Paleo-Indian hunters and collectors arrived in western South America at the end of the Ice Age. They hunted, among other things. llamas and collected root vegetables. Later domestication of the llama and cultivation of potatoes and quinoa occur in connection with greater habitat. In the Titicaca area, cities developed around 1200 BC. Copper smelting can be dated as early as 1200–800 BC. In Chiripa, large ceremonial buildings were erected with erected stone monuments (stems), and in the Mojos region in the lowlands arose the small kingship from the 500s onwards. Bolivia’s largest cultural and population center was developed at Tiahuanaco, 25 km south of Lake Titicaca (200 BC – 1100 AD). Cultivations in artificial pools lay around the city. A strange stone gate (the “Sun Gate”) represents their powerful “rod god” and other figures. The large assets of precious metals were exploited by the Incarik, which incorporated the region in the late 15th century and called the province of Kollasuyo.
Bolivia’s history has strong roots in the pre-Columbian period. Significant elements of the country’s culture and social organization derive from Central Andinese civilization. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Bolivia. At the arrival of the Spaniards, most of today’s Bolivia was incorporated into the Incarct (compare Inca). The Bolivian highlands became a central part of the Spanish colonial empire following the discovery of the Potosí Silver Mountain in 1545. The western hemisphere of the time, the largest city of Potosí, with some 100,000 residents, grew up around the Silver Mountain at the end of the 16th century. Most of Bolivia’s most important cities (La Paz, Sucre, Cochabamba, Tarija, Santa Cruz) were also added during this century.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Bolivia. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
Bolivia was part of the Viceroy of Peru under the term Alto Perú until 1776, when the region was subordinated to the Viceroy of Buenos Aires. Colonial Bolivia was a divided society, where the indigenous people formed an overwhelming majority around the few Spanish cities and mining centers. Bolivia disengaged from Spain in 1825. A long-standing war ended when one of Simón Bolívar’s generals, Antonio José de Sucre, finally defeated the Spanish forces. Sucre became Bolivia’s first president, and the country was named after Bolívar. The war destroyed the country’s mining operations and created a power-hungry military elite that would dominate Bolivia’s unstable politics for decades to come. War, coups, corruption, a stagnant economy and a socially divided society made Bolivia a weak country.
Bolivia suffered a stinging defeat in the so-called nitpicking war against Chile (1879–83) and lost all of its coastal land, containing rich mineral deposits. The war ended the dominion of the military chiefs. The period 1884–1920 was characterized by civilian governments, stability and economic growth. Bolivia was then an oligarchic republic, where the main industry became mining again, first with silver and then with tin.
In the 1920s, the long period of growing instability that culminated in the 1952 revolution began. The international depression in 1930 and the lost Chaco War against Paraguay (1932–35) led to a widespread crisis in which the oligarchic order was thoroughly undermined. Various reform-friendly movements emerged, as did a new generation of young radical militaries. Governments came and went without being able to solve the country’s major problems and mitigate the social injustices that had made Bolivia an extreme case in Latin America. This forms the background to the revolution that in April 1952 led a nationalist and worker-friendly party to power, Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR).
Under the direction of Víctor Paz Estenssoro and Hernán Siles Zuazo MNR initiated a period of rapid reform. Measures such as the nationalization of tin mines, land reform, workers’ control, the dissolution of the army, the liberation of the workers from debts and personal obligations and the right to vote of the illiterate were the cornerstones of this reform policy, which for the first time made the indigenous people free citizens. Economically, the results of the revolution gave cause for concern. Commercialization in agriculture decreased, production methods remained old-fashioned, in mines and factories decreased productivity and inflation sped off. The imminent economic collapse of the revolution led the government to seek help from the United States and to adopt a clearer anti-communist stance. The government’s austerity policy undermined its popular support and enabled the overthrow of MNRs from power.
Military regimes and economic chaos
With the military coup led by Generals Alfredo Ovando and René Barrientos in 1964 , a new period of great political instability began. The two generals ruled together until 1966, when Barrientos was elected president. He led a government that sought support from the poor indigenous groups but also received significant help from the United States. Bolivia was then transformed into a major scene in the bloody confrontation between Marxist guerrilla movements and anti-communist forces that raged in several parts of Latin America. In 1967, guerrilla leader Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara was killed in the Bolivian rainforest. Barrientos died in 1969, and General Ovando regained power. In 1970, the power went to left-wing militia led by General Juan José Torres (1921–76), and a new era of radical reform began.
In 1971, General Hugo Bánzer took power with the support of various right-wing parties and part of the MRC. He reigned until 1978 with very hard methods, but he gave the country stability and some economic growth. During this time, violent propagation of coca cultivation took place. Smuggling of cocaine into the United States primarily became the country’s perhaps most important industry.
General Juan Pereda (1931–2012) overthrew Bánzer in 1978. Several coups followed, and eight heads of state could be counted before one of the old MNR leaders, Siles ZuazoIn 1982, the office of President took over. Bolivia was then financially and politically bankrupt. The situation was so chaotic during Siles Zuazo’s reign that a year in advance (1985), the President handed over power to the revolutionary leader Paz Estenssoro. Its government focused on stabilizing the country and embarking on economic modernization through general liberalization, decommissioning of unprofitable tin mines and investing in new industries. A tough austerity policy succeeded in bringing down inflation from 8 170 percent in 1985 to 10.7 percent in 1987. The price was a fierce confrontation with the militant unions and rising unemployment.
