Plurinational State of Bolivia
Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia (Spanish)
Bulivya Mamallaqta (Quechua)
Wuliwya Suyu (Aymara)
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: ¡La unión es la fuerza!
"The unity is the strength" (Spanish) [1]
Anthem: Himno Nacional de Bolivia (Spanish)
Wiphala of Qulla Suyu:[2]
Wiphala of Qulla Suyu
Capital Sucre (constitutional capital)[3][4]
19°2′S 65°15′W / 19.033°S 65.25°W / -19.033; -65.25
La Paz (administrative capital)[4]
16°30′S 68°09′W / 16.5°S 68.15°W / -16.5; -68.15
Largest city Santa Cruz de la Sierra
17°48′S 63°10′W / 17.8°S 63.167°W / -17.8; -63.167
Official language(s) Spanish
and 34 other native languages[5][6]
Ethnic groups  55% Amerindian (Quechua, Aymara and 34 other ethnic groups), 30% Mestizo, 15% White[7]
Demonym Bolivian
Government Unitary Presidential Republic
 -  President Evo Morales
 -  Vice President Álvaro García
Independence from Spain 
 -  Declared 6 August 1825 
 -  Recognized 21 July 1847 
 -  Current constitution
February 7, 2009 
 -  Total 1,098,581 km2 (28th)
424,163 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.29
 -  2010 estimate increase10,907,778[8] (84th)
 -  2001 census 8,280,184 
 -  Density 8.9/km2 (220th)
23/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $47.882 billion[9] 
 -  Per capita $4,592[9] 
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $19.373 billion[9] 
 -  Per capita $1,858[9] 
Gini (2009) 58.2[10] (high
HDI (2011) increase 0.663[11] (medium) (108th)
Currency Boliviano (BOB)
Time zone (UTC-4)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code BO
Internet TLD .bo
Calling code +591

Coordinates: 16°42′43″S 64°39′58″W / 16.712°S 64.666°W / -16.712; -64.666 Bolivia (Listeni/bəˈlɪviə/, Spanish: [boliˈβja]) officially known as Plurinational State of Bolivia[12][13] (Spanish: Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, Quechua: Bulivya Mamallaqta, Aymara: Wuliwya Suyu), is a landlocked country in central South America. It is the poorest country in South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, Chile by the south west, and Peru by the west. Prior to European colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was a part of the Inca Empire – the largest state in Pre-Columbian America. The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called Upper Peru and was under the administration of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included most of Spain's South American colonies. After declaring independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the Republic, named for Simón Bolívar, on 6 August 1825. Bolivia has struggled through periods of political instability, dictatorships and economic woes.

Bolivia is a democratic republic that is divided into nine departments. Its geography is varied from the peaks of the Andes in the West, to the Eastern Lowlands, situated within the Amazon Basin. It is a developing country, with a Medium Human Development Index score, and a poverty level around 60%. Its main economic activities include agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, refined metals, and refined petroleum. Bolivia is very wealthy in minerals, especially tin.

The Bolivian population, estimated at 10 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, and Africans. The main language spoken is Spanish, although the Aymara and Quechua languages are also common and all three, as well as 34 other indigenous languages, are official. The large number of different cultures within Bolivia has contributed greatly to a wide diversity in fields such as art, cuisine, literature, and music.



Bolivia was named for Simón Bolívar, a leader in the Spanish American wars of independence.[14] Antonio José de Sucre had been given the option by Bolívar to either keep Upper Peru (present-day Bolivia) under the newly formed Republic of Peru, to unite with the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, or to formally declare its independence from the Viceroyalty of Peru that had dominated most of the region. Sucre opted to create a new nation and, with local support, named it in honor of Simón Bolívar.[15]

However, the original name given to the newly formed country was Republic of Bolívar. The name would not change to Bolivia until some days later when congressman Manuel Martín Cruz proposed: "If from Romulus comes Rome, then from Bolívar comes Bolivia" (Spanish: Si de Rómulo Roma, de Bolívar Bolivia). The name stuck and was approved by the Republic on 3 October 1825.[16]

In 2009, a new constitution changed the country's name from the "Republic of Bolivia" to the "Plurinational State of Bolivia" in recognition of the multi-ethnic nature of the country and the enhanced position of Bolivia's indigenous peoples under the new constitution.[17][18][19]


Tiwanaku at its largest territorial extent, AD 950

The region that is now known as Bolivia has been occupied for over 2,000 years, when the Aymara arrived in the region. Present-day Aymara associate themselves with an advanced civilization situated at Tiwanaku, in Western Bolivia. The capital city of Tiwanaku dates from as early as 1500 BC when it was a small agriculturally based village.[20]

The community grew to urban proportions between AD 600 and AD 800, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes. According to early estimates, at its maximum extent, the city covered approximately 6.5 square kilometers, and had between 15,000 – 30,000 inhabitants.[21] However, satellite imaging was used recently to map the extent of fossilized suka kollus across the three primary valleys of Tiwanaku, arriving at population-carrying capacity estimates of anywhere between 285,000 and 1,482,000 people.[22]

Around AD 400, Tiwanaku went from being a locally dominant force to a predatory state. Tiwanaku expanded its reaches into the Yungas and brought its culture and way of life to many other cultures in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. However, Tiwanaku was not a violent culture in many respects. In order to expand its reach, Tiwanaku exercised great political astuteness, creating colonies, fostering trade agreements (which made the other cultures rather dependent), and instituting state cults.[23]

The empire continued to grow with no end in sight. William H. Isbell states that "Tiahuanaco underwent a dramatic transformation between AD 600 and 700 that established new monumental standards for civic architecture and greatly increased the resident population."[24] Tiwanaku continued to absorb cultures rather than eradicate them. Archaeologists note a dramatic adoption of Tiwanaku ceramics into the cultures which became part of the Tiwanaku empire. Tiwanaku's power was further solidified through the trade it implemented among the cities within its empire.[23]

Tiwanaku's elites gained their status through the surplus food they controlled, collected from outlying regions and then redistributed to the general populace. Further, this elite's control of llama herds became a powerful control mechanism as llamas were essential for carrying goods between the civic centre and the periphery. These herds also came to symbolize class distinctions between the commoners and the elites. Through this control and manipulation of surplus resources, the elite's power continued to grow until about AD 950. At this time a dramatic shift in climate occurred.[25]

There occurred a significant drop in precipitation in the Titicaca Basin. Some archaeologists venture to label this a major drought. As the rainfall decreased, many of the cities further away from Lake Titicaca began to tender less foodstuffs to the elites. As the surplus of food decreased, and thus the amount available to underpin their power, the control of the elites began to falter. The capital city became the last place viable place for food production due to the resiliency of the raised field method of agriculture. But, in the end, even this more productive design for food production was no match for the vagaries of the weather. Tiwanaku disappeared around AD 1000 because food production, the main source of the power elite's control, dried up. The area remained uninhabited for centuries thereafter.[25]

Inca Expansion (1438–1527)

Between 1438 and 1527, the Inca empire, during its last great expansion, gained control over much of what is now western Bolivia. The Incas would not maintain control of the region for long however, as the rapidly expanding Inca Empire was internally weak. As such, the impending Spanish conquest would be remarkably easy.

Colonial period

The Spanish conquest of the Inca empire began in 1524, and was mostly completed by 1533. The territory now called Bolivia was known as "Upper Peru", and was under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima. Local government came from the Audiencia de Charcas located in Chuquisaca (La Plata—modern Sucre). Founded in 1545 as a mining town, Potosí soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming the largest city in the New World with a population exceeding 150,000 people.[26]

By the late 16th century Bolivian silver was an important source of revenue for the Spanish Empire.[27] A steady stream of natives served as labor force (the Spanish employed the pre-Columbian draft system called the mita).[28] Upper Peru was bounded to Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776. Túpac Katari led the indigenous rebellion that laid siege to La Paz in March 1781, during which 20,000 people died.[29] As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew.

