La Paz is a complicated city to defend when it has been surrounded: there are few access roads into the gorge in which it was constructed and this goes against it when the city needs supplies during conflicts. During the social convulsion of the 1990’s and even today, groups that wish to twist the government’s arm can easily do so simply by encircling the city. This happened during the first term of president Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada, who privatized several state-owned companies to the great discontent of the opposition, and during the Bánzer and Quiroga presidencies. It happened again during Sánchez de Lozada’s second term as well. The most serious convulsion of this decade has come to be known now as the Gas War and Black October, and took place in 2003. Civilians and police, aided by the military, fought for months and dozens were killed, costing Sánchez de Lozada his presidency.

During the government of his successor, Carlos D. Mesa, a hot dispute began between La Paz and Santa Cruz over the issue of departmental (state) autonomy in which other eastern states and the state of Chuquisaca, which hoped to recover its position as capital city, supported Santa Cruz. Despite opposition from La Paz, the five states (Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz, Tarija and Chuquisaca) voted for autonomy and current president Evo Morales was forced to include their autonomy in the new Bolivian Constitution which was approved in La Paz. The remaining four states then also voted to become autonomous in April 2010.

Correspondent Alura Gonzales

If you entered this page from our history pages

Bolivia has nine states called departments. Read about each one:


The richly carved monuments and stone walls of a ruined city at Tiwanaku in the Titicaca Basin indicate that an advanced people lived in what is now Bolivia perhaps 1,000 years ago. When the Spaniards invaded the area in the early 16th century, it was part of the powerful Inca Empire. After conquering the native people in 1538 the Spaniards governed the region, first under the viceroyalty of Peru and later under that of Buenos Aires.

Led by General Antonio José de Sucre, the Bolivians won their independence in 1825 and named the new republic after Simón Bolívar, who drafted its first constitution. In the War of the Pacific, which lasted from 1879 to 1884, Bolivia lost its Pacific coast to Chile. In the Chaco War, from 1932 to 1935, Bolivia lost most of the disputed Chaco region to Paraguay.

A social-reform party seized power by revolution in 1952. The party nationalized the country’s largest tin mines and the railroads, initiated land reforms, and gave all adults the right to vote. During the 1950s Bolivia’s economy suffered severely.

During the latter half of the 20th century, the Bolivian government underwent continuous turmoil. In 1964 a military junta ousted the social-reform government, introduced new economic reforms, and welcomed foreign investors. However, the junta and a subsequent government were overthrown by coups in September 1969 and in October 1970, respectively. The leftist regime that followed fell during a coup in August 1971. Colonel Hugo Bánzer Suárez assumed the presidency. His regime was severely repressive. Under Bánzer, the government suppressed the labor movement, sent troops to occupy the mines, and suspended all civil rights. Despite this, his period in office oversaw an unprecedented increase in the Bolivian economy. He ruled until July 1978, when elections were held. When the results of these elections were voided, the leading candidate took control under a state of siege. A junta overthrew him in November.

Because no candidate won a majority in the 1979 election, an interim president was named, but a military coup later that year overthrew the civilian government. The next interim president, Lydia Gueiler Tejada, was ousted in July 1980 by a right-wing junta headed by General Luis García Meza. García Meza resigned in August 1981. Strikes and economic crises continued throughout the decade.

The National Congress, which had been suspended in 1980, was recalled in October 1982. It confirmed the 1980 presidential victory of Hernán Siles Zuazo. When Victor Paz Estenssoro became president in 1985, it was the first democratic transfer of power in 25 years. It was also the fourth time Estenssoro had been elected as president—he had previously been elected as president in 1952, 1960, and 1964. The latter term was ended when Estenssoro’s regime was overthrown by a military junta.

In the May 1989 presidential election, none of the nine candidates won a majority. The National Congress chose Jaime Paz Zamora as president. When another indecisive election occurred in 1993, the Congress selected Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada as president. Sánchez de Lozada began a program of free-market reforms that brought Bolivia’s hyperinflation under control and increased the country’s economic growth rate. The privatization of many state-owned industries prompted widespread unrest and a wave of labor strikes in the mid-1990s. Despite this upheaval, the economy was greatly strengthened during Sánchez de Lozada’s term in office. In 1997, Bolivia once again elected Colonel Hugo Bánzer to the presidency. His time in office was short-lived, however. In 2001, battling cancer, Bánzer resigned from office. His vice president, Jorge Quiroga, finished his term.

