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Republic of Bolivia

República de Bolivia

CAPITAL: La Paz (administrative capital); Sucre (legal and judicial capital)

FLAG: The flag is a horizontal tricolor of red, yellow, and green stripes, representing the animal, mineral, and vegetable kingdoms.

ANTHEM: Himno Nacional, beginning "Bolivianos, el hado propicio coronó nuestros volos anhelos" ("Bolivians, propitious fate crowned our outcries of yearning").

MONETARY UNIT: The boliviano (b) was introduced on 1 January 1987, replacing the peso at a rate of p1,000,000 = b1. There are coins of 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents and 1 boliviano and notes of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 bolivianos. b1 = $0.12330 (or $1 = b8.11) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some Spanish weights are still used in retail trade.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; National Festival, 57 August; Columbus Day, 12 October; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable holidays include Carnival, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Corpus Christi.

TIME: 8 am = noon GMT.


Situated in South America just n of the Tropic of Capricorn, Bolivia has a total area of 1,098,580 sq km (424,164 sq mi), extending about 1,530 km (950 mi) ns and 1,450 km (900 mi) ew. Comparatively, the area occupied by Bolivia is slightly less than three times the size of the state of Montana. Completely landlocked, Bolivia is bounded on the n and ne by Brazil, on the se by Paraguay, on the s by Argentina, on the sw by Chile, and on the w by Peru, with a total boundary length of 6,743 km (4,190 mi).

The capital city of Bolivia, La Paz, is located in the west-central part of the country.


Bolivia has three geographic zones: the Andean highlands in the southwest, running north to south; the moist slopes and valleys on the eastern side of the Andes, called the Yungas and Valles; and the eastern tropical lowland plains, or Oriente. In Bolivia, the Andes, divided into two chains, attain their greatest width, about 640 km (400 mi), and constitute about one-third of the country. Between the Cordillera Occidental, forming the border with Chile and cutting Bolivia off from the Pacific, and the complex knots of the Cordillera Oriental lies a broad sedimentary plateau about 4,000 m (13,000 ft) above sea level, called the Altiplano, which contains about 28% of Bolivia's land area and more than half of its population. In the north of this plateau, astride the border with Peru, lies Lake Titicaca, 222 km (138 mi) long and 113 km (70 mi) wide; with its surface at an altitude of 3,805 m (12,484 ft), it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake is drained to the south by the 322-km (200-mi) Desaguadero River, which empties into shallow, salty Lake Poopó. Farther south are arid salt flats.

The Cordillera Oriental has high habitable basins and valleys collectively referred to as the Puna. Bolivia's most majestic mountains are in the northern part of the Cordillera Oriental around Lake Titicaca, where the mountain sector is capped with snow; the highest of these is Ancohuma (6,550 m/21,489 ft). Illimani and Illampu, both rising more than 6,400 m (21,000 ft), overlook the city of La Paz, which is protected from cold winds by its position in the spectacular gorge formed by the headwaters of the La Paz River. The three important valleys of this region, Cochabamba, Sucre, and Tarija, are from 1,830 to 3,050 m (6,000 to 10,000 ft) in altitude.

Bolivia's important rivers descend across the Yungas and Valles into the low tropical plains of the Oriente, which comprises three-fifths of the land but has only about one-fifth of the population. The Guaporé, the Mamoré, the Beni, and the Madre de Dios rivers cross the often-flooded northern savanna and tropical forests, all converging in the northeast to form the Madeira, which flows into Brazil. The plains become drier in the southeast, forming Bolivia's scrub-covered Chaco. Crossing the Chaco to the southeast, the Pilcomayo River leaves Bolivia to form the border between Paraguay and Argentina.


Although Bolivia lies entirely in the tropics, extreme differences in altitude and rainfall give it a great variety in climate. The mean annual temperature of La Paz, at 3,697 m (12,130 ft), is about 8°c (46°f); that of Trinidad, in the eastern lowlands, is 26°c (79°f). In the western highlands, cold winds blow all year round; at night the temperature often drops below freezing, but the sun is intense and the air brilliant during the day. The rainy season lasts from December to February, but during most of the year the high Altiplano plateau is parched and inhospitable. Around Lake Titicaca, rainfall is adequate, but there is less than 13 cm (5 in) a year in the extreme southwest. The fertile valleys in the Cordillera Oriental have a warmer, semiarid Mediterranean climate.

The Yungas and Valles have a semitropical, moist climate that gradually becomes hotter as one descends from the eastern slopes of the Andes to the tropical eastern lowlands. Rainfall is heavy in the northeast, and floods are common in March and April. The lowland plain becomes drier to the south, until it reaches drought conditions near the Argentine border.


Bolivia shares much of the wide variety of flora and fauna found in the four countries surrounding it. Because of the wide range in altitude, Bolivia has plants representative of every climatic zone, from arctic growth high in the sierra to tropical forests in the Amazon basin. On the high plateau above 3,050 m (10,000 ft) grows a coarse bunch grass called ichu, used for pasture, thatching, and weaving mats. A reed called totora, which grows around Lake Titicaca, is used for making small fishing boats (balsas). The low bushlike tola and the resinous mosslike yareta are both used for fuel. The Lake Titicaca region is believed to be the original home of the potato.

In the tropical forest, the quinine-producing quina tree grows, as does the Pará rubber tree. There are more than 2,000 species of hardwoods. Aromatic shrubs are common, as are vanilla, sarsaparilla, and saffron plants. Useful native plants include palms, sweet potatoes, manioc, peanuts, and an astonishing variety of fruits. The Chaco is covered with a prickly scrub collectively called monte; tannin-producing quebracho trees also abound there.

On the Altiplano, the most important animal is the llama, one of the most efficient carrier animals known; alpaca and guanaco and several varieties of cavy (guinea pig) are found there, too. Lake Titicaca has several varieties of edible fish. In the tropical Amazon region are the puma, coati, tapir, armadillo, sloth, peccary, capiguara (river hog), and ant bear, as well as several kinds of monkeys. Birdlife is rich and varied. The Andean condor, usually found in the mountain regions, is the largest flying bird in the Americas. Reptiles and an enormous variety of insects are found below 3,050 m (10,000 ft).


The chief environmental problem in the densely populated Altiplano is soil erosion, resulting from poor cultivation methods (including slash-and-burn agriculture) and overgrazing. Erosion affects about 30% of the land in Bolivia. Salinity and alkalinization are also a significant problem. Inadequate sanitation and solid-waste disposal, as well as effluents from mining activities, contribute to the Altiplano's declining water quality, which poses a threat both to fish life and to human health. Bolivians have about 316 cu km of renewable water resources, but only 95% of the city dwellers and 68% of all rural people have access to improved water sources. The main sources of water pollution are fertilizers, pesticides, and mining. Most environmental legislation dates from the 1970s, when Bolivia enacted the Health Code of 1978 (which contains provisions governing water quality), the National General Forest Act of 1974, and the Law of Wildlife, National Parks, Hunting, and Fishing (Decree Law No. 12,301) of 1975.

In July 1987, the Bolivian government became the first government in history to agree to protect a part of its environment in return for a reduction of its foreign debt, when Conservation International, a US nonprofit group, purchased $650,000 of the debt in return for Bolivia setting aside 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of tropical lowlands in three conservation areas. As of 2003, 13.4% of Bolivia's total land area was protected. There are eight Ramsar wetland sites in the nation. The Department of Science and Technology, within the Ministry of Planning and Coordination, plans and coordinates all governmental and intergovernmental activities related to the environment.

As of 2002, there were at least 316 species of mammals, 504 species of birds, and over 17,360 species of plants. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 26 types of mammals, 30 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 21 species of amphibian, and 70 species of plants. Another 100 species of animals were considered to be near threatened or at a low concern of threat. Endangered species in Bolivia included the puna rhea, South American river turtle, broad-nosed caiman, spectacled caiman, black caiman, jaguar, jaguarundi, margay, ocelot, emperor tamarin, and giant anteater. The llama and the alpaca are also threatened with extinction.


The population of Bolivia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 8,922,000, which placed it at number 85 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 37% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 99 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.1%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 12,018,000. The population density was 8 per sq km (21 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 63% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.50%. The capital city, La Paz (administrative capital) had a population of 1,477,000 in that year. Sucre (legal and judicial capital), had a population of 190,000. Santa Cruz, a departmental capital, had a metropolitan population of 1,352,000. Other important departmental capitals and their estimated populations include Cochabamba, 815,800; Oruro, 211,700; and Potosí, 115,000.


Aside from Spaniards during the colonial period, European immigration has been insignificant. Small numbers of Italians, Poles, and Germans have settled mainly in the vicinity of La Paz and Cochabamba, and some Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany arrived in the 1930s. After World War II, about 1,000 Japanese settled in colonies around Santa Cruz and became successful in truck farming, and several hundred Okinawan families established themselves as rice growers in the same area.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, migration to neighboring countries increased: 30,000 left Bolivia in 195055; 40,000 left in 198085. Since the emigrants tend to have basic training or technical skills, a drain of important human resources is occurring. A number of Bolivian braceros (contract agricultural laborers) go to northwestern Argentina to work in rice and sugar harvests. In the 1970s, Brazilian settlers, drawn by improved railroad and highway way links, migrated to northeastern Bolivia in growing numbers; these immigrants had a substantial influence on the region, since they continued to speak Portuguese and to use Brazilian currency as their medium of exchange. Within the country, migration is swelling the sparsely populated lowlands, particularly in Santa Cruz and its environs. High unemployment among agricultural laborers and miners has caused significant migration to the cities. The net migration rate estimated for 2005 was -1.27 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.

As of 2000, the number of migrants in Bolivia totaled 61,000. In 2004 there were 546 refugees living in Bolivia. Worker remittances for 2003 totaled $85.5 million.


Among the Amerindian population, an estimated 30% are Quechua and 25% are Aymará. Cholos (Bolivians of mixed white and Amerindian lineage) make up another 25 to 30%, and those of wholly European background account for virtually all of the remainder. One reason for the uncertainty of these estimates is that although the distinction between Amerindian, cholo, and white was at one time racial, it has gradually become at least partially sociocultural: Amerindians become cholos when they abandon their native costumes, learn to speak Spanish, and acquire a skill or trade. Not all those classified as whites are without some Amerindian mixture.

The rapidly disappearing Amerindians who populate the tropical plains in the southeast, the Chiriguanos, are believed to be a Guaraní tribe that moved west from Paraguay before the Spanish conquest. The Mojenos, Chiquitanos, and Sirionós inhabit the forest-grassland border in the far east.


Spanish, Quechua, and Aymará are all official languages. Spanish as spoken by educated Bolivians differs less from Castilian than do the dialects of many regions in Spain itself. An increasing number of Amerindians also speak Spanish.


Roman Catholicism is the official religion. As such, the Roman Catholic Church receives support from the state and exercises a certain degree of political influence through the Bolivian Bishops' Conference. Courses in Catholicism are offered in public schools, but students of other faiths are not required to attend. Non-Catholic organizations register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship for tax and legal benefits, but unregistered groups are not restricted from gathering. Freedom of religion is provided for in the constitution and this right is generally respected in practice.

According to a 2001 survey, about 78% of the population were Roman Catholic. Between 16 and 19% of the population were Protestant, including Mennonites, Lutherans, Mormons, Methodists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and various evangelical groups. There is a Mormon temple in Cochabamba which is believed to serve more than 100,000 Mormons from across the country. Less than 0.2% of the population were affiliated with other faiths such as Judaism, Bahaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Shintoism. There is a small Jewish community with a synagogue in La Paz, as well as a Muslim community with a mosque in Santa Cruz. Korean immigrants also have a church in La Paz.

Indigenous beliefs and rituals are exercised by the Aymará, Quechua, Guarani, and Chiquitano, many of whom practice a blend of Roman Catholicism and traditional customs. Common traditional beliefs include a focus on Pachamama, who is a mother earth figure, and Akeko, a god of luck, harvests, and abundance.


Transportation in Bolivia has been seriously impeded both by the geographic configuration of the country and by the concentration of population and mineral wealth in the mountain regions. Railroads and highways twist along the Andean Range, and are often blocked by mudslides during the rainy season. The shortage of transportation facilities is one of the most serious barriers to economic development. Railroads are almost entirely single, 1.000 m narrow gauge track, totaling 3,519 km (2,189 mi) in 2004. The railway system, National Railway Co, is in two distinct parts separated by the eastern Andes. All of the trackage was government owned and operated until privatized in 1996. A major portion of the railway system, the Andina, services the Altiplano, the western mountainous region, providing vital international connections with Pacific coast ports. The remaining track, the Oriental, connects the eastern city of Santa Cruz with Brazil and Argentina. An important route to Puerto Suárez eventually reaches the Brazilian port of Santos, while the line to Argentina via Villazón continues on to Buenos Aires. Two smaller lines (157 km/98 mi) are run by the Mining Corp. of Bolivia and by the Pulacayo mining enterprise.

In 2003, of a total of 60,762 km (37,794 mi) of roads, only about 4,314 km (2,683 mi) were paved, including 11 km (7 mi) of expressways. The Cochabamba-Santa Cruz highway, completed in 1963, was a major achievement in connecting lowland and highland Bolivia. In 2003 there were 493,600 motor vehicles, of which 203,500 were passenger cars, and 290,100 were commercial vehicles.

Airlines are particularly important in view of Bolivia's topography and the underdevelopment of other means of transportation. In 2004, there were an estimated 1,065 airports, only 16 of which had paved runways as of 2005. The hub of air traffic is El Alto airport near La Paz, the world's highest commercial airport; the other international airport is at Santa Cruz. Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB), with 50% government capital, services most of the country. In 2003, a total of about 1.768 million passengers were carried on scheduled international and domestic flights. Military Air Transport, operated by the air force, provides some civilian freight and passenger service, and numerous air taxi companies are also in service.

Little use has been made of Bolivia's 10,000 km (6,214 mi) of commercially navigable waterways. The merchant marine had 32 vessels (1,000 GRT or over), totaling 413,407 GRT in 2005. There are no regular riverboat services. Bolivia has free port privileges at Antofagasta and Arica (Chile), at Mollendo (Peru), and at Santos (Brazil).


By about ad 600, Amerindians (believed to belong to the Aymaráspeaking Colla tribe) were settled around the southern end of Lake Titicaca. As they came into contact with coastal tribes, the highly developed classic Tiahuanaco civilization emerged, reaching its peak about ad 900. Lake Titicaca became a place of worship and a great commercial center. Then cultural and political disintegration set in, and by 1300, the Quechua-speaking Incas had conquered the region and had colonized villages in most of what is now Bolivia.

The demise of the Inca empire began in 1527 with the death of the Inca Emperor Huayna Capac. His two sons, Huáscar and Atahualpa, fought a civil war over succession. Francisco Pizarro, taking advantage of the civil war raging between the two heirs, led the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in 153233. In 1539, Pedro de Anzures established La Plata, subsequently called Charcas and Chuquisaca and now known as Sucre, Bolivia's legal and judicial capital.

The Spaniards did not become interested in the land called Alto Peru, or Upper Peru, until the discovery in 1545 of the fabulously rich silver mine called the Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) de Potosí. Three years later, La Paz was founded on the main silver transport route between Potosí and the coast. In 1559, the audiencia (region under a royal court) of Charcas was established in Upper Peru under the viceroyalty of Lima. The mines continued to produce vast amounts of wealth for the Spanish Empire, and for years the city of Potosí was the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. In 1776, the audiencia was appended to the viceroyalty of La Plata (Buenos Aires).

The independence of Upper Peru came from the revolt of the small, native-born Spanish ruling class. In 1809, a year after Napoleon's invasion of Spain, the Spanish authorities in Chuquisaca (Sucre) were temporarily overthrown, and the local elite proclaimed independence. The movement was quickly put down by Spanish arms. The young government in Buenos Aires showed some interest in the region, having included delegates from Upper Peru when independence was declared at the Congress of Tucumán in 1816. However, independence came from Peru, after Simón Bolívar's victory at the battle of Ayacucho in December 1824. Bolívar then sent his young general, Antonio José de Sucre, to free Upper Peru. On 6 August 1825 a congress at Chuquisaca formally proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Bolívar, a name soon changed to Bolivia. Sucre was chosen as the first president in 1826, and Chuquisaca was renamed Sucre in his honor.

A period of instability followed, with civilians and army officers succeeding one another, usually by force of arms. The almost constant civil war retarded Bolivia's economic organization and helped bring about the loss of a large part of its land. The first of these losses came after the War of the Pacific (187984), pitting Chile against Bolivia and Peru. Chile's superior military force routed the Bolivians and seized what was then the Bolivian port of Antofagasta. The postwar settlement took away Bolivia's only coastal territory, as well as the nitrate-rich coastal area around it. Bolivia was forever after a landlocked country, with only rights of access to the Pacific under a 1904 treaty. Another territorial loss came in 1903 with the cession to Brazil of the Acre region, rich in natural rubber, in exchange for an indemnity and other minor concessions. Sucre was driven out of office after only two years. He was succeeded by Gen. Andrés de Santa Cruz, a man with imperial ambitions. In 1836, Santa Cruz conquered Peru and formed the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation. In 1839, Chilean forces defeated and dissolved the confederation and ended the life term of Santa Cruz.

The economy was aided in the late 19th century by a silver boom. When prices collapsed, silver production gave way to tin mining. The dominance of mining in Bolivia's economy conditioned the political system. A few wealthy mine and plantation owners, allied with various foreign interests, competed for power. Indians, excluded from the system, found their lot unchanged after almost 400 years.

This arrangement began to unravel with yet another loss of Bolivian territory. In 1932, Bolivia warred with Paraguay over the Chaco, the lowland area believed at the time to be rich in oil. Despite their numerical superiority, the Bolivians were defeated by 1935, and Paraguay controlled about three-fourths of the disputed territory. The formal settlement in 1938 gave most of this land to Paraguay, although Bolivia was promised a corridor to the Paraguay River.

The Chaco war pointed out the weaknesses in Bolivia's political and social structure. Bolivia's loss was in part due to the poor morale of its soldiers, an army of conscripted Indians with no loyalty to the elite officer corps. In 1936 Bolivia's rigid caste system cracked, and Col. David Toro came to power with labor support and a vaguely socialist/nationalist platform. The government expropriated Standard Oil of New Jersey's Bolivian properties in 1937. Toro's government attempted social reform, and its efforts to control mining and banking led to fierce opposition. The tension continued after Toro was forced out of office by Col. Germán Busch. Busch challenged Bolivia's three large tin-mining interests, owned by Patiño, Aramayo, and Hochschild. With strong labor backing, Busch arranged for the constitution of 1938, a document guaranteeing the right of labor to organize, universal education, and nationalized subsoil rights. The very next year, Busch died in what was officially ruled a suicide.

World War II brought further strains to Bolivia. As world demand skyrocketed, the tin market boomed, but working conditions remained miserable, and wages remained low. In 1942, protests by tin workers against the "tin barons" and their American financiers were met with force by the government of Gen. Enrique Peñaranda, resulting in the "Catavi massacre." Wishing to retain the strategic materials in mid-war, the United States commissioned a US-Bolivian commission to study working conditions. This report confirmed the workers' grievances, but was completely ignored by Peñaranda. In December of 1943, a coalition of the army and the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Nacionalista RevolutionarioMNR), which had gained considerable support among the mineworkers, engineered a coup, ousting Peñaranda and putting Maj. Gualberto Villarroel into power. The tin market collapsed at the war's end, weakening the government's power base. In 1946, Villarroel was overthrown and hanged, along with others, by a mob of workers, soldiers, and students, and a conservative government was installed.

In 1951, the MNR's candidate, Víctor Paz Estenssoro, a former associate of Villarroel, apparently won the presidential election, but a military junta stepped in, denying the legality of the vote. Paz, representing the left wing of the MNR, became president in 1952 as a result of a party-led uprising. For the next 12 years, Bolivian politics would be dominated by the MNR.

The leadership of the MNR was shared by four men: Paz, Juan Lechín Oquendo, leftist head of the miners' union, Hernán Siles Zuazo, close ally of Paz, and the right-wing Walter Guevara Arze. A pact among the four was to allow them to take turns in the presidency over the next 16 years. The Paz government made dramatic moves in an attempt to transform Bolivian society. The tin holdings of the three dominant family interests were expropriated, and a comprehensive land reform program was begun, along with wide-scale welfare and literacy programs. Industry was encouraged, the search for oil deposits was accelerated, and a new policy gave Amerindians the right to vote and sought to integrate the Amerindian community more fully into the national economy. The right to vote, previously restricted to literate Bolivian males (who constituted less than 10% of the population), was made universal for all Bolivians over 21.

In 1956, as expected, Hernán Siles succeeded to the presidency. But Siles only governed under Paz's watchful eye, and in 1960, Paz challenged the candidacy of Guevara Arze. Guevara went into exile, and Paz again assumed the presidency, with Lechín as his vice president. Paz became increasingly dictatorial, and the splits within the MNR worsened. Paz conspired to give himself yet another presidential term, complete with rigged elections in June 1964. Siles, now leading the right wing of the MNR, and Lechín, now leading the leftist opposition, conducted a hunger strike protesting Paz's authoritarian designs. Finally, the military defected when it became clear that Paz was without any allies. The military coup occurred in November 1964, with the junta selecting as president Paz's vice president René Barrientos Ortuño.

Barrientos moved quickly to consolidate his new government, removing Paz's old supporters and sending Lechín into exile. In the following year, a military faction forced Barrientos to allow Gen. Alfredo Ovando Candia to become his "co-president." This odd arrangement was resolved in 1966 with new elections. Barrientos and his newly formed Popular Christian Movement won a resounding victory.

In 1967, an active guerrilla movement with pro-Castro tendencies emerged in southeastern Bolivia. The Bolivian authorities imprisoned the French intellectual Jules Régis Debray, who revealed that the famous comrade of Fidel Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was leading the guerrilla movement. Later in the year, the Bolivian army apprehended and killed Guevara.

Barrientos died in a helicopter crash in April 1969, and a civilian, Vice President Adolfo Siles Salinas, became president. Siles was overthrown in September by Barrientos' former rival, Gen. Ovando, who presented himself as a presidential candidate for 1970 but then canceled the election. In October 1970, President Ovando was overthrown by rightist elements of the military, but the next day a leftist faction succeeded in making Gen. Juan José Torres Gonzales the new president.

The Torres regime was marked by increasing political instability. Backed by students and the Bolivian Labor Council, Torres expelled the US Peace Corps, permitted the expropriation of both US and privately owned Bolivian properties, sanctioned the seizure of land by landless peasants, established a labor-dominated People's Assembly, and declared his support for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. In a bloody three-day revolution in August 1971, the Torres government was ousted by a coalition of the armed forces and political leaders from the MNR and the Bolivian Socialist Falange (Falange Socialista BolivianaFSB), together with other middle-class groups. The leader of the coup was Hugo Bánzer Suárez, who was installed as president later in the month. Bánzer consolidated his support with the founding of the Nationalist Popular Front, which became the political framework of the new government. Ex-president Paz returned from exile to head the MNR.

The first threats to the Bánzer government came from the left. There were reports late in 1971 of renewed activity by the Guevarist National Liberation Army. The government launched a vigorous antiguerrilla campaign and claimed nearly complete success. In 1973, however, Bánzer's coalition began to splinter. In 1974, when the MNR threatened to withdraw from the coalition, Paz went into exile again. After two coup attempts had been crushed in the fall of 1973 and two others in the summer of 1974, Bánzer formed a new all-military cabinet. In November 1974, the MNR, the FSB, and other political parties were abolished, and trade union meetings were declared illegal.

In response to industrial and political unrest, Bánzer announced the restoration of political parties in 1977 and of unions in 1978. He promised to hold new elections in July 1978. Paz again returned from exile to run. The election results were annulled, however, and a new military government came to power in a bloodless coup. Another election took place in July 1979, but because no candidate received a majority and the Congress could not decide whom to select from among the three main candidates, an interim president was named. Another coup followed in November, but constitutional government was restored only two weeks later, in the wake of popular resistance. New presidential and congressional elections in June 1980 again failed to produce a majority winner, and in July there was another coup, staged by Gen. Luis García Meza, who promptly suspended the Congress, banned most political parties and all union activity, and established strict censorship in order to remove the "Marxist cancer" from Bolivia. Paz again went into exile. During the García regime there were frequent reports of arbitrary arrests, use of torture, and other human rights violations. In August 1981, García, who was suspected, along with other top officials in the government, of involvement with the cocaine trade, was deposed in a coupthe 190th in Bolivian history. He went into exile in Argentina in October 1982, and in May 1983, he was ordered arrested on charges of "corruption and economic crimes"specifically, the fraudulent use of government funds in agricultural, construction, and oil refinery deals. Meanwhile, under two more military governments, political and union rights were gradually restored.

In October 1982, amid a worsening economic situation and increasing labor unrest, the Congress elected Hernán Siles Zuazo to the presidency. Siles, returning to office 22 years after the end of his previous presidency, could still count on electoral support, and had received a plurality of votes in the 1979 and 1980 elections. His shaky coalition faced continued economic problems, including food shortages and rampant inflation, and a right-wing threat from paramilitary groups whose activities were reportedly financed by cocaine smuggling. In November 1983, the Bolivian government announced an austerity program that included a 60% devaluation of the peso and hefty food price increases. By mid-1985, Siles had so mismanaged the economy and the political situation that labor unrest and social tension forced him to call national elections and to agree to relinquish power a full year before the expiration of his term. Bánzer won a plurality of the popular vote, but the MNR won more seats in the congressional elections, resulting in a fourth term of office for the 77-year-old Paz. In a departure from the norm, the MNR and Bánzer's party agreed to cooperate, allowing a comprehensive economic reform package to pass through the legislature.

Faced with runaway inflation, which reached an annual rate of 14,000% in August 1985, the government abandoned controlled exchange rates, abolished price controls, liberalized external trade, and instituted more restrictive monetary and wage policies. The result was sharply lower inflation and interest rates, and a more stable economy, although the shocks of this liberalization were felt through government layoffs and falling consumer buying power.

More importantly, Paz was able to forge a fundamental consensus among competing political parties in support of a continuing democracy. In 1989, despite a hotly contested presidential race, power passed from the MNR to the left-wing movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR). The peaceful transfer of power from one party to another was a milestone in itself. An equally hopeful sign was the fact that the MIR leader, Jaime Paz Zamora, was able to hold together a coalition with the right-wing national Democratic Alliance (ADN) to serve a full four-year presidential term. In Bolivia, this is a major accomplishment.

The elections of 1993 brought the MNR back to power, with Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada assuming the presidency. Sánchez chose as his running mate Victor Hugo Cárdenas, an advocate for Bolivia's Aymara-speaking Amerindians. While some saw the move as a cynical ploy, others expressed hope that Bolivia's long-suffering native population might be brought into the political system. Sánchez de Lozada's administration embarked on a wide-ranging program of reforms that included decentralization of government, tariff reduction, educational reform, and most notably, a major privatization campaign. State enterprises that were privatized included the national railroad, the state-owned airline, and the nation's electric power generation facilities. Sánchez de Lozada's plans also included privatization of Bolivia's mining sector through joint ventures with foreign investors. In spite of continued economic stabilization and progress, the government's policies drew protests and labor strikes leading to the declaration of a 90-day state of siege in 1995.

In 1997, Gen. Hugo Bánzer, the former dictator who had tried unsuccessfully to regain power by legal means since his ouster in 1978, came in first in the June presidential elections and, in the absence of an electoral majority, was chosen by Congress to be the nation's next president. Bánzer, a conservative democrat, pledged to halt his predecessor's privatization program while improving basic services and expanding jobs. Shortly into his term, Bánzer faced growing social unrest resulting from an economic crisis and the government's inability to fight corruption and implement an effective anti-narcotics program. Due to health reasons, Bánzer resigned in 2001 before the end of his term and was replaced by his young vice president Jorge Quiroga who served as a caretaking president until Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the plurality winner in the June 2002 election, took office for the second time in his life. After failing to win a majority of the popular vote, Sánchez de Lozada was elected by Congress over second-place finisher, indigenous and peasant activist Evo Morales.

Sánchez de Lozada's second term was marked by social and political upheaval. One year into his term, the economy was stagnant, and social and racial tensions kept the country in turmoil. Sánchez de Lozada's initiative to attract foreign investments to exploit Bolivia's large and rich natural gas reserves was met with indignant opposition by indigenous leaders. Social protests against Sánchez de Lozada turned violent and the government ordered the police to repress protestors. The vice president, Carlos Mesa Gisbert, announced his withdrawal of support for Sánchez, thus forcing him to resign. Mesa was appointed president and promised to implement social and economic reforms to mitigate poverty and bring about political reform. Mesa also took on a harder stance against Chile and promised that Bolivian natural gas would not be exported through Chilean ports. Although he did experience some positive response, Mesa soon found himself under the same heavy fire that brought his predecessor down. Mesa was forced to resign on 9 June 2005. A new care-taking government, led by Supreme Court President Eduardo Rodríguez, took charge to conduct new presidential elections.

Indigenous leader Evo Morales was widely seen as the favorite to win the presidential election. Having led the opposition against Sánchez de Lozada and Mesa, Morales was blamed for the political instability that characterized Bolivia in the preceding years. Yet, he was also the most important indigenous political leader and represented an excluded class of Bolivians who had been historically subjected to neglect and poverty. Thus, his electoral victory was considered the only way to bring about stability and political inclusion.

Presidential elections were held in December 2005. Evo Morales won an absolute majority of the vote (53.7%) and became the first indigenous president in Bolivia's history. He defeated former President Jorge Quiroga (28.6%). Morales's strong showing was unusual for Bolivia, where presidents are usually elected by Congress after candidates fail to get an absolute majority of the vote. Evo Morales is the leader of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). MAS obtained a clear majority control of the Chamber of Deputies (72 seats in the 130-member Chamber) and 12 of the 27 seats in the Senate. As of this election there had been no other president in Bolivian history that had enjoyed such a clear mandate. Morales promised to bring about economic reforms to help the marginalized and poor, to fight corruption, and nationalize mining interests.


Constitutionally, Bolivia is a centralist republic. The constitution of 3 February 1967 (amended in 1994) provides for a representative democracy, with its government divided into an executive branch, a bicameral legislature (a Congress consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate), and the judiciary. President Morales promised to call special elections in 2006 for a constitutional assembly mandated with drafting a new constitution.

Bolivia has had a spotty constitutional history. The current constitution is the result of a series of actions begun by the military junta that took control in November 1964. The junta replaced the 1961 constitution with the 1945 constitution, as amended in 1947. At the same time, it retained those sections of the 1961 constitution that dealt with universal suffrage, nationalization of the tin mines, land reform, and compulsory education. The 1967 constitution was further amended to circumscribe the power of militia forces. In practice, the constitution has not been rigorously observed. Coups and states of siege have been frequent. Congress was dissolved by the armed forces from 1969 to 1979 and again between 1980 and 1982. The constitution was amended in 1994 to give more power to the president and recognize indigenous people. If successful, President Morales would have a new constitution written. It would be the first where an indigenous majority took an active role in shaping the institutional order of Bolivia.

Under the constitution, the president and the vice president are elected by direct popular vote for a four-year term and cannot serve consecutive terms. If no candidate receives a majority in a presidential election, the Congress chooses among the three leading candidates. However, between 1966 and 1978, no presidential elections were held. The president's powers are considerable, and presidential authority often extends beyond the constitution. The president has the prerogative to declare a state of siege and may then rule by decree for 90 days. The Congress consists of 27 senators (three from each department) and 130 deputies. Deputies and senators are elected for five-year terms concurrently with the president. Bolivia utilizes a form of proportional representation to ensure minority representation in the Chamber of Deputies and an incomplete-list system for the Senate. The regular session of Congress lasts for 90 days.

Universal suffrage, with no literacy or property qualifications, was decreed in 1952 for married persons at 18 years and single persons at 21. The constitution includes a bill of rights, which guarantees the right to express ideas freely, petition the government, and obtain a release under a writ of habeas corpus in case of illegal detention.


Bolivia's proportional representation system has encouraged the formation of several political parties. Numerous parties and coalitions have formed and dissolved over the years, usually tied to the personalities of the various leaders.

The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Nacionalista RevolucionarioMNR) was founded by Víctor Paz Estenssoro, Hernán Siles Zuazo, and others in 1941. Although militant originally, the years have moderated the party's stance. The MNR came to power in 1952, with the help of the Revolutionary Workers Party, the carabineros (national police), and the miners' and peasants' militias. In the subsequent years, the MNR began to rely increasingly on foreign aid, especially from the United States, and became increasingly autocratic and corrupt. Finally, quarreling among the party leadership weakened the party, and by 1964 the MNR's monopoly on power had dissolved. In November 1964, Paz was sent into exile in Peru.

The MNR was then eclipsed by the charisma of President René Barrientos and his Popular Christian Movement. The MNR returned as part of the Nationalist Popular Front, organized by Hugo Bánzer Suárez. Banzer then outlawed the MNR in November 1974. In the late 1970s, the MNR reappeared, along with a dissident MNRI (the "MNR of the left") headed by Hernán Siles.

With the restoration of Bolivian democracy, the MNRI won the presidency under Siles along with a coalition of leftist parties that included the Communist Party of Bolivia and the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de la Izquierda RevolucionariaMIR), headed by Jaime Paz Zamora. MIR was an active partner in the Siles government; Paz Zamora was the vice president, and several MIR officials were in the cabinet. MIR won the presidency in 1989 after an extremely close election, and only after seeking support from the right wing Democratic Nationalist Alliance (Alianza Democrática NacionalistaADN).

The ADN was closely tied to former President Hugo Bánzer Suárez until his death. Bánzer, a former military officer, came to power in an alliance with the MNR, but eventually ruled as a military dictator. This right-wing party was denied power in 1985 by the MNR/MIR coalition. However, the ADN was instrumental in bringing Paz Zamora to power, and held half the ministerial positions in that government. In the most recent presidential election, the ADN candidate only managed to obtain 6.3% of the vote, generating doubt about the future of a party associated with the late leader, Hugo Bánzer.

In June 1997 Bánzer, whose dictatorial regime ruled Bolivia from 1971 to 1978, placed first in the nation's presidential election and, with the backing of Congress, was sworn in as president in August. Bánzer's own party, the ADN, formed a coalition government with the MIR, the UCS, and Condepa. In 2002, former president Sánchez de Lozada narrowly edged peasant activist Evo Morales in the presidential election. As mandated by the constitution, Congress had to choose the president from among the top two vote-getters. Sánchez de Lozada, who had obtained 22.5% of the vote, won with overwhelming support from most established political parties, but new groups and party splinters supported Morales. The alternative candidates demonstrated little willingness to work with the Sánchez de Lozada administration but they also failed to mount an organized and coherent political opposition. The strength of political parties in Bolivia has been weakened by the emergence of populist activists like Morales and by the resistance of aging party leaders like Sánchez de Lozada and Paz Zamora to retire from politics. In addition to the center-left MNR, the leftist MIR, and the center-right ADN, leading political parties include the New Republican Force (NFR) and Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), both populist parties created by presidential candidates Manfred Reyes and Evo Morales respectively. Morales narrowly edged Reyes out in the 2002 presidential election to face Sánchez de Lozada in the runoff election in the electoral college. As a result of no candidate winning a majority in the June 2002 election, Sánchez de Lozada was chosen president by Congress. Morales led MAS strong parliamentary representation during the unstable Sánchez de Losada and Mesa governments. After the 2005 elections, MAS, whose indigenous identity shapes its politics and policies, was the largest political party in the country.