Independence and subsequent wars

The struggle for independence started in the city of Sucre in 1809, with the Chuquisaca Revolution (Chuquisaca was then the name of the city). That revolution, which created a local government Junta, was followed by the La Paz revolution, during which Bolivia actually declared independence. Both revolutions were short-lived, and defeated by the Spanish authorities, but the following year the Spanish American wars of independence raged across the continent. Bolivia was captured and recaptured many times during the war by the royalists and patriots. Buenos Aires sent three military campaigns, all of which were defeated, and eventually limited itself to protecting the national borders at Salta. Bolivia was finally freed of Royalist dominion by Antonio José de Sucre, with a military campaign coming from the North in support of the campaign of Simón Bolívar. After 16 years of war the Republic was proclaimed on 6 August 1825 and named Bolivia in honor of Bolívar.

In 1836, Bolivia, under the rule of Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz, invaded Peru to reinstall the deposed president, General Luis José de Orbegoso. Peru and Bolivia formed the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, with de Santa Cruz as the Supreme Protector. Following tension between the Confederation and Chile, Chile declared war on 28 December 1836. Argentina, Chile's ally, declared war on the Confederation on 9 May 1837. The Peruvian-Bolivian forces achieved several major victories during the War of the Confederation: the defeat of the Argentinian expedition and the defeat of the first Chilean expedition on the fields of Paucarpata near the city of Arequipa.

On the same field, the Chilean and Peruvian rebel army surrendered unconditionally and signed the Paucarpata Treaty. The treaty stipulated that Chile would withdraw from Peru-Bolivia, Chile would return captured Confederate ships, economic relations would be normalized, and the Confederation would pay Peruvian debt to Chile. In Chile, public outrage over the treaty forced the government to reject it. Chile organized a second attack on the Confederation and defeated it in the Battle of Yungay. After this defeat, Santa Cruz resigned and went to exile in Ecuador and then Paris, and the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation was dissolved.

Following the independence of Peru, Peruvian president General Agustín Gamarra invaded Bolivia. The Peruvian army was decisively defeated at the Battle of Ingavi on 20 November 1841 where Gamarra was killed. The Bolivian army under General José Ballivián then mounted a counter-offensive, capturing the Peruvian port of Arica. Later, both sides signed a peace treaty in 1842, putting a final end to the war.

Economic instability and continued wars

A period of political and economic instability in the early to mid-19th century weakened Bolivia. Then in the War of the Pacific (1879–83) against Chile, it lost its access to the sea and the adjoining rich salitre (saltpeter) fields, together with the port of Antofagasta.

Since independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighboring countries in wars.[citation needed] It also lost the state of Acre, in the Acre War; important because this region was known for its production of rubber. Peasants and the Bolivian army fought briefly but after a few victories, and facing the prospect of a total war against Brazil, it was forced to sign the Treaty of Petrópolis in 1903, in which Bolivia lost this rich territory. Popular myth has it that Bolivian president Mariano Melgarejo (1864–71) traded the land for what he called "a magnificent white horse" and Acre was subsequently flooded by Brazilians which ultimately led to confrontation and fear of war with Brazil.

In the late 19th century, an increase in the world price of gold brought Bolivia relative prosperity and political stability. During the early 20th century, tin replaced gold as the country's most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elite followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first thirty years of the 20th century.[30]

Living conditions of the native people, who constitute most of the population, remained deplorable. With work opportunities limited to primitive conditions in the mines and in large estates having nearly feudal status, they had no access to education, economic opportunity, and political participation. Bolivia's defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932–35), where Bolivia lost a great part of the Gran Chaco region in dispute, marked a turning-point.[31][32][33]

Nationalist Revolutionary Movement

A llama in the Llaguna Colorada, a shallow salt lake in the southwestern Bolivian sector of the Altiplano.

The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) emerged as a broadly based party. Denied its victory in the 1951 presidential elections, the MNR led a successful revolution in 1952. Under President Víctor Paz Estenssoro, the MNR, having strong popular pressure, introduced universal suffrage into his political platform and carried out a sweeping land-reform promoting rural education and nationalization of the country's largest tin mines.

12 years of tumultuous rule left the MNR divided. In 1964, a military junta overthrew President Estenssoro at the outset of his third term. The 1969 death of President René Barrientos Ortuño, a former member of the junta who was elected president in 1966, led to a succession of weak governments. Alarmed by the rising Popular Assembly and the increase in the popularity of President Juan José Torres, the military, the MNR, and others installed Colonel (later General) Hugo Banzer Suárez as president in 1971.

Banzer ruled with MNR support from 1971 to 1974. Then, impatient with schisms in the coalition, he replaced civilians with members of the armed forces and suspended political activities. The economy grew impressively during most of Banzer's presidency, but human rights violations and eventual fiscal crises undercut his support. He was forced to call elections in 1978, and Bolivia again entered a period of political turmoil.

CIA activities and leftist insurgency

The CIA had been active in providing finances and training to the Bolivian military in 1960s. The revolutionary leader Che Guevara was killed by a team of CIA officers and members of the Bolivian Army on 9 October 1967, in Bolivia. The CIA reported that Guevara was captured on 8 October as a result of the clash with the Cuban-led guerrillas. He had a wound in his leg, but was otherwise in fair condition. At 1150 hours on 9 October the Second Ranger Battalion received direct orders from Bolivian Army Headquarters in La Paz to kill Guevara. These orders were carried out at 1315 hours the same day with a burst of fire from an M-2 automatic rifle. Félix Rodríguez was a CIA officer on the team with the Bolivian Army that captured and shot Guevara.[34] Rodriguez said that after he received a Bolivian presidential execution order, he told "the soldier who pulled the trigger to aim carefully, to remain consistent with the Bolivian government's story that Che had been killed in action during a clash with the Bolivian army." Rodriguez said the US government had wanted Che in Panama, and "I could have tried to falsify the command to the troops, and got Che to Panama as the US government said they had wanted", said Mr Rodriguez, but he chose to "let history run its course" as desired by Bolivia."[35]

Military governments: García Meza and Siles Zuazo

Elections in 1979 and 1981 were inconclusive and marked by fraud. There were coups d'état, counter-coups, and caretaker governments. In 1980, General Luis García Meza Tejada carried out a ruthless and violent coup d'état that did not have popular support. He pacified the people by promising to remain in power only for one year. (At the end of the year, he staged a televised rally to claim popular support and announced, "Bueno, me quedo", or, "All right; I'll stay [in office]."[36] He was deposed shortly thereafter.) His government was notorious for human-rights-abuses, drug-trafficking, and economic mismanagement; during his presidency, the inflation that later crippled the Bolivian economy could already be felt. Later convicted in absentia for various crimes by attorney Juan del Granado, including murder, García Meza was extradited from Brazil and began serving a 30-year prison sentence in 1995.

After a military rebellion forced out Meza in 1981, three other military governments in 14 months struggled with Bolivia's growing problems. Unrest forced the military to convoke the Congress elected in 1980 and allow it to choose a new chief executive. In October 1982, Hernán Siles Zuazo again became president, 22 years after the end of his first term of office (1956–60).

Sánchez de Lozada and Banzer: Liberalizing the economy

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada pursued an aggressive economic and social reform agenda. The most dramatic reform was the "capitalization" program, under which investors, typically foreign, acquired 50% ownership and management control of public enterprises, such as the state petroleum corporation, telecommunications system, airlines, railroads, and electric utilities, in return for agreed upon capital investments.

