Bolivia - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Plurinational State of Bolivia
Formation 1825 / 1938
Capital La Paz (administrative); Sucre (judicial)
Population 10 million / 24 people per sq mile (9 people per sq km)
Total area 424,162 sq. miles (1,098,580 sq. km)
Languages Aymara*, Quechua*, Spanish*
Religions Roman Catholic 93%, Other 7%
Ethnic mix Quechua 37%, Aymara 32%, Mixed race 13%, European 10%, Other 8%
Government Presidential system
Currency Boliviano = 100 centavos
Literacy rate 91%
Calorie consumption 2093 kilocalories
Completely landlocked, the country of Bolivia is nestled in the Andes mountain range, the west central part of the South American continent. Around the year 1450 the Quechuaspeaking Incas (an ancient South American civilization) entered the highland area of what is modern Bolivia and annexed it to their empire, which was based in Peru. They controlled the area until the arrival of the Spanish around 1525. In 1538 Spanish conquistadors founded the settlement of Chuquisaca, a city that later became the region’s administrative capital.
Bolivia’s significance increased in 1544, with the discovery of silver deposits in the Andes. The settlement of Potosí was founded at the foot of a mountain 13,800 feet above sea level. As commerce grew in the region, so did Potosí. By the early 1800s it had become the largest settlement in South America and boasted a population of over 160,000. Other settlements in the region included La Paz, founded in 1548, Cochabamba, established in 1574, and Oruro, started in 1604.
During the period of Spanish rule Bolivia was known as Alto Peru (Upper Peru). At first it was a dependency of the Viceroyalty of Peru, but in 1776 it was transferred to the newly formed Viceroyalty of La Plata.
Over time the Spanish regime became increasingly corrupt and inefficient. Angered by this, the inhabitants of Alto Peru banded together under Simon Bolivar (1783–1830) and began a campaign for independence. In 1824, Bolivar’s second-in-command General Antonio José de Sucre (1795–1830), defeated the Spanish forces at the Battle of Ayacucho. In 1825 an assembly met at Chuquisaca and declared Bolivia’s independence. Sucre was elected president.
In 1826, a constitution framed by Bolívar came into force. It was then that the country officially adopted the name Bolivia.
Chuquisaca was renamed Sucre after the general.
Independence was followed by successive short-lived dictatorships and internal struggles. Hostilities with neighboring countries were also frequent. When nitrate deposits were discovered in the Atacama Desert, Chile and Bolivia fought for the spoils. The war lasted for four years, from 1879 to 1883, ending in defeat for Bolivia. It had to give up large portions of its territories, including its outlet to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1904 it was forced to cede some territory to Brazil, and in 1935, some more to Paraguay. However it still retained significant mineral deposits, which had begun to attract foreign mining companies around the end of the 19th century.
Three such conglomerates grew so powerful that they virtually ran the nation.
In 1952 the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, or MNR), a revolutionary party, seized power and introduced wide-ranging political reforms. Its rule lasted for only 12 years until 1964, when the army took over. During the next 25 years Bolivia had no less than 19 presidents, 13 generals among them.
Only two completed full terms in office.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Bolivia is the fifth largest country in South America.
It consists of five geographical regions: the Altiplano, prone to severe flooding, is a highly populated plateau stretching from the Peruvian border to the Argentine border; fertile highland valleys lie to the south and east of the Altiplano; the Yungas are a transitional zone between the Andean region and the Amazonian forest; and the Chaco is a hot, dry, and largely uninhabited plain near the borders with Argentina and Paraguay. Finally, in the northern and eastern regions lies the Amazon Basin, made up of swamps, scrub, and rain forest.
There are two Andean mountain chains that run through the country. The Cordillera Occidental runs along the western border with Chile, near the Pacific Ocean. The Cordillera Real runs southeast through central Bolivia past Lake Titicaca and then joins the western Cordillera in the south of Bolivia.
Such extreme geographical variations naturally imply equally extreme weather conditions. By and large the country experiences cool temperatures. La Paz and Potosí are often very cold. However in the lowlands, the weather is hot and sunny, except for occasional cloudbursts. Bolivia’s rainy season lasts from November to March.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. In recent years it has undertaken thoroughgoing privatization. The state airline, telephone, railroad, electric power, and oil companies are all in private hands. It has also entered into a free-trade agreement with Mexico. Things have begun to look up economically, but only slightly. Bolivia is a source and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Poverty forces thousands of Bolivians to migrate or work in substandard conditions, placing large numbers at risk of being trafficked.
Bolivia produces soybeans, coffee, cocoa, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, potatoes, and timber. Its industries include mining, smelting, petroleum, food and beverages, tobacco, handicrafts, and clothing.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The inhabitants of Bolivia are largely descended from the indigenous communities that predated the Spanish conquests. Thus, while Spanish is the official language, only 60 to 70 percent of the people actually speak it, and then, only as a second language.
Quechua, the language of the Inca civilization, is still spoken, as is Aymara, the pre-Incan language of the Altiplano district.
Roman Catholicism predominates, with approximately 95 percent of the population belonging to the Catholic Church. But many Bolivians, especially in the rural areas, adhere to a hybrid form of Christianity mixed with Incan and Aymara beliefs. The result is a unique blend of doctrines, rites, and superstitions.
Meat dominates Bolivia’s cuisine. It is usually eaten with rice, potatoes, and shredded lettuce. These ingredients form the base of chairo, or lamb soup.
Llajhua, a hot sauce containing tomatoes and pepper, is also popular. Chankha, which is chicken stewed in peas, and paceno, made from corn, potatoes, broad beans, and cheese, are national favorites.
Bolivia places great emphasis on strong liquor, and its beer and wine are well known. Bolivians also drink lots of chicha, an industrial-strength liquor made from corn.