Democratic and Social Power (PDS), a new alliance formed around former President Jorge Quiroga, became the second-largest party in congress after the 2005 elections. With a center-left, free market approach, PDS sought to replace the discredited and weakened rightwing MNR and ADN parties.


Bolivia is essentially a unitary system, with a highly centralized national government. Bolivia's nine departmentsLa Paz, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Potosí, Oruro, Santa Cruz, Tarija, El Beni, and Pandowere historically administered by prefects appointed by the president for four-year terms. However, in the 2005 elections, Bolivians also chose their provincial prefects directly. The departments are subdivided into 94 provinces, each headed by a subprefect appointed by the prefect. The provinces are further divided into 1,713 cantons, each of which is under the jurisdiction of a magistrate (corregidor ). As of 1997, Bolivia had 312 municipalities. There are no local legislatures. Important towns and cities have more self-government. Each has a popularly elected council of from 5 to 12 members, but municipal tax ordinances must be approved by the Senate. Mayors (alcaldes ) are also elected. The Amerindian communities, although they are not formal administrative units, are recognized by law.


The Bolivian judiciary usually defers to the political direction of the nation's executive. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, the superior district courts in each department (courts of second instance), and the local courts (courts of first instance). The Supreme Court, which sits at Sucre, is divided into four chambers: two deal with civil cases, one with criminal cases, and one with administrative, mining, and social cases. The 12 Supreme Court judges, called ministros, are chosen for 10-year terms by a two-thirds vote of the Chamber of Deputies from a list of three names submitted for each vacancy by the Senate. They may be reelected indefinitely.

Most cases that reach the Supreme Court are appellate; its area of original jurisdiction is limited mainly to decisions on the constitutionality of laws and to disputes involving diplomats or important government officials. Each district court judge is elected by the Senate for six years from a list of three submitted by the Supreme Court.

The district courts usually hear appeals from the courts of first instance. Judges of the courts of first instance (tribunales and juzgados) are chosen by the Supreme Court from a list submitted by the district courts. There is also a separate national labor court and an agrarian court, dealing with agrarian reform cases.

Defendants have a right to counsel, to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to appeal. These rights are generally respected.


As of 2005, Bolivia's armed forces totaled 31,500 active personnel, of which the Army numbered 25,000, the Navy 3,500, and the Air Force 3,000 personnel. The Army's equipment included 36 light tanks, 24 reconnaissance vehicles, 77 armored personnel carriers, and over 168 artillery pieces. The Navy's main naval units were 60 patrol/coastal vessels and 18 support vessels. The service also had a 1,700 member Marine force. The Air Force had 37 combat capable aircraft that included 18 fighter ground attack aircraft. Paramilitary forces consisted of a national police force of more than 31,100 and a narcotics police force of over 6,000. Bolivia participated in seven UN peacekeeping missions. The defense budget totaled $146 million in 2005.


Bolivia is a charter member of the UN, having joined on 14 November 1945, and participates in several specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IFC, IMF, ILO, UNESCO, UNIDO, the World Bank, and WHO. Bolivia joined the WTO on 12 September 1995. The country is also a member of the Cartagena Group (G-11), G-77, Río Group, the Amazon Pact, the Latin American Economic System, the Latin American Integration Association, the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Andean Community of Nations. Bolivia is an associate member of Mercosur.

The country is part of the Nonaligned Movement and the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin American and the Caribbean (OPANAL). Bolivia has offered support to UN efforts in Kosovo (est. 1999), Liberia (est. 2003), Sierra Leone (est. 1999), East Timor (est. 2002), Burundi (est. 2004), Côte d'Ivoire (est. 2004), and the DROC (est. 1999). The country is a signatory of the 1947 Río Treaty, an inter-American security agreement.

In environmental cooperation, Bolivia is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Seas, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Bolivia is one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest countries, despite an abundance of mineral resources. Its economy has always been dependent on mineral exports, principally of tin, but these have gradually declined since World War II. Little of the nation's great agricultural and forest potential has been developed; agriculture remains little above the subsistence level, and Bolivia must import large quantities of food. Moreover, evidence is that the coca crop eradication program, without effective crop substitution, has led to a substantial contraction in the informal market. The opening in 1999 of the $2-billion, 3,150-km (1,969-mi) Bolivia-Brazil pipeline holds the promise of the development of new export marketsin Brazil and, eventually, in the United States, via extensions into Mexicofor Bolivia's previously untapped natural gas reserves, but the project has been fraught with controversy and delays. Originally agreed to in 1974, construction did not begin until 1994, and then it was under a contract that gave Enron Corporation a 40% share, allegedly without a proper bidding process. Protests against Enron's involvement began immediately, but after Enron's bankruptcy in 2001, many new complaints surfaced concerning its failure to meet the terms of the contract, including its failure to donate a promised $10 million for rural electrification; its failure to supply land deeds for indigenous people whose land was being transversed by the pipeline; its failure to secure financing for the project (a task eventually taken over by Brazil), and, its failure, apparently, to make any investments in the project beyond an undocumented $22 million in the planning stage.

In 2003, President Sánchez de Lozada, who in a previous term had sponsored the "capitalization" program that brought in private foreign investors like Enron as partners in public sector enterprises and who had won a second term in June 2002, faced violent protests that threatened to unseat the government. In February 2003, there were violent clashes with coca farmers, and in March, the police joined protests against an IMF-sponsored tax hike, which the government subsequently rescinded. Sánchez de Lozada appealed to foreign governments, particularly the United States, for $100 million in immediate aid to help his government survive, and as of June 2003, the Bush administration had sent $10 million. The United States gives Bolivia $150 million a year in aid conditional on the government's satisfactory progress in the coca crop eradication and crop substitution program.

Bolivian economic production grew at a fairly steady rate of about 5% during the 1960s and 1970s; but in the 1980s, after the second oil shock, growth turned negative. Inflation, which had averaged 3.5% in the 1960s, averaged 22% in the 1970s, and then got out of control in the early 1980s, after the second oil shock. Attempts to implement IMF austerity programs to contain inflation back-fired in the face of violent protests and government efforts to their limit human costs. When world tin prices plummeted to a fraction of production costs in 1985 after the collapse of the International Tin Agreement (ITA), a consumer-producer international commodity agreement (ICA) for tin, inflation reached as high as 24,000%. After 1985, a strong anti-inflation consensus allowed the government to apply strong austerity measures that brought annual inflation down to 10.87% by 1987. In August 1985, President Paz implemented a drastic anti-inflationary program: he floated the peso, froze public-sector wages, cut public spending, eliminated controls on bank interest rates, authorized banks to make foreign-currency loans and offer foreign-currency accounts, initiated a comprehensive tax reform, eliminated price controls, established a uniform 20% tariff, removed tariff exemptions, eliminated virtually all import and export restrictions, and modified labor laws to permit greater flexibility in hiring and firing. The immediate result was a jump in capital repatriation and retention as a result of the rise in interest rates. The government also restructured several public-sector institutions, including the Central Bank and COMIBOL, the national mining corporation. The Central Bank closed several branches and reduced staff by 70%, and COMIBOL closed numerous mines and dismissed nearly 20,000 workers. Inflation was held to double digits until 1993, after which averages have been held to single digits.

In 1994, the first Sánchez de Lozada government introduced the innovative "capitalization" plan for privatizing six major state enterprises (the national airlines, the railways, electricity, telecommunications, the ironworks, and, most controversially, the oil and gas corporation). The plan provided for a private company to take over 50% ownership plus the operation of the enterprise, with the other shares distributed to the adult population to be deposited in private pension funds. Bolivia's high foreign debt obliged it to seek private partners in order to raise capital. The average GDP growth between 1977 and 1987 was -1.8%, but this improved during the 1990s with an average rate of 4.2%. By 1999, Bolivia was in its second decade of democratic rule and its thirteenth consecutive year of economic expansion. Market reforms were firmly in place, investment was growing steadily and inflation under control, at 4.4% in 1998. Privatization of state-owned industries had improved the investment environment of Bolivia. Growth was led by energy (particularly investments in the gas pipeline to Brazil and in hydrocarbons exploration), mining, and agriculture (particularly in soy products as a substitute for coca).

In 1999, however, real GDP growth slowed to 0.4% due mainly to the Brazilian financial crisis, which caused revenues from the newly opened Bolivia-Brazil gas pipeline to fall well below expectations. Another factor thought to be dampening growth was the success of the coca crop eradication program coupled with a lack of success in crop substitution. An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 hectares of coca had been eliminated by 2002, leaving between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares (although in 2003 there were reports of substantial increases). An improvement to 2.4% growth in GDP in 2000 was cut short by the world-wide economic slowdown in 2001, during which growth fell to 1.2%. Inflation also increased in 2000, to 4.8%, up from 2.4% in 1999, but then declined to 1.6% in 2001. Real GDP growth in 2002 was estimated at 2.5%, and average inflation at a new low of 0.9%.

On 2 April 2002, the IMF agreed to a one-year standby arrangement with the government with credit totaling about $120 million, less than Bolivia's IMF quota. For 2003, the government has laid out a program it hopes to see supported by a three-year arrangement under the IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), established in 1999 and normally permitting borrowing up to 140% of a country's quota. The program aims at containing public sector borrowing while increasing social expenditures, containing inflation, increasing international reserves, and adopting policies to strengthen the banking sector.

As of 2004, Bolivia's GDP per capita remained lower than many other countries in the region (including Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Paraguay). Its GDP growth rate was also less than all of the same countries, with the exception of Bolivia. With an inflation rate less than 5%, however, Bolivia's consumer prices were near average for the region.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Bolivia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $23.6 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $2,700. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 5.4%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 12.6% of GDP, industry 35%, and services 52.4%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $126 million or about $14 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.6% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $930 million or about $105 per capita and accounted for approximately 12.3% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Bolivia totaled $5.8 billion or about $658 per capita based on a GDP of $8.1 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.3%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 37% of household consumption was spent on food, 11% on fuel, 9% on health care, and 14% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 64% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


Bolivia's labor force was estimated at 4.22 million in 2005. In 2000, (the latest year for which data was available), the 28.2% of the work force was in manufacturing, while 4.9% was in agriculture, and 66.8% in the services sector. As of 2005, unemployment in Bolivia was estimated to be widespread. In the country's urban areas, the unemployment rate was estimated at 8% that year.

Workers may form and join unions, but the labor courts and inadequate government laws undermine the effectiveness of this right. The government must authorize a union, may dissolve a union, and must confirm the legitimacy of elected officers. Workers, however, are generally not penalized for union activity. The Bolivian Labor Federation theoretically represents all workers, but only one half of the employees actually belong. About 25% of the country's workers in the formal economy belong to unions. However, the formal economy covers only about 30% of the country's entire workforce. Strikes are prohibited in public services, although some strikes were initiated and workers were not penalized.

The law prohibits child labor under age 14, but this is generally ignored. According to statistics from UNICEF and the Bolivian government, about 32% of the country's children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 19 were engaged in some kind of work. The minimum wage is subject to annual negotiation and in 2005 was set at $55 per month. This does not provide a decent standard of living, and most workers earn more than the minimum. However, the minimum wage does not cover the 30% of workers in the informal sector. The workday is set at eight hours a day with a maximum of 48 hours per week, but this is not effectively enforced.


An estimated 2.9% of Bolivia's land area is devoted to arable farming and permanent crops. Agricultural development has been impeded by extremely low productivity, poor distribution of the population in relation to productive land, and a lack of transportation facilities. Prior to 1953, about 93% of all privately owned land was controlled by only 6.3% of the landowners. The agrarian reform decree of August 1953 was aimed at giving ownership of land to those working it and abolishing the large landholdings (latifundios). By 1980, 30.15 million hectares (74.5 million acres) had been distributed to 591,310 families. In 2004, 43% of Bolivia's economically active population was engaged in agriculture.

Except around Lake Titicaca, about two-thirds of the cultivated land on the Altiplano lies fallow each year. Dry agriculture is the rule, and the most important crops are potatoes, corn, barley, quinoa (a millet-like grain), habas (broad beans), wheat, alfalfa, and oca (a tuber). The potato is the main staple; dehydrated and frozen to form chuño or tunta, it keeps indefinitely. The Yungas and Valles contain about 40% of the cultivated land. The eastern slopes, however, are too steep to permit the use of machinery, and erosion is a serious problem despite the practice of terracing. The most lucrative crop in the Yungas is coca, which is chewed by the local population and from which cocaine is extracted. The government allows up to 12,000 hectares (29,600 acres) of legal coca cultivation to supply the legitimate pharmaceutical market. The net production of coca leaf was estimated at 29,100 tons in 2003, down from 85,000 tons in 1995. Coca leaf production represents about 20% of world production. Coffee, cacao, bananas, yucca, and aji (a widely used chili pepper) are also important. In the fertile irrigated valleys, the important crops are corn, wheat, barley, vegetables, alfalfa, and oats. The Tarija area is famous for grapes, olives, and fruit. The region east of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where most of the nation's unused fertile lands lie, is considered the "promised land" of Bolivian agriculture. Lowland rice production is increasing rapidly and already satisfies domestic need. The sugar grown there is used mostly for alcohol, but in the 1960s, the mills increased their refining capacity, thus meeting internal consumption requirements. In the tropical forests of the northeast, the Indians practice slash-and-burn agriculture.

The leading commercial crops are soybeans, cotton, sugar, and coffee. Production in 2004 for selected crops was soybeans, 1,670,000 tons; seed cotton, 80,000 tons; sunflowers, 167,000 tons; wheat, 107,900 tons; coffee, 24,000 tons; sugar, 4.8 million tons; and rice, 304,500 tons. Droughts and freezing weather in the west during the 1990s caused harvests to fall for basic crops like quinoa, potatoes, barley, and garden vegetables.


In 2004 there were an estimated 6.8 million head of cattle, 8.6 million sheep, 1.5 million goats, 3 million hogs, 635,000 donkeys, and 323,000 horses. Poultry numbered 75 million in 2004.

The main cattle-raising department is El Beni, in the tropical northeast, which has about 30% of the nation's cattle. In 1994, a joint program began with Brazil to eradicate and control hoof and mouth disease in cattle, which had caused exports of beef to fall that year. Cochabamba is the leading dairy center, and improved herds there supply a powdered-milk factory. Genetic development helped increase milk production from an average of 113,000 tons annually during 198991 to 233,000 tons by 2004. The Amerindians of the high plateau depend on the llama because it can carry loads at any altitude and provides leather, meat, and dung fuel. Leading animal product exports are hides, alpaca and vicuña wool, and chinchilla fur. Breeding of alpacas and llamas is by and large left to chance; disease is rampant, and production is low, considering the relatively large numbers of animals. Llamas and alpacas are grown for their wool and meat in the Altiplano of La Paz, Potosí, and Oruro. In 1995, the llama population was about two million, and the alpacas numbered 324,336. The United Nations and the Integrated Association of Camelmen in the High Andes began a program in 1994 to improve the quality of the animals' meat and wool.


Fishing is a minor activity in Bolivia. A few varieties of fish are caught in Lake Titicaca by centuries-old methods and sent to La Paz. The catch was 6,974 tons in 2003. Bolivia has some of the world's largest rainbow trout, and Bolivian lakes are well stocked for sport fishing.


Bolivia is potentially one of the world's most important forestry nations. More than half of the total area is held as public land by the state, and more than 40 million hectares (100 million acres) of forest and woodland are maintained as reserves or for immediate exploitation. About 53% of Bolivia's land area consists of forests and woodlands. Trees are mostly evergreens and deciduous hardwoods, with the richest forests on the Andes' eastern slope along the tributaries of the Amazon; humid tropical and subtropical forests account for 37% of Bolivia's forests. More than 2,000 species of tropical hardwoods of excellent quality, such as mahogany, jacaranda, rosewood, palo de balsa, quina, ironwood, colo, and cedar, abound in this area. Sawmills are few, however, and the almost total lack of transportation facilities has made exploitation expensive. Most of the sawmills are in the eastern department of Santa Cruz. Roundwood production in 2003 was 2.86 million cu m (101 million cu ft), up from 1.6 million cu m (56 million cu ft) in 1991. About 50% of Bolivia's exports are derived from forestry.


Bolivia has traditionally been a mining countrymining was the country's top industryproducing antimony, bismuth, copper, gold, lead, silver, tungsten, and zinc. It had large reserves of gold, lithium, iron ore, natural gas, and petroleum.

Production totals for 2003 were: zinc, 144,985 metric tons; gold, 9,362 kg; silver, 465,309 kg; tin, 16,755 metric tons; lead, 9,740 metric tons; antimony, 2,911 metric tons; tungsten, 556 metric tons; rough amethyst, 144 kg; hydraulic cement, 1,138,000 metric tons; and arsenic, 276 metric tons. The richest and most productive alluvial gold deposits were located in Challana and the Kaka, the Mapiri, and the Tipuani River valleys, in the northern area of La Paz Department.

For two centuries following the discovery of silver at Cerro Rico de Potosiacute in 1545, the area that became Bolivia was the largest producer of silver. Cerro Rico was protected as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization site, making the use of expensive backfill mining techniques necessary to maintain the mountain's shape. New studies at the base of the mountain estimated 3.3 million kg of silver in its gravel bed channel deposits.

Bolivia's tradition of state-owned monopolies has been a highly politicized topic; the government's capitalization plan became a way to bring Bolivia the benefits of privatization, without entirely turning over state companies to private investors. Mining codes enacted in 1991 allowed foreign firms to operate with fewer restrictions and replaced royalties with a 30% tax on profits. By 1994, privately owned commercial mines became the dominant producers, responsible for 52% of the value of all mine production. In 2000, the medium-sized mining sector was responsible for 59% of the value of mine production; the small-sized mining sector accounted for 36%; and COMIBOL's share was 2%, down from 25% in 1997, and 51% in 1985. Starting in 1999, companies looking to invest in the minerals sector were granted a deferral on value-added tax and customs duty payments, representing a savings of up to 20% on investment project costs. The large number of available prospects and a new mining code have encouraged mineral exploration in the country.


Capacity at Bolivian electric power plants rose from 267,000 kW in 1970 to 1.3 million kW in 2001 and stood at 1.228 million kW in 2002. Of the last amount, 25% was hydroelectric and 75% thermal. Electric power output in 2000 was 3.8 billion kWh, of which 50.1% was hydroelectric, 48.4% was from fossil fuels, and 1.5% was from other sources. In 2002, electric power output rose to an estimated 4.049 billion kWh, of which, 2.202 billion kWh was generated by hydroelectric means; 1.766 was produced by thermal sources; and 0.081 billion kWh was from geothermal or other sources. Bolivia's national electrical grid, Sistema Interconectado Nacional (SIN) connects approximately 83% of the nation's installed generating capacity. The 17% that remains is independent of the grid and is classified as "Aislados." As of 2003, SIN was supplied by nine generating firms, of which, three: Empresa Electrica Valle Hermoso (EVH); Empresa de Generacion Guaracachi (EGSA); and Compania Boliviana de Energia Electrica (COBEE), supplied 58% of the power. Consumption of electricity in 2000 totaled 3.6 billion kWh. In 2002, consumption was estimated at 3.8 billion kWh.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), Bolivia has the fifth-largest proven reserves of crude oil in South America at 441 million barrels as of January 2004. However, the estimates tend to vary. Bolivia's Ministry of Mining and Hydrocarbons reports that the nation's proven reserves stand at 462 million barrels, as of end 2003. While Bolivia's domestic oil production is able to meet the country's internal needs, the country must still import certain petroleum products, in particular, diesel. As of November 2004, refinery capacity stood at 67,000 barrels per day. Production of natural gas has gradually increased from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s. Meanwhile, estimates of Bolivia's natural gas reserves keep growing. In 2002, Bolivia's natural gas reserves were put at 680 billion cu m (24 trillion cu ft), according to an official estimate. As of January 2004, the nation's proven reserves of natural gas were placed at 27.6 trillion cu ft by the Bolivian government. If potential reserves are included, Bolivia may have the second-largest in South America. Estimated production in 2000 was 3.3 billion cu m (116 billion cu ft). In 2004, production totaled 8.5 billion cu m.

The first phase of a pipeline project linking Bolivia to São Paulo, Brazil, was completed in February 1999 at a cost of $2.1 billion and went into operation later the same year. Future pipeline plans include a pipeline to northern Chile, and a project to run a pipeline to Asunción, Paraguay, with a possible extension to Curitiba, Brazil. In February 2002 Bolivia and Brazil signed an agreement pledging further cooperation in the energy sector, including the possibility of a new $5 billion gas pipeline.


Historically, industrial development has been severely restricted by political instability, the small domestic market, the uncertain supply of raw materials, and the lack of technically trained labor. Domestic industry supplies less than one-fourth of the processed food and manufactured goods consumed. Over one-half of manufacturing output is in nondurable consumer goodsfood, beverages, tobacco, and coffee. Handicrafts and hydrocarbons account for much of the remainder.

At their peak, Bolivia's tin mines accounted for 70% of the country's total export earnings, but in 1985 the London Metal Exchange abruptly halved the price of tin, causing economic chaos. The ensuing economic stabilization program was a mixed blessing to industry. The easing of foreign-exchange restrictions, the uniform 20% tariff, and the significant reduction in duties on nonessential consumer goods improved the availability of raw materials and semi-manufactured goods, thereby stimulating industrial growth.

In 1992, growth in the construction industry was a remarkable 15%, sustained both by the larger number of public works projects and by private investment. By 1995, this growth had slowed to 5%. The manufacturing sector grew by 3.8% in 1995, with the largest gains occurring in agriculture-based industries despite the problems resulting from the precarious state of agriculture. The mining and hydrocarbon sector contracted because of the decline in mining output and stagnation in the production of petroleum and natural gas. The drastic reduction of COMIBOL's production resulted from the closing of several mines and frequent labor disputes. The slump in the hydrocarbons subsector was because of the depletion of a number of wells, lack of investment in exploring for new deposits, and the torrential rains that damaged the infrastructure of the state-owned company.

In the late 1990s, Bolivia experienced a renaissance in the mining and hydrocarbons sectors due to privatization of the stateowned interests in these sectors. This attracted foreign interest in developing the energy and minerals potential of the country. In 2002, Bolivia had three oil refineries with a production capacity of 63,000 barrels per day.

The construction and manufacturing sectors were experiencing a slowdown in 2002, after three years of a stagnant economy. The development of the country's infrastructure was expected to be an engine for industrial growth, however. The opening of a gas pipeline to Brazil in 1999 was expected to take in much of Bolivia's natural gas production.


The Bolivian National Academy of Sciences was founded in 1960. Notable scientific and technological research institutes and learned societies include the Bolivian Geological Service and Bolivian Petroleum Institute, both in La Paz. Bolivia has eight universities offering courses in basic and applied sciences. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 30% of college and university enrollments. In 2002, Bolivia had 118 researchers and 6 technicians per million people actively engaged in research and development (R&D). In that same year, Bolivian expenditures on R&D totaled $60.692 million or 0.28% of GDP. Higher education accounted for 31% of R&D expenditures in 2002, with 20% coming from the government, 14% from foreign sources, 19% from nonprofit institutions, and 16% from business. Undistributed expenditures accounted for the remainder. High technology exports in 2002 totaled $15 million, or 7% of all manufactured exports.


La Paz is the chief marketing center. Oruro is second to La Paz as a market for imported goods and is the main distributing center for mining supplies. Santa Cruz is also quickly becoming an important market center for imported goods. Cochabamba distributes its agricultural production to La Paz and the mining districts. Though most retail is accomplished through small shops and street vendors, there are a number of large import houses and wholesalers in the major cities. In more rural areas, most buying and selling is carried on at weekly markets and village fairs and barter may still be common. Advertising has become highly developed over the past few years, with television being the most used medium, followed by newspapers and radio. There are at least 12 major market research firms active in the country.

In the past decade, the government has sponsored several programs of capitalization/privatization for public sector enterprises. Under these programs, investors receive 50% of the companies' shares and management control but are required to invest directly into the company for a number of years. However, many of these companies are controlled by foreign investors, which has made some capitalization plans nationally unpopular. In 2000, violent protests over plans to capitalize the water company of Cochabamba forced the government to cancel an arrangement with foreign investors and keep the utility under public control.

Regular retail store hours are weekdays, 9 am to noon and 2:30 to 6:30 pm. Business hours differ somewhat by city. In La Paz and Cochabamba, hours are 9 am to noon and 2:30 pm to 6:30 or 7 pm. In Santa Cruz, hours are generally from 7 or 8 am to 4:30 pm with a two-hour lunch break around the middle of the workday. Bank hours are 9 am to noon and 2 to 4:30 pm.


Bolivia depends primarily on its mineral exports, especially zinc, natural gas, and gold. Tin exports, which had been an integral part of the Bolivian export schedule, have been gradually decreasing since 1946. The 1985 devaluation of tin caused major problems in the Bolivian economy, and now tin plays a minor role in Bolivia's exports, as the country moves to diversify. Exports of natural and manufactured gas and petroleum are expected to surpass those of other minerals in the future, as a new pipeline has facilitated exports of natural and manufactured gas to neighboring Brazil. In 2004, natural gas exports totaled $619.6 million, and zinc exports totaled $151 million. Agricultural exports include wood, oil seeds, soya, and animal feed. Principal imports include $984.6 million in raw materials and semi-manufactures, $498.4 million in capital goods, and $407.4 million in consumer goods.

The United States has historically been Bolivia's chief trading partner. However, recently Bolivia has been diversifying its trade relations to include more regular trade with regional and European partners. As a member of the Comunidad Andina (CANAndean Community), Bolivia has been trading with the other members, including Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Since 1997, Bolivia has also been an associate member of the Mercado Comun del Sur (Mercosurthe Southern Cone customs union). Though devaluations in Brazil and Argentina (1999 and 2002 respectively) and nontariff barriers in CAN have discouraged trade somewhat, Brazil has nonetheless become Bolivia's main trading partner due to gas exports (something that China has been increasingly interested in importing, as well). Bolivia's drive to diversify its exports is assisted by Chinese demand for soybeans and other Bolivian commodity exports.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 1,650.7 1,684.5 -33.8
Brazil 495.9 343.4 152.5
United States 236.0 302.9 -66.9
Colombia 170.4 48.1 122.3
Switzerland-Liechtenstein 165.9 6.7 159.2
Venezuela 155.5 8.8 146.7
Peru 89.5 104.4 -14.9
Argentina 56.6 281.4 -224.8
Chile 43.7 122.0 -78.3
United Kingdom 33.5 13.5 20.0
Mexico 21.0 34.7 -13.7
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account 35.6
   Balance on goods 75.1
     Imports -1,498.3
     Exports 1,573.4
   Balance on services -179.4
   Balance on income -301.1
   Current transfers 441.0
Capital Account
Financial Account -64.1
   Direct investment abroad -2.5
   Direct investment in Bolivia 166.8
   Portfolio investment assets -68.2
   Portfolio investment liabilities
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets -463.3
   Other investment liabilities 303.0
Net Errors and Omissions -33.0
Reserves and Related Items 61.6
() data not available or not significant.


Unlike many nations, Bolivia has no large earnings from tourism or shipping to compensate for trade deficits. After World War II, falling exports and rising imports led to depletion of the nation's gold and foreign currency reserves. By 1969, in part because of increased US aid, the unfavorable balance had been considerably reduced; five years later, thanks to import restrictions and a sharp rise in export earnings, Bolivia had a favorable payments balance of $72.5 million. In the late 1970s, Bolivia's international financial position again began to worsen, and by the end of 1986, the country had accumulated $3.7 billion in foreign debt (perhaps $100 million of it in the private sector), an amount equal to the GDP. External debt equaled $4.4 billion at the end of 2000.

In 2000, foreign direct investment stood at $750 million, some 25% lower than in 1999, due in part to the completion of capitalization contracts. Foreign direct investment was concentrated in the hydrocarbons and service sectors. Bolivia's inclusion in the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative will provide the country significant debt relief by both bilateral and multilateral creditors.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, Bolivia had exports of goods totaling $1.57 billion and imports totaling $1.50 billion, making for the first positive trade balance since 1999, when the trade balance was at a $487 million deficit. The current account balance was also positive in 2003, at $35.6 million; the balance had been steadily decreasing annually from the deficit of $488 million recorded in 1999.


The Central Bank of Bolivia, established in 1928 and reorganized in 1945, is the sole bank of issue. The 1995 Central Bank Law refined the CBB's controls on the banking sector. The Superintendent of Banks regulates the operations of banks, and the Prudential Norms Financial Committee (CONFIP) regulates finance companies. The Bolivian Development Corp. channels credits from the Inter-American Development Bank into industrial expansion projects.

There are 13 private banks, accounting for over 85% of the deposits and loans of the financial system. Private banks, which had been under strict control since 1953, were largely deregulated in mid-1985. Commercial banks include: Banco Boliviano Americano (BBA), Banco de Credito de Bolivia, Banco de la Nacion Argentina, Banco de La Paz, Banco de la Union, Banco Economico, Banco Industrial SA (BISA), Banco Mercantil, Banco Nacional de Bolivia, Banco Real, Banco Santa Cruz, and Citibank. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $717.9 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $3.7 billion. The money market rate, or the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 6.99%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 8.5%.

The Bolivian Stock Exchange is the main stock exchange, with seven listed companies trading in 1995. There is also the Santa Cruz Stock Exchange.


In 1995, there were over 20 insurance companies doing business in Bolivia. The insurance industry in Bolivia grew during the 1990s, as premium income increased 170% between 1988 and 1998, while the country's GDP grew only 86%. Liablity insurance grew at the extraordinary rate of 555% within that same time frame. Motor vehicle insurance is the largest sector, comprising 43% of the market, and is followed by fire, engineering, and miscellaneous risks insurance. Members of the Bolivian Insurance Association accounted for 93% of all 1998 premiums.


Many of the expenditures and revenues of autonomous agenciesgovernment development, mining, petroleum corporations, and the universitiesdo not appear in the central budget. Also, an estimated 15% of revenues come from illegal drug shipments. Since April 1992, comprehensive privatization has helped decrease the need for public sector expenses. In 1996, both current and capital spending had been reduced as a percentage of GDP. On the one hand, state capital spending, in the productive sector, fell overall as the privatization and capitalization programs relieved the state of responsibility for the capital spending of leading industrial enterprises; on the other, social investment rose sharply.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Bolivia's central government took in revenues of approximately $2.9 billion and had expenditures of $3.4 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$522 million. Total external debt was $6.43 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were b14,123 million and expenditures were b18,806 million. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$1,844 million and expenditures us$2,433 million, based on a market exchange

Revenue and Grants 14,123 100.0%
   Tax revenue 8,031 56.9%
   Social contributions 1,431 10.1%
   Grants 2,487 17.6%
   Other revenue 2,174 15.4%
Expenditures 18,806 100.0%
   General public services 3,716 19.8%
   Defense 1,157 6.2%
   Public order and safety 1,368 7.3%
   Economic affairs 2,955 15.7%
   Environmental protection 169 0.9%
   Housing and community amenities 159 0.8%
   Health 1,798 9.6%
   Recreational, culture, and religion 36 0.2%
   Education 4,249 22.6%
   Social protection 3,200 17.0%
() data not available or not significant.

rate for 2003 of us$1 = b7.6592 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 19.8%; defense, 6.2%; public order and safety, 7.3%; economic affairs, 15.7%; environmental protection, 0.9%; housing and community amenities, 0.8%; health, 9.6%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.2%; education, 22.6%; and social protection, 17.0%.


The Bolivian revenue system contains an unusually large number of taxes, leading to complexity and confusion that make the system difficult to enforce. Income taxes are extremely low, with a flat individual rate of 13%. In December 1994, a 25% tax on corporate income was established which replaced the 3% national income tax on corporations' taxable net worth. Both local and foreign corporations can receive tax holidays, exemptions, and other benefits if they invest in new companies or in production of nontraditional exports. There is an effective tax rate of 12.5% on income and net dividends to nonresident parent companies. There are taxes on the value of particular assets, such as motor vehicles, boats, and airplanes, which can be deducted from income tax, and taxes of 1018% on the price of a vehicle. Bolivia also levies excise taxes on alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages (1.61 bolivianos and 0.20 bolivianos per liter, respectively) and a 50% tax on tobacco products. There is also a 20% tax on perfumes and a 30% tax on cosmetics, and other items classed as luxuries. A value-added tax (VAT) of 13%, which can be deducted from income tax, is in effect. The hydrocarbons industry, as outlined in the Hydrocarbon Law, pays an 18% royalty and tax rate for new projects, and a 60% royalty and tax rate on existing projects.


Export and import duties have traditionally been an important source of government revenue, but in mid-1985, as part of a drive to stimulate the economy, the government established a uniform 20% duty (which has since been lowered to 10%) on all imports, eliminated tariff exemptions, removed import restrictions except for those related to health and state security, and eliminated all export controls except those on dangerous substances, endangered species, and cultural treasures. Most import charges end up totaling between 30 and 45%. This is considerably higher than the 20% uniform duty due to inspection company fees (2%), customs tariffs (2% for publications, 5% for capital goods, and a 10% flat rate), customs warehouse fees, Internal Revenue Service fees (15%), a specific consumption tax (for luxury goods, up to 60%), customs broker fees (up to 2%), and monies for forms and fees. Customs brokers charge up to 20% in fees to cover their own tax liability.

The 1990 Investment Law created a number of Free Trade Zones (FTZs), including those in El Alto, Puerto Aguirre, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Oruro, and Desaguadero. Bolivia had free trade agreements with MERCOSUR countries (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile) starting in 1997. In 1994, Bolivia signed a free trade agreement with Mexico and continues to lower or eliminate trade barriers.


The Patiño, Hochschild, and Aramayo mining groups, expropriated in 1952, accounted for nearly all the foreign capital in mining at that time. In 1955, Bolivia issued the Petroleum Code, safeguarding foreign investment in the exploitation of petroleum, and US oil companies began large-scale exploration and development. Although the investment law of December 1971 granted substantial benefits to foreign investors, political instability, inadequate infrastructure, and Bolivia's poor debt-repayment record held foreign investments down. The 1990 Investment Law guaranteed basic rights to foreign investors: national treatment, free currency conversion, no restrictions on remittances, and the right to international arbitration in most industries. Under the Capitalization Program (Bolivia's version of privatization) in 199697, 50% ownership in five of the largest parastatalsin transportation, energy, and telecommunicationswas exchanged for the pledge of $1.7 billion in new investment by foreign "strategic partners." Subsequent laws governed activities in the mining, hydrocarbon, and banking sectors. Bolivia's economic future lies in the development of large reserves of natural gas discovered by foreign companies working in Bolivia. Plans to construct pipelines to deliver gas to Mexico and California depend on foreign investment.

