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State

Capital

Bolivia

La Paz

Kollasuyo

Currency unit

Boliviano

Connections

Amazonia

Drugs

Energy

Poverty

Serfdom

Sovereignty

South America

Spanish Empire

 Politics

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History

Named after Simon Bolivar who led the revolt of Spain's colonies against control from home.

Spain invaded the Inca empire in 1532. The Incas controlled parts of modern Bolivia. There are still Quechua and Aymara Indians in the country speaking their own languages.

Independence came in 1825.

Most of the country is on the high plateau of the Andes. The capital is the highest in the world.

Bolivia lost its Atacama sea coast to Chile in 1884. This loss is still felt and may be a potential source of future conflicts. (There is still a Bolivian navy, but on Lake Titicaca.)

The Chaco War in 1932-35 with Paraguay was also intended to gain access to the sea, in this case down the Paraguay-Parana river to the Atlantic. Bolivia gained very little from this war but many were killed on both sides.

There have been frequent coups since independence - on average one a year - including extreme rightwing regimes, some of which sheltered Nazis wanted for war crimes. There is a democratic regime at present. Che Guevara attempted to start a guerrilla war there in the late 1960s but failed to harness the real grievances of the poor, and was captured and killed by US agents.

Languages

Spanish

Amerindian langs.

 History

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Politics

The political system has been very unstable. At present there is an elected government. But Bolivia is notable for having had an average of one coup a year since independence, including some years with many.

The root of the instability is similar to that of the other Andean states: the political system has been run by the descendants of the Spanish conquerors and the people of mixed descent, but the indigenes were effectively excluded until 2005.

In June 2005 there was popular protest against the elected government protesting against the IMF required privatisation of public services. If the government were to renationalise these assets, international loans may be called in.

A leftwing leader, Eva Morales, of partly Native origin won the presidential election in 2005. If he allies himself with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, will there be attempts by the United States to overthrow him? There may well be attempts to destabilise the economy. His policies are likely to be opposed, as happened in Ecuador, by the real financial powers in the country - US oil interests.

In May 2008 an unofficial referendum to promote near secession from the federation was held in Santa Cruz province, the locus of most of the oil and gas wealth, and the area with a large population of descendants of the Spanish colonisers. Was this provoked by US interests, the oil companies or other outside sources? One motive for those voting seems to have been resentment that a "native" had been elected president. Another referendum on "recall" of the president and provincial governors was held in August 2008.

Morales won this election.

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Economics

The official economy is at a very low level of GNP per head. It used to be based on silver and tin mining. Spain extracted nearly all the silver. The world price of tin was low for many years and the mines are not profitable. New tin mining areas have opened up where the tin can be obtained at lower cost.

However, Bolivia is one of the main sources of Coca leaves from which Cocaine is produced. This unofficial and illegal economy is believed to be at least as large as the official economy in foreign exchange. Because it is officially illegal the trade tends to destabilize the political system as the drug controllers are the wealthiest people in the country and can afford to influence elections and the legal officials.

The IMF and World Bank insisted on the privatisation of public services and industries, including the large gas reserves. This means selling them to foreign companies. This has aroused popular anger. A leftwing government can be expected to try to nationalise these resources. The US will doubtless try to resist.

On 1 May 2006 Morales announced that all oil and gas belonged to the state and that foreign energy companies must negotiate contracts with the State Energy company. His aim is to redirect the energy exports to South American states, away from the United States, in alliance with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who is pursuing the same policy.

Bolivia may become the main supplier of Lithium for new types of batteries to store electricity in electric cars. This could be an important new industry. Morales wishes it to be in the hands of Bolivians rather than multi-national companies.

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Green/Ecology

Street children. (Or should these be in the economics section?) They are a sign of a society under severe strain.

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Human Rights

Climate effects

Last revised 7/03/11


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