Oriente (Bolivia)

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Oriente (Bolivia)

Oriente (Bolivia), a vast tropical plain located east of the Bolivian Andes (formerly Charcas), stretching from north to east, with its farthest reaches bordering Brazil. It includes the Mojos-Chiquitos tropical savannas, the Grigotá plains, and the tropical slopes to the southeast once held by the aggressive Chiriguano people. Mojos villages were scattered throughout the northern part of the Oriente along rivers and tributaries connecting the area to the Amazon basin. The Chiquitos dwelled in the southeastern tropical forests, while the Yuracarés lived in what is now the coca-producing Chaparé region northeast of Cochabamba.

Legends of vast treasures in this almost mythical region kindled Spanish interest, and by the 1540s expeditions into the jungles were under way. Treasure seeking aside, royal authorities encouraged explorers to push into the untamed frontier for pacification and possible settlement. Most of the expeditions failed. Conflicts between Charcas and Paraguayan interests, harsh physical conditions, and the ever present Chiriguanos, who fiercely withstood Spanish incursion into their territory, prevented permanent settlement. Soon, the primary government objective became containment of the Chiriguanos. Thus, authorities urged settlement of the intermediate, fertile subpuna valleys where Mizque, Tarija, Tomina, and El Villar were established as defense zones.

Meanwhile, in the Oriente proper, outposts and fortresses became towns and points of departure for expeditions into the Mojos and Chiquitos territories. In 1561 the first Santa Cruz de la Sierra was established, followed by La Barranca del Guapay, San Lorenzo de la Frontera, Santiago del Puerto, the second Santa Cruz, and, in 1603, Santísima Trinidad. Some of these towns were soon abandoned, destroyed, or moved to other locations. Overall, the missionaries (Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, and particularly the Jesuits) were more successful with regional settlement and pacification than their nonecclesiastical counterparts. The region has yet to develop its full potential.

See alsoChiriguanos .


Josep M. Barnadas, Charcas: Orígenes históricos de una sociedad colonial (1973), pp. 24, 26, 47, 49, 62, 469.

Enrique Finot, Historia de la conquista del Oriente boliviano, 2d ed. (1978), pp. 13, 17.

Ray Henkle, "The Move to the Oriente: Colonization and Environmental Impact," in Modern-Day Bolivia: Legacy of the Revolution and Prospects for the Future, edited by Jerry R. Ladman (1982), pp. 277, 295.

Humberto Vázquez Machicado, José De Mesa, and Teresa Gisbert, Manual de historia de Bolivia, 2d ed. (1983), pp. 166-167.

Brooke Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550–1900 (1988), pp. 246-249.

Additional Bibliography

Baptista Gumucio, Mariano. Las misiones Jesuíticas de Moxos y Chiquitos: Una utopía cristiana en el oriente Boliviano. La Paz: Newylibros: CENDES, 2003.

Roca, José Luis. Economía y sociedad en el Oriente boliviano, siglos XVI-XX. Santa Cruz: COTAS, 2001.

Steinbach de Loza, Ingrid, and Franca Calmotti Crevanti. Investigaciónes históricas sobre el Oriente Boliviano. Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia: Facultad de Comunicación Social y Humanidades-UPSA, Centro de Investigaciónes Humanísticas y Sociales, 2003.

Urioste Fernández de Cordova, Miguel, and Cristóbal Kay. Latifundios, avasallamientos y autonomías: La reforma agraria inconclusiva en el Oriente. La Paz: Fundación Tierra, 2005.

                           Lolita GutiÉrrez Brockington