Bolivia has free trade zones (FTZs) in El Alto (the Department of La Paz), Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba. In 2000, foreign investment activities were the focus of two widespread social protests. In April, protests spread nationwide over the issue of foreign investment in municipal water systems and in September/October, economically damaging roadblocks were thrown up around the country by indigenous farmers, coca growers, and a variety of labor and social movements to protest the government's policies. Relevant to the investment climate, in 2003 Bolivia remained on the US government's list of 23 "major" drug-producing and/or drug-transit countries.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow to Bolivia averaged $928 billion from 1997 to 1999 under the impetus of the Capitalization Program, but then dropped to an average of $670 million for 2000 and 2001 mainly due to the fall in investment from Argentina (from $158 million in 1999 to $9.2 million in 2000) and Brazil ($144 million to $38.5 million). The United States has been Bolivia's major foreign investor, accounting for a third to a half of all investment. In 1999 and 2000, other major investors were the Netherlands ($145 million total), Italy ($116.2 million total) and Spain ($59 billion total). Smaller investments were made by Chile, Peru, and Canada.

As an associate member of Mercosur, Bolivia has benefited from increasing investment from regional partners and Europe. In the place of the United States, which invested in the privatized oil and electricity industries, now Brazil, Italy, and the United Kingdom are big investors. However, the Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that political uncertainty may stem foreign investment in energy in 2006.


In 1985, Bolivia was one of the first Latin American countries to institute market liberalizationsfollowing the model set by Chile years earlier. In 1993, newly elected President Lozada furthered these liberalizations by increasing privatizations, which were called capitalizations in order to deflect criticism, increasing money spent on education and decreasing the federal government's regulatory power.

Unrest among the large indigenous population and the difficulties of cracking down on cocoa leaf production hampered economic development in South America's poorest country. Bolivia reached the completion point of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) debt relief initiative in 2001, becoming the second country to do so, after Uganda. Total debt-service relief under the HIPC Initiative was to amount to around $2 billion. The HIPC assistance and bilateral debt relief was to reduce Bolivia's total external debt by one-half. A $121 million Stand-By Agreement with the IMF was approved in April 2003, and was due to expire in April 2004. In 2003, the government was pursuing policies aimed toward poverty reduction and the stabilization of the financial system, including the enacting of a modern bankruptcy law. Many public sector enterprises have been capitalized, meaning investors in Bolivia may acquire a 50% share and management control of the public enterprises by investing in them directly over a period of years rather than paying cash to the government. The capitalization program raised foreign direct investment in Bolivia in the amount of $1.7 billion in stock during 19962002. Total external debt, however, ranged between $5.5 billion and close to $5.8 billion from 19992003 with a slight dip to $4.7 billion in 2001. In 2003, the total external debt to GDP ratio was 70.3%. In December 2005, $232 million in debt to the IMF was cancelled.

Evo Morales became president in January 2006, and it was expected that economic policy would become more state-led during his five-year term. Increased public spending will likely cause the fiscal deficita deficit that had narrowed in May 2005 due to revenues generated by the new hydrocarbons lawto grow in 20062007.


Social security coverage, through private insurance, is compulsory for all workers, and voluntary coverage is available to the self-employed. Those covered by the program receive medical, hospital, dental, and pharmaceutical care for themselves and their families. Old age pensions begin at age 65. Maternity benefits cover female workers and workers' wives. Family allowances include cash payments for birth, nursing, and burial and monthly subsidies for each unmarried child. Employers contribute 2% of payroll for workers' compensation and are also required to grant two months' severance pay to dismissed employees. Employees contribute 10% of earnings for old age, and additional amounts for other benefits.

Although guaranteed equal rights under the law, women by and large do not enjoy the same social status as men due to limited political power and social traditions. In most cases, women earn less than men for doing similar work. Spousal abuse and domestic violence are widespread in Bolivia. As of 2004, the government had taken little action to combat domestic abuse. Laws are in place to protect women, but they are irregularly enforced. Sexual harassment, although illegal, is considered to be common.

The government does not give priority to improve the welfare of children. Government surveys show that nearly one in three children are physically or psychologically abused. Corporal punishment is used widely at home and in schools. Child labor and prostitution continue to be major problems.

Human rights improved in 2004 but there were still problems in many areas including excessive force, extortion, and improper arrest by security forces. The prison system is harsh and life-threatening.


Health conditions have been notably poor, owing to poor hygiene and an insufficient number of doctors and hospitals, especially in rural areas. The most common disorders are acute respiratory diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, and Chagas' disease. In 1996, 618 per 100,000 people were diagnosed with malaria and in 1999 there were 238 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. In 1995, cholera was reported in 2,293 cases. Malnutrition is a serious and growing problem, with 27% of children under five-years-old considered malnourished as of 2000. In the same year, 79% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 66% of the rural population had adequate sanitation. In 2004, there were an estimated 73 physicians, 107 nurses, and 8 dentists per 100,000 people. Bolivia had 3,165 public and private health care facilities, with a total of 12,554 beds, as of 2002. The country's public health care expenditures as of 1999 equaled an estimated 6.5% of GDP. The 19972002 Strategic Health Plan was designed to ensure universal access to primary care through a system of basic insurance.

There was a birth rate of 31 per 1,000 people in 1999. Approximately 49% of married women (ages 1549) were using contraception as of 2000. The government of Bolivia paid 65% of vaccination costs in 1995. In 1999, one-year-old children were immunized at the following rates: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 78%, and measles, 79%. The infant mortality rate has declined from 117 per 1,000 live births in 1985 to 53 per 1,000 in 2005. As of 2000, an estimated 27% of all children were suffering from malnutrition. Life expectancy in 2005 was estimated at 65.5 years. The overall death rate was 8 per 1,000 people.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 4,900 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. Health conditions in Bolivia have improved since the World Health Initiative Program in 1991. The Bolivian government has taken a greater role in the health of its citizens.


At the 2001 census, there were a total of about 2,270,731 housing units nationwide. The majority of all housing units were detached private dwellings. About 66% of all housing units are owner occupied. According to reports from Habitat for Humanity, about 52% of all homes are built with adobe and 69% have dirt floors.

Although the government intended to provide adequate drinking water systems for all places of 2,000 or more inhabitants and to alleviate the sewage system shortage, water systems remain inadequate in some areas. In 2000, only about 79% of the population had access to improved water sources and only 66% had access to improved sanitation.


Primary education, which lasts for eight years, is compulsory and free of charge. Secondary education lasts for another four years and students have the option of choosing either a general education or a technical studies track. The academic year runs from March to December. The language of instruction is Spanish.

In 2001, about 46% of all children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 95% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 71% of age-eligible students. Most students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 24:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 24:1.

Bolivia has about 10 state-funded and 23 private universities. The University of San Andrés (founded in 1930) in La Paz is Bolivia's largest university; the University of San Francisco Xavier in Sucre, dating from 1624, is one of the oldest universities in Latin America. In 2003, it was estimated that about 39% of age-eligible students were enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 86.5%, with 92.9% for males and 80.4% for females.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.3% of GDP, or 19.7% of total government expenditures.


There are a small number of public libraries throughout Bolivia, with a combined collection of 200,000 volumes. The National Archives and Library in Sucre (114,000 volumes) serves as a public library for that city and as a depository library of the United Nations. A second facility, the United Nations Information Center, is located in La Paz. Another important public library is the Mariscal Andrés de Santa Cruz Municipal Library (80,000 volumes) in La Paz. The most important university libraries are those of the University of San Andrés in La Paz (121,000 volumes) and the University of San Simón in Cochabamba (62,000 volumes). The Department of Culture operates a large library in La Paz with 140,000 volumes, as does the Institute of Bolivian Culture, housing 150,000 volumes.

The National Museum of Archaeology (1846) in La Paz is the most prominent museum. Also in La Paz are the National Museum of Art (1961) and the National Museum of Tihuanaca, featuring the art and culture of the indigenous people of Bolivia. There are several provincial museums, including the House of Liberty in Sucre, commemorating Bolivian independence, and the Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology Museum in Cochabamba.


In 2003, there were an estimated 72 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 152 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people. The telegraph system is owned by the Ministry of Communications; remote parts of the country are connected by wireless.

A government-owned television station broadcasts from La Paz, but there are several privately owned stations in the country as well. There were 171 AM and 73 FM radio stations in 1999. There were 48 television stations as of 1997. In 2003, there were an estimated 671 radios for every 1,000 people. Due to low literacy rates, radio is the most important source of news and information for many rural dwellers. In 2003, there were 22.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 32 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 16 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

In 2004 there were at least 13 major daily newspapers. The largest La Paz daily newspapers are El Diario, La Razon, El Deber, and Presencia (2004 circulation figures were unavailable). Important provincial dailies are Los Tiempos (Cochabamba), with 19,000 circulation, and El Mundo (Santa Cruz), with 15,000.

The Constitution of Bolivia provides for the freedom of speech and press, and the government is said to allow free operation of electronic and print media. However, the penal code provides that persons found guilty of slandering government officials may be jailed, though it is said that this law is infrequently enforced.


Learned societies include the Institute of Bolivian Sociology, the Society of Geographic and Historical Studies, the Center of Philosophical Studies, the Bolivian Language Academy, the National Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Sciences, the Archaeological Society of Bolivia, and the Tiahuanaco Institute of Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory.

Youth organizations include Girl Guides, the Scout Association of Bolivia, YWCA/YMCA, and programs of the Special Olympics.

The National Chamber of Commerce and the National Chamber of Industry are both headquartered in La Paz. There are departmental chambers of commerce throughout the country.

There are national chapters of the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, and Caritas.


The dry season (MayNovember) is Bolivia's peak tourist season. La Paz and Sucre have many colonial churches and buildings, and there are Inca ruins on the islands of Lake Titicaca, which also offers opportunities for fishing and sailing. The world's highest ski run is located at Chacaltaya. Mountain climbing and hiking are available on the country's cordilleras and other peaks.

In 2003, there were about 367,000 visitor arrivals in Bolivia, including 209,715 visitors from the Americas. Tourism receipts totaled $176 million. Hotel rooms numbered 20,611 with 33,338 beds and a 20% occupancy rate. Visitors stayed an average of two nights.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in La Paz at $109 per day. Costs in Santa Cruz were an estimated $127 per day and in Cochabamba, $98 per day. In other areas, daily expenses averaged $83 per day.


Pedro Domingo Murillo (17571810) was the precursor and first martyr of Bolivian independence. Andrés de Santa Cruz (17921865), who considered himself the "Napoleon of the Andes," dominated the early years of the independent nation. The most infamous of the 19th-century Bolivian dictators was Mariano Melgarejo (181871). Ismael Móntes (18611933), who was president of Bolivia from 1904 to 1909 and from 1913 to 1917, is identified in Bolivian history as the "great president." Simón Patiño (18611947), the richest of the "big three" tin barons, began his career as a loan collector and acquired his first mine by chance; he later became one of the world's wealthiest men. Víctor Paz Estenssoro (19072001), architect of the national revolution of 1952 and founder of the MNR, served as president during from 1952 to 1956 and was reelected in 1960 and 1964; he was deposed shortly thereafter by a military junta but returned to office from 1985 to 1989. Hernán Siles Zuazo (19141996), also connected with the MNR and later founder of the MNRI, was president in 195660 and again in 198285. Juan Lechín Oquendo (19142001), a leader of the 1952 uprising, led the powerful Bolivian Workers' Federation from its formation in 1952 until 1987. Juan Evo Morales Ayma (b.1959) became the first Amerindian president of Bolivia in 2006.

Bolivia's outstanding literary figure is Gabriel René-Moreno (18361909), a historian, sociologist, and literary critic. The highly original poet and philosopher Franz Tamayo (18791956), although belonging to the landed aristocracy, was a champion of the downtrodden Amerindian. Tamayo was elected president in 1935, but an army revolt prevented him from taking power. Alcides Argüedas (18791946) achieved fame throughout Latin America with his historical works on Bolivia and his novels Wata wara and Raza de bronce, concerned with the plight of the Indian; his critical sociological study Pueblo enfermo provoked an enduring controversy. The archaeologist and anthropologist Arturo Posnansky (18741946), born in Austria, did pioneering work in studying the civilization that once flourished at Lake Titicaca. Jaime Laredo (b.1941) is a world-famous violinist.


Bolivia has no territories or colonies.


Alexander, Robert Jackson. The Bolivarian Presidents: Conversations and Correspondence with Presidents of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994.

Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Garretón, Manuel Antonio, and Edward Newman, (eds.). Democracy in Latin America: (Re)constructing Political Society. New York: United Nations University Press, 2001.

Goldstein, Daniel M. The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Herndon, William Lewis. Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, 18511852. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Klein, Herbert S. Bolivia: the Evolution of a Multiethnic Society, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lopez Levy, Marcela. Bolivia. Herndon, Va.: Stylus Pub. LLC, 2001.

Morales, Waltraud Q. Bolivia: Land of Struggle. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992.

Sanabria, Harry. The Coca Boom and Rural Social Change in Bolivia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Thoumi, Francisco E. Illegal Drugs, Economy and Society in the Andes. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2003.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Bolivia
Region: South America
Population: 8,152,620
Language(s): Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Literacy Rate: 83.1%
Academic Year: March-December
Compulsory Schooling: 8 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 4.9%
Libraries: 250
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,278,775
  Secondary: 219,232
Teachers: Primary: 51,763
  Secondary: 12,434
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 25:1

History & Background

The Republic of Bolivia, in the center of South America, is land-locked and surrounded by 5 countries: Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile in the south; Brazil in the east; and Peru in the north. Because it is split by some of the highest mountains in the world, isolation plagues educational progress. La Paz is the government capital of Bolivia, but Sucre is the legal capital and the seat of the judiciary power of the country.

The geographic, political, and economic factors of Bolivia and its demography have long been an impediment to easy progress and development. The country covers 1,098,581 square kilometers (about 425,000 square miles) and, according to the National Institute of Statistics it has an average of about 7.58 inhabitants per square kilometer. The estimates of population range from 8,000,000 to 8,328,700 inhabitants in 2000, depending on the sources. By any estimate, Bolivia has one of the lowest demographic densities in the western hemisphere and a yearly population growth of only about 2.3 percent. Its inhospitable living conditions are reflected in the percentages of land types: 20 percent desert, 11 percent land with negligible irrigation, 40 percent rain forest, approximately 25 percent pasture and meadows, 2 percent inland water, and 2 percent Andean range, including an uninhabited area called the "Altiplano" with arctic weather at more than 5,500 meters high. Only two percent is arable land. As for the population, only 57 percent have access to potable water, and 76 percent have inadequate sanitary facilities. However, in the early 1990s this unfortunate state of affairs began to improve.

Like the rest of the Andean region, Bolivia is believed to have been permanently inhabited for about 21,000 years. Its history is usually divided into three broad historical periods: Pre-colonial (from the origins until 1525), Colonial (1525-1809), and Republican (from 1809 until now). Agriculture seems to have started around 3000 A.D., but not much is known of the period previous to the Tiwanakan culture that started about 600 B.C.E. Centered around Tiwanaku, south of Lake Titicaca, the Tiwanakan civilization developed through colonization rather than conquest. The ruins of Tiwanaku reveal advanced architectural techniques. The causes of the city's disappearance around 1200 A.D. are still a subject of speculation, but it signals the rise of the Aymara kingdom. The Aymara improved the food supply through a very sophisticated system of irrigation, the source of an agricultural prosperity that sustained a large population. The drying out of its system of canals seems a likely explanation for the decline of the region. The Aymara could not contain the expansion of the Quechua-speaking ethnic group. Around 1450, the latter added the highlands to the empire they already controlled. In the early fifteenth century they took the name of Incas after their rulers, and they remained in power until the arrival of the Spanish in 1525. Other ethnic cultures like the Moxos in the lowlands and the Mollos north of where La Paz stands also disappeared in the thirteenth century.

During the Colonial Period, the region became known as "Upper Peru" since it depended on the Viceroyalty of Lima, but it was also known as Charcas because the local government was centered in Chuquisaca (now Sucre). Due to the region's abundance of silver, the Spanish settled and prospered. The conquest brought with it the Roman Catholic Church. The church, led primarily by the Jesuits, became the prime provider of education and continues to deeply influence education, though a parallel private system has become a new feature of Bolivia since 1989. The take-over of education by the Jesuits deeply affected the indigenous populations. First, Spanish, the language of the oppressor, so dominated education that Quechua, Aymara, Guarani/Chiriguano, Chiquitano, and the many other existing native languages were absolutely ignored in the very places where they were the languages of the majority. This change had a dramatic effect inasmuch as the indigenous populations, who still represented 56 percent of the population in 2001, were denied education unless they first became bilingual. Furthermore, since no provision existed for their learning Spanish, the indigenous populations became and remained second-class citizens within their own territories.

The representatives of the Roman Catholic Church privileged their own compatriots, the newly arrived Spaniards and Europeans, so that education, with the exception of a few Indian leaders, excluded Indians and women. Under the best of circumstances, education became the choice instrument of transculture, of subversion, and of the loss of the Amerindian cultural heritage and identity. The fact that 95 percent of the total population of Bolivia is now Catholic demonstrates the degree of the sweeping transcultural indoctrination that occurred in the country after the arrival of the Spanish. Although independence was declared in 1809, it was not until August 6, 1825, when, after a long struggle, Bolivia was established. Named in honor of Simon Bolivar, one of the heroes of Independence, the country, at the time of independence, was more than twice its present size. After the independence a series of brief, unstable constitutions were implemented. When the country engaged in the war of the Pacific against Chile and Peru (1879-1883) it was weak, due to a succession of coups. In 1884, Chile won the nitrate-rich Atacama desert, Bolivia's only seacoast access. This loss irremediably damaged the economy.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Bolivia's situation was somewhat improved by the world increase in the price of silver and later by the exploitation of tin. But bad capitalist policies left the majority of indigenous population living under the most primitive conditions in deplorable poverty, all for the benefit of a small elite.

Bolivia engaged in the Chaco war against Paraguay from 1932 until 1935, and was defeated, losing about 60,000 men, a large part of its territory, and its last strategic access to the sea through the Paraguay River. After the war, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, MNR, emerged as a popular party. The Amerindians, representing the majority in numbers, had gained political awareness while serving in the Bolivian military; nevertheless, they had no access to education, no economic opportunities, and no representation in politics. They grew tired of having no representation in the political arena, and their demands remained inadequately answered. The last straw came when the MNR, which had gained victory in the 1951 presidential elections, was denied its victory. Soon afterwards a rebellion erupted, culminating in the 1952 revolution. A civilian government was established under the presidency of MNR leader Victor Paz Estenssoro (1952-1964). A series of reforms improved the conditions of indigenous peoples: universal suffrage, the development of rural education, the spread of primary education, and the implementation of important land reforms. Most of the Altiplano taken from the Amerindians was returned to them. Tin mines were nationalized, as were both the Bolivian mining corporations.

In spite of such progress, human rights were not respected, and a military junta overthrew the presidency in 1964. One of its members, Rene Barrientos, was elected president in 1966 but died soon after in 1969. It was during his presidency in October 1967, that Che Guevara attempted to start a Cuban type revolution. The army later executed him. In response, a series of military coups occurred and weak governments succeeded until Colonel Hugo Banzer Suarez became president in 1971. In spite of an impressive growth of the economy during his presidency, the suspension of political activities that he enforced reduced his initial popularity. Fraudulent successive elections took place in 1978 and 1979. There was a short break of successions in 1979 and 1980 when Lidia Gueiler Tejada became the first female president, but in 1980, after coups and counter-coups, the ruthless General Luis Garcia Meza, a known human rights abuser and trafficker in narcotics, led a violent coup. He remained in office only until 1981. After leaving office, General Luis Garcia Meza was convicted in absentia, extradited from Brazil, and began serving a 30-year sentence in 1995.

Several short-lived military governments and other weak leaders followed until 1985. Paz Estenssoro was then returned to power thanks to a coalition between the MIR (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario or Revolutionary Left Movement) and the MNR, winning over General Hugo Banzer Suarez, representing the Nationalist Democratic Action Party (ADN). However, the situation he inherited was precarious. The economy was in crisis, annual inflation was at 24,000 percent, strikes and unrest were rampant, and drug trafficking was widespread. Paz Estenssoro managed to achieve stability in four years but at a high price. The 1985 collapse of tin prices forced his government to lay off more than 20,000 workers, leading to social unrest. In the 1989 elections, General Hugo Banzer Suarez, who had learned his lesson from the previous elections, formed the Patriotic Accord (AP) with the MIR and won. Paz Zamora became the president and continued the reforms begun by Estenssoro. He ordered the 1992 crackdown against the domestic terrorism of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army (EGTK). His integrity became questionable when he was later investigated for his personal ties to drug trafficker Isaac Chavarria.

In 1993, MNR's Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was selected as president by a coalition between the MBL (Movimiento Bolivia Libre or Free Bolivia Movement) and the UCS (Unidad Civica Solidaridad or Civic Solidarity Unit). Many reforms took place, including the Capitalization Program, which let investors acquire 50 percent ownership and management control in public enterprises. People opposed to these changes instigated frequent social disturbances until 1996. In the 1997 elections, General Hugo Banzer Suarez (ADN) again formed a coalition with the MIR, UCS, and CONDEPA (Conciencia de Patria or Patriotic Conscience) parties, and the Congress selected him as president. On August 6, 1997, he took office. Significant to the big picture is the fact that in the 176 years of its independence Bolivia had 189 governments.

Some facts about the poverty level of Bolivia are necessary to help understand the reforms in the educational system and to appreciate the country's current problems. According to the U.S. Department of State, the per capita income was officially in US$1,100 in 1997. In spite of an apparent large increase in income in 1999, the average purchasing power parity was estimated at $3,000 per capita, making Bolivia the poorest country in South America. The external debt was $5.7 billion, and 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line and suffered from malnutrition. But this data shows only a part of the picture; the fact that the average income in Bolivia is the lowest of the continent is, of course, important, but the inequalities among Bolivians themselves are far worse. While 10 percent of the population receives 40 percent of the total national income of Bolivia, 40 percent of the population is in poverty, totaling only 10 percent of the same national income.

After the tin crash and the 1985 peak of inflation, unemployment rose to 20 percent in 1987; by 1999 it was estimated at 11.4 percent along with widespread underemployment. The rapid growth of the population, fostered by improved health, has made it difficult to increase the percentage of literacy. In 2000, the birth rate was 31.86 per 1000 versus a death rate of 8.36 per 1000. Infant mortality decreased by more than half, from 124.4 per thousand in 1989, to approximately 60.44 per 1000 in 2000. Life expectancy figures improved from 52 years in 1989 to an estimated 61.19 years in 2000 for males, and from 56 years to an estimated 66.34 years for females, though this life expectancy remains comparatively low. The overall population is young; 39.11 percent of the population is under 14-years-old (1,624,404 males and 1,564,057 females), 56.42 percent is between 15 and 64, and 4.47 percent is 65-years-old or above (164,473 males and 199,849 females). The literacy rate, rose from 75 percent in the mid-1980s, to 79.4 percent in 1998, with a large gap between genders: 90.5 percent for males against 76.0 percent for females. These literacy figures compare well to the ones given by the State of the World's Children data for 1995: 91 percent and 76 percent, respectively, for males and females.

The number of ethnic groups and languages complicates the picture of educational reform in Bolivia. The majority of the population is Amerindian. There are approximately 30 percent Quechua, 25 percent Aymara, nearly 30 smaller Amerindian subgroups, 30 percent mestizos, and 5 to 15 percent whites. These groups represent nine major linguistic groups with many subdivisions. As a rule very few Amerindians intermarry, and not all speak Spanish. Other factors that impact schooling are the distance from home to the nearest facility, and the lack of infrastructure and security. Inadequate means of transportation and communication still slow progress in Bolivia. Only 2,872 kilometers of the 52,216 kilometers of roads were paved in 1995, including 27 kilometers of expressways. However, recent community participation programs are accelerating the very slow process of modernization. In 1999 alone, for example, these efforts resulted in 791 kilometers of improved farm-to-market roads and 693 new hectares of land under irrigation. In 1999, 13 of the 32 official airports were paved; there were, in addition, some 1096 unofficial unpaved airstrips.

The first television set appeared in Bolivia in 1969. The 1999 State of the World's Children listed 672 radio sets per thousand people for the year 1995, and 115 television sets per thousand. In 1997 there were 5.25 million radio accesses, 900,000 televisions, 6 daily newspapers, and 400,000 telephones. The number of Internet providers rose from 5 in 1999 to 31 at the onset of 2001. At that time the country also had 7 cybercafés, 22 computer companies, 6 main television stations, 6 main radio stations, 7 daily newspapers, and 4 periodicals and weekly papers. Telephones had multiplied, and there were 10 telecommunication providers. The advance of technology constitutes a significant improvement for the prospect of education.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The present constitution of Bolivia dates back to 1967 but was revised in 1994. There are three branches to the government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch is the president and vice-president, both elected for five years, and the cabinet, appointed by the president. Traditionally strong, the executive branch tends to initiate the legislation and, by doing so, it limits the power of Congress to debating and approving the laws. The last elections took place in 1997; the next ones are scheduled for June 2002. The National Congress is composed of two chambers, the Senate with 27 senators and the chamber of deputies with 130 seats. Both chambers are elected by popular vote for five years. The Supreme Court heads the judicial branch of five levels, which include a lower court and a departmental court. Though very corrupt in the past, the courts have been reformed by the present government. The National Congress appoints judges for 10 years. A recent governmental reform distributes a significant part of the national revenues to municipalities, which has allowed considerable improvements to take place in the traditionally neglected countryside. Another significant reform gives less power to the central government in the choice of officials and more to the nine departments' local governments. Each town elects its mayor and council. Every five years, general elections obligate all citizens of voting age to vote.

The Education Reform Law (Law 1565) of 1994 provides for free education, extends the primary school requirement and, above all, recognizes popular public participation in the planning of intercultural and bilingual education. Together, these three laws, among others, have proven to have made a positive impact on education in Bolivia.

In pre-colonial times, the great Inca Empire granted only the indigenous nobles and upper classes an education. The transmission of the Incan culture and social structure was thus assured. Inca monarchs lived in polygamy and usually left very large families of 100 or even 200 children. There were two types of nobility. The first were the male descendants of royal blood. Their privileges included the education they received, the way they dressed, and the language they spoke. They lived at court, belonged to counsels, had access to great offices and the priesthood, and commanded armies.

A second type of nobility, the Curacas, were chiefs of colonized nations. They were allowed to rule over their subjects but had to leave their descendants to be educated by the Incas as proof of their loyalty and as guarantee of their good will. The Incan schools taught the children of noblemen and of Curacas the dialect, religion, astronomy, agriculture, science, quipus (knotted threads that served as a means of communicating ideas and arithmetic), laws, government, geography, and history of the Empire. Students also listened to the chronicles compiled by the amautas (wisemen) and by the haravecs (poets). When the Spanish arrived in 1525, they deliberately ignored the Amerindians education and dramatically cut the transmission of tradition. The Amerindians' plight was then ignored until 1993 when President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada recognized the many native languages of Bolivia, in an act that changed a policy that had kept Indians uneducated. Together with world efforts to improve education in third world countries, this 1993 act helped trigger the attempt at a national education reform. However, the implementation of this act requires a better infrastructure, and the resolution of problems is slow.

Educational SystemOverview

Generally speaking, education in Bolivia is divided into three cyclesfour if one counts the optional prescholar or preprimary years. There are 5 years of elementary education in the primary cycle for 6- to 10-year-olds; 3 years of intermediate education in the middle schools for 11- to 13-year-olds; and 4 years of secondary education for 14- to 17-year-olds. The four years of secondary school are themselves divided into two cycles lasting two years each. The first cycle is a common core, while the second allows for some degree of specialization, either in the humanities or in a variety of technical fields. A movement exists to integrate both intermediate and secondary levels of education into one single cycle of eight years.

Prior to the reforms of the 1980s, the educational system operated with a six-year primary cycle followed by four years of intermediate schools and two years of secondary school with the baccalaureate degree as the terminal exam. The country passed a law that claims an official 8 years of compulsory schooling between the ages of 7 and 14. Unfortunately, this law is not regularly enforced. A 1991 study of the Cochabamba rural area showed that between the ages of 6 and 14 only 52.5 percent of males and 50.3 percent of females attended school exclusively. In other words, nearly half of the children worked. Nationwide, 83.4 percent of males and 70.4 percent of females attend school; also, 16.6 percent of males and 29.6 percent of females are not accounted for either in schools or at work. Additionally, 18.8 percent of males and 17.2 percent of females combine school with herding, and 12.1 percent of males and 2.9 percent of females combine school with agriculture.

A further cycle, higher education for 18- to 24-year-olds comprises different specialized schools, institutes below degree level, and universities. At the university level there are two avenues: the pregrado (undergraduate level) offers the Superior Technician and License degrees; the postgraduate programs deliver doctorados (doctorate degrees).

There are now both public and private institutions at all levels of education. At the intermediate level, the private sector represented approximately 25 percent of the national enrollments and 35 percent of the secondary levels in the early 1990s. Teacher training programs provide educators with opportunities to advance and develop skills in the classroom. One of the first of many institutions and associations created and called upon to implement the reform was the Reform Institute at the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Before 1900, tutors (generally from the clergy) educated the sons of white elite families. The Indians were taught only enough to convert them to Catholicism. At that date only 17 percent of the adult population was literate. But, in the early 1900s, a teaching mission from Belgium laid the foundation for the Bolivian rural primary school, and in 1931 Elizardo Pérez founded a large nuclear school, teaching grades five to eight. Subsequently, this central school became the model for education in the rural Andes. By the 1952 Revolution, in spite of this effort, less than one third of adults were literate. By the mid-1980s when the overall adult literacy stood at 75 percent, 350 centers for adult literacy programs, with approximately 2,000 teachers, were established. These programs however were set up mainly in La Paz. The last "Education For All" (EFA) survey compiled by international agencies headed by UNESCO reports substantial improvements in the literacy rate by genders. For 1997 it quotes 78.4 percent for female adults and 91.6 percent for male adults, but the rates also show the pervasive gender gap.

The most recent statistics available reveal the results of efforts to equalize the standards between females and males. For example, the gross enrollment ratio for preprimary education shows that the percentages for girls rose from 30.2 percent to 36.6 percent and for boys from 30.3 percent to 36.2 percent during the 10-year period from 1989 to 1999, an improvement slightly higher for females. As for the actual enrollment in primary school, the results are far more spectacular; the numbers rose from 57,855 for females to 85,085; and from 64,728 for males to 90,986. Although this rise was encouraging, the increase seems to be due largely to an increase in population, and the survival rate to fifth grade actually declined from 60.5 percent to 47.1 percent in 1998. Despite the small net gain in actual numbers who make it to fifth grade, not many children make it through the supposedly compulsory period. In fact, although there were 87,180 girls of the age to start primary education in 1990, only 38,390 or 44 percent actually registered. By 1999, out of 109,360 girls, 52,800 enrolled, or 48.2 percent. As for boys, out of a total of 88,500 in 1990, some 44,885 (50.7 percent) enrolled in primary education. By 1999, out of 113,660 boys of the entry age, more than half (51.9 percent) or 58,989 enrolled. Although the percentages from 1990 to 1999 have changed very little, there has been a considerable gain in the actual number of students attending school. Clearly, the increase is doing little more than keeping up with the increased population.

In the mid-1980s, approximately 60 percent of the 59,000 Bolivian teachers were teaching in urban schools, and the educational expenditures had plunged to less than 40 percent of the total expenditure of 1980. The portion of the gross domestic product (GDP) represented by education dropped from 3 percent to less than 2 percent because of the economic crisis. The latest numbers recorded by the EFA show a steady improvement in educational investment from 1989 to 1999. The public current expenditure in primary education as a percentage of the GNP went from 1.615 percent in 1990 to 2.265 percent in 1999. (Numbers peak in 1993, 1996, and 1997, which should translate into improved statistics in the future.) The public current expenditure in primary education per pupil, as a percentage of the GNP per capita, went from 10.08 percent to 11.96 percentthough it represents a decline from the peak years between 1992 and 1997. As in other levels of education, the reform movement made its way into initial and primary education, but many problems persist.

In 1998 the Bolivian Center for Educational Research and Implementation (CEBIAE) published its findings and came up with an integral proposal for educational innovation at the Preschooler and Primary levels (PIIEN) in the Bolivian Andes, a region lagging behind the rest of the nation. This alternative projectto be implemented in the nuclei of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosiis based on the cumulative experience of participating primary school educators. A remarkable project, it has one main objective: the improvement of the quality of learning. The project aims to improve the quality of teaching, to democratize the management of education, to improve the local curriculum by making it truly intercultural, to promote the development of educational research, to construct learning networks between teachers in the many establishments of the nuclei, and to construct educational projects in the various educational units and in each nucleus of every unit. Other aims are to increase autonomy, personal initiative, and responsibility and to make good use of whatever qualities individuals demonstrate. The project promotes participation at all levels among students, teachers, and parents from different communities. Their participation helps develop the curriculum, make decisions on methodology, raise the levels of citizenship and intercultural awareness, increase communication, improve research, and democratically manage the school and ultimately the nucleus itself, all within the reform framework. The project tries to respond to teachers' needs and to local necessities; it brings the community together, but above all, it implements measures to allow teachers to educate themselves to become better teachers.

In order to carry out the functions of the project, four different types of networks are organized: between same grade teachers, between cycles, within the educational unit, and with the educational nuclei. This project went through a period of increased awareness starting in 1998, then through the recreation and constructive phase in 1999-2000. In 2000-2001 the consolidation phase was under way.

Enrollments are still higher in urban areas than rural areas, but the gap between them has seriously diminished, despite the fact that the urban count reflects many once-rural students who migrated to the cities to obtain an education. Night classes, more frequent in urban areas, have helped improve literacy and education at all levels, especially with older students. A 1989-1992 study done by the Secretary of Education showed that the number of students in intermediate education was still very low; less than 50 percent of the students of the appropriate age group were enrolled. As expected, an apparent discrepancy existed between cities and rural areas. In cities, close to 70 percent of students within the corresponding age range were enrolled in intermediate education, as opposed to around 25 percent in rural areas.

The number of students enrolling at both intermediate and secondary levels seems to be directly affected by such factors as the age of students, the size of the family, the language spoken at home, and the migration patterns. Significant, too, are the family expenses and the level of education of both parents, especially the level of the mother's education as it influences the education of female students. A higher family income correlates with a higher enrollment of males, while the use of Spanish at home and the educational level of the head of the household correlate with the enrollment of females. Being a recent migrant has a negative influence on the enrollment of both genders.