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada

The reforms and economic restructuring were strongly opposed by certain segments of society, which instigated frequent and sometimes violent protests, particularly in La Paz and the Chapare coca-growing region, from 1994 through 1996. The de Lozada government pursued a policy of offering monetary compensation for voluntary eradication of illegal coca by its growers in the Chapare region. The policy produced little net reduction in coca, and in the mid-1990s Bolivia accounted for about one-third of the world's coca that was being processed into cocaine. The coca leaf has long been part of the Bolivian culture, as indigenous workers have traditionally used the leaf for its properties as a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant.

During this time, the umbrella labor-organization of Bolivia, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), became increasingly unable to effectively challenge government policy. A teachers' strike in 1995 was defeated because the COB could not marshal the support of many of its members, including construction and factory workers. The state also used selective martial law to keep the disruptions caused by the teachers to a minimum. The teachers were led by Trotskyites, and were considered to be the most militant union in the COB. Their downfall was a major blow to the COB, which also became mired in internal corruption and infighting in 1996.

In the 1997 elections, General Hugo Banzer, leader of the Nationalist Democratic Action party (ADN) and former dictator (1971–78), won 22% of the vote, while the MNR candidate won 18%. General Banzer formed a coalition of the ADN, MIR, UCS, and CONDEPA parties, which held a majority of seats in the Bolivian Congress. The Congress elected him as president, and he was inaugurated on 6 August 1997. During the election campaign, Banzer had promised to suspend the privatization of the state-owned oil-company, YPFB. But this seemed unlikely to happen, considering Bolivia's weak position globally. The Banzer government basically continued the free-market and privatization-policies of its predecessor.

The relatively robust economic growth of the mid-1990s continued until about the third year of its term in office. After that, regional, global and domestic factors contributed to a decline in economic growth. Financial crises in Argentina and Brazil, lower world prices for export commodities, and reduced employment in the coca sector depressed the Bolivian economy. The public also perceived a significant amount of public sector corruption. These factors contributed to increasing social protests during the second half of Banzer's term.[37]

At the outset of his government, President Banzer launched a policy of using special police-units to physically eradicate the illegal coca of the Chapare region. The policy produced a sudden and dramatic four-year decline in Bolivia's illegal coca crop, to the point that Bolivia became a relatively small supplier of coca for cocaine. Those left unemployed by coca eradication streamed into the cities, especially El Alto, the slum-neighborhood of La Paz. The MIR of Jaime Paz Zamora remained a coalition-partner throughout the Banzer government, supporting this policy (called the Dignity Plan).[38]

Between January 1999 and April 2000, large-scale protests erupted in Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city, in response to the privatization of water resources by foreign companies and a subsequent doubling of water prices.

On 6 August 2001, Banzer resigned from office after being diagnosed with cancer. He died less than a year later. Vice President Jorge Fernando Quiroga Ramírez completed the final year of his term.

In the June 2002 national elections, former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (MNR) placed first with 22.5% of the vote, followed by coca-advocate and native peasant-leader Evo Morales (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS) with 20.9%. Morales edged out populist candidate Manfred Reyes Villa of the New Republican Force (NFR) by just 700 votes nationwide, earning a spot in the congressional run-off against Sánchez de Lozada on 4 August 2002.

A July agreement between the MNR and the fourth-place MIR, which had again been led in the election by former President Jaime Paz Zamora, virtually ensured the election of Sánchez de Lozada in the congressional run-off, and on 6 August he was sworn in for the second time. The MNR platform featured three overarching objectives: economic reactivation (and job creation), anti-corruption, and social inclusion.

La Paz skyline. The city is the highest capital in the world.

In 2003 the Bolivian gas conflict broke out. On 12 October 2003 the government imposed martial law in El Alto after 16 people were shot by the police and several dozen wounded in violent clashes which erupted when a caravan of oil trucks escorted by police and soldiers deploying tanks and heavy-caliber machine guns tried to breach a barricade. On 17 October 2003 Evo Morales' supporters from Cochabamba tried to march into Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city of the eastern lowlands where support was strong for the president. They were turned back. Faced with the option of resigning or more bloodshed, Sanchez de Lozada offered his resignation in a letter to an emergency session of Congress. After his resignation was accepted and his vice president, Carlos Mesa, invested, he left on a commercially scheduled flight for the United States.

In March 2004, the new president Carlos Mesa announced that his government would hold a series of rallies around the country, and at its embassies abroad, demanding that Chile return to Bolivia a stretch of seacoast that the country lost in 1884 after the end of the War of the Pacific. Chile has traditionally refused to negotiate on the issue, but Mesa nonetheless made this policy a central point of his administration.

However, the country's internal situation became unfavorable for such political action on the international stage. After a resurgence of gas protests in 2005, Carlos Mesa attempted to resign in January 2005, but his offer was refused by Congress. On 22 March 2005, after weeks of new street protests from organizations accusing Mesa of bowing to U.S. corporate interests, Mesa again offered his resignation to Congress, which was accepted on 10 June. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodríguez, was sworn as interim president to succeed the outgoing Carlos Mesa.

Plan de Todos

Mobilizing against neoliberalism as a common enemy of the people, the indigenous population of the Andean region was able to achieve widespread government reform.[39] Bolivia, in particular, was quite successful due to the prominence of an indigenous population and the persistence of reformist policies. In 1993, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada ran for president in alliance with the Tupac Katari Revolutionary Liberation Movement, which inspired indigenous-sensitive and multicultural-aware policies.[40] Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (colloquially known as Goni) was able to shift Bolivian society by selling state firms and constitutionally acknowledging the existence of a multicultural and multiethnic population. Current development has led to a neoliberal citizenship regime in which civil rights are expressed through private property ownership, formal democracy and representation, and an investment in the maintaining of infrastructure.

In the 1990s, Bolivia introduced, the Plan de Todos, which led to the decentralization of government, introduction of intercultural bilingual education, implementation of agrarian legislation, and privatization of state owned businesses. The Plan de Todos main incentive was to encourage popular participation among the Bolivian people. The law recognizes the existence of barrios and rural communities as Territorially Based Organizations (TBOs) and has oversight boards known as rómiles de agilancia, or vigilance committees, that are responsible for overseeing municipal governments and planning projects. The Plan formally acknowledged the existence of 311 municipalities, which benefited directly based on the size of their populations. The Plan de Todos inspired the development of a market democracy with minimally regulated capitalist economy. The Plan explicitly stated that Bolivian citizens would own a minimum of 51% of enterprises; under the Plan, most state owned enterprises (SOEs), besides mines, were sold.[41] This privatization of SOEs led to innovative neoliberal structuring that acknowledged a diverse population within Bolivia.[42]

The Law of Popular Participation[43] gave municipalities the responsibility of maintaining various infrastructures (and offering services): health, education, systems of irrigation, which stripped the responsibility away from the state. The state provides municipalities with twenty percent of federal tax revenue so that each municipality can adequately maintain these infrastructures. The Law also redistributes political power to the local level.

The Morales administration

Evo Morales' inauguration as President

The two main candidates for the 2005 Bolivian presidential election held on 18 December 2005 were Juan Evo Morales Ayma of the MAS Party and Jorge Quiroga, leader of the Social and Democratic Power (PODEMOS) Party and former head of the Acción Democrática Nacionalista (ADN) Party. Morales won the election with 53.7% of the votes, an absolute majority, unusual in Bolivian elections. He was sworn in on 22 January 2006, for a five-year term. Prior to his official inauguration in La Paz, he was inaugurated in an Aymara ritual at the archeological site of Tiwanaku before a crowd of thousands of Aymara people and representatives of leftist movements from across Latin America. Though highly symbolic, this ritual was not historically based and primarily represented native Aymaras — not the main Quechua-speaking population. Since the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century, this region of South America, where there is a majority native population, has been ruled mostly by descendants of European immigrants.

