views updated May 17 2018


Country statistics


1,098,580sq km (424,162sq mi) 8,274,325

capital (population):

La Paz (804,600), Sucre (202,700)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Quechua 30%, Aymará 25%, Mestizo 30%, White 15%


Spanish, Aymará, Quechua


Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 15%, indigenous beliefs 5%


Boliviano = 100 centavos

Landlocked republic in w central South America. Bolivia can be divided into two regions. The w is dominated by two parallel ranges of the Andes Mountains. The w cordillera forms Bolivia's border with Chile. The e range runs through the heart of Bolivia. Between the two, lies the Altiplano. The Altiplano is the most densely populated region of Bolivia and the site of its famous ruins, it includes the seat of government, La Paz, close to Lake Titicaca. Sucre, the legal capital, lies in the Andean foothills. The e is a relatively unexplored region of lush, tropical rainforest, inhabited mainly by Native South Americans. In the se lies the Gran Chaco.

Climate and Vegetation

Bolivia's climate varies greatly according to altitude: the highest Andean peaks are permanently covered in snow, while the e plains have a humid climate. The main rainy season is between December and February. The windswept Altiplano is a grassland region. The semi-arid Gran Chaco is a vast lowland plain, drained by the River Madeira, a tributary of the Amazon.

History and Politics

The ruins of Tiahuanaco indicate that the Altiplano was the site of one of the great pre-Colombian civilizations. Before the Spanish invasion in 1532, the Quechua had subsumed the Aymara into the Inca Empire. The Spanish exploited the Andean silver mines with native forced labour. In 1824 Antonio José de Sucre, Simón Bolívar's general, completed the liberation of the country from Spanish rule.

For the next 100 years, corruption and instability plagued the new nation and, in a succession of military reverses, Bolivia lost territory to its neighbours. War with Paraguay (1932–35) cost c.100,000 lives and led to the loss of most of Gran Chaco. During World War 2, the need for tin revived Bolivia's ravaged economy.

In 1941 Victor Paz Estenssoro founded the pro-miner National Revolutionary Movement (MNR). In 1943, with MNR support, the army seized power. From 1952 Paz nationalized the mines and instituted land reforms for the Native Americans. In 1964 a military coup toppled Paz's government. Guerrilla leader Che Guevara was killed in 1967. From 1964 to 1982, Bolivia was ruled by military dictators, most notably Colonel Hugo Banzer Suárez (1971–78). Civilian rule returned in 1982. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, served as president from 1992 to 1997 and from 2002 to 2003, when he resigned. He was succeeded by Carlos Mesa.


Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America (2000 GDP per capita, US$2600). It is the world's sixth-largest producer of tin, which accounts for nearly one-third of all exports. The collapse in world tin prices brought an increase in coca production, which experts believe may be its largest (unofficial) export. Agriculture employs 47% of the workforce. In 1987 the introduction of a new currency eased inflation.

Political map

Physical map



views updated May 21 2018


Altiplano, the largest plateau in the Andes mountains. This historically important region lies in contemporary southern Peru and Bolivia. Starting in the region of Lake Titicaca, the altiplano extends southward in an opening between two branches of the southern Andes, at an average altitude of about 12,500 feet. Most of the area is Bolivian national territory and includes the cities of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosí. The altiplano contains important agriculture lands, pasturage, and mineral deposits and, according to Herbert Klein, was the site of "the domestication of the staple products of Andean civilization," particularly the potato, and of "the American cameloids: the llama, alpaca, and vicuña."

The altiplano was home to a number of indigenous societies, most notably the Aymara, who were incorporated into the Inca empire in the fifteenth century. Under Spanish rule, the altiplano's indigenous peoples were forced into settlements that were subject to heavy tribute and labor obligations to the colonial state, in particular labor for the mita de minas for the silver mines at Potosí, the most profitable mining area in the sixteenth-century empire. The altiplano communities resisted these demands, most overtly in a series of eighteenth-century uprisings. Although silver production declined in the late colonial period, the altiplano remained an important economic zone, particularly after the rise of tin mining in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The altiplano's mining unions and agricultural communities have played major roles in contemporary Bolivian politics.

See alsoSilver Industry.


Herbert S. Klein, Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society (1982) especially pp. 3-26.

Additional Bibliography

Bergman, Roland W. Tierras del altiplano y economía campesina: Agricultura en los limítes más altos de Los Andes del Sur del Perú. Cuzco, Perú: Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos "Bartolomé de las Casas," 2000.

Bleiwas, Donald I. and Christiansen, Robert G. Geology and Mineral Resources of the Altiplano and Cordillera Occidental, Bolivia. Denver, CO: Survey, 1992.

Brownman, David L. "Titicaca Basin Archaeolinguistics: Uru, Pukina and Aymara." World Archaeology 26, no. 2 (October 1994): 235-251.

Del Pozo-Vergnes, Ethel. De la hacienda a la mundialización: Sociedad, pastores y cambios en el altiplano peruano. Lima: Instituto de estudios peruanos, 2004.

McFarren, Peter. Ayllu: El altiplano boliviano. La Paz, Bolivia: Editorial los Amigos del Libro, 1984.

                                     Ann M. Wightman


views updated Jun 27 2018

Altiplano High plain in the South American Andes of Peru and Bolivia. It has an average elevation of c.3650m (12,000ft).