One fact is clearly noticeable: the more educated the parents are, the more Spanish is spoken at home; the more Spanish is spoken, the more income the family has and the less the adult family members trust the public educational system and the more they rely on private education. The weakness of public education, and the consequent public distrust of it, explains the need for reform in public education and the increase in the creation of many private schools starting in 1989. They provide a welcome alternative to public education, although they exist primarily in urban areas. The ETARE study of 1992 shows that the private sector serves 19.5 percent of the total students in urban areas but only 0.038 percent of the total students in rural areas. Parents increasingly demand quality education, which explains the large migration of students towards cities, even at the intermediate stage of education. Parents believe that their children' chances of obtaining financial aid at the university level is directly related to how well they do at the intermediate and secondary levels. According to data published by UDAPSO, based on information gathered by ETARE, in 1992, 10,167 or 37.8 percent of the rural enrollment migrated to an urban area to study at the intermediate level; these migrants represented 12.1 percent of the urban enrollment.

In another area of particular importance, sexual education is known to have a positive impact on fertility rates when female students attend school between the ages of 8 and 12 but, in 1992, more than half of the females (54 percent) in Bolivian urban areas and almost all the females (95 percent) in rural areas failed to complete the intermediate cycle during which they would have gained the necessary knowledge to make informed reproductive choices. Without the results of the latest study, it is difficult to do justice to Bolivia's progress in intermediate education, but there are reasons to believe that the situation has improved in the last decade. Gender parity was recently achieved in urban private schools at the intermediate level.

Secondary Education

The real lack of public educational infrastructure and the policy of Paz Estenssoro encouraged private educational investment in Bolivia. Since 1989, about 380 new private schools were created and attendance rose. Students who complete secondary school successfully earn the title of bachiller when they pass the exit bachillerato exam. This exam, along with a health certificate, is a requirement to enter the university, which also administers its own entrance examination.

To really understand the progress that education is making, it helps to look back to mid-November 1989 when education was in real distress. Less than 50 percent of the population spoke Spanish as their first language, though it was the only language used in education. Approximately 90 percent of the children attended primary school but often for a year or less, and the literacy rate was low in many rural areas. Eighty thousand state teachers, supported by the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana or Bolivian Workers Center), went on strike demanding a $100 special bonus to supplement their low $45 monthly wage. Paz Zamora, following the customary strategy, imposed a state of siege, banning strikes, public meetings, and demonstrations for 90 days. He imprisoned 850 union members, banished 150 of them to internal exile and, in order to bring the strike to an end, offered teachers a 17 percent pay increase on top of a negotiated annual spring bonus. At the same time, Zamora planned to sell off 100 of the 157 state-owned companies and use the $500 million revenue for health, education, and public works.

Furthermore, student enrollment in secondary schools in the 1970s and 1980s grew twice as fast as the increases in population for the age group, making all numbers more dismal. Only 33 percent of first graders completed the fifth grade, 20 percent started secondary education, 5 percent started postsecondary education, and only 1 percent graduated from universities. At all levels, dropout rates were much higher for rural students and higher still for girls. In the 1980s secondary education was still beyond the reach of most Bolivians; as a result only 35 percent of the total population in the appropriate age group attended, and numbers showed a large disparity between male and female enrollment rates. By 1996, 40 percent of males and 34 percent of females, regardless of age, enrolled in secondary schools. According to the 1989-1992 study done by the Secretary of Education, less than a third of the students of the appropriate age group were enrolled in secondary education.

The numbers at this level showed a terrible discrepancy between cities and rural areas. In cities, close to 65 percent of the age group were enrolled in secondary education, as opposed to only 11 percent in rural areas. According to the 1999 "State of the World's Children" study, 60 percent reached grade five. The ETARE study of 1992 also showed that in urban areas, 33.2 percent of the male students who started in the first year in 1980 reached the twelfth year in 1992, versus only 2.2 percent in rural areas. (Comparable figures for females were 29.4 percent for urban females and 1.1 percent for rural females.) In spite of all the evidence showing that a minimum of five to eight years of education is needed to bring noticeable results in agricultural production, 71 percent of rural students didn't reach the lower mark of five years of schooling. This study also showed that private schools enrolled 27.5 percent in urban areas, versus only 0.049 percent in rural areas.

It must be pointed out that the data was skewed since a variety of schools, which are technically private, were at this point integrated into the public sector and were counted as such. These schools included those operated by institutions, religious groups, or by ONGs. Many of these schools are suburban, serving the poor population; these schools are a strange mix. They receive public funding and, while their fees are the same as public establishments, they remain private as far as their operation and structure are concerned. They are, however, allowed to add lab and computer fees when appropriate. They also operate under different rulesthey can dismiss teachers; supplement the state salary, plus give additional benefits; and are far more autonomous in respect to their curriculum. Thus, they can attract and keep better teachers and are in higher demand than ordinary public establishments.

Higher Education

The traditional history of Bolivian higher education starts with the foundation of the Royal and Pontifical University of San Francisco Xavier UMSFX, in La Plata (Sucre), in March 1624. In Colonial times and under Spanish rule, Saint Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica influenced education. As a result, higher education awarded degrees in theology and law only. Forensics was later added in 1776 in the Caroline Academy. In 1830 the Bolivian University of San Andrés UMSA, was started in La Paz as a college. Shortly after, in 1832, the Bolivian University of San Simón UMSS (Universidad Mayor de San Simón) was also started in Cochabamba. Medicine was added in 1863.

Several universities were established in the late 1800s. In 1880, the University of St Thomas Aquinas was created. The name of the latter, like most of the universities, underwent many changes. In 1911, it was known as the University Gabriel René Moreno; in 1938, the Autonomous University of Santa Cruz; and then back again to Gabriel René Moreno (UAGRM). In 1892 the University of St. Augustine was created. (In 1893 it became the University of Oruro, in 1937 the Bolivian Technical University, and it is now the Technical University of Oruro or UTO). In 1892 the University of Potosi was founded; it is now the Bolivian University of Tomás Frías (UATF).

In 1946 the Bolivian University of Juan Misael Saracho (UAJMS) opened. In 1966 the Catholic University of Bolivia (UCB) was started in La Paz. In 1967 another public university, the Bolivian University of General José Ballivián, also called the Beni Technical University (UTB), was established. The twentieth century National University (UNSXX) was founded in La Paz in 1984. The Amazonian University of Pando (UAP) opened in 1994; also in 1994, the Military School of Engineering (EMI) was founded.

After 1985, Paz Estenssoro's policies fostered the growth of private universities as a means of increasing new programs and reversing declining standards in public universities that had been brought on by open admissions. Universities grew so rapidly that the overall system of higher education consists of 48 universities in 2001. Thirty-five private universities were built after 1989, the date when the Ministry of Education demanded that universities be made accountable and apply a test of academic efficiency. The universities and faculty saw this demand as an intrusion on their prior autonomy. They believed the government was strangling them, and the students viewed this measure as elitist leading to a slow privatization of universities. No one was happy.

Public universities are increasingly inefficient; they only cater to a small percentage of Bolivian students at the rate of 30,000 new students a year and produce mediocre professionals without modern working skills. Private universities are able to compete by generally providing computer labs and better technology than traditional universities. They also try to address the needs of the country in more practical ways. One way is through the proliferation of some 639 higher technical institutes and 22 teacher training institutes.

Only universities can award degrees. Apart from the Licenciatura, giving the title of Licenciado, which corresponds roughly to the Bachelor's degree in sciences or arts and takes four or five years to complete, the advanced degrees of the Maestria and the Doctorado are awarded. They correspond roughly to the Masters and Ph.D. degrees, the latter carrying the title of Doctor. Other titles awarded include University Intermediate technicians (a two-year program), University Superior technicians (a three-year program) and Bachelor (a four-year program).

Ten universities are public and autonomous, running a total of 244 academic programs, distributed under 6 different knowledge areas: economics and judicial, social and humanities, natural sciences and biology, health sciences, engineering techniques, and agricultural. The 33 private universities run 221 academic programs, a good many in the same areas of knowledge as public universities.

The growth of private universities between 1990 and 1998 (the last year when the data were available) was remarkable. The enrollment in private universities alone, in the course of their short lives, went up from around 2,000 female students and slightly more than 2,000 male students to approximately 14,341 and 17,812, respectively. Despite the fact that females lag in pre-university education and in university admissions, women have recently outperformed men in completing their studies. In 1998, some 5,606 new male students registered, as did 4,046 females. Whereas the number of women in education went unnoticed in most statistics before 1996, in 1998, approximately 669 men and 759 women exited the university as Egresados and 347 males received the title against 411 females.

Students enroll in universities by an academic test of basic skills acquired in secondary education, together with a psychotechnical diagnostic, or a course for people who have not taken or passed the above test. Some students receive special admission, which is entrance granted to experienced professionals who finished high school, officers of the armed forces or the police, or students with foreign titles recognized through international agreements. In 1930 all universities became autonomous in academic and economic matters. In 1971 the universities were closed for restructuring to respond to economic and social necessities. The National Council of Higher Education of the Bolivian University was created, and all universities came under the umbrella of the University of Bolivia. In 1975 a law requiring departmentalization brought greater efficiency, reducing duplication and redistributing professors and units of research and service within the departments. For the first time, each university matched its courses with the national needs; its aim was to develop graduates who would participate in the nation's growth. To this end universities felt that training must be humanistic, scientific, and technological and that there must be collaboration among institutions to find common solutions to national problems.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The ten universities that are public and autonomous are grouped in the National Coordination Organization, the Executive Committee of the Bolivian University (CEUB). Both the Catholic University and the Military School of Engineering are also affiliated with the CEUB. Altogether, they educate about 70 percent of the total university enrollees. As the private universities grew after 1985, they also formed their own group in 1992, the National Association of Private Universities (ANUP). This group functions under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports.

Ever since the beginning of the reform, the main concerns in the foreground of the Ministry's work show the ambition of its programs. Efforts include the improvement of standards through the accreditation of teachers; the subsequent combating of illiteracy; the integration of indigenous people through the creation of bilingual programs of education; the social participation by parents, teachers, and students in decision-making; and the integration of women to the educational system.

Another achievement is a teaching accreditation program for former students who had not graduated from UMSS. Launched in 1997, it consisted of refresher courses, updating of practices, workshops, and interdisciplinary and professional seminars lasting six months. Nearly 1,185 students registered for the program, 218 of these in the School of Humanities and Sciences of Education. These back-to-school teachers were organized in sub-modules.

Developed in 1994 as a result of the Reform Project Andes (PROEIB), the bilingual and intercultural educational training for countries in the Andes, the program directed a refreshers' sub-module in bilingual intercultural education. The first aim was to improve the quality of teachers, especially in the rural areas. The second aim was to improve the learning standards of the lower levels through better teaching. The third and ultimate aim remained the integration of indigenous people in education.

This training program is remarkable in many ways. Experience and evaluation are shared among five countries so that the program develops a true sense of collaborative work through interdisciplinary projects, workshops, material, and teachers in the organization. The countries are Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. They share common challenges due to the need to integrate the languages of their indigenous populations into the educational systems. In some special PROEIB programs, more than five countries are involved. PROEIB and other educational projects in the five countries receive wide support from international organizations, including UNESCO, OREALC (Regional Education Office for Latin America and the Caribbean), and UNICEF. They work with the help of Germany, the United States, Denmark, Mexico, France, Belgium, Spain, Guatemala, Panama, Brazil, England, Holland, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Canada, among other nations.

PROEIB is a Bolivian-based organization located at the University Mayor of San Simón in Cochabamba. Its headquarters are in the School of Humanities & Sciences of Education. The network the association created integrates 19 universities and 20 indigenous organizations in the different countries involved, together with the Ministries of Education of the five participating countries. Each of the other four countries has chosen one of its universities to serveas the focal point, or the PROEIB link institution, for the rest of the country's participating institutions. These universities are strategically placed to deal with indigenous matters, either because of their location or because of the special programs they offer. They are the University of the Amazon in Florencia, Colombia; the Institute of Indigenous Studies in the University of La Frontera in Temuco, Chile; The Cotopaxi Academic program in the Salesian Polytechnic University of Latacunga in Ecuador; and the Investigation Center of Applied Linguistics in the University Mayor de San Marcos in Lima.

The five countries organize workshops and accreditation programs, and they created a new Master's in Bilingual Intercultural Education (EIB) to efficiently help jumpstart their programs. The first group started with 50 students belonging to 9 different indigenous tribes native to the 5 countries. Students go through a strict selection program to enter this highly competitive EIB program. Investigators try to answer the questions that arise in the course of EIB programs to enrich the present vision and transform the programs as needed; they develop specific projects and study problems. The promotion of investigation is stimulated by competitions. An international jury evaluates the projects and awards three research grants valued between US$4,000 and US$8,000 depending on the project itself. The winners present their results in various workshops, thus enriching the program, and PROEIB publishes each study.

There is now a Regional Documentation Center in Cochabamba with a library specialized in EIB. It holds more than 8,000 books focusing on indigenous problems from the point of view of culture, language, and education. PROEIB wants to multiply the number of Regional Documentation Centers; several published titles are already available.

The creation of the Network of Bilingual Intercultural Education of countries in the Andes to encourage education among rural indigenous peoples helps to execute the actions promoted by the program. Within the whole program, the Beni Technical University of the Mariscal José Ballivián is in charge of the teaching and learning of Amazonian indigenous languages. This particular program started in the Beni region in 1994 with 60 students. In 1997, it already had 250 students, and 87 teachers from the teacher training programs defended their theses. By 1998, about 120 new students entered the program. These new teachers will have a strong impact in years to come.

Regardless of whether university students want to be teachers, nurses, veterinarians, economists, or agronomists, all students are required from the fourth semester on to take native languages and cultures; the hope is that this requirement will better prepare graduating students to work in the Beni region. They will have the option to learn the Trinitario language but also any of the 17 other languages of the region. Grants are available for indigenous students. These efforts represent a complete reversal of former politics in favor of the conservation of the very same languages that historically had been regularly ignored throughout the Bolivian educational system.

One of the latest indigenous events backed by the Education Ministry was the historical gathering in November 2000 of at least 200 Guaranies Capitanes from the 23 Guarani settlements in the city of Monteagudo-Chuquisaca. The aim was to integrate the indigenous educational demands with the municipal management of the region. This meeting validated the Guaranies' organization and recognized the importance of their demands. It marked the beginning of the Guaranies' participation in the future of their children's education through their involvement in the management and through the sharing of responsibility in local educational programs (PREMU).

To answer some of the shortcomings of the public school programs, the Redes Educativas Urbanas en Marcha (Urban Educational Network on the Go) was created as a means to diffuse information to the PEN (Nucleus Educational Projects) to improve infrastructures and teaching. Each network covered 8 or 12 educational units and around 6,000 or 7,000 school children. As of September 2000, some 33 network workshops had taken place in La Paz. In 2001, these networks will be organized and put to work, including 370 public schools responding directly to the seat of the government.

International conferences and workshops in the different programs established in the five countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru) are organized regularly for feedback. Teachers share their experiences and exchange ideas with others. Bolivia has also participated in several important international conferences that helped create the climate to stimulate changes. Among these was the March 1990 World Conference on Education in Jomtiem, Thailand, a conference that helped foster the 1994 reform; conference participants pledged to combat illiteracy, to promote primary education, and to provide basic education for all. Another important conference was the Childhood World Summit in New York. Also, conferences like the Cairo, Egypt, 1994 Conference on Population and Development; the 1995 Conference on Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Beijing, China, Conference on Women positively reinforced Bolivia's commitment to "Education for All."

In view of this worldwide concern for literacy, the 1993 Bolivian Law recognizing indigenous languages and the 1994 Education Reform Law didn't come a moment too soon. Other world conferences like the one in Amman, Jordan, in June 1996, certainly helped Bolivia keep track of progress and renew its commitment and accountability. The Dakar, Senegal, 2000 Education For All (EFA) Forum must have had the same consolidating effect.

After these reform laws were passed, the first major change was a shift of priority by the Bolivian government. The educational investment budget jumped from 9 million Bolivianos in 1994 to 143 million in 1999. As of 2000, about 71.5 percent of schools participated in the educational reform, and it is expected to be 100 percent by 2002. There are now 1,324 qualified pedagogical specialists helping teachers in their classes. By 1999, about 83 percent of primary teachers received pedagogical training, and the retention rate in schools increased 30 percent from 1997 to 1999. By the year 2000, precisely 13,069 out of 14,000 schools received sports equipment, and 13,695 schools received class libraries and teaching materials; however, the distribution of teaching materials remained a problem in many educational units.

Bolivia has approximately 758 pedagogical recourse centers open in the country, and they all received furniture, audiovisual equipment, libraries, and other materials. Altogether, in the year 2000, US$265,000 worth of teaching materials was distributed to Institutos Normales Superiores (training institutes); US$14,664,000 worth of material was distributed by the Education Reform, as well as a total of 2,879,963 kilos of sports and teaching materials. Thirteen thousand PTA-type organized school groups, called juntas escolares, already participate in a quality control program for children's education.

It is impossible to speak of education in Bolivia without going into the external help that Bolivia received, and still receives, from a variety of foreign states. This help, apart from debt relief help, always seems to come earmarked for education in one form or another. Even when it does not seem to be directly related to any schooling, it educates communities about health problems, the eradication of drugs, the substitution of crops, or environmental issues. The aid may fund a university research project, improve economics or agriculture, or teach development and management, but ultimately foreign help programs educate people, laying a foundation for a transition towards self-reliance.

Contributions from international donors have averaged US$500 million annually throughout the past decade; nevertheless, one must also credit Bolivia for taking an active role in its future. It was the first country of the hemisphere to create a Ministry of Sustainable Development, which collaborates economically with international aid programs. A leader in such help programs is USAID, which has helped bring issues to the front and has devised and promoted programs to remedy problems. This organization works in close collaboration with the Government of Bolivia (GOB). It has been very influential, not only in helping many of the poorest indigenous people through a variety of programs, and developing and expanding social marketing projects, but also in revamping the justice sector itself. Recently it has worked in association with other donors to avoid duplication or overlapping of programs and to become more efficient. In 1997 other donors included the Official Development Assistance (ODA), which contributed US$163 million; Japan, $65 million; the Netherlands, $59.8 million; Germany, $47.5 million; and Sweden $20.1 million. Since 1997, donations have almost doubled, probably due to the trust Bolivia gained with its positive results. By 1998, some 26 countries and international organizations at the Paris Consultative Group (PCG) committed about $940 million, representing a 45 percent increase in donations in only one year; of this, 44 percent was in the form of grants to support Bolivia's socio-economic reforms and investments program. The recognition of the success of these efforts is, in part, due to the development of indicators to measure progress. This constant feedback and self-evaluation process have helped the right recommendations go forward and have raised the confidence of other countries in the effectiveness of their investments.

In the Bolivian fiscal year 2000, USAID contributed $75.9 million to continue eradication of illicit coca, to strengthen the social base of democracy and governance, to help increase income and opportunities for the poor, to improve production technology and the health of many Bolivians, and to reduce the degradation of forest, water, and bio-diversity resources. All of these efforts showed dramatic results; goals have been met or will be met by 2003. For example, it is estimated that in the period 1996-2002, about 19 Bolivian municipalities will have been assisted. The USAID plan will be completed with the participation of at least 60 percent nongovernmental organizations (ONGs). In the period 1994-2002, coparticipation funds (the 20 percent share of national revenue distributed to municipalities on a per-capita basis) will have been raised from 0 to 65 percent.

The number of clients involved in loans from micro-finance institutions is expected to increase 200 percent between 1997 and 2002. In 1999 and 2000, two thousand rural families per year benefited from production, marketing services, and technical assistance, which represents a massive educational achievement in the limited areas that have been targeted. Production units receiving technology services are expected to rise from 1,430 in 1994 or 1995 to 9,200 in 2002. The number of production units receiving marketing services will rise from 230 to 5,290 during the same period, and the number of households with access to credit will also rise from 130,877 to 320,000. The number of communities that will have seen infrastructure constraints resolved will also rise from 130 to 870.

Also encouraging is the fact that in 2001 some 100,000 children per year receive free school meals programs, helping reduce considerably the dropout rates and the grade repetition rate, especially for girls. This program, directed at the poorest primary students in rural areas, complements World Bank programs. In 1999 both the World Bank (WB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) initiated large health projects to improve infant and maternal health. The aim was to reduce infant mortality, which was 75 deaths per 1000 live births in 1994, to 52 in 2000 and 47 in 2002. Likewise, they aim to reduce maternal mortality, which was 390 per 1000 live births in 1994, to 220 in 2000 and 194 in 2002, by increasing the percentage of births attended by a trained provider and by reducing malnutrition.

Private universities are recognized by article 190 of the state Constitution and the Educational Reform Law number 1565 of July 7, 1994. A general director of university and postgraduate education, helped by a secretary office, manages them. The areas of knowledge taught in private universities all come under the following headings: humanities, healthcare, economy and finance, sciences and technology, arts and architecture, and social sciences. The educational research published in 1997 by Charles N. Myers and Miguel Urquiola analyzed the educational system as a market in which the state, the private sector, and some ONGs (especially the Catholic Church) compete to provide services. They based their analysis on works done by the National Statistics Institute (INE) in 1990 and 1992, work by the Technical Support Team of the Educational Reform (ETARE), and work by the Ministry of Education's Secretary for Human development. The strength of Urquiola and Myers' research resides in the fact that it links the levels of education completed with the improvement rates of agriculture, fertility, and child health, as well as with the industrial production and labor market.

Nonformal Education

Distance learning is still a very new concept in Bolivia; however, the possibilities the method offers are being studied. Bolivia has been looking at the long established models of distance education like that offered by the United Kingdom's Open University, which started in 1969, and like the National Technological University in the States. But for practical reasons, Bolivia is more interested in Spanish language-based programs such as Venezuelan's Open University, Universidad Nacional Abierta, in place since 1977, and the Mexican Virtual University of Monterrey, among others. Although Bolivia can see and appreciate some of the advantages of distance learning and seems to be eager to adopt a proactive approach to distance learning, the cost of computer technology proves to be a problem for the widespread adoption of such programs and methodology for the near future.

Teaching Profession

According to the Education for All (EFA) study, the number of primary school teachers having the required academic qualifications went from 63.7 percent in 1990 to 67.0 percent in 1999 for females, and from 59 percent to 60 percent for males during the same period. The percentage of school teachers who were certified to teach according to national standards decreased very slightly between 1990 and 1999, remaining almost stagnant at 74.7 percent for females in 1990 and 73.8 percent in 1999; the same was true for males during the same periods at 68.6 percent and 67.5 percent, respectively. Considering the growth in the number of actual classes, this increase seems a fairly good result.

The pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools moved slowly upward from 1995 to 1999 and stood at 23.3:1 in 1999. From 1990 to 1998, the number of teachers within private universities went up from 393 to 2,519 men and from 131 to 984 women; this increase is very important to the future of education as is the soaring enrollment in teacher training programs.

The Educational Reform Law of 1994 states that, as a minimum, teachers must hold the Licenciatura to be eligible to teach in private universities. Further training must be provided for teachers of 40 hours per semester.


Overall, Bolivia is showing an increase in total enrollments and a general improved parity between males and females, especially in urban private schools at the secondary level. Moreover there has been a beneficial increase in the private schools sector. An increased demand for quality education on the part of parents has meant a large migration of students towards cities. The citizens of Bolivia seem to be increasing their awareness of the importance of education, which, in turn, is beginning to produce higher quality labor skills in Bolivia.

Further, the government of Bolivia seems to have developed and fostered surprisingly clear and ambitious strategic educational objectives in the last decade. The long term effects of its multiple programs and of private programs on education overall, and in particular those applied to the indigenous population, remain to be seen. In the early years of the new millennium, Bolivia will depend on foreign funds for most new programs fostered by its reform. A large number of associations have been created with the ultimate goal of Bolivia's reaching self-reliance so that the negative impact that decreased foreign funding would have on the Bolivian education will hopefully be softened. The future of education in Bolivia seems to be heading in the right direction.


Baker, Colin, and Sylvia Prys Jones. Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters, 1998.

Myers, Charles N., and Miguel Urquiola. La Educación Intermedia y Media en Bolivia: Un análisis desde la perspectiva de la demanda. La Paz: UDAPSO, 1997.

PROEIB Andes Bulletins. Boletines, 1997-2001.

Propuesta Integral de Innovación Educativa en Nucleuss-PIIEN. La Paz: CEBIAE (Centro Boliviano de Investigación y Acción Educativas), 1998.

The State of the World's Children. UNESCO, 1999.

World Education Report. Oxford: UNESCO Publishing, 1995.

Danielle Raquidel

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Republic of Bolivia

Major Cities:
La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Sucre, Potosí

Minor Cities:
Oruro, Tarija, Trinidad


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated June 1996. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


BOLIVIA can be described as a land of contrasts. There are spectacular geographic contrastsits natural beauty varying from the dramatically barren altiplano, to the snowcapped Andean mountains, to the lush jungles of the Amazon lowlands. Its chief cities, which lie in the altiplano, are some of the highest in the world, and Lake Titicaca, also situated on this two-and-a-half-mile-high plateau, is the largest freshwater lake in all of South America.

Furthermore, Bolivia is endowed with some of the richest mineral resources in the world. An international leader in tin production, it also mines copper, silver, tungsten, bismuth, antimony, and zinc. But despite these mineral riches, Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America; most Bolivians live by subsistence farming, raising sugarcane, potatoes, corn, wheat, and rice.

The people of Bolivia are predominantly Indian. They descend from the Aymara, who produced a highly advanced culture between the seventh and the 10th centuries, and from the Quechua-speaking Incas, one of the world's greatest imperial dynasties. The Spaniards arrived from Peru in 1535 to conquer Bolivia, and during most of the colonial period kept it as a dependency of the viceroyalty of Lima. Independence was established in 1825.


La Paz

La Paz, the de facto capital of Bolivia, is in the west-central part of the country, in a deep canyon about 60 miles south of Lake Titicaca. At about 12,500 feet, it is the highest capital city in the world and has a metropolitan population of about 1.5 million.

La Paz was founded in 1548 by the Spanish conquistadors, who chose the site as a halfway station for the llama pack trains bearing silver ore from Potosí to Lima. After Bolivia achieved independence, La Paz grew to be the commercial and financial center of the country. Although Sucre remains the constitutional capital, all government offices except the Supreme Court are in La Paz.

The city's architecture is a mixture of colonial and modern styles. The older sections, with their narrow cobblestone streets, contain some fine colonial buildings from the 16th century. Many high-rise office and apartment buildings have been completed or are under construction in the center of the city. Most business is conducted in small shops or in local markets run by colorfully clad Indian women.

Business activity within the city is mainly light industry, such as clothing and food manufacture, and commercial and financial enterprises, which support the country's mining economy.

One of the few level areas in La Paz is directly adjacent to Avenida 16 de Julio (El Prado) in the center of the city. Virtually all major streets radiate from the Prado, and some are so steep that they are difficult to negotiate. Deeply eroded water courses cut through the city at a number of points, contributing to the irregular street pattern. The slopes of the canyon are rocky and bleak, except where eucalyptus trees have been planted. Although the altiplano countryside is barren, the magnificent snowcapped mountain peaks (particularly Mount Illimani) that overlook the canyon and the multi-colored eroded hillsides provide a most spectacular setting for the city.

La Paz Airport, above the city on the altiplano, is the highest international airport in the world, at 13,300 feet above sea level. The descent from the altiplano provides a beautiful panorama of the entire canyon and city. Most of the year, particularly during "winter," the air is crystal clear and the sky is a magnificent blue.


Temperatures in La Paz are not extremely hot or cold. Spring and fall clothing may be worn all year. Temperatures vary considerably in the sun or in the shade. Although lightweight clothing may be comfortable in sunshine, temperature drops are sudden in the shade.

During winterMay through Augusta light winter coat is worn in the morning and evening. With the sun, daytime temperatures become quite warm, especially at midday. During rainy weather a raincoat (preferably with a zip-in lining), boots, and umbrella are needed. Warm bathrobes or sweat-suits and slippers are comfortable at home during mornings and evenings.

Except for fur and wool items, clothing in La Paz is expensive, hard to find, and usually behind U.S. styles. Shoes in La Paz (except for Italian imports) are poorly made, wide, and expensive. Due to steep and very slippery sidewalks, low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes are needed.

Some good seamstresses and tailors in La Paz copy fashions from photographs. Fabrics (including British wool imports) are available but at higher prices, making it cheaper to buy material in the U.S.

Men wear medium-weight suits all year. Some men wear vests or sweaters with their jackets on cooler days. A good supply of shirts, shoes, underwear, socks, and accessories should be brought from the U.S. as well as lightweight clothing and sportswear.

Clothing worn in the U.S. in early spring and fall is worn by women year round in La Paz. Skirts and sweaters, as well as basic medium-weight suits and dresses that can be dressed up or down are best. Three-piece suits and dresses with jackets are practical, since they can be varied to suit temperatures. It is advisable to bring shoes, undergarments, purses, and sportswear from the U.S. These items are expensive and hard to find. Sweaters are essential and available locally. Pantsuits, slacks, and jeans are seen everywhere and are worn for casual wear to provide warmth in unheated buildings. Some summer clothes, including a bathing suit, are needed for trips to warmer climates.

In general, children's clothing in La Paz resembles what is worn in Washington, DC in the fall. Emphasis should be on layered clothing that can be added or subtracted according to temperature changes, rather than on extra heavy clothing. All types of clothing for babies and some children's clothing are available in La Paz. Locally made clothing is inexpensive. Imports are limited and expensive. Dress for school-age children is informal. Girls wear jeans, slacks, skirts, sweaters, and dresses to school. Boys wear jeans, slacks, and shirts without ties. Both need windbreakers or jackets, sweaters, raincoats, and sturdy shoes. Children use lightweight jackets, sweaters, or sweatshirts almost daily. Locally made blouses and shirts and velour sweatshirts are well-made and can be bought at reasonable prices.


Availability of most foodstuffs is good, through there are occasional shortages of basic and specialty items in the marketplace. Processed food in La Paz costs much more than in the U.S. since many goods are imported. Stocks are less varied and almost no frozen foods exist. Major food sources in La Paz are local shops, open-air markets, and a supermarket in Obrajes. Markets sell fresh produce, meats (beef, pork, lamb, and poultry), fresh fish (especially trout from Lake Titicaca and tropical fish from Cochabamba), and dairy products. The wide variety of fruits and vegetables is of good quality and reasonably priced. Meat is not cut U.S. style, varies in quality, and supply is sometimes limited. In addition to open-air markets, small shops and several supermarkets stock expensive canned and packaged items and specialty shops carry good quality, expensive cheeses and other imports. Although called "supermarkets," these stores only slightly resemble U.S. chains.

Reconstituted pasteurized milk, butter, and limited cheeses are available. Locally canned fruits and vegetables are expensive and of lower-than-average quality.

Meats and vegetables require longer cooking in La Paz due to altitude. Pressure cookers save time and energy and tenderize tougher meat cuts. Cakes and other pastries require adjustments in ingredients and baking time. Although local cooks are familiar with high-altitude cooking, Americans find the Andean Cookbook, written in Spanish and English, very useful.

The wine industry in Bolivia is just being developed, but a couple of local wineries are marketing some good wines.

Supplies & Services

La Paz has several adequate dry cleaners and prices are reasonable, but to rid clothes of strong cleaning fluid odors, they must be aired. A few laundries are available, but most laundry is done at home by maids or laundresses.

Men's tailoring costs about the same as in the U.S. but quality is somewhat lower. Good quality women's tailoring is available. Fair shoe repair and leather service is available and costs compare with those in the U.S.

La Paz has good barbers and beauticians who offer all standard services at moderate prices.

Electrical and mechanical repairs vary in quality. Prices depend on parts availability. Labor costs are reasonable; quality work is rare. It is advisable to check and repair electrical and mechanical items before coming to La Paz. Automobile body service is very satisfactory.

Film developing is available but of poor quality, high cost, and not all films can be processed. Camera and watch repairs can be made here.

Religious Activities

Most churches in Bolivia are Roman Catholic. Services are usually conducted in Spanish. An English mass is said every Saturday at the Santa Rosa Church in La Florida, and La Paz Community Church, a nondenominational Protestant church, has services in English every Sunday. Most major Protestant denominations have at least one Spanish-speaking church in La Paz. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) has several Spanish-speaking branches in the capital and other Bolivian cities. The headquarters of the Andes South Mission is in La Paz. The Jewish community in La Paz holds religious services at two synagogues, and also maintains a school.

Domestic Help

Virtually all foreigners find domestics necessary due to marketing difficulties and the extra time needed to prepare and cook food at the high altitude. A combination maid/cook is generally sufficient for a couple with one or two children in a small house. Many Americans with more than two children employ a cook and a general maid or houseboy. Everyone with gardens needs a part-time gardener.

The salaries for domestics are reasonable. The employer provides meals, uniforms, medical care, and lodging for live-in servants. Local law requires an extra month's pay as a Christmas bonus and a patriotic bonus paid in July. Domestics are entitled to 10 days of paid vacation per year. If mutually acceptable, extra pay may be given in lieu of vacation.

Domestics vary in efficiency and dependability, but all need training. During a three-month probationary period, an employee may be terminated without notice or compensation. After this period, 15 days' discharge notice or 15 days' pay are required. When employees are discharged after 12 months' service they can receive a longevity bonus equal to 15 days' pay for each year of employment.

The prospective employer pays for medical checkups (which include a chest X-ray) before hiring domestics. All employees sign a work contract.


Most American children living in La Paz attend the American Cooperative School in the residential suburb of Calacoto. The school also sponsors a kindergarten and pre-kindergarten at the same location. In 1994, the school had 500-600 students, 25% American, 55% Bolivian, and 20% third country nationals. The school had 60 full-time teachers, 80% of these teachers were American. The student-teacher ratio was less than 25 students per teacher. An American director supervises American high-school and elementary school principals, and the teaching staff. Instruction is in English, secondary-level courses compare to college preparatory courses in U.S. schools. Spanish is taught as a foreign language.

The American Cooperative School has maintained a good rating and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. School runs from mid-August to late May, with the usual holidays and vacations. The school also runs a six-week summer school offering a variety of courses, including remedial math and English classes, Spanish, sports, and others. Special education resources are also available at the school.

In addition to the regular curriculum, several extracurricular activities are offered. Among these are student government, a school newspaper, intramural and interscholastic sports program, drama, forensics, Knowledge Bowl, astronomy, photography, the Cultural Convention, and a jazz band. Various Boy and Girl Scout troops sponsored by the American community also use school facilities.