On 1 May 2006, Morales caused controversy when he announced his intent to re-nationalize Bolivian hydrocarbon assets. While stating that the initiative would not be an expropriation, Morales sent Bolivian troops to occupy 56 gas installations simultaneously, including the two Petrobras-owned refineries which provide over 90% of Bolivia's refining-capacity. All foreign energy firms were required to sign new contracts within 180 days giving Bolivia majority ownership, and up to 82% of revenues for the largest natural gas fields. All such firms signed contracts. Reports from the Bolivian government and the companies involved are contradictory as to plans for future investment.[citation needed]

By far the biggest customer for Bolivian hydrocarbons has been Brazil, which imports two-thirds of Bolivia's natural gas via pipelines operated by the semi-private Petrobras. Since gas can only be exported from landlocked Bolivia via Petrobras' large (and expensive) pipelines, the supplier and customer are strongly linked. Petrobras has announced plans to produce enough natural gas by 2011 to replace that now supplied by Bolivia. Bolivia's position is strengthened by the knowledge that hydrocarbon reserves are more highly valued now than at the times of previous nationalizations, and by the pledged support of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Morales opened on 6 August 2006, the Bolivian Constituent Assembly to begin writing a new constitution aimed at giving more power to the indigenous majority.[44] Problems immediately arose when, unable to garner the two-thirds votes needed to include controversial provisions in the constitutional draft, Morales' party announced that only a simple majority would be needed to draft individual articles while two-thirds needed to pass the document in full. Violent protests arose in December 2006 in parts of the country for both two-thirds and departmental autonomy, mostly in the eastern third of the country, where much of the hydrocarbon wealth is located. MAS and its supports believed two-thirds voting rules would give an effective veto for all constitutional changes to the conservative minority.

In August 2007, more conflicts arose in Sucre, as the city demanded the discussion of the seat of government inside the assembly, hoping the executive and legislative branch could return to the city, but assembly and the government said this demand was overwhelmingly impractical and politically undesirable. The conflict turned into violence, and the assembly was moved to a military area in Oruro. Although the main opposition party boycotted the session, a constitutional draft was approved on 24 November.

In May 2008, Evo Morales was a signatory to the UNASUR Constitutive Treaty of the Union of South American Nations. Bolivia has ratified the treaty.

In the 2009 national general elections, Evo Morales was re-elected with 64.22% of the vote. His party, Movement for Socialism, also won a two-thirds majority in both houses of the National Congress.

Administrative divisions

Bolivia is divided into nine departments, each of them divided into 112 provinces and these ones into 339 municipalities and into native community lands.[45]

According to what is established by the Bolivian Political Constitution, the Law of Autonomies and Decentralization regulates de procedure for the elaboration of Statutes of Autonomy, the transfer and distribution of direct competences between the central government and the autonomous entities.[46] There are four levels of decentralization:

Departmental Government
Constituted by the Departmental Assembly, with rights over the legislation of the department. The governor is chosen by universal suffrage.
Municipal Government
Constituted by a Municipal Council, with rights over the legislation of the municipality. The mayor is chosen by universal suffrage.
Regional Government
Conformed by several provinces or municipalities of geographical continuity within a department. It is constituted by a Regional Assembly.
Original Indigenous Government
Self-governance of original indigenous people on the ancient territories where they live.
Territorial division of Bolivia
Department Abbreviation
Population Surface (km²) Density Capital city Bolivia Departmentos con nombres.png
Flag of Bolivia.svg Bolivia BO 10.027.644 1.098.581 9,1 Sucre (Constitutional)
Nuestra Señora de La Paz (Administrative)
Flag of beni.svg Beni BO-B 430.049 213.564 1,9 Trinidad
Flag of chuquisaca.svg Chuquisaca BO-H 631.062 51.524 11,9 Sucre
Flag of cochabamba.svg Cochabamba BO-C 1.786.040 55.631 22,7 Cochabamba
Flag of lapaz.svg La Paz BO-L 2.756.989 133.985 19,9 La Paz
Flag of oruro.svg Oruro BO-O 444.093 53.558 8,2 Oruro
Flag of pando.svg Pando BO-N 75.335 63.827 1,1 Cobija
Flag of potosi.svg Potosí BO-P 780.392 118.218 6,5 Potosí
Flag of santacruz.svg Santa Cruz Department BO-S 2.626.697 370.621 7,1 Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Flag of tarija.svg Tarija BO-T 496.988 37.623 12,5 Tarija
Source: Demographic Projections 2008, Bolivian National Demographic Institute.[47] The departmental densitiy has been calculated with the population of 2006.

Territorial limits

Bolivia rel93.jpg
Country Terrestrial Maritime Total
 Argentina 471 302 773
 Brazil 750 2.673¹ 3.423
 Chile 830 20 850
 Paraguay 634 57 741
 Peru 513 534² 1.047
Terrestrial 3.469
Maritime 3.579
Total 6.834

1 =From the 2.673 kilometers of maritime boundaries with Brazil, 95 kilometers are lakes, being the rest rivers.
2 =From the 544 kilometers of maritime boundaries with Peru, 150 kilometers are in the Lake Titicaca, being the rest rivers.

Bolivia limits at north and east with the Federative Republic of Brazil, and east and southeast with the Republic of Paraguay, at south with the Argentine Republic, at southwest with the Republic of Chile and at west wih the Republic of Peru. The total perimeter of the boundaries is of 6.834 kilometers.

  • Limits with Argentina: This international limit starts at the Zapalari mountain and ends in Esmeralda, Tarija Department (which is a triple boundary point between Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay). The main boundary points are the Panizo mountain, the Malpaso mountain, the towns of Villazón,Bermejo, Fortín Campero, Yacuiba and Fortín D'Orbigny over the Pilcomayo River.
  • Limits with Brazil: This international limit is the most extense. It starts in the town of Bolbepra and ends on Bahía Negra ("Black Bay"), which is a triple boundary between Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. The main boundary points are Brasiléia, located in front of Cobija), the towns of Fortín Manoa (close to the Madeira River), Villa Bella, Cerro Cuatro Hermanos, San Matías, the La Gaiba Lake, the Mandioré Lake, the Cáceres Lake and the Gutiérrez Guerra Port in the Paraguay River.
  • Limits with Chile: The current limit between Bolivia and Chile was agreed with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1904. This document allowed the surrender of the Bolivian littoral zone and coasts in the Pacific Ocean, making Bolivia a landlocked country. The limits start at Visviri (boundary point for Bolivia, Chile and Peru) and ends at the Zapaleri mountain, which is a triple boundary point for Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The main points of the boundary are the Licancabur and Ollagüe volcanos and the Payachata mountains.
  • Limits with Paraguay: It starts in Esmeralda and ends on Bahía Negra, on the Black River. The main boundary points are the Ustares mountain, Palmar de las Islas, Hito Chovoreca and the Jara mountain.
  • Limits with Peru: The boundary starts at the town of Bolbepra (triple boundary point for Bolivia, Peru and Brazil) and ends on Choquecota and Visviri. The most important points in the international boundary are the Heath Port on the Madre de Dios River, the Apolobamba mountain range and Puerto Acosta, where the division of the Titicaca Lake starts.

Maritime claim

Despite losing its maritime coast, the called Litoral Department, after the War of the Pacific, Bolivia has historically maintained as a state policy a maritime claim to Chile; the claim asks for a soverein access to the Pacific Ocean and its maritime space. The Political Constitution of 2009 established that Bolivia declares its right to an access to the sea and that its objective is to solve the problem pacifically.