The 1989 presidential election gave an indeterminate result. Parliament elected Jaime Paz Zamora (born 1939) as new president thanks to an astonishing alliance between the Left Party Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) and the right-wing Acción Democrática Nacionalista (ADN). Paz Zamora continued the economic austerity policy and sought to privatize several state companies. The policy was met by violent strikes and demonstrations. Despite the great dissatisfaction, reforms continued in the neo-liberal spirit during the 1990s, mainly under President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada (born 1930; President 1993–97). In 1997, former dictator Hugo Bánzer was elected new president. He led a successful fight against the illegal coca cultivation, which was subjected to strong international criticism, mainly from the United States. At the same time, the position of the indigenous people was strengthened, including the land areas in the Amazon
Bolivia under Evo Morales
However, dissatisfaction with economic policy, focused on over-generous permits for foreign companies to exploit Bolivia’s oil and natural gas reserves, however, increased and Gonzálo Sánchez’s return to power in the 2002 presidential election was followed by widespread unrest that forced him to resign prematurely the following year. His successor, Vice President Carlos Mesa, failed to overcome the issue or appease the opposition, despite attempts to compromise trade policy. All in all, the events of the first year of the 2000s paved the way for the historic end of the 2005 presidential election, when socialist Evo Morales won and became Bolivia’s first president of the indigenous people.
When Evo Morales took office in January 2006, he promised a new start for Bolivia and the restoration of the country’s indigenous population by officially renaming the country to the Multinational State of Bolivia. Natural resources were nationalized and foreign energy companies were forced to pay higher taxes. A Constituent Assembly elected in July 2006 was commissioned to develop a new constitution.
Morale’s party MAS ended up directly on a collision course with the opposition, especially with groups from the oil and gas-rich ministries in the eastern part of the country that demanded increased self-government. The divide between regions and ethnic groups led to fierce confrontations, strikes and riots.
When the Constituent Assembly presented its proposal for a new constitution at the end of 2007, the opposition protested, and four ministries declared themselves self-governing. The contradictions were about to lead to a civil war, but President Morales and the governors of the four outbreak ministries managed to negotiate a “pact for national unity” in early 2008.
In a 2009 referendum, 61 percent of voters voted yes to the new constitution with a turnout of over 90 percent. The new constitution contains enhanced rights for the indigenous people, increased state control over the economy, increased self-government for the ministries and the possibility of direct re-election of the president.
That same year, Evo Morales was re-elected president with 64 percent of the vote, while his party MAS gained its own majority in Congress. Despite strong support, Morale’s second term was filled with sharp contradictions. The president ended up in conflict with his own constituents immediately after the election victory when the government decided to abandon parts of the state subsidies on gasoline and diesel, which led to sharp price increases. Following violent protests, Morales withdrew the proposal and the subsidies would instead be gradually reduced.
Protests over a road construction through land belonging to the indigenous people of the Amazon also led to strong criticism of Morales from their own ranks. Demonstrations paralyzed parts of the country and several ministers were forced to resign. Morales temporarily backed and stopped the road construction but after a form of local referendum, where a majority of the people concerned voted yes, the building started again.
When Evo Morales in 2013 declared that he would stand in the next presidential election, the opposition accused him and MAS of imperfection. Opponents argued that the new constitution, which allows only a re-election of incumbent president, prohibited Morales from running in the 2014 election.
The economy continued to grow strongly and was Morale’s main argument in the election campaign. Bolivia, which for many years was characterized by political instability and economic crises, became one of the most stable countries in the region with good growth. In the October elections, Morales won by 61 percent of the vote, mainly thanks to the support of the country’s indigenous people and the poor who have been doing better in recent years. Morale’s party MAS now received the most votes even in those parts of the country that were most critical of him in the past, including in the economically important region of Santa Cruz, which was the center of the right-wing opposition against him.
The opposition succeeded in 2015 in getting the parliament to decide on a new referendum on the issue of re-election of the president. In 2016, a slight majority, 52 percent, voted against the proposal to allow more than two direct re-election of the president. In practice, this meant that the people voted against allowing Evo Morales to stand in the next presidential election. Nevertheless, MAS appointed him his candidate in the 2019 presidential election.
In 2017, the country’s constitutional court ruled that Evo Morales had the right to stand in the 2019 presidential election. The court thus rejected the results of the referendum held in 2016. rights, which guarantee, among other things, the right to freely stand in elections. The practical meaning of the court’s decision was that all political positions in the country, from mayor to president, can be re-elected without restriction.
The official result of the 2019 presidential election showed that Evo Morales received 47.1 percent of the vote. Since this was more than 10 percentage points more than the second, President Carlos Mesa, no other round of elections was needed. The result gave rise to violent protests and accusations of electoral fraud.
In 2016, several major conflicts erupted in the labor market. During a mining strike, two miners were killed in clashes with the police while the Deputy Home Minister was killed by striking workers. Conflicts paralyzed much of the country and criticism grew against President Morales. Despite the conflicts, the economy continued to grow at a stable rate and more than in neighboring countries, which has led to a three-fold increase in GDP per capita while income gaps have declined since Morales took office.
In 2018, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which settles disputes between UN member states, decided not to approve Bolivia’s demand to have a land corridor through Chile out to the Pacific. Bolivia has demanded this ever since the country lost its coastline after a war with Chile in 1883 and filed a lawsuit against Chile in 2013 with the International Court of Justice. The countries do not yet have full diplomatic relations and President Morales promised to continue the fight to gain access to the sea.
In early 2019, Parliament voted in favor of a law to introduce general health insurance which means that primary health care will be free of charge for all citizens who do not have private health insurance. This reform has been one of the government’s most important political projects in the MAS and was planned to be implemented gradually over the coming term. The insurance covers about 70 percent of the population.