School facilities include modern buildings, housing science laboratories, auditorium with stage, cafeteria, library, audiovisual center, gymnasium, all-purpose room, sports field, volleyball and basketball courts, and shower and dressing rooms.

There are several other schools available in La Paz, all opening in February or March and running to late October or early November. The American Institute is a coeducational school operated by Methodist missionaries. It has regular primary and secondary grades and also offers a three-year commercial course. Classes are held in Spanish, and English is taught as a foreign language.

St. Andrew's is a Catholic-administered, nonsectarian school with a U.S.-trained Bolivian headmaster. Classes are taught in Spanish.

Franco Boliviano is a French coed school, supported partly by the French Embassy. Classes are conducted in French with Spanish and English taught as foreign languages.

San Calixto and La Salle are Catholic coed schools; classes are taught in Spanish with English as a foreign language.

School of the Sacred Heart is a coed school directed by a French mother superior. Classes are in Spanish, with French and English taught as foreign languages.

The German community in La Paz directs and supports nonsectarian Mariscal Braun. Classes are in both Spanish and German.

Kindergartens are maintained by the English Catholic College, the Mariscal Braun School. Several private kindergartens, not connected with schools or institutions, are also available. Little English, if any, is taught in private kindergartens. A Spanish-speaking Montessori school is available for preschool children.

Private instruction in photography, art, music, folk dancing, and ballet is available. The American Cooperative School provides the community with a program of after school and evening sports and educational activities for both students and adults. Depending on demand and availability of teachers, these include photography, ballet, exercise, square dancing, handicrafts, business courses, language, and culture.

The German, American, and French binational centers periodically offer courses and lectures in various fields. Once each semester, a graduate-level course for credit is offered at the American Cooperative School through the University of Arkansas. For those with a working knowledge of Spanish, other special educational opportunities exist. The municipal government sponsors a cultural foundation (Casa Juvenil de la Cultura "Juancito Pinto") which offers music, folk dancing, and puppetry to children, free of charge.


Bolivia's varied climate is ideal for outdoor sports. The elevation at La Paz adds a sense of novelty to participation in sports such as skiing, golf, and tennis. Tennis balls are depressurized especially for the high altitude, and 300-yard drives on the golf course at La Paz are occasionally enjoyed by the competent player. Soccer is the national sport, but basketball and volleyball are sufficiently important to support national federations. The American Cooperative School's evening programs include a men's basketball league.

La Paz boasts the Mallasilla Golf Club, an 18-hole course with magnificent vistas, about 25 minutes from the city. There are tennis clubs, a rod and gun club, a bowling alley, and a glider club. The climate in the capital discourages swimming, but in warmer areas of the country swimming can be enjoyed.

Many Americans enjoy trout fishing in the areas surrounding La Paz. The trout of Lake Titicaca and nearby glacier lakes are of the salmon family. Catches in Lake Titicaca have been reported as weighing up to 28 pounds; however, fishing here has been poor in recent years due to netting, trapping, and dynamiting by commercial fishermen. The small glacier lakes, about three hours from La Paz, produce rainbow trout weighing up to four pounds. Fly fishing is found two-to-three hours from La Paz in the streams of the lowland valleys of the Yungas. Stream fishing is as effective as lake fishing, but is more difficult due to the rugged terrain and fast waters. Better fishing may be found farther from La Paz, but reaching the least-fished waters requires four-wheel-drive vehicles or transportation by air. Other tropical varieties of fish are found in the warmer waters of the Beni and Sata Cruz.

Opportunities for partridge, duck, and wild fowl shooting are available year round on the eastern shore of Lake Titicaca, and at certain other high-altitude lakes. The Beni area in the lowlands offers big-game hunting possibilities, including wild hog, puma, ocelot, anteater, deer, and alligator. Hunting and fishing licenses are required in Bolivia. Bolivia has a long list of protected animals and birds with which one should be familiar. No special clothing nor dogs are required for hunting. Hunters or fishing enthusiasts should bring their own gear.

Sailing on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake, is rewarding. Actually it is two lakes, separated by a narrow strait. The lower lakeHuinamarcais much smaller and shallower than Upper Chucuito, a veritable inland sea, with water horizons and persistent swells. Visibility is generally almost unlimited. The most consistent winds and sunniest weather occur on winter afternoons. Summer, though generally warmer, is characterized by light, variable winds, and frequent rain showers.

Chacaltaya, site of the highest ski run in the world at 17,400 feet, offers a spectacular course for expert skiers on a glacier during the October through April season. When snow cover is heavy enough to fill gullies in upper headwalls, experts will find very challenging skiing. The primitive, 5,000-foot cable tow operates on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays when there is skiing. The slopes adjacent to deep precipices are wide and steep, with varying and unpredictable snow conditions. Chacaltaya is about a 90-minute drive from La Paz; the Andino Club provides transportation from La Paz. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for driving the steep dirt road, although normal cars can manage under good conditions. A day lodge serves soft drinks and some snacks.

Bolivia offers excellent opportunities for mountain climbing and hiking. Two major cordilleras, the Cordillera Real and Cordillera de las Tres Cruces, are accessible by mining roads. The third significant cordillera, Apolobamba, is harder to reach. Bolivia's highest peak is Nevada Ancohuma (21,489 feet) near the Peruvian border. Other mountains over 20,000 feet include Illampu, Sajama, Illimani, Huayna Potosí, and Chachacomani. Hundreds of peaks in the 17,500-to 18,500-foot class are excellent for experienced climbers. Although most summits have been reached, many new routes are possible, and climbing is still very challenging. Backpacking is another popular pastime, and Bolivia offers superb opportunities. Mountain hiking is aided by a network of Indian paths and ancient trails on the dry western slopes, and a less extensive network on the wet and steep eastern side. It is on these eastern slopes, however, that hikers in good condition find excellent opportunities for walks of from two days to a week through magnificent scenery, often over trails originally engineered by the Incas. Stretches of these well-designed ancient roads remain in use today.

Good one-day rock and ice climbs can be found in the Khala Cruz-Charquini-Sora Patilla group south of Huayna Potosí and on nearby 18,700-foot Cerro Milluni and its rocky satellites. Climbers and walkers should bring their own equipment to Bolivia.

La Paz has a glider club. Some hang gliding has been done, but thin air makes this sport difficult and dangerous. Andean air currents offer some of the world's most challenging and highest gliding for experienced pilots, but this area is not considered suitable for novices. An equestrian club offers boarding facilities for privately owned horses and classes in horsemanship. Another club offers rentals and lessons. Periodically, public horse races are held.

By far, the most popular spectator sport in Bolivia is football, or soccer. Several Bolivian teams are often in international competition. Other spectator sports include wrestling, basketball, and an occasional bull-fight.

Bolivia has many interesting tour sites. A popular place is Copacabana, a resort town 88 miles from La Paz on Lake Titicaca. It is noted especially for the Shrine of the Virgin of Copacabana, to which many Bolivians make a pilgrimage. Copacabana can be reached by car from La Paz in about four hours. It also is possible to take a hydrofoil from Huatajata (a town on Lake Titicaca) to Copacabana. Day trips by motor-boat to the Isles of the Sun and Moon, famous in Incan mythology, can be made from Copacabana.

En route to the western shore of Lake Titicaca, 60 miles from La Paz, are the ruins of the advanced Aymara culture of Tiwanaku, which can be reached by car from La Paz in about two-and-a-half hours.

Situated 95 miles from La Paz at 8,700 feet, Sorata provides relief from the high altitude of the capital and the altiplano. Sorata is in a valley at the foot of Illampu, one of the highest mountains in Bolivia. There are some interesting caves that can be explored nearby. The trip takes roughly four hours, one way, by car. In the vicinity of Sorata, along the east shore of Lake Titicaca, is a tremendous slough that provides some of the best duck and goose shooting in Bolivia.

The Yungas are a series of deep valleys sloping from the cordillera into the eastern jungle region. They can be reached by car in three-to-four hours. Landslides may block roads during rainy months. The road from La Paz to the Yungas crosses the eastern cordillera through a 15,000-foot pass, then drops down rapidly into lush, semitropical valleys in less than 50 miles, one of the most spectacular sights in the country. Hotel accommodations are available at Coroico, Chulumani, and a few other points.

North of Lake Titicaca in Peru is Cuzco, center of the ancient Inca civilization and famed site of the Incas' last stand. Cuzco and nearby Machu Picchu, the "lost city of the Incas," are sight-seeing attractions for tourists from all over the world. The trip from La Paz to Cuzco by air takes 50 minutes.

Arica, a Chilean seaport 20 minutes away by air or 12 hours by train, is a good change of scene for those who enjoy the seashore.

The tropical lowlands facing Brazil provide another interesting change from La Paz. These areas are interlaced with large rivers, are heavily forested, and abound in many varieties of wild game. Driving trips to some parts of the area are possible but require elaborate preparation and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The region around Santa Cruz is the fastest developing area in Bolivia. Santa Cruz can be reached by road and by air. Northwest of Santa Cruz is the department of Beni, a sparsely populated region with great potential for agricultural development and increased cattle production. The region is traversed by the major rivers in Bolivia and offers excellent fishing. These tropical lowlands facing Brazil provide a pleasant change from La Paz. They are interlaced with large rivers, and are heavily forested, with a large variety of game. Road trips during dry months to some areas are possible but require elaborate arrangements and four-wheel-drive cars.


Adequate entertainment is available in most of the large cities. La Paz has a few nightclubs, and the most popular among these are the discotheques. Others have dance bands, and most feature additional entertainment on weekends. Americans as well as Bolivians enjoy the peñas or clubs which specialize in authentic folk singing, dancing, and art. These clubs have shows on Friday and Saturday nights, and serve drinks and meals. A visit to one of these peñas is a good way to be introduced to Bolivian folklore.

Some unique folklore festivals highlight the year in La Paz. In January, a week-long fair, "Alacitas," centers around Ekeko, the Aymaran talisman of prosperity and good fortune. Miniatures, from clothes to buses, are bought (and given) with the hope that what they represent will be obtained soon. Carnival is celebrated with parades (a very charming one features children in costumes) and dancing in La Paz. "Jesús, el Gran Poder" is honored in June in La Paz with a parade of dancers and musicians. Year round, small pueblos in the outskirts of La Paz stage interesting festivals.

Several restaurants have good quality food, service, and atmosphere that Americans normally associate with dining out.

Movie theaters in La Paz are inexpensive and show many American films as well as films from Argentina, Brazil, Italy, and France. All films are in the original soundtrack with Spanish subtitles. Films make their debut in La Paz a year or more after their release.

Video clubs recently have become very popular. The variety is not the best, but tapes can be rented for very reasonable prices. Local clubs carry Beta and VHS tapes.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, the seat of early Spanish culture, was founded in the mid-16th century, and reestablished in 1595 by settlers from Paraguay. With a population of 1,110,000 (2000 est.), it is the second largest city in Bolivia. Its economy is based on exports of oil and agricultural products.

The people of Santa Cruz call themselves Crucenos or Cambas. They are staunchly proud of their land and of their heritage. The Crucenos are innately polite and hospitable, slow to anger, generous, and proud. Typical of the people of tropical climates in Latin America, Crucenos maintain a very active social calendar, and are extremely warm, friendly, and outgoing.


The Santa Cruz Cooperative School is a coeducational, day, school for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The school was originally established to serve the children of the Gulf Oil Company personnel. When Gulf Oil was nationalized, many Americans left Bolivia. The school continued as a cooperative, and over the years, the percentage of host country students has increased to a large majority. Currently about 10% of the students at SCCS are American, 65% are Bolivian, and 25% are from other various nations. Facilities include two science laboratories, a computer lab, a new library/media center, and a comprehensive sports/fine arts complex. Classes follow a U.S. school year and a U.S. curriculum, granting both American and Bolivian secondary diplomas.


Cochabamba is Bolivia's third largest city. Its population is approximately 377,260 (2000 est.). This valley city is 8,430 feet above sea level. Cochabamba was founded in 1574 and was originally called Villa de Oropeza. The city has many historical buildings and is an important alpaca handicraft center and vacation spot.


Cochabamba Cooperative School is a coeducational school for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. A U.S. curriculum is used for its 100 students.

The American International School of Bolivia offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) as well as U.S. and Bolivian degrees. It receives a State Department grant and has about 100 students in kindergarten through grade 12.

The Carachipampa Christian School is run by the Andes Evangelical Mission and has about 100 students kindergarten through grade 12.


Sucre is the judicial center and constitutional capital of Bolivia. Its population is 152,000 (2000 est.). The city lies in a mountain valley on the eastern slope of the Andes, 9,320 feet above sea level. A learning center for centuries and the city where Bolivia proclaimed independence, Sucre is now a university town. It offers large monasteries, fine churches, exquisite colonial architecture, colonial paintings, and Old World art collections.


Potosí, at 4,000 meters (over 14,000 feet), is the highest city in the world. Today it is a mining town producing some silver and substantial amounts of tin, lead, and zinc, but in 1553 it was decreed an Imperial City by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, due to the discovery of silver here by the Spanish conquistadors in 1545. During the late 1500s, it was one of the largest cities in the world (population 160,000), and the name Potosí became synonymous with the idea of untold riches. It is estimated that over a billion dollars' worth of silver was extracted from the Cerro Rico Mountain overlooking Potosí. By the 18th century the silver mines were depleted and the city was in decline. In 2000, Potosí had a population of 114,092.

However, the aura of its fabulous past still lingers and can be seen in some of the colonial architecture, much of which is baroque in design. The colonial Art Museum in Sucre contains detailed color drawings of Potosí in its prime. One of the chief attractions and places of renown in Potosí is the Casa de la Moneda, or mint, established to control the minting of colonial wealth. The restored building has been called the most important monument of civilian building in all of South America. It houses an important collection of colonial paintings, sculptures, and archaeological and minting materials.


ORURO , with a population of 125,240 (2000 est.), is 120 miles southeast of La Paz, situated at an altitude of 12,160 feet. Capital of Oruro Department, the city is also the country's railroad center. Founded early in the 17th century to exploit the nearby silver deposits, Oruro nearly became a ghost town in the 19th century when silver production declined. However, other mineral resources, primarily wolfram, copper, and tin are now mined and are the basis of the city's economy. Due to the altitude, agriculture is almost nonexistent. A technical university was founded in Oruro in 1892. A major tin refinery is located here. An outstanding celebration takes place here; day-long parades feature the world-famous diabladas (devil dancers), bears, and morenadas, creating an outstanding display of folkloric costumes and altiplano music. Oruro is a major hub for Bolivia's railway system.

TARIJA , at an altitude of 6,398 feet, is located in a fertile Andean valley, about 160 miles southeast of Potosí. The area has rich soil and a moderate climate, making the region famous for its vineyards and orchards. Vegetables, wheat, potatoes, corn, and other crops are grown near Tarija. However, due to the city's remote location, they are consumed by the local population. Founded in 1574, the city's commercial growth lagged due to a lack of communications. With a population of nearly 403,000 (2000), Tarija is known for its Vendimia, or grape harvest festival, held each February. Residents of the city are noted for their outdoor religious processions. A university, founded in 1966, is also located in Tarija.

TRINIDAD , capital city of the Beni Department, is located in northeastern Bolivia, about 250 miles north of La Paz. The city has a sugar refinery and also trades in sugarcane, rice, beef, and cotton. A busy commercial center, Trinidad has an airport and several roads leading to other cities. The city is the seat of the "Mariscal Jose Ballivian" Bolivian University.


Geography and Climate

Landlocked Bolivia shares borders on the north and east with Brazil, on the south with Argentina and Paraguay, on the southwest with Chile, and on the northwest with Peru. With an area of 420,000 square miles, Bolivia is about the size of Texas and California combined. The country has three well-defined geographic zonesthe high plateau (altiplano ); the temperate and semitropical valleys of the eastern mountain slopes (yungas ); and the tropical lowlands (llanos ) of the Amazon River Basin. Each of these regions differs from the others in a significant way.

Lying between the main eastern and western ridges of the Andean Mountains, the altiplano is 500 miles long and 80 miles wide, at altitudes varying between 12,000 and 14,000 feet. It is one of the world's highest inhabited regions. Lake Titicaca is situated in the altiplano and straddles Bolivia's border with Peru in the north. It has an area of 3,500 square miles with depths of up to 700 feet, and maintains a constant temperature of 55°F. The land surrounding the lake is the most agriculturally productive and heavily populated section of the altiplano, with a population density of more than 125 per square mile in some localities. Most of the region's inhabitants are Aymara and Quechua Indians, who maintain a primitive subsistence agricultural and grazing economy. Principal animals are sheep, alpacas, llamas, and the fast-disappearing vicunas. The rich mineral deposits that form the backbone of the Bolivian economy are found on the altiplano and in nearby mountainous areas. Several cities (La Paz, the capital; Oruro; and Potosí) and industries are located here.

To the east and northeast of the altiplano lie the yungas, the temperate and semitropical valleys. Cochabamba, Sucre, and Tarija are major cities in the more arid mountain valleys to the southeast of the capital. These areas vary in altitude from 1,600 feet to 9,000 feet above sea level and have a moderately warm and humid climate. This region is mainly agriculturalchief crops are corn, barley, coffee, cacao, citrus fruits, and sugarcane.

The llanos cover more than two-thirds of the country. Through the llanos flow the major tributaries of the Amazon: the Mamoré, Beni, Ichilo, Itenes, and Madre de Dios rivers. With the exception of the Santa Cruz area, the lowlands are sparsely populated and are only now being developed. This fertile region offers excellent possibilities for agriculture and stock-raising. Santa Cruz (Bolivia's second largest city), Trinidad, Riberalta, and Cobija are the principal cities in the lowlands.

Bolivia lies entirely within the tropics, but the extreme differences in elevationas low as 300 feet along the Brazilian border and more than 21,000 feet on the highest mountain peaksproduce a great variety of climatic conditions. These, coupled with a wide diversity in soils, result in vegetation ranging from the sparse cover of scrub in the semiarid highlands to lush rain forests in the abundantly watered plains of the east.

La Paz has only two seasons: rainy and dry. The rainy season begins in December and continues through March; some rain falls almost daily during this period. Even in the rainy season, the humidity is very low. Average annual rainfall is 20 inches. The climate is cool, but the warm sunshine raises the temperature during the daytime, making outdoor parties and activities at midday very pleasant.


Reliable demographic data is difficult to obtain in Bolivia. Bolivia's estimated population is about 8.1 million (2000), with an estimated 1.5 million people inhabiting the capital city of La Paz. Population density, the lowest in Latin America, is approximately 7 per square mile, but varies greatly by area.

An estimated 55% of the people are Aymara-and Quechua-speaking, descended from peoples of pre-Inca cultures. Virtually all Indians live in rural areas or villages. The hard daily life of the Indian population is occasionally brightened by colorful fiestas which often last for days. Bolivians of mixed Indian and European ancestry (mestizos ) comprise 30% of the population and work mostly in small businesses, factories, and government offices. Mestizos generally speak Spanish as a first language, but often know at least one native language.

The rest of the population is of European descent and fill most professional and management positions in Bolivian society. The most recent large-scale immigration of Europeans to Bolivia took place before and during World War II. More recently, there have been smaller immigrations of Taiwanese, Japanese, Koreans, and Mennonites to the underpopulated tropical lowlands of Santa Cruz.

Although Roman Catholicism is the recognized religion of Bolivia and 95% of the population is Catholic, other religions are freely practiced.


Between A.D. 600 and 900, Aymara Indians living at the southern end of Lake Titicaca produced an advanced native civilization known as Tiahuanaco. In about 1200, the Quechua-speaking Incas invaded the area and incorporated much of what is now Bolivia under their control, until the Spaniards arrived from Peru and conquered Bolivia in 1535.

The area became a dependency of the viceroyalty of Lima, and the principal cities were Chuquisaca (now Sucre), the seat of the Audlencia de Charcas, La Paz, and Potosí, for many years the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. The Bolivian silver mines were a major source of the wealth of the Spanish Empire. As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic Wars, Bolivia swarmed with secret patriotic societies. Although independence was proclaimed in 1809, 16 years of struggle followed before the Republic (named for the patriot and liberator, Simón Bolívar) was established on August 6, 1825.

The 19th century saw one military leader after another succeed to power, frequently by force. This political disorder and instability impeded social and economic progress. A disastrous war with Chile (1879-84) caused Bolivia to lose its seacoast and the rich nitrate fields and copper mines of the region around Antofagasta, Chile. A major aim of Bolivian foreign policy since then has been to recover a port on the Pacific coast.


Political stability improved during the early 20th century, although the Chaco War with Paraguay (1932-35) exhausted Bolivia economically and discredited its traditional ruling classes. A protracted period of political unrest ended in the revolution of April 9, 1952, which put in power the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR). The MNR introduced universal suffrage, agrarian and educational reform, and nationalized the three largest private tin enterprises under the state mining corporation, COMIBOL.

Divisions within the MNR and growing opposition to its rule led to its overthrow in November 1964 by a military junta. The Ovando-Barrientos junta retained the MNR's major reforms. In August 1966, the junta leader was elected president. On September 26, 1969, the military overthrew the president and formed a civilian-military government.

From 1969 to 1982, Bolivia experienced several coups and rapid changes of government. The first two years of the UDP (Popular Democratic Unity, 1982-85) were marked by national disasters, a deteriorating economy, and lack of political consensus. The fragile government was teetering by 1984, threatened by political extremists and undercut by its lack of coherency. The president, responding to an initiative of the Catholic Church, began talks with the opposition, and, as a result, curtailed his term, calling for elections in 1985.

Since then, despite continual changes in players, elections have been held peacefully and on schedule.

The 1967 constitution, revised in 1994, provides for balanced executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The traditionally strong executive, however, tends to overshadow the Congress, whose role is generally limited to debating and approving legislation initiated by the executive. The judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court and departmental and lower courts, has long been riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Through revisions to the constitution in 1994, and subsequent laws, the government has initiated potentially far-reaching reforms in the judicial system and processes.

Bolivia's nine departments received greater autonomy under the Administrative Decentralization law of 1995, although principal departmental officials are still appointed by the central government. Bolivian cities and towns are governed by elected mayors and councils. The Popular Participation Law of April 1994, which distributes a significant portion of national revenues to municipalities for discretionary use, has enabled previously neglected communities to make striking improvements in their facilities and services.

The Bolivian flag consists of three horizontal bands in red, yellow, and green.

Arts, Science, Education

Education, from primary to post-secondary, is currently the subject of much debate in Bolivia, focusing on how to provide educational opportunities for all and still maintain quality.

Bolivia has nine state universities and eight private universities. In addition to their usual curriculum, the universities serve as centers of scientific activities with programs in space sciences, geology, mineralogy, genetics, and other sciences. The University of San Andrés Observatory at Chacaltaya (near La Paz) is world famous for its work on cosmic rays.

The National Symphony Orchestra and the Coral Nova choir, based in La Paz, give several concerts a year. A national ballet company performs occasionally and visiting music and dance performers are sponsored by the Casa de la Cultura, the Centro Boliviano Americano, and other cultural institutions. There are also a Chamber Orchestra and a Youth Orchestra in La Paz. Folk music can be enjoyed at the various folklore nightclubs called peñas on weekends and some week nights at programs of the Centro Boliviano Americano. The Municipal Theater offers various programs, including visiting artists, jazz groups, and other entertainers. These performances vary in quality, from very good to mediocre.

Art exhibits are held in the National Museum of Art, the Casa de la Cultura, the University of San Andrés, the Centro Boliviano Americano, the lobby of the newspaper El Diario, and in a number of private galleries, and commercial art galleries in the major cities. La Paz has several museums. The National Museum of Archaeology and the Diez de Medina Museum both house good collections of Inca and pre-Inca artifacts. The National Folklore Museum and the Fine Arts Museum are located in beautifully restored colonial palaces. The latter contains interesting examples of colonial art, but the finest collections are in Sucre and Potosí.

A wealth of handicraft art is found in colorful Indian markets or urban boutiques in Bolivia, ranging from the crude and primitive to the refined. Gold and silver jewelry is a good buy; Bolivian goldsmiths can make jewelry in any design at a cost below that in the U.S. A great deal of work is done with pewter and in a metal similar to silver, and the products are handsome. Good quality sweaters, coats, scarves, and rugs of sheepskin, llama, and alpaca are reasonably priced.

Commerce and Industry

Since 1985, the Government of Bolivia has been implementing a far-reaching program of macroeconomic stabilization and structural reform aimed at restoring price stability, creating conditions for sustained growth, and alleviating poverty. Important components of these structural reform measures include the capitalization of state enterprises and strengthening of the country's financial system.

The most important recent structural changes in the Bolivian economy have involved the capitalization of numerous public sector enterprises. (Capitalization in the Bolivian context is a form of privatization where investors acquire a 50% stake and management control of public enterprises in return for a commitment to undertake capital expenditures equivalent to the enterprise's net worth). Parallel legislative reforms have locked into place market-oriented policies, especially in the hydrocarbon and mining sectors, that have encouraged private investment. Foreign investors are accorded national treatment, and foreign ownership of companies enjoys virtually no restrictions in Bolivia. The privatization program has generated commitments of $1.7 billion in foreign direct investment over the period 1996-2002.

In 1996, three units of the Bolivian state oil corporation (YPFB) involved in hydrocarbon exploration, production, and transportation were capitalized. The capitalization of YPFB allowed agreement to be reached on the construction of a gas pipeline to Brazil. A priority in the development strategy for the sector is the expansion of export markets for natural gas. The Brazil pipeline contract projects natural gas exports of 9 million metric cubic meters per day (mmcmd) by the end of 2000, increasing to over 30 mmcmd by 2004. The government plans to position Bolivia as a regional hub for exporting hydrocarbons.

By May 1996, three of the four Bolivian banks that had experienced difficulties in 1995 were recapitalized and restructured under new ownership with support from the Bolivian Government's Special Fund for Strengthening the Financial System (FONDESIF), which helped restore confidence in the banking system. In November 1996, the Bolivian Congress approved a comprehensive pension reform that replaces the old pay-asyou-go system by a system of privately managed, individually funded retirement accounts, and the new system began operations in May 1997.

Bolivia's trade with neighboring countries is growing, in part because of several regional preferential trade agreements it has negotiated. Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community and has free trade with other member countries--Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Bolivia began to implement an association agreement with MERCOSUR (Southern Cone Common Market) in March 1997. The agreement provides for the gradual creation of a free trade area covering at least 80% of the trade between the parties over a 10-year period. The U.S. Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) allows numerous Bolivian products to enter the United States free of duty on a unilateral basis. Tariffs have to be paid on clothing and leather products only.

The U.S. remains Bolivia's largest trading partner. In 1998, the U.S. exported $626 million of merchandise to Bolivia and imported $149 million, according to the World Trade Atlas of the Global Trade Information Service. Bolivia's major exports to the U.S. are tin, gold, jewelry, and wood products. Its major imports from the United States are computers, vehicles, wheat, and machinery.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 15% of Bolivia's GDP. The amount of land cultivated by modern farming techniques is increasing rapidly in the Santa Cruz area, where weather allows for two crops a year and soybeans are the major cash crop. The extraction of minerals and hydrocarbons accounts for another 10% of GDP. Bolivia exports natural gas to Brazil. Manufacturing represents less than 17% of GDP.

The Government of Bolivia remains heavily dependent on foreign assistance to finance development projects. Most payments to other governments have been rescheduled on several occasions since 1987 through the Paris Club mechanism. External creditors have been willing to do this because the Bolivian Government has generally achieved the monetary and fiscal targets set by IMF programs since 1987. Some countries have forgiven substantial amounts of Bolivia's bilateral debt.


Jet service to and from the U.S. is available daily. Flights to Guayaquil (Ecuador), Cali (Colombia), and Asunción (Paraguay) are also possible. LAN Chile, and LAB (Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano) also fly to and from Santiago (Chile). Lufthansa Airlines has two flights a week to and from Lima (Peru). LAB, the national airline, has frequent flights to other major cities in Bolivia as well as international flights to Arica (Chile), Asunción, Cuzco (Peru), Caracas (Venezuela), Panama, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Buenos Aires (Argentina), São Paulo (Brazil), Lima, and Miami. Argentine, Brazilian, and Paraguayan Airlines have flights to several Bolivian cities.

Train service is generally limited and slow. Trains run from La Paz to Antofagasta and Arica (Chile); and from La Paz to some interior cities and to Argentina. An interesting train trip is one between La Paz and Cochabamba. Many points in Bolivia can be reached only by car, truck, or bus over inferior roads, and many interesting and important areas are frequently inaccessible except by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Cars move on the right in Bolivia. La Paz has few stop signs, and automatic and hand-operated traffic lights are erratic. Uphill traffic has the right-of-way; car horns are sounded to signal right-of-way at intersections. Most Bolivian drivers use no lights or only parking lights for night driving. Defensive driving means adjusting to hazardous conditions. Streets in La Paz are steep, narrow, and often slippery, particularly during the rainy season. Outside the city, most roads are unpaved, can be dangerous, and are sometimes impassable during the rainy season.

Bus and taxi service is erratic at best. Small buses, or micros, operate to the suburbs. They seat about 21 persons, and carry as many standees as possible. The large littoral buses are cheaper, but seldom used by Americans because they are slow and overcrowded. Taxis must be hailed on the street (no call service) and can be identified by their orange license plates with a "T" prefix. Trufi taxis, following several set routes, operate from the suburbs to the city. These taxis are identified by flags on their bumpers. All taxis are collectives, so one usually must share a cab with others going in the same direction.


Telephone service within Bolivia is steadily improving, and direct-dialing between most major cities and between the U.S. and some major cities is possible. Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciónes (ENTEL) provides long-distance service to the U.S. A microwave system links La Paz, Oruro, Sucre, Potosí, Trinidad, Tarija, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz, with calls made through an operator, but service is good. Calls to other parts of the country are reached through the long-distance operator. Telegraphic service is available to all foreign points. International airmail between Bolivia and the United States takes between five and eight days, and surface mail six to eight weeks.

La Paz has 18 AM and nine FM radio stations which broadcast in Spanish and in two Indian languages. Music programs include Bolivian and Latin music, American popular music, and some classical selections. Some stations specialize in covering sports events; others emphasize news or cultural programs. All stations currently tie into the government news broadcasts. A shortwave radio is essential for receiving American or English stations. The quality of shortwave and FM reception varies with location and ionospheric conditions, but is generally adequate. Several Americans operate ham radios in La Paz with satisfactory results.

Eleven television stations currently broadcast in La Paz; seven are privately owned and the one is owned by the government. The other three broadcast in the UHF band. All programming is in Spanish. A private cable company also offers English-language programming for an installation fee and a monthly charge.

Six daily newspapers are printed in Spanish in La Paz. The better papers contain fair coverage of international news along with extensive local coverage. No English-language newspapers are published in La Paz but U.S. newspapers can occasionally be found. Except for the Latin American editions of Time and Newsweek, American magazines are outdated and expensive in La Paz.

Several bookstores carry English-language books and paperbacks at prices about double those in the U.S. Records are also available here, but prices are high. La Paz has a municipal public library, used only for research. The library at the Centro Boliviano Americano lends books and magazines including works in English. The La Paz Book Club maintains a lending library also.


The newcomer to Bolivia is sometimes apprehensive, often because of stories about serious altitude effects. Most of these stories are exaggerated. Altitude sickness symptoms are grouped under the term soroche and may include headaches, sleeplessness or sudden awakening, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, chest pains, and dizziness. For most people these symptoms, if present at all, gradually decrease or disappear after the first few days. Many of the symptoms are due to dehydration; therefore, sufficient fluids should be taken. Humidifiers and vaporizers are also helpful. Newcomers are advised to rest for three days after arrival, eat only light meals, and not drink alcoholic beverages or smoke cigarettes for the first week.

You should make sure you consult with you doctor before making the trip to Bolivia, particularly if you have one of the following illnesses or conditions: sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait, heart disease, lung disease, elevated cholesterol or blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma.

Respiratory infections such as colds, sinusitis, and bronchitis are relatively common. Colds are treated with rest, aspirin, and occasionally antihistamines. The most common complaint is nasal stuffiness and dryness, usually caused by the extreme dryness of the altitude rather than by allergies. Fungal skin infections are rare in dry climates. Severe sunburn and excessive skin dryness are the most troublesome skin disorders. Ultraviolet radiation is high; light-skinned persons should have no more than 15 minutes of direct or reflected exposure at one time. Some people report difficulty with contact lenses due to diminished atmospheric pressure and dry air; plenty of lubricating solution should be brought along.

Several good physicians and dentistsmany trained in the U.S.practice in La Paz. Hospitals and inpatient clinics, for the most part, are inadequate by U.S. standards. Travellers should carry a sufficient supply of medications, prescription and over-the-counter, along with first aid supplies.

Bolivia's sanitation procedures are poor, and sewage disposal is inefficient and inadequate. Purification of city water is not reliable, and few official inspection systems for water and food products exist. These conditions increase the incidence of intestinal disorders, especially during the December, January, and February rainy season. Flies transmit bacteria and amoebic cysts. Water for drinking, making ice cubes, brushing teeth, and rinsing vegetables must be filtered and then boiled for at least 20 minutes. For out-of-town trips, water should be treated with Globaline tablets.

Rabies exist here because many wild or loose dogs roam freely through the cities and countryside. Routing pre-exposure rabies vaccine is recommended. All animal bites and scratches should be reported immediately to a physician. Pets should be vaccinated against rabies, distemper, and parvo virus. Snakes and venomous insects are rare except in tropical areas.


Passage, Customs & Duties

Commercial travel from U.S. to La Paz is by air. Service to Bolivia is available from Washington, New York, Miami, Houston, and New Orleans. Direct flights to La Paz via Panama take 10 to 15 hours, depending on point of departure. Surface travel to other places in Latin America and then overland to landlocked Bolivia is possible, but complicated and time consuming.

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and depart Bolivia. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of one month or less (that period can be extended upon application to 90 days). Visitors for other purposes must obtain a visa in advance. U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Bolivia must obtain a new passport and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the Bolivian government immigration office in La Paz, Cochabamba, or Santa Cruz to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Bolivia. Travelers who have Bolivian citizenship or residency must pay an additional fee upon departure. For further information regarding entry, exit, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Consular Section of the Bolivian Embassy at 1819 H Street, N.W, Suite 240, Washington, DC 20006; telephone (202) 232-4827/ 4828; or the Bolivian consulate in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, or Seattle.