Since the foundation of the United Nations in 1945, Bolivia has requested to the General Assembly to consider its petition of a sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. The issue has also been presented in the Organization of American States; in 1979 the organization created the 426 Resolution[48], which declared that the Bolivian problem is an hemispheric problem. Chile has tried to help in the issue, but without yielding its sovereign territory.

  • Access to the Pacific Ocean by Chile. On April 4, 1884, a truce treaty is signed with Chile, for which Chile gives facilities of access to the Bolivian products through Antofagasta and freed the payment of export rights in the port of Arica. In October, 1904 the Treaty of Peace and Friendship is signed and Chile accepts to build a railway between Arica and La Paz to improve the access of Bolivian products to the ports.
  • Access to the Pacific Ocean by Peru. The Special Economical Zone for Bolivia in Ilo (ZEEBI) is a special economical area of 5 km of maritime coast and a total extension of 358 ha called Mar Bolivia ("Sea Bolivia") in which Bolivia may use a free port in Ilo, Peru for its administration and operation[49] for a period of 99 years starting on 1992; once the time has passed, all the construction and territory go back to the Peruvian government.
  • Access to the Altantic Ocean by Argentina. Since 1964, Bolivia has its own port facilities in the Bolivian Free Port in Rosario, Argentina. The port is located on the Paraná River, which is directly connected to the Atlantic Ocean.


Satellital image of Bolivia

Bolivia is located in the central zone of South America, between the meridians 57º 26´ and 69º 38´ of western longitude to the Prime Meridian and the parallels 9º 38´ and 22º 53´ of south latitude. At 1,098,580 square kilometres (424,160 sq mi), Bolivia is the world's 28th-largest country.[50] Its surface is extended from the Central Andes, going partially through the Gran Chaco, to the Amazon. The geographical center of the country is the called Puerto Estrella ("Star Port") on Río Grande, in the Ñuflo de Chávez Province, Santa Cruz Department.

The geographical location of the country allows it to comprise a great variety of land relieves and climate. Bolivia has a huge biodiversity; it is considered one of the biggest of the world, as well as several ecoregions with ecological subunits as the Altiplano, tropical rainforests (along with the Amazon rainforest), dry valleys, and the Chiquitanía, which is a tropical savanna. All of them comprise enormous altitudinal varations, from an elevation of 6.542 meters above sea level in Nevado Sajama to close to the 70 meters in the Paraguay River. Despite the great geographical contrast, Bolivia is a landlocked country (does not have any direct access to the sea) since the War of the Pacific.

Land relief

Contrast of the land relief forms of Bolivia, from an elevation of 4.000 meters in the Andean region (altiplano) to 2.500 meters in the Sub-Andean region (valleys) and to 400 meters in Los Llanos region (savanna).

Bolivia can be divided into three physiographic regions:

  • Andean Region: in the southwest. It spans the 28% of the national territory and has an extension of 307.603 km². This area is located above the 3000 meters of altitude and located between two big Andean sections: the Cordillera Occidental ("western range") and the Cordillera Central ("central range"), where are located some of the highest spots in the Americas, as the Nevado Sajama, with 6.542 meters, and the Illimani with 6.462 meters. Here it is located the Lake Titicaca, the highest comerciallly navigable lake in the world.[51] and also the largest lake in South America,[52][53] shared with Peru. Also in this region is located the Altiplano and the Salar de Uyuni which is the largest salt flat of the world and an important source of lithium.
  • Sub-Andean Region: in the center and south. Intermediate region between the Altiplano and the eastern llanos and comprises the 13% of the territory with an extension of 142.815 km². It encompasses the Bolivian valleys and the Yungas region. It is distinguished by its farming activities and its template-warm climate.
  • Llanos Region: in the northeast. It comprises the 59% of the territory with an extension of 648.163 km². It is located at the north of the Cordillera Central; it extends from the Andean foothills to the Paraguay River. It is a region of flatland and small plateaus, all covered by extense rainforests with an enormous biodiversity. The region is located below the 400 meters above sea level.


Bolivia has three drainage basins that disembogue in the Atlantic Ocean or in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Amazon Basin, also called North Basin (724.000 km² / 66% of the territory). The rivers of this basin generally have big caudals and meanders, therefore forming lakes as the Murillo Lake in the Pando Department. The main Bolivian tributary to the Amazon basin is the Mamoré River with a lenght of 2000 km which runs north until the confluence with the Beni River, 1.113 km of lenght and the second most important river of the country. The Beni River, along with the Madeira River form the main tributary of the Amazon River. From east to west the basin is formed by other important rivers as the Madre de Dios River, Orthon River, Abuna River, Yata River and the Guaporé River. The most important lakes are the Rogaguado Lake and the Rogagua Lake.
  • Rio de la Plata Basin, also called South Basin (229.500 km² / 21% of the territory). The tributaries are in general less abundant that the ones from the Amazon basin. It is mainly compounded by the Paraguay River, Pilcomayo River and Bermejo River. The most important lakes are the Uberaba Lake and the Mandioré Lake, both located in the Bolivian marshland.
  • Central Basin, which is an endorheic basin (145.081 km² / 13% of the territory). The Altiplano has big amounts of lakes and rivers that do not run to any ocean, as they are enclosed by the Andean range of mountains. The most important river is the Desaguadero River, with a lenght of 436 km is the longest river of the Altiplano and borns in the Lake Titicaca and then runs in a southeast direction to the Poopó Lake. The basin is then formed by the Lake Titicaca, Lake Poopó, the Desaguadero River and great salt flats as the Salar de Uyuni and the Coipasa Lake.
Main elevations, rivers and lakes of Bolivia
Nevado Sajama
Nevado Sajama
Mamoré River
Mamoré River
Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca
Elevations Rivers Lakes
Name Elevation
Name Length
Name Surface
1 Sajama 6.542 1 Mamoré 2.000 1 Titicaca 3.790¹
2 Illampu 6.485 2 Itonomas River 1.493 2 Poopó 2.337
3 Illimani 6.462 3 Grande 1.438 3 Coipasa 806
4 Ancohuma 6.427 4 Beni 1.130 4 Rogoaguado 329
5 Parinacota 6.362 5 Blanco 1.087 5 Rogaguado 315
1 = The Lake Titicaca has a total surface of 8.562 km², from which 3.790 km² are in Bolivia.
Source: Bolivian National Geographic Institute (IGN)


The climate of Bolivia vary drastically from one ecoregion to the other, from the tropics in the eastern llanos to polar climates in the western Andes. The summers are warm, humid in the east and dry in the west with rains that often modify the temperatures, the humidity, the winds, the atmospheric pressure and the evaporation, giving place to very different climates. When the climatological phenomenon "El Niño"[54][55] takes place provokes big alterations in the weather. The winters are very cold in the west and have snow in the proximity to the mountain ranges, while in the western regions windy days are more usual. The autumn is dry in the non tropical regions.

  • Llanos. Humid tropical climate with an average temperature of 30°C. The wind coming from the Amazon rainforest cause significant rains. Starting on May, dry winds cause a minimun precipitation, and most of the days have clear skies. At the contrary, winds from the south, called surazos, can bring fresh temperatures for several days.
  • Altiplano. Desert-Polar climates with strong and cold winds. The average temperature ranges from 15 to 20°C. At night, the temperatures descend drastically to slightly above 0°C, while during the day the weather is dry and the solar radiation is high. Ground frosts happen every month and snow is frequent.
  • Valleys and Yungas. Temperateness climate. The humid northeastern winds are pushed to the mountains, making this region to be very humid and rainy. The temperatures fall as increasing the elevation. Snow is comming starting at 2000 meters.
  • Chaco. Subtropical Semi-arid climate. Rains and humidity in January and rest of the year with warm days and cool nights.