Sánchez de Lozada won the 2002 presidential elections, but his term was plagued by a recession and peasant protests. He was forced to resign in October 2003 and was replaced by Vice President Carlos Mesa Gisbert. Mesa was unable to prevent additional violent demonstrations, and he too resigned.

In December 2005 Juan Evo Morales Ayma was elected as Bolivia’s first Indian president. Morales fought for more rights for indigenous communities, for less-harsh restrictions on coca farmers, and for more taxes on the wealthy. Opponents of Morales’s reforms staged political demonstrations, some of which turned violent. A recall referendum on Morales’s leadership was held in August 2008, but the majority of Bolivians voted to keep him in office. In another referendum held in January 2009, voters approved a new constitution that would allow Morales to seek a second consecutive five-year term (previously the constitution limited the president to a single term).

Under Morales, Bolivia remained politically divided between the wealthy provinces and the impoverished indigenous communities. On the other hand, inflation was brought under control and the economy was growing faster than the regional average. In April 2009 Morales signed a law authorizing early presidential and legislative elections, set to take place that December. Morales easily won a second term in the country’s presidential election.

In his second term, Morales presided over an economy that prospered because of a surging international market for natural gas. He initiated a broad range of infrastructure projects. In 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Morales could run for a third presidential term. The following year he was reelected president again. By 2015, however, the price of natural gas in the international market was plummeting, and the price drop had begun to take a toll on the Bolivian economy. Some of Morales’s critics blamed him for having failed to diversify the country’s economy. In a referendum held in 2016 Bolivians rejected—by a vote of about 51 percent against to 49 percent for—a constitutional change that would have allowed Morales to run for another term as president in 2019. Morales initially accepted the result of the referendum, but his party later challenged the constitutional limits on reelection in court. In late 2017 Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal sided with Morales’s party and removed term limits on the presidency. The following year the country’s Electoral Tribunal approved Morales’s candidacy in the 2019 presidential election.

The presidential polling took place on October 20, 2019. According to the official results, Morales defeated former president Carlos Mesa by a margin of 47.08 percent to 36.51 percent. Under Bolivian election law, Morales was able to avoid a runoff because his margin of victory was greater than 10 percent. Mesa and other members of the opposition claimed that the election had been rigged. They cited irregularities with the ballot count, including a period of 24 hours during which reporting of the official vote tally was inexplicably suspended by the electoral authorities. Protests and strikes over the election results soon erupted throughout the country. Morales denied that vote-rigging had occurred. His government, however, agreed to have the Organization of American States (OAS) carry out an audit of the presidential election. After completing its audit, the OAS concluded that “clear manipulations” of the voting system had indeed taken place and recommended that Bolivia hold a new election. Morales initially announced that another election would be held, but widespread protests against the president continued. The chief of Bolivia’s armed forces soon called on Morales to step down. Morales did so on November 10, claiming that he was the victim of a “civic coup.” He fled Bolivia for Mexico, which had offered him political asylum, and in December relocated to Argentina, where he was granted refugee status.

Jeanine Áñez, deputy leader of the Chamber of Senators, became interim president in the wake of the resignations of the vice president and the leaders of the Chamber of Senators and Chamber of Deputies, allies of Morales. A new election was later scheduled to take place on May 3, 2020. In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Bolivia especially hard, overwhelming hospitals and generating one of the world’s highest per capita death rates. Áñez herself contracted COVID-19 but soon recovered. Critics accused her of mishandling the health crisis and exploiting it to cling to power. Her right-wing administration was also accused of brutally suppressing pro-Morales demonstrations. The election was pushed back first to September 6 and then to October 18.

From his exile in Argentina, Morales handpicked his former finance minister, Luis Arce, as his party’s presidential candidate. After Áñez withdrew from the race, Mesa, running again, became the most formidable candidate from the right or center. When all the votes were counted, Arce had garnered more than 55 percent of the vote, compared with only about 29 percent for Mesa. Arce’s margin of victory eliminated the need for a runoff.

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