The Bolivian government has very strict laws concerning attempted theft or removal from Bolivia of any item that it considers to be a national treasure. The Bolivian and U.S. governments are currently completing renewal of a cultural property protection agreement. In addition to the traditional examples of pre-Colombian artifacts, certain historical paintings, items of Spanish colonial architecture and history, and some native textiles, the Bolivian government also considers certain flora, fauna, and fossils as national treasures. It is illegal to remove any such items from Bolivia without prior written permission from the appropriate Bolivian authority. Any type of fossil excavation, even picking up a fossil, without prior written authorization from the appropriate Bolivian authority, is also illegal. Violation of the law can result in lengthy jail sentences and fines. Please contact the Embassy of Bolivia in Washington, D.C. or one of Bolivia's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Bolivia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and obtain updated information on travel and security in Bolivia. The Consular Section is open for U.S. citizen services, including registration, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding U.S. and Bolivian holidays. The U.S. Embassy is located at 2780 Avenida Arce in La Paz; tel. (591-2) 2433-812 during business hours 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., or (591-2) 2430-251 for after-hours emergencies; fax (591-2) 2433-854; Internet: There are also U.S. consular agencies in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, which are open weekday mornings from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, excluding U.S. and Bolivian holidays. The Consular Agency in Santa Cruz is located at Calle Guemes 6, Barrio Equipetrol; tel. (591-3) 3363-842 or 3330-725; fax (591-3) 3325-544. The Consular Agency in Cochabamba is located at Avenida Oquendo 654, Torres Sofer, Room 601; tel. (591-4) 4256-714; fax (591-4) 4257-714.


Pets may be imported by presenting a valid certificate of vaccination against rabies certified by a Bolivian consul or other official. No quarantine is imposed. Pets obtained in Bolivia should be inoculated against distemper and rabies. Veterinarians will make house calls to provide these shots. Other medication for pets is difficult to obtain.

Firearms & Ammunition

The only firearms which may be imported are pistols, rifles, and shotguns (one each), and a total of 500 rounds of ammunition. All firearms must be registered with the police immediately.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

The time in Bolivia is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) minus four.

The unit of currency is the peso Boliviano ($b). Banking facilities are readily available in La Paz, where there are several branches of U.S. banks. Dollars in cash or travelers checks are widely acceptable and can be exchanged at favorable rates at most banks or cambio (exchange houses). They are accepted at hotels, restaurants, and stores at very favorable rates. American Express and Visa cards are accepted on a limited basis.

The metric system is used in local weights and measures, except in the markets, where pounds and kilos are both used.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Feb/Mar (Mon. & Tues. before Ash Wed Carnival*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

May 1 Bolivian Labor Day

June Corpus Christi*

July 16 La Paz Day (in La Paz only)

Aug. 6 Bolivian Independence Day

Nov. 2All Saints Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Blair, David Nelson. The Land and People of Bolivia. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1990.

Griffiths, John. Let's Visit Bolivia. Bridgeport CT: Burke Publishing, 1988.

Jacobsen, Karen. Bolivia. Chicago:Childrens Press, 1991.

Klein, Herbert S. Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lawlor, Eric. In Bolivia. New York:Vintage Books, 1989.

Morales, Waltraud Q. Bolivia: Land of Struggle. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992.

Morrison, Marion. Bolivia. Chicago:Childrens Press, 1988.

Odijk, Pamela. The Incas. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1990.

Rasnake, Roger Neil. Domination and Cultural Resistance: Authority and Power among an Andean People. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988.

Sachs, Jeffrey, and Juan A. Morales. Bolivia: Nineteen Fifty-Two to Nineteen Eighty-Six. San Francisco, CA: ICS Press, 1988.

Schimmel, Karen. Bolivia. New York: Chelsea House, 1990.

Swaney, Deanna. Bolivia: A Travel Survival Kit. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 1988.

Yeager, Gertrude M., comp. Bolivia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1988.

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Republic of Bolivia

República de Bolivia



Bolivia is a central South American country. It shares borders with Brazil in the northeast and east; Paraguay in the east and southeast; Argentina in the south; Chile in the west; and Peru in the west and northwest. Bolivia has an area of 1,098,580 square kilometers (424,162 square miles), of which 14,190 square kilometers (5,479 square miles) are water. Bolivia is just slightly less than 3 times the size of the U.S. state of Montana. Bolivia is divided into 3 distinct geographical areas: (1) the high mountains ( cordillera ) with its high plateau ( altiplano ), (2) the intermediate valleys (between the mountains and the lowlands), and (3) the eastern plains of the Amazon and Plate river system.


The population of Bolivia was estimated to be 8,280,000 in 2000. In 1950, it was 2.7 million. The annual population growth rate is 2.2 percent. One of the greatest changes has been the shift from rural to urban areas. It is estimated that currently 65 percent of the population reside in urban locations, and in some urban areas the growth rate has been close to 5 percent. The growth rate of the rural population between 1950 and 2000 has remained at about 1 percent, and in some areas there has been a steady population loss. The cities of La Paz-El Alto (twin cities) have over a million inhabitants: La Paz with 792,000 and El Alto with 405,000. The city of Santa Cruz has a population of 1,300,000, and Cochabamba has 408,000.

There has been a notable exodus of the high plateau ( altiplano ) and mountain ( cordillera ) population to the eastern lowlands. This movement was due mainly to the decline of the mining industry, the harsh climatic conditions, and the availability of land in the east. It is estimated that between 1975 and 1985 about 5,000 families migrated per year, totaling around 300,000 people. The integration of the newcomers of different ethnicity and language (Aymara and Quechua) has been relatively smooth and peaceful. The first generations of these migrants, who moved from an environment of frigid temperatures to a subtropical climate, have maintained their culture to a great extent. About 55 percent of the Bolivian population is composed of people of indigenous lifestyle (Quechua, 30 percent; Aymaras, 25 percent); there is a small number in the southeast who are Guaranís with their own language. (Guaraní is an official language in neighboring Paraguay.) Those of mixed race (Indian and European origin) comprise 30 percent of Bolivians. Those of European origin (mainly Spanish), plus some from the Near East who arrived between 1890 and 1920 and from the Far East (mainly Japan), make up another 15 percent. Percentages are inexact as people are identified by their ethnic lifestyle, dress, and primary language. There are several main Indian languages of which Quechua is the dominant, Aymara a close second, and Guaraní a distant third. Official languages are Spanish, along with Quechua, Aymara, and Guaraní in the regions where they are spoken. In 1992, 87 percent of all Bolivians could speak Spanish as compared to 78 percent in 1976. About 12 percent can speak only the indigenous languages, compared to 20 percent in 1976. There have been attempts to introduce bilingual education, especially in the rural areas. Financial constraints and the lack of qualified teachers are impediments to full implementation.


Since the early Spanish period and until recently, Bolivia was a mineral producing country. The silver extracted from the rich mountain of Potosí was a mainstay of Spain and her colonial empire. There is a saying that, if it were possible, a wide bridge made of pure silver could be constructed from Potosí to Madrid with all the silver that was mined from this fabulous Cerro Rico. Currently small quantities are still mined at Potosí. The famous mint, Casa de Moneda, in Potosí is a heritage site visited by many tourists. For most of the 20th century Bolivia was one of the largest world producers of tin and tungsten (known in Bolivia as wolfram).

During World War II, the allied nations depended on Bolivian tin since Malaya (today Malaysia), the other leading tin producer, was occupied by Japanese forces. In fact, Bolivia was, until recently, considered a country with a mono-economy (an economy based on a single activity), and it depended on the price fluctuations in the world market of the minerals that it produced. As of 2001, Bolivia has a more diversified economy. Exports of oil and natural gas are important components of Bolivia's exports. Agriculture has also emerged as a large sector and produces many exports, including agro-industrial products which are the fastest growing segment, especially soybeans. Growing conditions on the eastern plains are exceptionally good for soybeans. In 2000 Bolivia's exports rose by 20 percent because of greater production of soybeans and natural gas.

Tourism has consistently increased. Statistics from the Financial Times indicate that the country averaged about 250,000 tourists per year in the early 1990s, though Bolivian sources claim a much higher number. Production for 500,000 tourists to visit Bolivia every year which is quite realistic. The country has multiple attractions: traditional societies, fine handicrafts, a great variety of climates with majestic landscapes, preserved colonial sites, a wide diversity of animals and plants, many years of political and economic stability with a rather low crime rate, and reasonable prices. Bolivia has many attractions for eco-tourism . However, lack of a good infrastructure including poor ground transportation, the presence of illegal coca leaf cultivation (Bolivia often is falsely portrayed as a leading cocaine-producing country), and the high altitudes of western Bolivia (historically and culturally the most interesting part of the country) have impeded more rapid growth in tourism.

A slow but constant growth of the gross national product (GNP) and annual per capita income is encouraging. Yet unemployment in early 2001 was 8 percent, and involuntary underemployment was around 40 percent. Bolivia is one of the 22 countries that has been classified as a highly indebted poor country (HIPC) by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bolivia tries to cope with its illegal coca leaf production and the needs of its growing population. Coca leaf production has declined a great deal due to the present government's determined policy to eradicate all illegal plants. But in early 2000, there were still 2,300 hectares in production. While Bolivia is still relatively sparsely inhabited, the annual population growth remains 2.2 percent. This rate is among the highest of the South American countries and needs more attention. Improvement in basic education, reduction in poverty, underemployment, and the level of corruption are also priorities which concern the people and government of Bolivia. Vibrant and free media bring Bolivia's weaknesses and strengths to local, national, and international attention.

COCA. The coca leaf is the basic ingredient for producing cocaine. Several decades ago Bolivia was the largest producer of the coca plant, from which the leaves are harvested. In the 1970s when cocaine became a valuable product in the international drug culture, the coca leaf assumed an importance that it never had before. Bolivia became an important country for the illegal production of cocaine because it grew the basic ingredientthe leaf. Coca plants suddenly became an important element in the Bolivian economy and politics.

Historically, coca leaves were cultivated as early as the pre-Inca epochs. They were used with frequency, mainly by the Indian population, to help alleviate hunger and the effects of the frigid temperatures and the altitude. The leaves are legal, and in modern times are used to make coca tea which is thought to help altitude sickness and stomach ailments. But also in modern times the leaves can be converted into coca paste which is then made into cocaine. In general, Bolivia is not a cocaine-producing nation. The leaves are harvested and illegally sold to those who convert it into paste and then into cocaine outside of Bolivia (although some paste is now made in Bolivia). Since the demand for coca leaves increased rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, growing and selling more than was needed for traditional internal consumption became illegal. So coca leaf production was classified as "legal" (for the traditional use) and "in excess," avoiding the locally unpopular term, "illegal."

The cultivation and sale of the illegal crop became an undetermined but appreciable part of the Bolivian economy and exports. It is often claimed that in the 1980s coca leaf (and some paste) exports equaled or surpassed all legal exports, coming to at least 15 percent of Bolivia's real revenues. The Bolivian government estimates that coca-leaf production expanded from 1.63 million kilograms from 4,100 hectares in 1977 to 45 million kilograms from 48,000 hectares in 1987. The number of growers rose from 7,600 to about 40,000. Most of this took place in the central sub-tropical region of Chapare (the transitional area from the mountainous valleys to the eastern lowlands), which is well-suited for producing leaves of high aciditya characteristic that is desirable for making cocaine.

In 1988, a new law allocated 12,000 hectares in the Yungas region east of La Paz for the legal growth and harvesting of coca leaves for traditional use in Bolivia. Coca grown in the Yungas region lacks aciditya characteristic that is preferred for traditional uses. Incentives were provided with U.S. aid to convert the illegal farming, mainly in the Chapare, into productive crops such as bananas, pineapples, and hearts of palm. In 2000, Bolivia and the United States claimed that about 40,000 hectares of coca had been eradicated and the land converted into new crops since 1998 in the Chapare. The goal is to eliminate all illegal coca by 2002. In February 2001, the Bolivian government claimed that all "in excess" coca production had been eradicated, but the responsible Bolivian media claimed that 2,300 hectares of illegal coca plants still were in production in early 2001. The government also stipulated that the legal coca harvest in the Yungas can be bought only by 700 registered retailers. Currently, Bolivia has had commendable success in a noticeable reduction of illegal coca plants. However, protests by the growers of "in excess" coca, most of them modest farmers, continues.


Bolivia gained independence from Spain in 1825. It has had 61 presidents, 1 of them a woman, Lydia Gueiler Tejada (1979-80). Some held the office more than once, consequently making 79 governments. The shortest were a few days long, the longest 10 years. Only 37 presidents came to power by legal means; the others gained the presidency by revolution. Most of the revolutions were simple bloodless palace revolutions (coups d'etat). A few presidents who achieved power by revolution were later elected legally, including President Hugo Banzer, who was elected in 1997 for a 5-year term. He had been a military dictator from 1971 to 1978. Bolivia has had 18 constitutions; the last one from 1967 was extensively amended in 1994.

The significant revolution of 1952 which introduced great economic, political, and social reforms was engineered by the Movement of the National Revolution (MNR) Party. The MNR is still one of the dominant parties although it has splintered. One splinter is the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), which is far more moderate than its name implies. It held the presidency between 1989 and 1993, and then the MNR returned to power. In 1997, ex-dictator Hugo Banzer won the presidency as a candidate of the Democratic National Action (ADN) Party, which is considered right of center, forming a coalition with the left of center MIR and several smaller parties. In the forthcoming election of 2002 the MNR, MIR, and ADN are expected to present candidates, as will some other parties which have little hope of winning. These others can be defined as 6 leftist parties, 3 populist parties, 1 evangelical party, and 3 indigenous parties. The indigenous parties have been quite visible with colorful public demonstrations and displays but have little broad support.

Candidate, leader of the MNR party, and president (1993-97), Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was educated and lived in the United States. The MNR shifted its leftist and nationalist tendencies to a more centrist position that was devoted to privatization and globalism (gener-ally identified as neo-liberalism). This charge produced lively debates and intense political activities which have continued into the Banzer presidency. Banzer's coalition government has only fine-tuned the policies of his predecessor, with much emphasis on the eradication of illegal ("in excess") coca plants and the substitution of other crops that are useful for export. Former president Sánchez de Lozada is a leading candidate for the presidency in 2002. Another leading candidate is the MIR leader Jaime Paz Zamora who was president from 1989 to 1993.

The main source of government revenue is taxation. According to the IMF Bolivia report of 2000, the total revenues of Bolivia in 1998 represented 24.8 percent of its GDP, with tax revenues at 19.5 percent of the GDP. In 1998, indirect taxes constituted 47.4 percent of tax revenues, including the value-added tax (VAT) with 29 percent, excise taxes with 6.7 percent, and transaction taxes with 8.4 percent. Transaction taxes are often known as stamp taxes. Taxes from hydrocarbons provided 23.8 percent of total taxes, mining royalties only 0.04 percent, and customs duties 7 percent. Personal income and property taxes constituted 6.9 percent, and corporate income and property taxes were 0.1 percent.

Personal income tax is a flat 13 percent, but for everyone there is a basic deduction of 2 minimum salaries. (As of January 1998 the minimum salary was Bs300 per month.) The VAT tax paid for personal consumption is deductible from the income tax with proper receipts. There is a social security system which was reformed and partially privatized in 1997. Employees must contribute 12.5 percent of their salaries with a ceiling of 60 minimum salaries (computed as US$415 a month). There are no local income taxes and no joint filing for husband and wife.


Bolivia has a changing infrastructure. Communication has rapidly adapted to new technology, as exemplified by the continued rapid growth of cellular phone use. At the same time some of the traditional and still useed infrastructure has deteriorated, especially the fine railway system in western and central Bolivia whose construction

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Bolivia 55 675 116 N/A 27 N/A 7.5 0.47 78
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Brazil 40 444 316 16.3 47 3.1 30.1 18.45 3,500
Peru 84 273 144 14.1 30 N/A 18.1 3.09 400
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

started in 1877. In 1976 diesel engines replaced steam locomotives.

The 3,685-kilometer (2,290-mile) single track railroad, most of it narrow gauge, has 2 unconnected systems. The Western Network, built much earlier, connects La Paz with Cochabamba and the Chilean ports of Arica and Antofagasta. It also connects with Argentina. In bygone days a railroad journey from La Paz to Buenos Aires was popular and comfortable. The Eastern Network connects the city of Santa Cruz to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Another line goes from Santa Cruz to Argentina. Many attempts to connect the 2 systems with a link from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz have never succeeded. The same is true of the so-called "inter-oceanic corridor" that would go from the Brazilian Atlantic coast to the Chilean Pacific coast, passing through Bolivia. Currently most Bolivian railroads are in disrepair. In 1964 there were 103 locomotives, but only 34 in 1995. The Bolivian railway system was a state corporation known as ENFE. In 1991, a Japanese study estimated that upgrading the railway system would require US$46 billion over 30 years. Hopes to privatize and capitalize the system were only partially accomplished when in 1995 the Chilean consortium, Cruz Blanca, acquired 50 percent of ENFE. By 1999, Bolivia again had 55 operating locomotives with around 2,000 railway cars. The passenger load was 750,000 in 1992 and is still below 1 million per year. Freight also has declined sharply.

Currently most Bolivians travel by inter-city buses, called flotas. There are many private bus companies, large and small. Those who can afford it go between the principal cities by air, and if going on to a nearby small town use the flota. Until 1992, there was a single national airline owned by the state, Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (LAB), established in 1925 and one of the oldest airlines in the Americas. As with the railroads it was capitalized and privatized when 50 percent was acquired by the Brazilian airline company, VASP. The completely private company, Aerosur, competes with LAB for internal flights. The Bolivian armed forces operate Transportes Aereos Militares (TAM) which carries paying passengers. In 1999, LAB still had 65 percent of the customers. LAB also flies to the United States (Miami) and neighboring South American countries. About a dozen foreign airlines fly to the 3 Bolivian international airports, La Paz/El Alto, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz which have runways over 3,050 meters long. An Argentine airline flies to Tarija which is close to Argentina and Paraguay. The World Factbook claims that Bolivia has 1,382 airports, of which 1,016 have paved runways of under 915 meters. Many of these are little used.

Bolivia is an inland country but has free port privileges in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Chile, and river ports in Paraguay. There is some shipping on the large inland lake, Titicaca, which also carries many tourists between Bolivia and Peru. Navigation on the many large rivers that are part of the Amazon and Plate river systems is un-organized, underdeveloped, and uncounted but offers much potential with small, primitive river ports currently available. Navigation is possible on about 19,000 kilometers (11,806 miles) of the rivers.

Bolivia has about 43,000 kilometers (26,720 miles) of highways of which only 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) are paved. In recent years, Bolivia has made highway construction and maintenance a priority. Bolivia's electric power generating capacity is rated at 787 megawatts. Electricity consumption in 1998 was 2,412 billion kilowatt-hours. The state electric agency, ENDE, was also capitalized and privatized by 3 U.S. consortia in 1997. The state-owned long distance telephone company, ENTEL, was purchased in 1995 by an Italian firm. ENTEL has a monopoly until 2001. It is an active cellular phone provider, with service among the cheapest in Latin America. In 1998, there were 27 cellular phones per 1,000 inhabitants (in 1996, 18 per 1,000), and use is growing at an ever increasing rate. Local traditional phone calls are managed by local owner cooperatives but are state regulated. In the largest cities (La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz) 3 of these are responsible for 85 percent of all local calls. In 1987, Bolivia had 145,000 telephones, which grew to 370,000 in 1996. The use of computers is also accelerating. In 1998, there were 7.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. Televisions are 116 per 1,000 (about one-quarter are black and white) and radios 675 per 1,000. Bolivia has 18 significant newspapers. Currently it is reported that there are approximately 190 radio stations and 60 TV stations.

The privatization of the state-owned LAB, ENFE, ENDE, and ENTFL has created much controversy and is an important issue in present-day Bolivian politics.


Bolivia is a country known for its great contrasts, and that reputation also applies to the country's economy. An often cited remark attributed to an early traveler is that Bolivia is a "beggar sitting on a golden throne." There is a core of truth to this comment. Its fabulous riches have often served Bolivia badly. Since independence in 1825, Bolivia has lost close to 50 percent of its national territory, including its Pacific coast, to its neighbors who coveted the riches. But Bolivia is still rich in resources. In March 2001, the excellent newspaper La Razón of La Paz stated that Bolivia has recently been identified as the country with the largest petroleum deposits in South America. It reported that Bolivia has a possible 70 trillion cubic feet of reserves, surpassing those of Venezuela. Yet Bolivia is among the 2 dozen countries in the world that has been classified as a highly indebted poor country (HIPC) by the World Bank. Bolivia is one of 8 countries that is now receiving full HIPC assistance since it has fulfilled all the World Bank requirements for debt reduction aid.

Traditionally Bolivia's main economic sector was mining, and a decline in mining brought severe hardships aggravated by political instability, nationalist rhetoric, and a rapid increase in the cultivation of coca to serve as a basis for cocaine. In recent years, however, the economy has been diversified, led by increased agricultural production, especially in the fast developing eastern lowlands, with much of the output destined for export. Nearly all of the illegal coca production has been curtailed. Natural gas and oil are developing. For example, according to La Razón, exports of natural gas to Brazil increased by 170 percent from early 1999 to early 2001.

Reducing the high level of poverty is a priority of all economic and political sectors and is supported by ample foreign aid from many countries who welcomed Bolivia's economic prudence in the 1990s.


Agriculture remains an important sector of the total. In the 1990s, it represented about 16 percent of the Bolivian economy. Estimates showed a 3.5 percent decline in 1998 because of adverse weather conditions, but a 2.6 percent growth was predicted for 1999. Bad weather in 2000 and 2001, especially the worst rains in many decades, will have a serious impact. Agro-industrial products have the fastest growth of Bolivia's exports. The eastern Amazon plains are rich in nutrients that yield above average harvests, such as 2.5 to 3 metric tons per hectare for soybeans, compared to the usual 1.5 metric tons elsewhere. At the same time, the climate allows 2 harvests per year. Much of the soybean crop is processed into oil, flour, and animal feed. The annually increasing soybean and soy products output and their export represent a most promising element in the Bolivian economy.

Modern agro-industrial activity in the east stands in contrast to traditional small-scale and subsistence farming in the mountainous west, especially on the cold and windy high plateau ( altiplano ). There farming has been in crisis for decades. One positive element is the great increase of quinoa production. This traditional, nutritious grain is grown only at high altitudes and has been used for thousands of years by the local inhabitants. Production has grown an average 20 percent per annum in recent years, as quinoa has become popular as a health food in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 1992, over 2 million kilograms were exported. There also has been a much greater demand, stimulated by exports of sweaters and textiles, for alpaca wool. (The alpaca is a type of llama indigenous to the altiplano .) In 1994, exports of alpaca wool came to US$4 million, and they have been rising. Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador are the countries in which the potato originated and from which it was taken by the Spanish to Europe. With over 100 varieties, potatoes represent the most traditional crop of the subsistence farming in the western high mountains and the altiplano. Other agricultural products of Bolivia are coffee, cocoa, corn, sugarcane, rice, tropical fruits, temperate climate fruits from the transitional central valleys, especially Cochabamba, and a variety of timber. Legal coca must also be included. Coca leaves are used in coca tea (legal) which is used for medical purposes mainly against effects of the altitude and against diarrhea.



Until recently mining has been the mainstay of the Bolivian economy. In the 1940s, minerals constituted over 70 percent of Bolivia's exports, mainly tin and tungsten. During World War II, the Allied Powers depended on Bolivian tin.

In the past, Bolivia was considered a mono-economy, but minerals currently constitute a smaller part of Bolivia's exports, declining to below 40 percent and to less than one-third of Bolivia's foreign exchange. But recently mining regained a larger share because of increased extraction of gold and especially zinc. Zinc production in 1997 was 154,230 metric tons. Still, in 1997 mining represented only 5.5 percent of the GDP; that production consisted of zinc, gold, lead, tin, antimony, tungsten, silver, copper, cement, and ulexite (a white crystalline mineral). There are expectations of developing Bolivia's large iron reserves. El Mutun, a 40,000 metric ton deposit located close to the Brazilian border, is considered one of the largest in the world. About 80,000 Bolivians still depend on mining for their livelihood.

The 1952 Bolivian Revolution nationalized most of the mines, then owned mainly by 3 men usually identified as the Tin Magnates. A state mining agency, Corporacion Minera Boliviana (COMIBOL), was established and in the 1980s was responsible for two-thirds of Bolivia's mining output. In the late 1980s, Bolivia slowly began to capitalize on and privatize mining, and by the mid-1990s COMIBOL's share of mineral production had fallen to less than 30 percent. COMIBOL's bloated work-force, which had reached about 30,000 in 1984, was reduced to under 3,000. At the same time joint ventures between COMIBOL and private concerns came into existence. In 1997, COMIBOL produced 30.6 percent of the declining tin production and only 4.3 percent of the increasing zinc production; all other mineral production was by private enterprise.

Petroleum and natural gas are now important in the Bolivian economy, making up 5.6 percent of the GDP. The State Petroleum Corporation (YPFB) is no longer the largest producer, though, since the 1996 Hydrocabon Law permitted capitalization and privatization of YPFB as well as concessions to foreign companies, most of which are from the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. In 1998, petroleum production was 12,628,000 barrels of which the YPFB share was 7,110,000. Natural gas production in 1998 was 109,673 million cubic feet of which 99 percent was from private enterprise. Starting in 1999, the US$450 million, 488-kilometer (303-mile) gas pipeline permitted exports to Brazil. Bolivia's hydrocarbon production satisfies national demand, with roughly one-third available for export, mainly to Brazil and Argentina. According to official sources in Bolivia, the country hopes to become the natural gas distributor for the Southern Cone (southern nations of South America).


The principal manufactures have hardly changed in several decades. Growth is related to population growth, and from 1990 to 1996 the annual increase in manufacturing averaged 4.6 percent per year. Traditional woolens, weavings, leather goods, and jewelry generally grew more because of their greater popularity outside Bolivia and with tourists whose numbers to Bolivia also increased.

The manufacturing industry represents 16.8 percent of the GDP. In 1997, according to the Bolivian Statistical Institute, there were 1,725 manufacturing enterprises with at least 5 workers, altogether employing 52,000 people. This number represents 15 percent of the Bolivian labor force . The 330 manufacturers that had over 50 employees accounted for 36,000 workers. In 1997, total industrial output was valued at US$1.03 billion. Manufacturing sectors include food and beverages and tobacco; textiles, clothing, leather and footwear; wood products and furniture; printing and publishing; industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals; and plastic, glass, and rubber products. Most of the manufacturing industries are located in the cities, especially in La Paz/El Alto, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. Except for traditional jewelry, leather, and woolen goods, the manufactured goods are mostly for internal consumption.



Bolivia is a popular destination for tourists who are motivated and somewhat hardy. Tourism is a growth industry because of the country's many attractions. There are traditional cultures; antiquity sites; preserved colonial villages, towns and cities; diverse climates with majestic scenery; a variety of flora and fauna with good fishing in the rivers and lakes; availability of exquisite textiles and jewelry; sports like trekking, mountain climbing to over 6,000-meter peaks, skiing, and rafting; and camping in rather undeveloped but unforgettable national parks. Bolivia is ideal for eco-tourism. The country has, at 6,000 meters, the highest ski slope (Chacaltaya) in the world near La Paz. Among the popular tourist spots are the pre-Inca ruins of Tihuanaco, Lake Titicaca, the still preserved colonial cities of Potosí and Sucre, and the colonial Jesuit missions in the eastern lowlands. Then there is La Paz, the highest capital city of the world; Cochabamba, often called the "city of eternal spring"and dynamic Santa Cruz, the large urban center of the eastern lowlands. Numerous local fiestas draw many visitors, the best known being La Diablada in Oruro during carnival week. New attractions for some tourists are the locations where the celebrated 20th-century Marxist leader Che Guevarra was captured and mortally wounded, and the stark village of San Vicente on the windy altiplano where in 1908 the romanticized U.S. outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, were ambushed and killed.

In 1997, 375,000 tourists visited Bolivia. Of these 60 percent came from the Americas, 35 percent from Europe, 4 percent from Asia, and 1 percent from Africa. Income from tourism in 1997 was US$180 million. Bolivia would like to boost this to US$1 billion by 2005. The government is actively promoting tourism and encouraging tourists to stay longer and also make it a prime destination. Most tourists spend only a few days in the country, combining their visit with longer stays in the neighboring countries.


By mid-1995, Bolivia's Superintendency of Banks reported 58 financial institutions. In 1995, banking assets totaled US$4 billion, representing a growth of 11 percent from the previous year. In 2000, the assets came close to US$5 billion. The Superintendency had licensed 17 banks and 13 savings and loan institutions. Later 2 banks, Banco Sur and Banco Cochabamba, went into receivership, and 2 banks, Multibanco and Banco La Paz, were absorbed by Citibank and Banco de Crato, respectively.

These events highlighted the importance of the Superintendency of Banks, a government agency created in 1993. The Superintendency is in charge of the licensed SBEF (Bolivian Banking and Financial Institutions) which includes licensed banks, savings and loan institutions, credit unions, and small financial service institutions. Of the licensed banks 6 are responsible for 71 percent of all transactions (Banco de Santa Cruz, Banco Industrial, Banco Hipotecario Nacional, Banco Nacional de Bolivia, Banco Mercantil, and Banco Boliviano Americano). The director of the Superintendency is appointed by the president of the Republic from nominees presented by the National Senate, who must choose them with at least a two-thirds vote. The person selected by the president must then have the approval of the lower house of the Congress. The director is appointed for 6 years. A new director was selected and appointed in March 2001. The Banco Central, the national bank, is in charge of issuing and controlling the Bolivian national currency and is not under the control of the Superintendency of Banks.


Bolivia, like most nonindustrial nations, has not developed the retail sector. Its larger cities have many retail stores, most of them family owned. There are hardly any chain or international franchise stores. Small towns have basic stores that are privately owned. Bolivia is a country of small traders and street vendors. The town markets are most important and draw numerous vendors, traders, and hawkers . These shopping areas are well regulated by the municipalities. Nearly all of them have stalls selling prepared food, which are popular with moderate and low income inhabitants. Probably the largest market is La Cancha in Cochabamba, with a few thousand independent traders and all kinds of wares. It has become a popular place for tourists. While it remains impossible to calculate the total business transactions of these individual entrepreneurs, they are an important and dynamic part of the Bolivian economy.


In 1998, Bolivia's exports were valued at US$1.103 billion and imports totaled US$1.983 billion. (The CIA World Factbook indicates 2000 trade figures of US$1.26 billion in exports and US$1.86 billion in imports.) Chief trading partners for exports were the European Union (16 percent), the United States (12 percent), Peru (11 percent), Argentina (10 percent), and Colombia (7 percent). Imports were from the United States (32 percent), Japan (24 percent), Brazil (15 percent), Argentina (11 percent), Peru (4 percent), and Germany (3 percent). The Central Bank of Bolivia reports that the United States is the largest trading partner when both exports and imports are considered.

Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community (along with Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru) that is supposedly free of trade barriers. Since 1994, Bolivia has had a free trade agreement with Mexico. The EU, Japan, and the United States all permit Bolivian exports to enter their market free or at reduced rates. Bolivia

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Bolivia
Exports Imports
1975 .444 .558
1980 .942 .665
1985 .623 .691
1990 .926 .687
1995 1.101 1.424
1998 1.103 1.983
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

ratified membership in GATT in 1990 and in 1995 in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Bolivia is an associate member of MERCOSUR, which gives it trade benefits with the 11 members of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI). By 2007, 95 percent of the trade with MERCOSUR will be tariff free. Bolivia is also a signatory to the Amazonic Cooperation River Basin Treaty. Bolivia has 9 Free Trade Zones (FTZ) fully operating. The most important are El Alto (serving La Paz), Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Desaguadero on the border with Peru, and the dynamic Puerto Aguiffe on the Brazilian border.


The Bolivian currency has had severe fluctuations as a consequence of the Chaco War (1932-35); the 1952 revolution with its drastic economic, political, and social reforms; and the collapse of much of the mining industry, especially tin extraction and export. In 1975, the boliviano was devalued by 66 percent (US$1=Bs20.40). In 1979, there was a further 25 percent devaluation . By 1982, the Bolivian currency had totally collapsed, and until 1985 Bolivia suffered hyperinflation, one of the worst cases in recent world history. Inflation reached 23,000 percent with US$1 traded at Bs1,055,000. In 1985, strong economic measures were undertaken to reconstruct the Bolivian economy and its currency. Currently it is one of the most stable currencies in Latin America, with a free floating exchange rate and pegged to the U.S. dollar. Inflation has declined from 13 percent to 3 percent in 1999. In March 2001, US$1=Bs6.48. (In 1995, it was Bs4.86.) The U.S. dollar circulates freely and is generally accepted as payment, mainly in urban areas.

Bolivia has about 18 private banks, some with links to foreign banks such as Citibank. The Banco Central (Central Bank), established in 1929 but with roots going back to 1871, is a semi-independent government agency. Its mandate is to implement the Bolivian government's fiscal and monetary policies , including issuing the currency. Its governing board is nominated by the president of the Republic, and it needs the approval of two-thirds

Exchange rates: Bolivia
bolivianos per US$1
Jan 2001 6.4071
2000 6.1835
1999 5.8124
1998 5.5101
1997 5.2543
1996 5.0746
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

of the elected representatives of the lower chamber. Terms are staggered, and the term of the president of bank cannot coincide with the term of the president of the Republic. The Banco Central and some private banks have recently received praise from international agencies for their stability and fiscal soundness.

There is a small Bolivian Stock Exchange which was started in 1989, but there is no published index of stock prices. In 1989, the exchange's transactions came to Bs4.3 billion but only to Bs3.9 billion in 1999. The exchange deals mostly with fixed-income securities. It is expected that the stock exchange will grow and become more important and visible.


Bolivia is considered a poor country with the lowest GDP per capita among the Latin countries of South America (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana are lower). At the same time, Bolivia's exact ranking depends on the varied use and interpretations of the statistical information by different organizations and media. While the excellent Financial Times survey of Bolivia of 1994 places it as the second poorest country in the hemisphere (after Haiti), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ranks Bolivia in 2000 as the fifth poorest. Yet there has been improvement. In 1993, the per capita income was given as US$856 and is currently cited as just over US$1,000. Bolivia is one of the 22 countries that have qualified for debt relief by the World Bank in its HIPC (highly indebted poor countries) program. At the same time, the Human Development Report 2000 has Bolivia in the category of Medium Human Development (as are Ecuador, Peru, and Paraguaythe last 2 share a border with Bolivia) and not in the Low category such as Haiti and many African nations. Bolivia's neighbors, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, are in the High rank.

In 1998, Bolivia signed a 3-year ESAF (enhanced structural adjustment funding), now called poverty reduction growth facility (PRGF), agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Bolivia was able to comply with

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Bolivia 1,010 1,016 835 836 964
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Brazil 3,464 4,253 4,039 4,078 4,509
Peru 2,835 2,777 2,452 2,012 2,611
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage
Share: Bolivia
Lowest 10% 2.3
Lowest 20% 5.6
Second 20% 9.7
Third 20% 14.5
Fourth 20% 22.0
Highest 20% 48.2
Highest 10% 31.7
Survey year: 1990
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
d SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

the World Bank criteria and those of PRGF, which made it eligible for "enhanced" HIPC aid. The Bolivian media reported in February 2001 that Bolivia and 8 other countries of the 41 countries classified as poor with a high indebtedness reached all the required steps for the enhanced program. Bolivia's debt will be reduced by 45 percent.