Bolivian biodiversity; birds from different ecological regions, the Andean Condor (Andes), the Greater Rhea (Chaco), and the Toco Toucan (tropical)

Bolivia is part of the Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries[56] and has an enormous variety of organisms and ecosystems.

Its altitudinal variation, that moves from 90 to 6.542 meters above sea level allows to have this huge biologic diversity. The territory of Bolivia composes 4 types of biomes, 32 ecological regions and 199 ecosystems. In this grographical space cohabit several natural parks and reserves, as the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, the Madidi National Park, the Tunari National Park, the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area, among others.

The biodiversity of species may be divided into:

Fauna and Flora of Bolivia
Ocelot 01.jpg Squirrel monkey3.JPG Flamingos Laguna Colorada.jpg Lama3.jpg Delfinrosado.jpg
Leopardus pardalis
Saimiri boliviensis
Black-capped squirrel monkey
Phoenicopterus andinus
Andean Flamingo
Lama glama
Inia boliviensis
Amazon river dolphin
Heliconia rostrata1.jpg Echinopsis boyuibensis1PCJO.jpg Flordepaineiraabelha.jpg Leaves I IMG 8668.jpg Kantuta Cochabamba Bolivia.jpg
Heliconia rostrata
Echinopsis boyuibensis
Boyuibe cactus
Ceiba speciosa
Swietenia macrophylla
Cantua buxifolia


The geology of Bolivia comprises a variety of different lithologies as well as tectonic and sedimentary environments. On a synoptic scale, geological units coincide with topographical units. Most elementally, the country is divided into a mountainous western area affected by the subduction processes in the Pacific and an eastern lowlands of stable platforms and shields.

The Central Bank of Bolivia


Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America, despite being rich in natural resources. Bolivia's 2002 gross domestic product (GDP) totaled USD $7.9 billion. Economic growth was about 2.5% per year, and inflation was between 3% and 4% in 2002 (it was under 2% in 2001). Bolivia was rated 'Repressed' by the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom.[58] However, despite a series of mostly political setbacks, between 2006 and 2009 the Morales administration has spurred growth higher than at any point in the preceding 30 years. The growth was accompanied by a moderate decrease in inequality.[59]

Bolivia's current economic situation remains lackluster, a factor that can be linked to several factors from the past three decades. The first major blow to the Bolivian economy came with a dramatic fall in the price of tin during the early 1980s, which impacted one of Bolivia's main sources of income and one of its major mining-industries.[60] The second major economic blow came at the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s as economic aid was withdrawn by western countries who had previously tried to keep a market-liberal regime in power through financial support.

Since 1985, the government of Bolivia has implemented a far-reaching program of macroeconomic stabilization and structural reform aimed at maintaining price stability, creating conditions for sustained growth, and alleviating scarcity. A major reform of the customs service in recent years has significantly improved transparency in this area. Parallel legislative reforms have locked into place market-liberal policies, especially in the hydrocarbon and telecommunication sectors, that have encouraged private investment. Foreign investors are accorded national treatment, and foreign ownership of companies enjoys virtually no restrictions in Bolivia.[61]

Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America.[62] The government has a long-term sales-agreement to sell natural gas to Brazil through 2019. The government held a binding referendum in 2005 on the Hydrocarbon Law.

The US Geological Service estimates that Bolivia has 5.4 million cubic tonnes of lithium which represents 50%–70% of world reserves. The light metal is used to make high-capacity batteries used in electric cars and such. The spinoff effect of lithium mining could cause Bolivia to become the "Saudi Arabia of the Green World." However, to mine for it would involve disturbing the country's salt flats (called Salar de Uyuni), an important natural feature which boosts tourism in the region. The government does not want to destroy this unique natural landscape, to meet the rising world demand for lithium.[63]

Uro person on floating an islet in Titicaca.

In April 2000, Hugo Banzer, the former President of Bolivia, signed a contract with Aguas del Tunari, a private consortium, to operate and improve the water supply in Bolivia's third-largest city, Cochabamba. Shortly thereafter, the company tripled the water rates in that city, an action which resulted in protests and rioting among those who could no longer afford clean water.[64][65] Amidst Bolivia's nationwide economic collapse and growing national unrest over the state of the economy, the Bolivian government was forced to withdraw the water contract.

Bolivian commercial exports were $1.3 billion in 2002, from a low of $652 million in 1991. Imports were $1.7 billion in 2002. Bolivian tariffs are a uniformly low 10%, with capital equipment charged only 5%. Bolivia's trade-deficit was $460 million in 2002.

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 of Nations and enjoys nominally free trade with other member countries.

The United States remains Bolivia's largest trading partner (excepting natural resources, such as natural gas). In 2002, the United States exported $283 million of merchandise to Bolivia and imported $162 million.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 15% of Bolivia's GDP. Soybeans are the major cash crop, sold into the Andean Community market.

Bolivia's government remains heavily dependent on foreign assistance to finance development projects. At the end of 2002, the government owed $4.5 billion to its foreign creditors, with $1.6 billion of this amount owed to other governments and most of the balance owed to multilateral development banks. 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, though economic crises in recent years have undercut Bolivia's normally good record.

The rescheduling of agreements granted by the Paris Club has allowed the individual creditor countries to apply very soft terms to the rescheduled debt. As a result, some countries have forgiven substantial amounts of Bolivia's bilateral debt. The U.S. government reached an agreement at the Paris Club meeting in December 1995 that reduced by 67% Bolivia's existing debt stock. The Bolivian government continues to pay its debts to the multilateral development banks on time. Bolivia is a beneficiary of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Enhanced HIPC debt relief programs, which by agreement restricts Bolivia's access to new soft loans.

The income from tourism becomes increasingly important. Bolivia's tourist industry has grown gradually since about 1990.

People in La Paz city centre
Festival in Sucre
Young miners at work in Potosí


Bolivia's ethnic distribution is estimated to be 30% Quechua-speaking and 25% Aymara-speaking. The largest of the approximately three dozen native groups are the Quechuas (2.5 million), Aymaras (2 million), then Chiquitano (180,000), and Guaraní (125,000). So the full Amerindian population is at 55%; the remaining 30% is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European), and around 15% are whites.[66]

The white population consists mostly of criollos, which in turn consist of families of relatively unmixed Spanish ancestry, descended from the early Spanish colonists. These have formed much of the aristocracy since independence. Other smaller groups within the white population are Germans, who founded the former national airline Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, as well as Italians, Basques, Croats, Russians, Poles and other minorities, many of whose members descend from families that have lived in Bolivia for several generations. Some 40,000 German-speaking Mennonites live in eastern Bolivia.[67]

The Afro Bolivian community numbers more than 0.5% of the population, descended from African slaves that were transported to work in Brazil and then migrated westward into Bolivia. They are mostly concentrated in the Yungas region (Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas provinces) in the department of La Paz. There are also Japanese who are concentrated mostly in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and Middle Easterners who became prosperous in commerce.

Bolivia is one of the least developed countries in South America. Almost two-thirds of its people, many of whom are subsistence farmers, live in poverty. Population density ranges from less than one person per square kilometre in the southeastern plains to about ten per square kilometre (25 per sq. mi) in the central highlands. As of 2006, the population is increasing about 1.45% per year.[68]

Major cities are La Paz (administrative capital), Sucre (capital), Santa Cruz de la Sierra (largest population), El Alto, Oruro and Cochabamba.

view · INE
Rank City Name Department Pop. Rank City Name Department Pop.
1 Santa Cruz de la Sierra Santa Cruz 1,451,597 11 Quillacollo Cochabamba 92,747
2 La Paz La Paz 877,363 12 Montero Santa Cruz 91,952
3 El Alto La Paz 647,350 13 Trinidad Beni 87,977
4 Cochabamba Cochabamba 608,276 14 Riberalta Beni 93,624
5 Sucre Chuquisaca 280,225 15 Tiquipaya Cochabamba 62,940
6 Oruro Oruro 216,702 16 La Guardia Santa Cruz 49,921
7 Tarija Tarija 176,787 17 Warnes Santa Cruz 47,406
8 Potosí Potosí 150,647 18 Cotoca Santa Cruz 45,277
9 Sacaba Cochabamba 134,518 19 Guayaramerín Beni 35,767
10 Yacuíba Tarija 95,594 20 Cobija Pando 34,498


In 2006, life expectancy at birth was 64 for males and 67 for females.[12] A study by UN Development Programme and UNICEF reported that over 230 babies in Bolivia died per day through lack of proper care.[69] The majority of the population has no health insurance.[70] A significant part of the population has no access to healthcare.[70] Demographic and Health Surveys has completed five surveys in Bolivia since 1989 on a wide range of topics.[71]


Aymara woman praying
Cristo de la Concordia in Cochabamba, a symbol of Catholic influence in Bolivia

Although the great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic, Protestant denominations and traditional ethnic Inca religion[72][73] Religions are expanding rapidly.[68] According to a 2001 survey conducted by the National Statistical Institute, 78% of the population is Roman Catholic, 16% is Protestant and 3% follow other Christian denominations.[74] Islam is practiced by the descendants of Arabs and local converts, constituting a small minority of just over 2000 adherents. There is also a small Jewish community that is almost all Ashkenazim in origin. The state has no official religion.

There are colonies of Mennonites in the Santa Cruz Department.[75] Many Native communities interweave pre-Columbia and Christian symbols in their worship.


Spanish 60.7% (official), Quechua 21.2% (official), Aymara 14.6% (official), foreign languages 2.4%, other 1.2% (2001 census according to CIA Factbook). According to Instituto Nacional de Estadística de Bolivia 28.1% of the population of Bolivia spoke an indigenous language as a first language in 2007. This had increased to 29.4% in 2008. Approximately 90% of the children attend primary-school but often for a year or less. Until the 2001 census the literacy rate was low in many rural areas, but, according to the CIA, the literacy rate was 87% nationwide, which is similar to Brazil's but below the South American average. Nevertheless in 2008 after the campaign "Yes I can", Bolivia was declared illiteracy-free under the UNESCO standards.[76]

Politics and government

The government building of the National Congress of Bolivia at the Plaza Murillo in central La Paz.

Bolivia has been governed by democratically elected governments since 1982, when a long string of military coups came to an end. Presidents Hernán Siles Zuazo (1982–85) and Víctor Paz Estenssoro (1985–89) began a tradition of ceding power peacefully which has continued, although two presidents have stepped down in the face of popular protests: Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003 and Carlos Mesa in 2005. Bolivia's multiparty democracy has seen a wide variety of parties in the presidency and parliament, although the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, National Democratic Action, and the Revolutionary Left Movement predominated from 1985 to 2005. The current president is Evo Morales, the first indigenous Bolivian to serve as head of state. Morales' Movement for Socialism – Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples party was the first to win an outright presidential majority in four decades, doing so both in 2005 and 2009.

The constitution, drafted in 2006-07 and approved in 2009, provides for balanced executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral powers, as well as several levels of autonomy. The traditionally strong executive branch 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 as well as increasing decentralizing powers to departments, municipalities, and indigenous territories.

Executive branch

The executive branch is headed by a President and Vice President, and consists of a variable number (currently, 20) of government ministries. The president is elected to a five-year term by popular vote, and governs from the Presidential Palace (popularly called the Burnt Palace, Palacio Quemado) in La Paz. In the case that no candidate receives an absolute majority of the popular vote or more than 40% of the vote with an advantage of more than 10% over the second place finisher, a run-off is to be held among the two candidates most voted.[77]


There are 53 prisons in Bolivia which incarcerate around 8,700 people as of 2010. The prisons are managed by the Penitentiary Regime Directorate (Spanish: Dirección de Régimen Penintenciario). There are 17 prisons in departmental capital cities and 36 provincial prisons.

Legislative branch

The Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional (Plurinational Legislative Assembly or National Congress) has two chambers. The Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies) has 130 members elected to five year terms, seventy from single-member districts (circunscripciones), sixty by proportional representation, and seven by the minority indigenous peoples of seven departments. The Cámara de Senadores (Chamber of Senators) has 36 members (four per department). Members of the Assembly are elected to five year terms. The body has its headquarters on the Plaza Murillo in La Paz, but also holds honorary sessions elsewhere in Bolivia. The Vice President serves as titular head of the combined Assembly.

Judicial branch

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Tribunal, the Judiciary Council, Agrarian and Environmental Tribunal, and District (departmental) and lower courts.

  • Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (Spanish: Tribunal Constitucional Plurinacional) — rules on the constitutionality of government or court actions
  • Supreme Court or Supreme Tribunal of Justice (Spanish: Tribunal Supremo de Justicia)
  • Agrarian and Environmental Tribunal (Spanish: Tribunal Agroambiental) — highest court authority in matters of agriculture and the environment
  • Judiciary Council (Spanish: Consejo de la Magistratura) — oversees the conduct of courts and judges, including misconduct and ethical violations
  • District Courts (one in each department)
  • Provincial and local courts

In October 2011, Bolivia will hold its first judicial elections to choose members of the national courts by popular vote.

Electoral branch

The electoral branch of Bolivia's government, formally the Plurinational Electoral Organ, is an independent branch of government which replaced the National Electoral Court in 2010. The branch consists of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the nine Departmental Electoral Tribunals, Electoral Judges, the anonymously selected Juries at Election Tables, and Electoral Notaries.[78] Wilfredo Ovando presides over the seven-member Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Its operations are mandated by the Constitution and regulated by the Electoral Regime Law (Law 026, passed 2010). The Organ's first elections will be the country's first judicial election in October 2011 and five municipal special elections expected to be held in 2011.


An SK-105, the main battle tank of the Bolivian army.

The Bolivian military comprises three branches: Ejército (Army), Naval (Navy) and Fuerza Aérea (Air Force). The legal age for voluntary admissions is 18; however, when the numbers are small the government recruits anyone as young as 14.[79] The tour of duty is generally 12 months. The Bolivian government annually spends $130 million on defense.[80]

The Bolivian Army has around 31,500 men. There are six military regions (regiones militares—RMs) in the army. The Army is organized into ten divisions.

Though it is landlocked Bolivia keeps a navy. The Bolivian Naval Force (Fuerza Naval Boliviana in Spanish) is a naval force about 5,000 strong in 2008.[81]

The Bolivian Air Force ('Fuerza Aérea Boliviana' or 'FAB') has nine air bases, located at La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Puerto Suárez, Tarija, Villamontes, Cobija, Riberalta, and Roboré.

Civil aviation

The General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics (Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil—DGAC) formerly part of the FAB, administers a civil aeronautics school called the National Institute of Civil Aeronautics (Instituto Nacional de Aeronáutica Civil—INAC), and two commercial air transport services TAM and TAB.

TAM (Transporte Aéreo Militar)

'TAM – Transporte Aéreo Militar (the Bolivian Military Airline) is an airline based in La Paz, Bolivia. It is the civilian wing of the 'Fuerza Aérea Boliviana' (the Bolivian Air Force), operating passenger services to remote towns and communities in the North and Northeast of Bolivia. TAM (a.k.a. TAM Group 71) has been a part of the FAB since 1945.

A similar airline serving the Beni Department with small planes is Línea Aérea Amaszonas,[82] using smaller planes than TAM.