Bolivia's Ministry of Finance shows evidence of improvement with a decrease in the poverty rate from 85.5 percent in 1976 to 70.2 percent in 1992. The World Bank reported for 1999 that Bolivia had a 67 percent overall rate of poverty, which was 81 percent in the rural areas. In 2000, USAID reported that 94 percent of Bolivians who live in rural areas live below the poverty level, and of these 88 percent are considered indigenous people. Poverty remains a leading cause for the high infant (67 per 1,000) and maternal (3.9 per 1,000) mortality rates. Poverty in the rural areas, with 65 percent involuntary underemployment, is the single main cause for migration to the urban areas.

Bolivia can appear to the visitor as a rather prosperous country compared to many other poor countries, mostly because it has enjoyed a stable economy and political system since the mid-1980s, a tolerable crime rate, and an expanding middle class. In 1991, 20 percent of the workforce received 54 percent of all income, and 50 percent received only 17 percent. To this must be added that Bolivia still has low population density of 7.9 persons per square kilometer (20 per square mile) of land suited for agriculture.

Bolivia is favored with much foreign aid because of its qualification for enhanced HIPC, its coca plant eradication and crop substitution policies, and its economic and political stability. In 1997, U.S. aid funding came to US$163 million, Japan US$65 million, Netherlands US$60 million, Germany US$47.5 million, and Sweden US$20 million. Multilateral donations came to US$264.2 million. The IMF reported that in 1998 total foreign aid was Bs598 billion. The Paris Consultative Group of 26 donor countries pledged a 44 percent increase in 1998 to support Bolivia's socio-economic reforms and investment programs. Therefore, Bolivia has, and will in the future, depend heavily on foreign aid if it continues a policy that encompasses globalization (identified by those opposed as neo-liberalism).


The Bolivian labor force is variously estimated at 2.5 million to 3.4 million. Reliable, exact data are not available, mainly because agricultural workers are uncounted. In addition, increasing numbers of the workforce rely on self-employment. Labor participation in 1997 from the available workforce was 82.3 percent male and 59.8 percent female, giving an overall 70.7 percent. Unemployment runs close to 40 percent. At the same time, hunger and homelessness are hardly present. Extended family ties and intra-family support are strong and traditional. Out-migration of unskilled workers to neighboring countries, especially Argentina, is estimated at 30,000 per year. There is a minimum wage (often not complied with) of about US$45 per month as of March 2001.

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Bolivia 37 6 11 9 14 5 20
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Brazil 22 13 18 15 34 4 -6
Peru 26 7 17 13 5 7 25
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

58 Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies

Labor unions in Bolivia are a significant political and economic force. But the number of members, past and present, is in dispute. There are 2 unions, the Confederation of Bolivian Workers (COB), which has a monopoly of the urban workers, and the Confederation of the United Workers of Bolivian Peasants (CSUTCB), which represents all rural workers. Both COB and CSUTCB have their roots in the social and political struggle of the 1940s which culminated in the revolution of 1952. For decades, both of these unions were an integral part of the government and claimed co-responsibility for the 1952 revolution that introduced radical political, economic, and social changes. However, in the 1980s, the unions became less influential and their membership declined. A reliable source estimated that COB membership in 1992 was between 150,000 and 200,000. COB and CSUTCB are ideologically orientedanti-free market and strongly opposed to privatization and capitalization, to the World Bank and IMF and their programs and loans to Bolivia, and to foreign ownership or co-ownership of means of production. COB still can mount frequent strikes, stoppages, and demonstrations as leverage.

CSUTCB's roots also go back to the 1940s with the struggle for indigenous rights which included universal voting rights, significant agrarian reform including the breakup of the large private farms, and the abolition of peonage (a system which forces debtors into the service of their creditors), all of which were achieved in 1952. In the 1980s, CSUTCB too lost government affiliation and support which has never been regained. The exodus of many rural highlanders to the eastern lowlands weakened the group's power base in the western highlands and central valleys. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, the CSUTCB regained strength because of the policies of the government, pressured by the United States, to destroy the illegal coca farms with crop substitution, which nearly all of the growers (with mostly small farms and plots) strongly opposed. One union leader was elected by the coca growers to the Bolivian legislature. Like the COB, the CSUTCB opposes privatization which is often with foreign funding, presence, and pressures (identified as neo-liberal policies of the government).

A power struggle between various leaders of the supposedly united rural federation has lately been intense, primarily because regional differences undermine a unified front. For example, the coca issue is predominant in the central valleys, especially in the Chapare (Department of Cochabamba), where the farmers of coca have gained some modest economic affluence. Yet, the coca problem is not too meaningful to the rural inhabitants of the mountains and highlands ( altiplano and cordillera ) of western Bolivia, where poverty is the main issue. This region has also experienced a resurgence in ethnic pride and identity, including a nostalgic look back to the pre-colonial days of the great Inca Empire. There are current claims that the great gains of the 1952 revolution were too little or are being reversed by the "neo-liberal" policies of the IMF, World Bank, the United States, and the EU. These rural leaders, even more than the COB, have often been disruptive by organizing marches, blockades, demonstrations, sit-ins, and hunger strikes, but so far they have failed to change the government policies.

The COB and CSUTCB and their leaders use modern technologies such as cellular phones and web sites to present their case to the Bolivian people and the international community. All indications are that they will actively participate in the 2002 general elections. As working conditions have improved slowly over the years the unions have failed to gain more support. Average personal income in 2000 reached US$1,300 a year, up from somewhat less than US$1,000 in the 1980s.


PRE-15TH CENTURY. The country now known as Bolivia is inhabited by the Tihuanaco, Aymara, and Kolla civilizations (rich in archaeological remains).

MID-15TH CENTURY. Most of modern Bolivia becomes part of the Inca Empire, mainly during the rule of Inca Pachacuti (1438-71), who imposes the Inca economic system and the Quechua language. Administratively this southern region of the Inca Empire is called Kollasuyo.

1538. The Spanish establish the city of Chuquisaca (now called Sucre). This part of the Spanish Empire is known as Charcas or Upper Peru.

1545. The rich silver deposits of the hill of Potosí are located and the great age of silver begins. The royal city of Potosí becomes one of the largest and richest in the Spanish Empire.

1809. The War of Independence in Spanish America starts in the city of Chuquisaca.

1825. The independence of Upper Peru/Charcas is declared on August 6. The new nation is called Bolivia in honor of Simon Bolivar.

1828-48. Attempts to unify Peru and Bolivia fail.

1847-64. The age of quinoa, a nutritious grain indigenous to high altitudes, provides a large income to the Bolivian treasury.

1864-80. The discovery of rich deposits on the Bolivian Pacific coast (in the Atacama Desert) produces the age of guano and saltpeter.

1867. Bolivia is forced to sign an unfavorable treaty with Brazil, ceding 300,000 square kilometers (115,830 square miles) that had provided easy access to the Amazon and Plate river systems.

1879-80. In the War of the Pacific Bolivia, allied with Peru, Bolivia defends its ownership of the guano and saltpeter deposits. Chile captures the entire Bolivian coast and converts Bolivia into a landlocked nation.

1889. Rubber extraction begins in the tropical northeast of Bolivia, bringing Bolivia again into conflict with Brazil.

1898. A short civil war is fought mainly over the issue of moving the capital to the more dynamic and rapidly growing city of La Paz. The opposition party that supported La Paz is victorious but the constitution is not changed to make La Paz the constitutional capital.

1899. La Paz becomes the seat of the government although the Supreme Court remains in Sucre.

1903. Bolivia is forced to cede the rubber-rich Acre region to Brazil.

1932-35. The large-scale Chaco War with Paraguay erupts over disputed ownership of the Chaco region of southeast Bolivia, with its rich oil deposits. Paraguay gains most of the Chaco but the greatest oil reserves remain with Bolivia. By 1935, Bolivia has lost 49 percent of its 1825 territory to its bordering neighbors through war or forced treaties.

1942-45. During World War II, Bolivia becomes one of the main suppliers of needed minerals, such as tin, to the allied nations.

1952. The Movement of the National Revolution (MNR) gains power by a revolution and undertakes drastic reforms: universal suffrage, nationalization of the tin mines, significant agrarian reform, abolition of peonage, and creation of a new Bolivian military.

1969. The Andean Pact which includes Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela is established.

1981. Bolivia starts its longest period of peaceful democratic elections and government.

1996. Bolivia becomes an associate member of the regional Southern South American Economic Zone called MERCOSUR.

1997. The Andean Pact becomes operative with a permanent Andean Community secretariat in Lima, Peru.

2001. President Hugo Banzer resigns for health reasons. Vice President Jorge Quiroga becomes Bolivia's 63rd president.


Since the mid-1980s, Bolivia has had political and economic stability, with fiscal prudence beyond most South American countries. Annual economic growth during the 1990s averaged about 4 percent and is expected to continue. Still, from 1999 to 2000 the economy slowed for various reasons, including a decline in international prices for some of Bolivia's exports. International financial organizations also believe that exports will grow to nearly US$1.5 billion in the next few years, which would be a 20 percent increase. This prediction is based on expected greater exports of natural gas to Brazil and increased cultivation of soybeans.

Bolivia is strongly committed to reducing the high poverty level, which requires more funding for basic education, especially in the rural areas. The goal is to reduce poverty by 40 percent by 2015. Secondary and university educations must be more attuned to modern technologies. The unmeasured migration of skilled professionals to industrial countries, such as the United States, Canada, and EU members, needs to be reduced by providing more opportunities and better salaries. For the general election in 2002, few anticipate any meaningful disturbances and most predict a smooth transition. The energetic freedom of the media is expected to continue. Opposition from labor and certain business sections to the fiscal reforms necessary for HIPC debt relief as well as other structural changes will continue. The restlessness of the illegal coca leaf growers and their opposition to the destruction of their crop and to crop substitution is not expected to end and will likely produce limited, sporadic violence. The same can be said of the indigenous groups, especially in the highlands, in their demands for more cultural rights and awareness. The significant radical changes of the 1952 revolution as well as the more conservative economic reforms since the 1980s all have borne fruit. Currently, Bolivia is far more peaceful and stable at the present than the 2 other Andean nations, Peru and Ecuador, which also have a considerable indigenous population.


Bolivia has no territories or colonies.


Arnade, Charles. Bolivian History. Cochabamba: Los Amigos del Libro, 1984.

"Bolivia: Inequality and Poverty: A Macrovision." Social Watch. <>. Accessed March 2001.

"Bolivia: Interim Poverty Report Reduction Strategy Paper, January 13, 2000." International Monetary Fund. <>. Accessed February 2001.

"Country Assistance Strategy: Bolivia, 1998." World Bank Group. <>. Accessed March 2001.

Crabtree, John, and Laurence Whitehead, editors. Towards Democratic Viability: The Bolivian Experience. Palgrave Press in association with St. Antony's College: Oxford, 2001.

"Financial Times Survey: Bolivia." Financial Times. 9 November 1994.

Guzman, Augusto. Historia de Bolivia. 8th edition. Cochabamba: Los Amigos del Libro, 1998.

IMF. Bolivia: Statistical Annex. IMF Staff Country Report No. 00138. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund, March 2000.

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La Razón. <>. Accessed February 2001.

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Lehman, Kenneth D. Bolivia and the United States. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

MacLean Stearman, Allyn. Camba and Kolla: Migration and Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Gainesville: University of Florida Presses, 1985.

Morales, Waltraud. Bolivia, Land of Struggle. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.

Muller, Karin. Along the Inca Road. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, Adventure Press, 2000.

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Charles W. Arnade


Constitutional capital: Sucre. Actual capital: La Paz. (The Supreme Court of Bolivia is permanently located in Sucre.)


Boliviano (Bs). One boliviano equals 100 cents. There are coins of 10, 20, and 50 cents and Bs1 and 2. (A Bs5 coin is scheduled to be put into circulation sometime in 2001.) Paper bills are for Bs5, 10, 20, 100 and 200.


Tin, antimony, lead, zinc, gold, petroleum, natural gas, soybeans, sugar, coffee, quinoa, rice, vegetable oils, timber, native jewelry, alpaca wool.


Consumer goods, foodstuffs, and agricultural, industrial, and transportation equipment.


US$8.5 billion (1998; Bs47.2 billion, according to the Bolivia report from the IMF). [The CIA World Factbook 2001 indicates a GDP of US$20.9 billion in 2000, determined at purchasing power parity. The CIA figures are disputed in Bolivia.]


Exports: US$1.104 billion (1998); US$1.018 billion (1999 estimated); US$1.459 billion (2000) (according to the National Institute of Statistics of Bolivia). Imports: US$1.766 billion (1998); US$1.436 billion (1999 estimated); US$1.976 billion (2000) (according to the National Institute of Statistics of Bolivia). [The CIA World Factbook 2001 indicates exports of US$1.26 billion (f.o.b, 2000) and imports of US$1.86 billion (f.o.b., 2000). The CIA figures are disputed in Bolivia.]

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Bolivia
Region (Map name): South America
Population: 8,300,463
Language(s): Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara (official)
Literacy rate: 83.1%
Area: 1,098,580 sq. km
GDP: 8,281 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 48
Number of Television Sets: 900,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 108.4
Number of Cable Subscribers: 79,680
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 9.6
Number of Radio Stations: 321
Number of Radio Receivers: 5,250,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 632.5
Number of Individuals with Computers: 140,000
Computers per 1,000: 16.9
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 120,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 14.5

Background & General Characteristics

The only landlocked Andean country of South America, La República de Bolivia (The Republic of Bolivia) is bordered by Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay. The country's population is approximately 8 million, about 40 percent of which live in rural areas. Bolivia has the unique claim to having two national capitals, La Paz (the seat of government) and Sucre (the seat of the judiciary). Other major cities include Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and El Alto. The country is 425,000 square miles, about twice the size of Texas.

The people of Bolivia suffer from various economic and social problems. Two-thirds of the population live in poverty, one of the biggest issues facing the Bolivian government. The country's literacy rate is about 83 percent, one of the lowest in South America. There are three official languages in Bolivia: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara; about half of the population speaks Spanish as their first language. There is a huge wealth gap within the population, especially between wealthy city residents and poorer urban farmers and miners. Approximately 55 percent of the people are of indigenous descent (Quechua, Aymara, or Guarani), 30 percent are mestizo (mixed European-indigenous heritage), and 15 percent are white. The predominant religion is Catholic (95 percent), followed by various Protestant and non-Christian religions.

Like most of its neighbors, Bolivia's journalistic tradition began as an extension of Spanish colonial culture and rule. After it gained independence from Spain in 1825, Bolivia's newspapers continued to be official state publications of the new country. One of these newspapers was La Gaceta de Gobierno (The Government Gazette ), established in 1841. Various political factors created and controlled other politically oriented newspapers throughout the 1800s, a characteristic known as caudillismo.

Today, Bolivia boasts 18 daily newspapers, most of which are published in La Paz, where the combined daily circulation is approximately 50,000 copies. Among the most distributed newspapers are El Diario, La Razon, andEl Deber (The Daily, The Reason, and The Duty, respectively). The country's overall circulation is not very high, averaging about 55 readers per 1,000 people. There are several reasons for the relatively low circulation, including distribution and infrastructure problems, a high poverty rate, and the high illiteracy rate.

The volatile political nature of Bolivia has made the journalism profession often dangerous, especially for reporters. Numerous incidents over the last few years have resulted in harm to various media professionals. In 2000 staff at La Presencia a daily newspaper in La Paz received death threats and a bomb scare after the paper investigated a major drug trafficking story in the country. A year later in 2001, reporter Juan Carlos Encinas was killed while covering a conflict between two companies fighting over a limestone cooperative. Then in 2002, journalists were placed at danger while covering protests after the government closed a coca place. Other similar events, some of which have involved the Bolivian military, have also been recorded.

Despite these dangers, the Bolivian media is responsive to its obligations to its readers. Different newspapers have participated in projects highlighting civic responsibility and freedom of information. In 1998, El Nuevo Dia (The New Day ) published a two-page questionnaire, "Discover if you are part of the problem," which was intended to make people think about their social responsibility to fight corruption. This undertaking was part of a larger project to promote democracy in Bolivia.

Economic Framework

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. Recovering from severe recession in the 1980s, it enjoyed moderate growth in the 1990s, until the economy slowed down after the Asian financial crisis in 1999. Periods of hyperinflation over the last two decadeswhich peaked at 24,000 percentcaused a generally unfavorable economic environment for the struggling media in the country and also created civil unrest, which exacerbated already-difficult working conditions for journalists. Foreign investment and the privatization of several key Bolivian companies resulted in investment capital for infrastructure improvements in the mid and late 1990s, but the only aspect of communication to benefit directly was the telecommunications industry (telephone and Internet). The primary business sectors in Bolivia are energy, agriculture, and minerals. Many of these resources, especially mining, have not been developed to their full potential.

The success of media in Bolivia is dependent not only on the general state of the economy itself, but also upon its relationships with political and private entities. Generally, media that are most visibly pro-government receive more business than those media who are openly critical. Media that criticize the government rely on small, often limited, private funding, a condition that promotes self-censorship. The La Paz newspaper, El Pulso (The Pulse ), which is noted for its sometimes unfavorable reporting of political events, is owned mostly by journalists. Reporters may also find writing about corruption in the corporate sector difficult because of the close ties between media owners and businesses.

Press Laws

Historically, Bolivia has maintained laws designed to protect the rights of individuals, companies, and the media. One of the first pieces of legislation of this type was the Print Law of 1925, which guaranteed the confidentiality and legal protection of sources. In 2000, a legislative proposal to repeal this law was introduced, but was withdrawn following a march on the national capital by Bolivian journalists, who are called periodisticas. Periodisticas, like all Bolivian citizens, are guaranteed freedom of speech under Article 7 of the Constitution Politica del Estate de 1967 (Constitution of the States). Yet many legal parameters exist for journalists, such as the Electoral Code Reform Law of 2001, which gives the National Electoral Court the legal right to suspend media who do not follow carefully constructed rules for political advertising. Periodisticas can also invite sanctions from the government for reporting that is slanderous or too critical.

One of the biggest areas of Bolivian press law is related to defamation. Defamation is almost always treated as a civil violation; although, if it is directed at a public official, may carry criminal penalties. The Telecommunications Law of 1995 sets forth mandates requiring infringers to pay damages, and another law provides for 40-member juries (some members of which may actually be journalists) in each municipality to hear cases of defamation and award civil damages. A 1997 amendment to the Penal Code also strengthened copyright laws, making infringement a public crime, allowing police enforcement if necessary. Consequently, Bolivian journalists tend to exercise extreme self-regulation and caution when covering government corruption and politically sensitive topics.

According to Bolivian law, all journalists must have a university degree in journalism and register with the National Registry of Journalists in order to exercise their profession inside the country. Some exceptions can be made through official channels of the Ministry of Education for experienced journalists who lack an academic degree. People who call themselves journalists without complying with these legal requirements are sanctioned and can be criminally prosecuted. These laws are considered a violation of human rights by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights but are still in effect, although not necessarily enforced.


The press in Bolivia plays an especially important civic role, serving as a primary means of challenging governmental corruption. Like many other South American countries, a free political process is still a relatively new concept; many countries in South America, including Bolivia, did not replace dictatorships with full-scale democracies until the middle part of the twentieth century. Thus, authoritarian traditions and attitudes are still widespread within these societies and still may impede the complete liberties of periodisticas.

There is currently concern in Bolivia that the press does not enjoy complete freedom to investigate and report on politically sensitive issues such as government and corporate corruption. Although the Bolivian constitution guarantees free speech to all citizens, under the existing Penal Code, journalistsor any citizen, for that matterwho defame or insult public officials can be jailed. Greater sentences can even be imposed if the de-famed official is high-ranking, such as the president or a cabinet minister. Even implied defamation can carry consequences. For example, a special tribunal was called in La Paz in 1999 after the magazine Informe R published a photo of then-President Banzer with Augusto Pinochet, former authoritarian leader of Chile.

Other examples of censorship exist in recent Bolivian history. In 2000, after protests over a proposed water rate hike, the military took control of three radio stations in an effort to control coverage of the event. Also during that year, Ronald Mendéz was initially jailed on criminal defamation charges after he reported on alleged embezzlement by officials at a local water company. He was cleared before serving his sentence, however.

In 2001, senator and former government minister Walter Guiteras resigned office after being accused of intimidating media to suppress coverage of his alleged assault on his wife and for presumably bribing police officers to cover the incident. In a protest march from Cochabamba to La Paz, journalists were assaulted by police, and later that year Bolivian security forces allegedly fired at reporters in Chaparé. However, the journalists in both cases were present in conflict zones, and there was no evidence that the journalists themselves were the actual targets of police force.

State-Press Relations

The relationship between the Bolivian government and the press is tense. These tensions exist for a number of reasons, including the past violence as previously described, conflicting free expression laws in the Criminal Code, the country's stressful economic conditions, and more recent legislation controlling the media's coverage of political campaigns. Moreover, the Bolivian government reserves the right to withhold information about any topic, including those issues of public interest, which further restrains the press.

Attitude Toward Foreign Media

All media activity in Bolivia is subject to the rules of the Ministry of Government Information. Many foreign press organizations have bureaus in Bolivia, including the U.S.-based Associated Press. Most major developments in Bolivia are covered by a host of international journalists from organizations such as CNN and the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foreign journalists must be accredited through the Ministry of Education in order to work in the country.

Bolivia cooperates with the Comisíon Interamerica de Telecomunicaciónes (Inter-American Telecommunication Commission), an entity of the Organization of American States, which coordinates and develops telecommunications among governments and private sectors of countries throughout the western hemisphere. The country also participates in exchanges and fellowships with media professionals from other countries, such as David Boldt, a retired journalist from the Philadelphia Inquirer, who trained Bolivian journalists as part of a Knight Fellowship from 2001 to 2002.

News Agencies

Several main news agencies operate in Bolivia. The largest agency, La Agencia Boliviana de Información, is operated by the government under the Ministry of Government Information, and provides information for Virtualísimo, an online news site. La Agencia Nacional de Noticias Jatha, a widespread private news agency in existence since 1992, offers national news and business news. Other agencies include La Agencia de Noticias Fides, which is owned and operated by the Catholic Church, and Le Agence France-Presse Worldwide, a France-based agency, which maintains an office in La Paz.

Broadcast Media

Over the last decade, the broadcasting industry in Bolivia has matured, particularly in regards to the television market, which is the principal advertising mediaas of 2002 there are over 900,000 television sets owned by Bolivia's 8 million peoplefollowed by newspapers and radios, respectively. Several major television reds (net-works) exist, including the privately owned P.A.T. network and the state-owned Empresa Nacional de Televisíon Bolivania, which broadcasts on seven stations in different parts of the country.

Altogether, Bolivia has 48 television stations, 73 FM radio stations, and 171 AM radio stations. Eight television stations are operated by various universities; one radio station is state-owned.

Like the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, the Bolivian government also has an agency that regulates electronic media. All broadcast stations, cable systems, and Internet services are subject to the control of La Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciónes (SITTEL), whose office is administered under the Ministry of Economic Development. SITTEL's vision to ensure "more and better communications at less cost" also involves protecting the legal rights of businesses and consumers. In Bolivia, television piracy (receiving services without paying for them) is a serious problem, with a piracy rate of about 95 percent. The Dirección General de Televisión, an office under the auspices of SITTEL enforces the general regulation of television service, which includes penalties for illegal broadcasts.

Electronic News Media

Despite a poor communication infrastructure and expensive telephone rates, Bolivia leads its South American neighbors in the area of online newspapers. At least 10 print newspapers in La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba also maintain online sites. Various online services such as Bolnet, offer links to official news, education, business, and country events.

Education & TRAINING

Many of Bolivia's universities offer programs in telecommunications, journalism, and communication science. Students receive a licenciatura, the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, which qualifies them to register with the National Register of Journalists. Several universities operate local television stations that schedule cultural and public interest programming. One example is La Televisión Universitaria, which has been in operation at the Universidad Autonómia Juan Misael Saracho in Tarija for 25 years. Although under the auspices of the SITTEL, this station and other university-run media outlets are free to maintain their own programming without governmental influence.

Students with interests in print or electronic communication follow structured plan de estudios (programs of study) depending on their particular intended academic focus. Earning a licenciatura typically involves three to four years of full-time school, assuming a student takes five to six courses per semester. Some universities, such as la Universidad Católica Boliviana and la Universidad Mayor de San Andres, offer postgraduate and certificate programs in telecommunications and related areas.

Students studying journalism and broadcasting complete cursos especialidades (specialized courses), which are structured very similarly to academic programs found in the United States. Bolivian college students majoring in communication generally take the equivalent of general education courses, including mathematics, sociology or psychology, natural sciences, and political science, which are integrated with courses in their major field. Students receive licenciaturas with emphases in communication science, telecommunications, journalism, or other closely related fields. Specialized programs such as the Ingeneiería de Telecomunicaciónes (telecommunications engineering) at the Catholic University of Bolivia include courses in satellite and digital technology, as well as other technical aspects of mass communication.

In addition to courses in writing, editing, communication law, ethics, and technology, a Bolivian journalist's academic training may also include courses related to religion, culture, philosophy, or behavioral studies. Credit may be received for courses based on lecture hours, laboratory work, or special workshops.


Because Bolivia is a country that has not yet reached its economic and social potential, its press faces various political barriers. Rigid defamation laws and potential censorship by the government hinder reporters' effectiveness in bringing information to the public. Violence due to social unrest in the country represents a danger to journalists, who may be directly or indirectly harmed by civilians or police. In short, Bolivia has not fully embraced the freedom of expression guaranteed by its constitution.

Moreover, a low literacy rate and widespread poverty restrict the extent to which the populace consumes information, especially print material. The wide reach of television compensates for this limitation, especially for advertisers in the larger metropolitan areas, whereas newspaper circulation remains relatively low.

On a more positive note, although infrastructural problems still need to be solved, Bolivia has taken great strides in introducing technology into the press industry. Despite the comparatively small size of the country, both in area and population (its neighbors, particularly Brazil, are much larger in both respects), Bolivia is a leader in electronic media in South America. Its universities keep abreast of current technological innovations and provide students with a well-rounded liberal arts education.

As Bolivia continues to solve its internal problems, it will no doubt lead the region in state-of-the-art print and broadcast journals. Its abundance of natural resources and its strong cultural history will serve to enhance its potential as an information-rich nation.

Significant Dates

  • 1994: Constitution is revised.
  • 1995: Telecommunications Act is passed, establishing current defamation laws.
  • 2001: Electoral Code Reform Law is passed; reporter Juan Carlos Encinas is killed while covering a conflict between two companies fighting over a limestone cooperative.


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Bolivia (bōlĬv´ēə, Span. bōlē´vyä), officially Plurinational State of Bolivia, republic (2005 est. pop. 8,858,000), 424,162 sq mi (1,098,581 sq km), W South America. One of the two inland countries of South America, Bolivia is shut in from the Pacific in the W by Chile and Peru; in the E and N it borders on Brazil, in the SE on Paraguay, and in the S on Argentina. Sucre is the constitutional capital and seat of the judiciary, but La Paz is the largest city, political and commercial focus of the nation, and the administrative capital and seat of government.

Land and People

Bolivia presents a sharp contrast between high, bleak mountains and plateaus in the west and lush, tropical rain forests in the east. In the southeast it merges into the semiarid plains of the Gran Chaco. The Andes mountain system reaches its greatest width in Bolivia. Two cordilleras, the western one tracing the border with Chile and the eastern running north and south across the center of the country, are divided by a high plateau (altiplano), most of it 12,000 ft (3,660 m) above sea level—barren, windswept, and segmented by mountain spurs.

Despite the harsh conditions the altiplano is the population center of Bolivia. Many sections for want of drainage have brackish lakes and salt beds, notably the extensive Salar de Uyuni in the south. In the north are Lake Titicaca, which Bolivia shares with Peru, and Lake Poopó. This region, world famous for its breathtaking scenery, was the home of one of the great pre-Columbian civilizations. Well known are the ruins of Tiahuanaco.

The eastern mountains, consisting of three major ranges, rise to the cold, forbidding heights of the Puna plateau (as high as 16,000 ft/4,880 m) and in the north to the snowcapped peaks of Illimani (21,184 ft/6,457 m) and Illampú (21,276 ft/6,485 m). In these mountains lies the source of the exploited wealth of Bolivia—its minerals. Tin is by far the most important product, but silver was once the chief metal, and tungsten, copper, wolframite, bismuth, antimony, zinc, lead, iron, and gold are also mined. The names of some mining towns, notably Potosí and Oruro, are world famous.

From the mountains, headstreams cut eastward, carving deep gorges and fingerlike valleys. In these valleys are some of Bolivia's garden spots—Sucre, Cochabamba, and Tarija. Santa Cruz de la Sierra and La Paz are the two main cities of tropical Bolivia. In the eastern foothills headstreams gather to form the Beni, the Guaiporé, and the Mamoré (tributaries of the Madeira, in Brazil), which flow through the torrid, humid yungas, covered with dense rain forests, and inhabited mainly by indigenous South Americans. The region is the most fertile in the country, yielding cacao, coffee, and tropical fruits, and in the early 20th cent. was a major source of wild rubber and quinine. Some of the more accessible valleys, with luxuriant scenery and a pleasantly warm climate, have become popular Bolivian resort areas.

Of the indigenous people, about 30% are Quechua and 25% are Aymara, but the citizens of European descent (some 15% of the people) or mixed European and native ancestry (about 30% of the population) have historically maintained economic, political, and social hegemony, but this has been challenged by Evo Morales, who was elected president in 2005, and by the constitution adopted in 2009. Spanish and 36 indigenous languages including Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní are all constitutionally recognized as official languages. A few indigenous groups have remained isolated from European culture. Most of the population is Roman Catholic, although many people of indigenous descent retain the substance of their pre-Christian beliefs. There is also an evangelical Protestant minority.


Despite the importance of its tin, silver, and other mines and its large reserves of natural gas and crude oil, Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in Latin America and still largely lives by a subsistence economy. A large part of the population makes its living from the growing of coca, the source of cocaine; it is typically grown largely legally for the leaves and products in which they are used, and illegally for cocaine. Soybeans, coffee, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, and potatoes are the other major crops; timber is also important. Industry is limited to mining and smelting, petroleum refining, food processing, and small-scale manufacturing. The tin industry has received increasing competition from SE Asia, and as a result several tin mines have closed. Although Bolivia has much hydroelectric potential, it is underutilized.

Bolivia's natural resources and agriculture furnish the bulk of its exports, with natural gas, soybeans, crude petroleum, zinc, and tin most important. Petroleum products, plastics, paper, aircraft and parts, prepared foods, automobiles, and insecticides are important imports. Brazil, Argentina, the United States, and Peru are the chief trading partners. Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.


Bolivia, which has had more than 190 revolutions and coups since it became independent in 1825, is governed under the constitution of 2009. The head of state and of government is the president, who is elected to five-year term. The bicameral legislature, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, consists of an upper Chamber of Senators and a lower Chamber of Deputies. The 36 senators and 130 deputies are all elected for five-year terms. Administratively, Bolivia is divided into nine departments.


Early 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.

Independence and the Nineteenth Century

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. 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.

Twentieth-Century Bolivia

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.


See H. Osborne, Bolivia: A Land Divided (3d ed. 1964); W. E. Carter, Bolivia: A Profile (1971); J. V. Fifer, Bolivia: Land, Location, and Politics Since 1825 (1972); D. B. Heat, Historical Dictionary of Bolivia (1972); H. S. Klein, Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society (1982); J. Dunkerley, Rebellion in the Veins: Political Struggle in Bolivia, 1952–82 (1984).

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Official name: Republic of Bolivia

Area: 1,098,580 square kilometers (424,164 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Mount Sajama (6,542 meters / 21,464 feet)

Lowest point on land: Paraguá River (90 meters / 295 feet)

Hemispheres : Southern and Western

Time zone: 8a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) from east to west; 1,530 kilometers (950 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries : 6,743 kilometers (4,190 miles) total boundary length; Argentina, 832 kilometers (517 miles); Brazil, 3,400 kilometers (2,113 miles); Chile, 861 kilometers (535 miles); Paraguay, 750 kilometers (466 miles); Peru, 900 kilometers (559 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Home to the world's highest capital city and highest commercially navigable lake, Bolivia has been called the "rooftop of the world." This landlocked country in south-central South America is the continent's fifth-largest nation. With an area of 1,098,580 square kilometers (424,164 square miles), it is almost three times the size of Montana.


Bolivia has no territories or dependencies.


Although Bolivia is a tropical country, its climate varies widely with differences in elevation and terrain. The high peaks of the Cordillera Occidental to the west have a cool climate, and cold winds blow in the Altiplano (the high plains separating Bolivia's two mountain ranges). In the northern Altiplano, however, the climate is moderated by Lake Titicaca. The valleys of the lower Cordillera Oriental have a semiarid Mediterranean-like climate; but the climate becomes semitropical in the Yungas region on the eastern slopes of these mountains, and tropical in the eastern lowlands. The mean annual temperature in the capital city of La Paz, at the edge of the Altiplano, is about 8°C (46°F), compared with mean temperatures of 16° to 19°C (60° to 68°F) in the Yungas region, and 26°C (79°F) in the city of Trinidad, in the eastern plains. A strong wind originating in the nearby Argentine pampas, called the surazo, can bring fierce storms and plunging temperatures in the winter months (June through August).

Like climate conditions in general, rainfall in Bolivia varies greatly by region, ranging from 13 centimeters (5 inches) or less in the southwest to over 152 centimeters (60 inches) in the Amazon basin to the northeast. Rainfall in the Yungas region on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Oriental averages 76 centimeters (30 inches) to 127 centimeters (50 inches) annually; it is heaviest between December and February but falls year-round.

The southern part of the country has a long summer dry season that can last from four to six months, while the dry season in the northern areas is shorter. Flooding often occurs in the northeast in March and April.


The Andean highlands of southwest Bolivia cover roughly one-third of the country. They include the mountain ranges of the Eastern and Western Cordilleras, separated by a high plateau called the Altiplano. The remaining two-thirds of Bolivia are part of the Oriente, the country's northern and eastern tropical lowland region, which consists of forestland, savannahs, and marshes. At the far southeastern corner of the country lies the Bolivian portion of the Gran Chaco, a thinly populated plain that continues southward into Paraguay and northern Argentina.


Bolivia is landlocked.


Lake Titicaca straddles the Peruvian border in the north. At 3,805 meters (12,484 feet) above sea level, it is both South America's largest inland lake and the world's highest navigable body of water. Lake Titicaca has a length of 222 kilometers (138 miles) and a width of 113 kilometers (70 miles), and contains depths of up to 213 meters (700 feet). There are twenty-five islands in the lake. Southeast of Lake Titicaca and connected to it by the Desaguadero River, Lake Poopó is a shallow, salty body of brackish water with depths of 3 meters (10 feet) or less, and an area of around 386 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) when its waters are low. Bolivia also has several other large lakes, including Lake Rogoguado. Shallow lakes in the region of the Paraguá River in the east include Cáceres, Mandioré, Gaiba, and Uberaba. The water of Colorado Lake (Laguna Colorado) has a deep reddish color, caused by bacteria which thrive in its warm, volcanic waters.


Bolivia is drained by three different river systems. Flowing down from the Yungas area of the Cordillera Real, the Beni and Mamoré Rivers and the Mamoré's tributaries, including the Chaparé, Ichilo, and Grande, form part of the Amazon River system. These Amazon head-waters flow north to join the Madeira River beyond the border with Brazil. At Bolivia's western border, the Desaguadero River, the only major waterway on the surface of the Altiplano, flows southward from Lake Titicaca into Lake Poopó. Lake Poopó, in turn, drains into the Lacajahuira River. Farther south, the Pilcomayo River rises in the heart of the Yungas and flows southward to the border with Argentina and Paraguay to join the Paraguay River in Paraguay.


The region known as Gran Chaco that lies along the Paraguayan and Argentine borders is hot and dry.


Savannah grasslands cover much of the lowland Oriente region, which encompasses the eastern and northern two-thirds of Bolivia, or all the land east of the Eastern and Western Cordilleras. The region slopes from elevations of 610 to 762 meters (2,000 to 2,500 feet) at the foot of the Andes in the west to just 91 meters (300 feet) along parts of the Brazilian border.


The Andes Mountains reach both their greatest average elevations and their greatest width in Bolivia. The Bolivian Andes Mountains contain two mountain ranges separated by the high plateau called the Altiplano, which is the country's heartland.

On the west, the Cordillera Occidental (Western Cordillera), which forms the border with Chile, rises above 5,800 meters (19,000 feet), and includes Mount Sajama, Bolivia's highest peak. The chain also contains a number of both active and inactive volcanoes.


The Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia is one of the world's largest (12,000 square kilometers/ 4,600 square miles in area) salt "lakes." During the dry season, vehicles can drive on its surface, which is firmer than sand. During the rainy season, the lake can still be traversed by four-wheel drive vehicles, since the water reaches depths of just 15 to 38 centimeters (6 to 15 inches). In the center of the salt plain lies a hotel, built of salt blocks with a thatched roof.

The layers of salt deposits are up to six meters (20 feet) thick. Villagers from Colchani harvest almost 90,000 kilograms (20,000 tons) of salt by chopping it up and shoveling it into piles. The salt is trucked into the village, where it is sifted and prepared for shipment by train to refiners, where it will be prepared for international sale.

The eastern arm of the Bolivian Andes is called either the Cordillera Oriental or Cordillera Real. The name Cordillera Real is often used to describe only that section of the range that extends northward from the environs of Cochabamba and Oruro. This part of the Andes, where the capital city of La Paz is located, includes the country's most dramatic peaks, with average heights of over 5,486 meters (18,000 feet) for more than 322 kilometers (200 miles). The best known of these summits are Illampu (6,553 meters/21,500 feet) and the triple crown of Illimani, which rises to 6,492 meters (21,300 feet) behind the city of La Paz. The eastern slopes of the northern Cordillera Oriental, called the Yungas, are rugged, steep, and densely forested; they descend swiftly to the eastern plains. South of the Yungas is an area of valleys and mountain basins called the Valles.


There are no notable canyons or caves in Bolivia.


The barren and forbidding landscape of the Altiplano extends southward for a distance of 804 kilometers (500 miles), with an average width of 50 kilometers (80 miles), and altitudes varying from 3,657 meters to 4,267 meters (12,000 to 14,000 feet). The Altiplano tilts upward from the center toward both the Eastern and Western Cordillera, and it descends gradually from north to south. The plateau floor is made up of sedimentary debris washed down from the adjacent mountains.


The Incan and pre-Incan ruins near Lake Titicaca on Bolivia's Altiplano are among the oldest in South America.



Bradt, Hilary. Peru and Bolivia: Backpacking and Trekking. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1999.

Murphy, Alan. Bolivia Handbook. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.

Swaney, Deanna. Bolivia: A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit. 3rd ed. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1996.

Web Sites

Bolivia Web. (accessed February 25, 2003).

LANIC (Academic research resources). (accessed June 23, 2003).

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The people of Bolivia are called Bolivians. About 50 percent are Amerindian (native people). About 25 percent are white of European descent; and about 25 percent are cholo or mestizo (of mixed lineage). The Amerindian population is made up of Quechua and Aymara. For more information on the Quechua, consult the chapter on Peru in Volume 7.

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Culture Name



Identification. Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, a leader in the nineteenth-century wars of independence against Spain. The national culture is an amalgam of Hispanic and pre-Hispanic elements with three cultural traditions: (1) Quechua/ Aymara (roughly 34 percent and 23 percent of the population, respectively), centered in the high-altitude plateau and valley mountain regions (highlands) and corresponding to the two (Quechua- and Aymara-speaking) traditions that existed before the Spanish conquest of the sixteenth century; this "Andean" tradition extends from southern Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina and roughly corresponds to the boundaries of the Incan Empire, whose capital was Cuzco, Peru; (2) Spanish or Hispanic (roughly 87 percent of the population), derived from the cultural heritage of the conquering Spaniards; and (3) several dozen small Amazonian ethnic groups in the eastern lowlands.

Location and Geography. At 424,162 square miles (1,098,581 square kilometers), Bolivia is the fifth largest country in South America. Bordering Peru and Chile to the west, Argentina and Paraguay to the south, and Brazil to the north and east, it is divided into nine politicaladministrative units called departments. There are three major geographicecological landscapes: the high and cold plateau (altiplano ) between the eastern and western Andean mountain chains (Cordillera Oriental and Cordillera Occidental) at 12,000 to 14,000 feet (4,000 to 4,500 meters) above sea level, the intermontane valleys (valles ) in the easternmost part of the Cordillera Oriental at an average of 8,500 feet (2,600 meters) elevation, and the vast lowlands (Oriente) beyond the eastern flanks of the Cordillera Oriental. The sparsely populated Orienteswamp, grasslands, plains, and tropical and subtropical forestconstitutes over 70 percent of the country.

Demography. Historically, Bolivia has been predominantly rural, with most of its Quechua- and Aymara-speaking peasants living in highland communities. The 1992 census confirmed that 80 percent of the people live in the highlands and noted increasing rural to urban migration. In 1992, the population was 6,420,792, with 58 percent in urban areas (settlements of two thousand or more persons), an increase of 16 percent over the 1976 census. The fastest-growing urban centers include Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and La PazEl Alto, which account for over a third of the population. A low population density of fifteen inhabitants per square mile is paralleled by a young, fast-growing population (over 41 percent less than fifteen years old).

Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish, the national and official language, is spoken in urban centers, while the dominant languages in the rural highlands are Quechua (the Incan lingua franca) and Aymara and in the southeast Guaraní. Members of the Oriente ethnic polities (e.g., Guarayos, Mojeños, Tacanas, Movimas, Chimanes) speak Spanish and their indigenous languages, which are members of the Amazonian language family. Many trilingual (Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara) speakers live in Oruro and Potosí. Because of the greater prestige of Spanish, between 1976 and 1992, monolingual Spanish speakers increased almost 10 percent while those speaking only Quechua or Aymara dropped 50 percent. According to the 1992 census, at least 87 percent of all those over six years old spoke Spanish, an 11 percent increase over 1976 (although many are barely functional in Spanish). In 1992, 46 percent of residents were at least partly bilingual. Several varieties of Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara are spoken, and all have influenced one another in vocabulary, phonology, syntax, and grammar.

Symbolism. Two broad symbolic complexes help forge national pride and identity and an "imagined community." The first involves symbols and memories associated with disastrous wars and the subsequent loss of national territory. Schoolchildren are taught about the War of the Pacific (18791884), in which Chile overwhelmed Bolivia and Peru and seized Bolivia's coastal territories, and nationalism is intertwined with ongoing efforts to reclaim access to the Pacific. The War of the Chaco (19321935), in which Bolivia lost vast territories and oil deposits to Paraguay, was critical for national consciousness-raising and the 1952 populist revolution. Other historical commemorations, such as Independence Day (6 August 1825) and the widely celebrated date of the signing of the agrarian reform law (2 August 1952), also serve as catalysts for collective memories. The second complex centers on commemorating the indigenous, non-Hispanic cultural heritage of most Bolivians, especially in the rural highlands, where many Quechua- and Aymara-speaking peasants see themselves as "descendants" of the "Incas," and in national folkloric music and festivals. These festivals are multilayered symbolic "sites" that index things "Bolivian,"and the multiclass, multiethnic character of these celebrations fosters differential claims to and forging of culture, history, memory, and symbols.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The highland regions were absorbed into the Incan Empire less than a hundred years before the Spanish conquest in 1532. For almost three hundred years Bolivia, or "Upper Peru" (Alto Perú), formed part of the Spanish Empire, and the Potosí silver mines were crucial for the colonial economy.

The wars of independence (independence was achieved in 1825) were led by Spanish-speaking Creoles who consolidated a highly exclusive social order. The disenfranchised majority in the colonial period fared little better after independence: power and privilege were monopolized by a tiny group of landowners and mine owners, and most Bolivians (primarily poor Quechua- and Aymara-speaking peasants and a smaller number of mine workers) were virtually excluded from national society. Only after the 1952 populist revolution did most Bolivians begin to enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship.

National Identity. The sense of nationhood and national identity is shared by all Bolivians but, given the historical disenfranchisement of the peasant majority, probably is of recent origin. Most authors point to the wars of the Pacific and the Chaco and the 1952 populist revolution (along with subsequent state-building efforts) as the key events that created a sense of nationhood. A strong feeling of national identity coexists with other identities, some ethnic and some not, with varying levels of inclusiveness. Regional identities, such as Spanish speakers in the Oriente contrasting themselves with Quechua- or Aymara-speaking highland dwellers, have always been important. For members of lowland ethnic polities, self-identification as Mojeño or Tacana is important in everyday life. In southern highland ethnic politics, shared historical memories and cultural practices such as dress bolster ethnic identification as Macha, Sakaka, or Jukumani.

Ethnic Relations. The construction of a national identity that would override ethnic and other identities has been an important but only partly successful dimension of state-building efforts. With the exception of recent attempts by eastern ethnic polities to gain greater autonomy and enduring tensions between the large ethnic polities in the southern highlands (often exacerbated by land disputes), very little large-scale political and social action hinges on ethnic identification. Ethnicity does not underpin large-scale political action, and ethnic conflicts are rare.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Virtually all urban settlementssmall towns and villages as well as large citiesare built around a central plaza where most church- and state-related buildings and offices are situated. This typically Mediterranean social, political and cultural "center" use of space is replicated in many urban and rural homes; most consist of compounds and internal patios surrounded by tall walls where cooking, eating, and socializing take place. Modern skyscrapers are found primarily in La Paz and Cochabamba. In the highlands, most dwellings are built of adobe.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The typical diet is abundant in carbohydrates but deficient in other food categories. In the highlands, the primary staple is the potato (dozens of varieties of this Andean domesticate are grown), followed by other Andean and European-introduced tubers and grains (e.g., oca, quinua, barley, and, increasingly in the Oriente, rice), maize, and legumes, especially the broad bean. Freeze-dried potatoes (chuño ) and air-dried jerky (ch'arki ) from cattle or Andean camelids (llama, alpaca, and vicuña) are common, although beef forms an insignificant part of the daily diet. Maize beer (chicha ) is a traditional and ritually important beverage in the highlands. In the Oriente, rice, cassava, peanuts, bananas, legumes, and maize constitute the cornerstone of the daily diet, supplemented by fish, poultry, and beef. Favorite national delicacies include guinea pig (also consumed during important ceremonial occasions) and deep-fried pork (chicharrón ). Meals are served with hot pepper sauces. There are few food taboos, and almost all animal parts are eaten, although reptiles are not consumed. Most cultural restrictions center on food preparation, such as avoiding uncooked, unprocessed foods.

In cities and towns, the early-morning meal usually consists of coffee, tea, or a hot maize beverage (api ), sometimes served with bread. In marketplaces, hot meals and stews are also consumed. In the countryside, breakfast sometimes consists of toasted ground cereals with cheese and tea, followed by a thick soup (lawa ) at nine or ten. The major meal is lunch (almuerzo ), which in upper-class urban households and restaurants typically is a four-course meal. A much lighter meal is eaten at around seven in the evening. Peasants and lower-income urban dwellers have a lunch of boiled potatoes, homemade cheese, a hard-boiled egg, and hot sauce (lawa ) or a thick stew with rice or potatoes.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. The most elaborate and hearty meals, with abundant fresh vegetables and beef, chicken, or pork, are eaten at ceremonial occasions, such as the life cycle events of baptism, marriage, and death. Public displays of generosity and reciprocity, offering abundant food and drink not often available at other times of the year (e.g., bottled beer, cane alcohol [trago ], and beef), are an important cultural imperative. On All Souls Day, meals are prepared for the recently deceased and those who are ill. Many important meals mimic those of upper-class restaurants in the major cities, including dishes such as ají de pollo (chicken smothered in hot chili sauce and served with rice and/or potatoes).

Basic Economy. Silver (and, later, tin) mining and agriculture in the highlands have historically been the twin pillars of the economy. The nation traditionally has produced and exported raw materials and imported manufactured and processed goods. In 1994, agriculture accounted for 16 percent of the gross domestic product, mining and hydrocarbons almost 10 percent, and manufacturing and industry over 13 percent. Bolivia is self-sufficient in oil and natural gas and exports significant quantities of both. Tourism has emerged as an important economic force. The currency for Bolivia is Boliviano.

After the 1952 populist revolution, major mining concerns were converted into a state mining company (COMIBOL), while smaller companies were allowed to continue operating independently. With the exception of cocaine, a critical political and economic dilemma, no other economic sector rivals mining as a generator of foreign exchange. Since 1985, the neoliberal New Economic Policy (NEP), which was designed to break down barriers to capital flows and strengthen the state, has led to the almost total dismantling of COMIBOL and a surge in private mining. The NEP also has led to the privatization of other state concerns, such as telephones, airlines, and the national oil company.

Bolivia is self-sufficient in almost all food staples with the exception of wheat. Highland crops include tubers, maize, and legumes. Other crops (e.g., peanuts, citrus fruits, bananas, plantains, and rice) are grown in the Oriente, while large cattle ranches are prominent in the departments of Beni and Pando. In eastern Santa Cruz, large agricultural enterprises supply most of the country's rice, sugar, eating and cooking oils, and export crops such as soybeans. Enormous forests provide the raw materials for the lumber and wood products industry (deforestation is an increasing problem). The coca leaf, which is fundamental in Andean ritual, social organization, and health, has always been cultivated in the eastern regions, but the international drug trade has made Bolivia the third largest coca leaf producer and exporter in the world.

Land Tenure and Property. Various legal and customary rights and obligations govern land tenure, such as rules and expectations that structure access to and transmission of use rights to land. Until recently, the legal cornerstone of land tenure was the 1953 agrarian reform law, which recognized various property regimes subject to different legal rights and obligations. In the highlands, where most peasants live, private property rights often are overshadowed by communal and customary forms of tenure, while among southern highland ethnic polities, land is communally held and private property rights do not apply. In frontier colonization areas, where most of the coca is grown and migrants have received land titles from the state, land fragmentation and commoditization are far more developed. Laws stressing partible inheritance (equal shares to all legitimate offspring, male or female) are constrained by informal, customary inheritance practices, and in the rural highlands there is a strong patrilineal bias, with most land inherited by males. There is also evidence of parallel inheritance (an ancient Andean norm), in which women inherit land from their mothers and men inherit from their fathers. Generally, only legally and socially recognized (legitimate) offspring have rights to the land and property of both parents, while illegitimate children are entitled only to a share of the mother's property. The agrarian reform law of 18 October 1996 was intended to stem the growing disparity in access to land, allow the state to reclaim (revertir ) lands used mainly for speculative purposes, modernize the land reform agency, expropriate lands to protect biodiversity, and ensure the collection of land taxes. Bolivia has passed laws awarding greater autonomy to and delimiting and protecting the territories of the Oriente's ethnic polities.

Commercial Activities. Many consumer goods such as television sets, radios, CD players, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles are sold, partly as a result of neoliberal economic reforms that lifted import barriers. Most consumer goods are bought and sold in large, open periodic markets (mercados ).

Major Industries. Mining and oil and natural gas are the key industrial sectors. Spurred by an influx of international capital and the "coca economy," construction, including the production of lumber, cement, and other building materials, has taken off. The food and beverage industries (e.g., beer and soft drinks) are significant, as is the production of textiles and leather goods.

Trade. Major exports include textiles, agricultural commodities, minerals, oil, and gas. Important agricultural commodities (excluding coca) that are exported include wood products, soybeans and soybean oils, and coffee. Significant amounts of oil and natural gas are exported to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. In 1994, oil, natural gas, and mineral exports accounted for almost 50 percent of export earnings, while agricultural commodities (soybeans, lumber and wood products, sugar, cotton, and coffee) accounted for almost 30 percent. Almost half of all exports went to the United States and Europe. Bolivia imports mainly consumer goods, raw materials, and capital and manufactured goods, especially from the United States, Europe, and Brazil.

Division of Labor. With the exception of political participation in the public sphere (which is profoundly gendered), there are few rigid rules in rural communities regarding the division of labor. Generally, all able-bodied adults and children male or femaleactively participate in tasks required for production. Most local-level government positions require some fluency in Spanish and the adoption of non-Andean cultural mores. Women and men of all ages, skills, and occupations are active in the economically and socially significant informal economy. Women and children are particularly prominent in marketplaces.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. An institutionalized system of unequal access to political, economic, and sociocultural resources is a direct outcome of the Spanish conquest of culturally and physically distinct Andean societies and is closely wedded to the nation's ethnic and cultural makeup. Class, culture (including ethnicity and language), and race (physical characteristics) overlap, solidify, and mark the social hierarchy. Class boundaries are permeable, but the shedding of the Andean cultural heritage is an important prerequisite for social mobility.

At the bottom of the hierarchy are peasants, unskilled workers, and those in the "informal" economic sector who live in urban peripheries. Most are referred to as "Indian" and are likely to be monolingual in an Andean or indigenous language and/or barely functional in Spanish, have little formal education and a low income, be only nominally Catholic or Protestant, dress in "traditional" garb, and display Andean phenotypic characteristics (dark-skinned, relatively short, high cheekbones).

Members of a second broad, intermediate category are labeled mestizos, cholos (a disparaging term), or nonindigenous. (In the early colonial period "mestizo" originally referred to the offspring of native Andeans and Spaniards.) They are phenotypically almost identical to "Indians," are more assimilated to Hispanic cultural norms and more likely than peasants or unskilled laborers to have a command (though not fluent) of and preference for Spanish, and usually have more formal education.

At the apex of the social hierarchy is a small, "white" affluent elite class collectively referred to as "decent people" (gente decente ) by peasants, who also address men of this category as "gentleman" (caballero ) and women as "madam" (señora ). (These labels also are used for members of the upper tier of the mestizo category.) Culture, class, and physical characteristics converge to mark and define inequality: Members of this elite class are more likely to be largely fair or white-skinned; be fluent and monolingual Spanish speaking; adopt "Western" clothing; live in major cities; occupy high positions in government, finance, or business; and not identify with the Andean heritage.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Cultural differences and symbols such as language, dress, occupation, and residence are part of the class structure and function as pointers of the social hierarchy. A poor command of Spanishspeaking Spanish that is heavily influenced by Quechua or Aymara phonology or grammaris an important marker of (lower) class position. Linguistic terms of reference and address also emphasize inferiority and/or social distance; a member of the elite may address a Quechua-speaking male adult peasant as "little child" (hijito ), while the peasant will refer to him as "sir" or "gentleman." Clothing is also an important marker of cultural distinctiveness and class position. A woman who braids her hair and wears heavy, long pleated skirts (polleras ) is classed as peasant, Indian, or chola and is presumed not to be at the top of the social hierarchy, as is a man who wears rubber sandals (ojotas ) instead of shoes and wears a knitted wool cap with earflaps (ch'ullu ). Other significant markers of class hierarchy and ethnic identity include coca chewing and participation in Andean religious rites.

Political Life

Government. Bolivia is a constitutional republic with an elected president and national congress. Famous for its political instability, it has enjoyed unprecedented stability since 1985. There is a centralized political system (the president has always had the power to appoint the governors [prefectos ] of the departments), yet recent (mid-1990s) laws were intended to decentralize state administration and increase political participation and decision making, especially at the municipal level. The executive and legislative branches of government are located in La Paz, the de facto administrative capital and seat of government, while the national judiciary is centered in Sucre, the legal capital.

Leadership and Political Officials. Formal political power is fragmented among numerous political parties spanning the ideological spectrum, and coalition governments have ruled since 1982. The most important political parties in the 1980s and 1990s were the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), Acción Democrática Nacionalista (AND), Movimiento Bolivia Libre (MBL), Conciencia de Patria (CONDEPA), Unidad Cívica Solidaridad (UCS), Frente Revolucionario de Izquierda (FRI), and Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). As a result of an alliance between AND, MIR, CONDEPA, and UCS, the former dictator General Hugo Bánzer was elected president in June 1997.

Social Problems and Control. Social control is exercised informally at the local level (neighborhood and village) and within networks of acquaintances and kin, and recourse to the police and the judiciary is rare. In peasant villages, disputes usually are settled internally by elected officials who follow customary practices. The drinking of alcoholic beverages and petty crime are growing in importance, as is the smoking of cocaine-laced cigarettes. Interpersonal violence is rare, although there is some domestic violence. Few people have a complete understanding of their constitutional rights and the complex judicial system. In addition to local and departmental courts, the government has set up special narcotics tribunals. The judicial branch is being restructured to streamline bureaucratic procedures.

Military Activity. The military has often intervened directly in politics, and many presidents have been military officers who achieved power through a coup d'état. The military has not fought an external war since the Chaco war. Major garrisons are based near cities and/or areas of major peasant concentrations. As a result of U.S. pressure, the military has become involved in anti-coca and anti-drug efforts.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There is a poorly developed social safety net. Pension funds and retirement systems mainly benefit long-term wage earners, such as those employed by the state. Most Bolivians work in agriculture or the informal economy, sectors poorly covered by social welfare and security programs, and most rely on relatives for assistance during old age and in times of need. Since 1985, a variety of programs to ameliorate the impact of neoliberal policies and alleviate poverty and growing unemployment and under-employment have been financed by international development organizations.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Bolivia is a major recipient of international development aid. Development funds underwrite the many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that emphasize agricultural productivity and overall health. Many NGOs are involved in promoting sustainable agriculture in the Oriente, especially the search for tropical and subtropical crops that could compete with coca cultivation. Recent laws encouraging decentralization and popular participation have increased the roles and variety of NGOs.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Important positions of public authority are invariably held by men, while the domestic arena (symbolically associated with fire, kitchen, and hearth) is a female realm. Most ritual specialists, diviners, and healers are male. In agriculture, a flexible division of labor leads to men and women participating in all planting and harvest tasks. Women predominate, as they have since colonial times, in the marketing of crops and reproducing tradition and ethnic identity through weaving, transmitting the native language to their offspring, and their repertoire of songs. An especially gendered division of labor exists in the thriving domestic maid service, which depends on the recruitment of young, poor, usually Quechuaand/or Aymara-speaking, "Indian" girls to serve in upper-class, Spanish-speaking urban households.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender complementaritythe idea of a necessary union of opposites and of the crucial role of women and men in human and social productionis a hallmark of Bolivian and Andean society and surfaces in many symbolic domains, such as the presence of male and female supernatural deities. The high status of women is bolstered in many rural communities by matrilineal ideology and inheritance, matrikin groups, and access to resources independent of the male spouse. Nevertheless, in many rural areas, the balance is tipping toward greater inequality as the economic position of women deteriorates. Recent research has focused on how notions of masculinity and the symbolism that center on the giving and taking of wives (the metaphors of bull and condor, respectively) are linked to violence against women, often in highly ritualized contexts.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage, a fundamental rite of passage and a marker of adult status, often is linked to the formation of new households and is expected of all Bolivians. The typical Andean marriage pattern (customary in the highlands and Oriente but often frowned on by members of the elite) entails three highly ritualized steps: an initial period of cohabitation (juntados ) lasting up to three years in which the spouses set up a household and begin to bear children, a civil wedding, and a religious wedding followed by a two- to three-day marriage celebration. Although there are polygynous marriages in some Oriente ethnic groups, monogamy is the norm. The most important marriage prescription in the highlands is that of not marrying someone with an identical first (often paternal) surname and/or within the third cousin range. Village or hamlet exogamy is often the rule. Postmarital residence is usually neolocal (the couple sets up its own household independently of the parents), although this sometimes is preceded, especially in the case of cohabitation, by a patrilocal phase in which the couple temporarily resides with the groom's parents. Marriage expands alliances and networks of kin and generates obligations and reciprocities between the kin group, including godparents and other fictive kin, of both spouses. Divorce, while legal, is rare in rural communities. Remarriage among widows and widowers is common and expected.

Domestic Unit. The basic urban and rural domestic unit is the household: single-family, nuclear (husband, wife, and children), or extended. Bolivians attach importance to bilateral kinshipthe tracing of kin links through both the father and the motherand households often include different categories and generations of kin. Although males usually represent the household in public affairs, women control the kitchen, hearth, and household budget.

Inheritance. In many Quechua- and Aymara-speaking communities, the inheritance of noncommunally held land and water rights is claimed to be bilateral and partible, although often a patrilineal bias in which males but not females inherit property is present. Both men and women keep and control access to the property they inherit before marriage.

Kin Groups. Bolivians stress bilateral kinship, and virtually all recognize and stress kin groups beyond the nuclear family and household. Ritual kinship such as godparenthood is extremely important. In urban and rural areas, "family" (familia ) often refers to a bilateral kin group (kindred) of the third cousin range. Patrilineally related kin groups (the members of which share an identical paternal surname), sometimes called castas ("castes"), are important in many rural villages, as they sometimes jointly manage and cultivate land. Members of southern highland ethnic polities such as the Macha, Jukumani, and Sakaka are organized in inclusive kin-based groups and categories called ayllus.


Infant Care. Women have the primary responsibility for child care. Few deliver their babies in hospitals, relying instead on the help of midwives. Most rural and low-income women breastfeed, wrap, and swaddle their babies, sometimes for as long as two years. Young infants always accompany their mothers during productive activities such as cooking, gardening, and selling goods at marketplaces.

Child Rearing and Education. Infants and children usually are raised by their parents or other close kin. Adoption and fosterage are widely practiced. Children are taught early to contribute to the household economy and learn adult responsibilities. It is common for rural children to pasture flocks of sheep and help their parents and kin plant and harvest crops. In urban areas, children often help their mothers sell goods at marketplaces. Children are taught the importance of respect (respeto ) for family, kin, and adults. Education is highly valued. Children are encouraged to attend school from about age six, although rural attendance and retention rates are considerably lower than urban ones. There is a definite gender bias, and young girls are less likely to complete their education than are boys. Cultural mores emphasize learning by watching, not necessarily by explicit teaching. Infants go through several rituals of socialization, such as the haircutting ceremony after about a year, followed by baptism and confirmation.

Higher Education. The illiteracy rate is 20 percent. According to the 1992 census, almost 37 percent of rural inhabitants are illiterate; gender inequalities are especially pronounced, as almost half of all women in rural areas cannot read or write. Poverty and, in the countryside, the wide cultural gap between students and teachers, contribute to high rates of illiteracy.


Social interaction is governed by norms emphasizing respect and formality and marking age, gender, status, and class differences. Shoppers are expected to be polite and convey deference to shopkeepers by using the adverb "please." The use of formal Spanish pronouns (usted but not tu ) is especially important in addressing elders and older relatives, as are honorific titles for men and women (don for men and doña for women). Peasants address members of the urban, Spanish-speaking elite as "gentlemen." Cultural mores dictate that one stand very close to the person with whom one is interacting. Gazing and looking directly in the eye are acceptable. Physical greetings vary greatly. In rural areas, simple, short, firm handshakes are common; a hug (but short of a full bear hug), followed by a short pat on the back, is expected between kin and close friends. In rural settings, public touching, caressing, and kissing among couples are frowned on. Generosity and reciprocity are required in all social interactions, many of which involve the sharing of food and alcoholic beverages.


Religious Beliefs. Bolivians are overwhelmingly Catholic (at least formally), and the Catholic Church has historically wielded enormous influence. However, religious beliefs and practices constitute a system of "popular religion" that encompasses formal elements of Catholicism and, increasingly, Protestantism (especially rituals) with only a partial understanding and acceptance of doctrine, coupled with pre-Hispanic Andean beliefs and rituals. In popular religion, complementary deities and supernatural beings coexist. Many people believe in a k'harisiri, a malevolent semihuman being who usually is identified as the soul of a priest, foreigner, or Spanish-speaking elite mestizo who, in a pact with the Devil (supay ), attacks mainly indigenous travelers. Miners are especially devoted to the uncle (tío ) deity, who ensures rewarding work and protects them against accidents and ill fortune. The widespread devotion to the cult of the Virgin Mary, which intersects with and is nurtured by the equally powerful devotion to the female Pachamama (earth mother), is a cornerstone of popular religion. Another distinguishing feature of Andean popular religion is the importance of rituals through which people maintain social relationships and reciprocal ties with supernatural deities. Such rituals sometimes entail the sacrifice of Andean camelids (such as llamas) but more often require constant libations (ch'allas ) to them in the context of heavy drinking and ritualized coca chewing.

Religious Practitioners. The most important religious practitioners with whom the average person comes into contact are church officials (such as parish priests or bishops) and the leaders of Protestant sects. Popular religion includes religious practitioners (yatiris ) who are diviners or claim knowledge of and ability to intercede with supernatural beings.

Rituals and Holy Places. Social life is punctuated by many rituals that coincide with major agricultural seasons and/or are linked to the celebration of Christian deities, especially the Virgin Mary. The summer solstice is celebrated during the Night of Saint John (21 June) and has important pre-Hispanic antecedents. The carnival festival of Oruro (beginning on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday) is a crucial ritual event that blends Hispanic and pre-Hispanic cultural and religious elements; thousands of spectators and performers take part in musical and dance troupes that commemorate motifs, themes, images, and events, including veneration of the Virgin Mary. A similar festival is that of the Virgin of Urkupiña (1416 August) in Quillacollo. The cult of the Virgin of Copacabana, the religious patroness of the nation, whose image was sculpted in 1583, is an especially important ritual event. Many communities have their own ritual celebrations and holy places, almost all associated with the appearance of a Christian saint or the Virgin Mary or the presence of mountain deities.

Death and the Afterlife. Household shrines and the rituals that occur during All Souls and All Saints Day (12 November) point to the fact that the dead form part of the sociocultural universe of the living. During this solemn celebration, specially prepared ritual tables (mesas ) with food and drink are offered to the souls of the recently deceased, who are expected to visit their kin (a return associated with the powers of reproduction, especially during the planting season). Funerary rituals typically include washing the body and clothes of the deceased; purchasing and preparing the casket; marshaling large quantities of coca, food, and drink for the all-night wake and subsequent burial; and sponsoring four masses within the next year.

Medicine and Health Care

Bolivia has one of the highest infant mortality rates in South Americabetween sixty-eight and seventy-five per one thousand live births. Major causes of infant and child mortality include respiratory infections, diarrhea, and malnutrition; almost 30 percent of infants under age three suffer from chronic malnutrition. Most people, particularly in the rural areas and low-income neighborhoods surrounding the large cities, lack access to basic biomedical care. Most sick people are cared for by family members and other kin. Many only partially understand and accept Western biomedical ideology and health care. Health beliefs and practices often include aspects of Western medicine and typically Andean elements. Traditional medical practices, often revolving around rituals and ritual practitioners (diagnostic specialists, curers, herbalists, and diviners)among them the Callawaya of La Paz are widespread. Divination, rituals, and ritual sacrifices are important in treating illness, as is the use of coca leaves, alcoholic beverages, and guinea pigs. Traditional medicine attaches importance to the social and supernatural etiology of illness and death, which often are attributed to strained social relations, witchcraft, or the influence of malevolent spirits. Dozens of illness categories, many psychosomatic, are recognized. Many curing rituals emphasize balanced, reciprocal relations with deities, who are "fed" and offered drink to dissipate illnesses.

Secular Celebrations

Important secular celebrations include Independence Day (6 August) and the signing of the 1953 agrarian reform law (2 August), also known as the Day of the Indian (Día del Indio ). Some of the best known and most meaningful secular celebrations are also national folkloric celebrations.

The Arts and Humanities

The Bolivian Institute of Culture sponsors the arts and humanities and plays a role in preserving the nation's cultural heritage. Bolivia has a distinguished tradition in literature (especially the novel and short story), a popular oral tradition, and, to a lesser extent, graphic and performance arts. An important genre consists of world-class textile production in the regions of La Paz and Sucre. Supported by the Inter-American Foundation, Bolivian anthropologists are working with weavers and documenting their ancient techniques and traditions.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The system of higher education consists of nine state and more than a dozen private universities. Most offer degrees in law and the humanities and the social, health, and life sciences as well as engineering and the physical sciences. A National University Council of Science and Technology has been created. Teaching and research in the physical sciences are not well developed. In 1994, the social sciences received only about 10 percent of all research funds but accounted for 67 percent of university degrees. A doctoral degree is not offered in any field. Important privately funded social science research centers include CIPCA (Centro de Investigación y Promoción del Campesinado), based in La Paz; Cochabamba's CERES (Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Económica y Social); and ASUR (Asociación de Antropólogos del Sur) in Sucre.


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Harry Sanabria

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Bolivia •astrantia • Bastia •Dei gratia, hamartia •poinsettia •in absentia, Parmentier •Izvestia •meteor, wheatear •Whittier • cottier • Ostia •consortia, courtier •protea • Yakutia • frontier • Althea •Anthea • Parthia •Pythia, stichomythia •Carinthia, Cynthia •forsythia • Scythia • clothier • salvia •Latvia • Yugoslavia • envier •Flavia, Moldavia, Moravia, Octavia, paviour (US pavior), Scandinavia, Xavier •Bolivia, Livia, Olivia, trivia •Sylvia • Guinevere • Elzevir •Monrovia, Segovia •Retrovir • effluvia • colloquia •Goodyear • yesteryear • brassiere •Abkhazia •Anastasia, aphasia, brazier, dysphasia, dysplasia, euthanasia, fantasia, Frazier, glazier, grazier, gymnasia, Malaysiaamnesia, anaesthesia (US anesthesia), analgesia, freesia, Indonesia, Silesia, synaesthesia •artemisia, Kirghizia, Tunisiaambrosia, crozier, hosier, osier, symposia

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