TAB (Transportes Aéreos Bolivianos)

Although a civil transport airline, TAB – Transportes Aéreos Bolivianos, was created as a subsidiary company of the FAB in 1977. It is subordinate to the Air Transport Management (Gerencia de Transportes Aéreos) and is headed by an FAB general. TAB, a charter heavy cargo airline, links Bolivia with most countries of the Western Hemisphere; its inventory included a fleet of Hercules C130 aircraft. TAB was headquartered adjacent to El Alto International Airport. TAB also flew to Miami and Houston, with stops in Panama.


Bolivian children playing tarka

Bolivian culture has been heavily influenced by the Quechua, the Aymara, as well as by the popular cultures of Latin America as a whole.

The cultural development is divided into three distinct periods: precolumbian, colonial, and republican. Important archaeological ruins, gold and silver ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include Tiwanaku, El Fuerte de Samaipata, Incallajta, and Iskanawaya. The country abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen little archaeological exploration.[68]

The Diablada, dance primeval, typical and main of Carnival of Oruro a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2001 in Bolivia (File: Fraternidad Artística y Cultural "La Diablada".

The Spanish brought their own tradition of religious art which, in the hands of local native and mestizo builders and artisans, developed into a rich and distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as "Mestizo Baroque". The colonial period produced not only the paintings of Pérez de Holguín, Flores, Bitti, and others but also the works of skilled but unknown stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. An important body of Native Baroque religious music of the colonial period was recovered in recent years and has been performed internationally to wide acclaim since 1994.[68]

Bolivian artists of stature in the twentieth century include Guzmán de Rojas, Arturo Borda, María Luisa Pacheco, Roberto Mamani Mamani, Alejandro Mario Yllanes, Alfredo Da Silva, and Marina Núñez del Prado, William Vega.

Bolivia has a rich folklore. Its regional folk music is distinctive and varied. The "devil dances" at the annual carnival of Oruro are one of the great folkloric events of South America, as is the lesser known carnival at Tarabuco.[68] The best known of the various festivals found in the country is the "Carnaval de Oruro", which was among the first 19 "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity", as proclaimed by the UNESCO in May 2001.

Entertainment includes football, which is the national sport, as well as table football, which is played on street corners by both children and adults.

Literacy class in the El Alto section of La Paz


Under UNESCO standards, Bolivia has been declared free of illiteracy in 2008, making it the fourth country in Latin America with this status.[76]

Bolivia has a wide variety of public and private universities. Among them: Universidad San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca USFX – Sucre, founded in 1624; Universidad Mayor de San Andres UMSA – La Paz, founded in 1830; Universidad Mayor de San Simon UMSS – Cochabamba, founded in 1832; Universidad Autónoma Gabriel Rene Moreno UAGRM – Santa Cruz de la Sierra, founded in 1880; Universidad Tecnica de Oruro UTO – Oruro, founded in 1892; Universidad Autónoma Tomás Frías UATF – Potosi, founded in 1892; Universidad Juan Misael Saracho UJMS – Tarija, founded in 1946; Universidad Católica Boliviana San Pablo UCB, founded in 1966; Universidad Técnica del Beni UTB – Trinidad, founded in 1967; Universidad Nur NUR, founded in 1982; Universidad Privada de Santa Cruz de la Sierra UPSA – Santa Cruz de la Sierra, founded in 1984; Universidad Nacional Siglo XX UNSXX – Llallagua, founded in 1986; Universidad del Valle UNIVALLE -Cochabamba, founded in 1988; Universidad Privada Boliviana UPB, founded in 1993; Universidad Privada Franz Tamayo UPFT, founded in 1993 and Universidad Amazónica de Pando UAP – Cobija, founded in 1993.

For the first time in Bolivian history, three indigenous universities were created: Universidad Aymara Tupac Katari UATK – La Paz, founded in 2009; Universidad Quechua Casmiro Huanca UQCH – Cochabamba, founded in 2009 and Universidad Boliviana Guaraní y Pueblos de Tierras Bajas UGPTB – Chuquisaca, founded in 2009.

See also

Further reading

  • Alexander, R. J. (2005) A History of Organized Labor in Bolivia, Praeger Publishers Inc
  • Atkinson, D. (2007) Bradt Travel Guide: Bolivia, Bradt Travel Guides
  • Crabtree J., and Whitehead, L. (eds.; 2008) Unresolved Tensions: Bolivia Past and Present, University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Dangl, B. (2007) The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia, AK Press
  • Farcau, B. W. (2000) The Ten Cents War: Chile, Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, 1879–1884, Greenwood Press
  • Farthing, L. and Kohl, B. (2006) Impasse in Bolivia: Neoliberal Hegemony and Popular Resistance, Zed Books
  • Gill, L. (2000) Teetering on the Rim: Global Restructuring, Daily Life, and the Armed Retreat of the Bolivian State, Columbia University Press
  • Goldstein, D. M. (2004) The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia, Duke University Press
  • Gustafson, B. D. (2009) New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia , Duke University Press
  • Harten, S. (2011) The Rise of Evo Morales and the MAS, Zed Books
  • Healy, K. (2000) Llamas, Weavings and Organic Chocolate: Multicultural Grassroots Development in the Andes and Amazon of Bolivia, University of Notre Dame Press
  • Hylton, F. and Thomson, S. (2008) Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics, Verso
  • Jacobs, M. (2006) Ghost Train Through the Andes: On My Grandfather's Trail in Chile and Bolivia, John Murray
  • Jemio, L. C. (2001) Debt, Crisis Reform Bolivia: Biting the Bullet, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Klein, H. S. (1992) Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society, Oxford University Press
  • Klein, H. S. (2011) A Concise History of Bolivia, Stanford University Press
  • Kunststaetter, D. and R. (2008) Footprint Handbook: Bolivia, Footprint Handbooks
  • Lazar, S. (2008) El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia, Duke University Press
  • Lougheed, V. (2008) Understanding Bolivia: A Traveller's History, Harbour Publishing
  • McLaughlin, D. (2008) Bolivia, Fields Publishing
  • Morales, W. Q. (1992) Bolivia: Land of Struggle, Westview Press
  • Mutic, A.(2010) Lonely Planet Guide: Bolivia, Lonely Planet
  • Olivera, O. and Lewis, T. (2004) Cochabamba!: Water Rebellion in Bolivia, South End Press
  • Petras, J. (2005) Social Movements and State Power: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Pluto Press
  • Postero, N. G. (2006) Now We Are Citizens: Indigenous Politics in Post-multicultural Bolivia, Stanford University Press
  • Powers, W. (2006) Whispering in the Giant's Ear: A Frontline Chronicle from Bolivia's War on Globalization, Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Read, J. (2008) The Rough Guide to Bolivia, Rough Guides
  • Richards, K. (2009) Culture Smart!: Bolivia, Kuperard
  • Sivak, M. (2010) Evo Morales: The Extraordinary Rise of the First Indigenous President of Bolivia, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Spitzer, L. (1999) Hotel Bolivia: The Culture of Memory in a Refuge from Nazism, Hill & Wang
  • Stearman, A. M. (1989) Camba and Kolla: Migration and Development in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, University Press of Florida
  • Suzuki, T. (2010) Embodying Belonging: Racializing Okinawan Diaspora in Bolivia and Japan, niversity of Hawai'i Press
  • Webber, J. R. (2011) Rebellion and Reform in Bolivia, Haymarket Books
  • Webber, J. R. (2011) Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia, Brill Academic
  • Werner, R. J. (2009) Bolivia in Focus: A Guide to the People, Politics, and Culture, Interlink Publishing
  • Young, R. (2004) Marching Powder, Pan


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