2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Central & South American Countries; Countries

República de Bolivia
Republic of Bolivia
Flag of Bolivia Coat of arms of Bolivia
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Spanish: ¡Morir antes que esclavos vivir!
(English: "To die rather than to live as slaves!")
Anthem: Bolivianos, el hado propicio
Location of Bolivia
Capital La Paz, Sucre
16°29′S 68°8′W
Largest city Santa Cruz
Official languages Spanish, Aymara, Quechua
Government Republic
 - President Evo Morales
 - From Spain August 6, 1825 
 - Total 1,098,581 km² ( 28th)
424,163 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 1.29%
 - July 2005 estimate 9,182,000 ( 84th)
 - 2001 census 8,280,184
 - Density 8.4/km² ( 210th)
21.8/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $25.684 billion ( 101st)
 - Per capita $2,817 ( 125th)
HDI  (2003) 0.687 (medium) ( 113th)
Currency Boliviano ( BOB)
Time zone — ( UTC-4)
Internet TLD .bo
Calling code +591

Bolivia, officially the Republic of Bolivia (Spanish: República de Bolivia, IPA [re'puβlika ðe bo'liβi̯a], Quechua: Bolivia, Aymara: Bolivia), named after Simón Bolívar, is a landlocked country in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil on the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina on the south, and Chile and Peru on the west.


Colonial period

During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called "Upper Peru" or "Charcas" 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). Bolivian silver mines produced much of the Spanish empire's wealth.A steady stream of enslaved natives served as labor force. As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew..

The Republic and economic instability (1809)

Independence was proclaimed in 1809, but 16 years of struggle followed before the establishment of the republic, named for Simón Bolívar, on August 6, 1825 (see Bolivian War of Independence).

In 1836, Bolivia, under the rule of Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz, invaded Peru to reinstall the deposed president, General Luis Orbegoso. Peru and Bolivia formed the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, with de Santa Cruz as the Supreme Protector. Following tensions between the Confederation and Chile, war was declared by Chile on Dec. 28th, 1836. Argentina, Chile's ally, declared war on the Confederation on May 9th, 1837. The Peruvian-Bolivian forces achieved several major victories; 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 Paucarpata Treaty was signed with the unconditional surrender of the Chilean and Peruvian rebel army. The treaty assured the Chilean withdrawal from Peru-Bolivia, the return of captured Confederate ships, normalized economic relations, and the payment of Peruvian debt to Chile by the Confederation. Public outrage over the treaty forced the government to reject it. The Chileans organized a second expeditionary force, and attacked the Peru-Bolivian confederation, defeating the Confederation on the fields of Yungay using the same arms and equipment Santa Cruz had allowed them to retain. After this defeat, Santa Cruz fled to Ecuador, and the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation was dissolved.

Following the independence of Peru, General Gamarra, the Peruvian president, invaded Bolivia in an attempt to reunify the two countries, under the Peruvian flag. The Peruvian army was decisively defeated at the Battle of Ingaví on November 20, 1841, where General Gamarra himself was killed. The Bolivian army under General José Ballivián then mounted a counter-offensive managing to capture the Peruvian port of Arica. Later, both sides signed a peace in 1842 putting a final end to the war.

Due to a period of political and economic instability in the early to middle 19th century, Bolivia's weakness was demonstrated during the War of the Pacific (1879–83), during which it lost its access to the sea, and the adjoining rich nitrate fields, together with the port of Antofagasta, to Chile. Since independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighboring countries due to wars. Bolivia also lost the state of Acre (known for its production of rubber) when Brazil persuaded the state of Acre to secede from Bolivia in 1903 (see the Treaty of Petrópolis).

An increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia a measure of relative prosperity and political stability in the late 1800s. During the early part of the 20th century, tin replaced silver 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.

Living conditions of the native people, who constituted most of the population, remained deplorable. Forced to work under primitive conditions in the mines and in nearly feudal status on large estates, they were denied access to education, economic opportunity, or political participation. Bolivia's defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932–35) marked a turning point.

Rise of the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (1951)

The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) emerged as a broadly based party. Denied their victory in the 1951 presidential elections, the MNR led the successful 1952 revolution. 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.

Twelve years of tumultuous rule left the MNR divided. In 1964, a military junta overthrew President Paz Estenssoro at the outset of his third term. The 1969 death of President René Barrientos Ortuño, a former member of the junta elected President in 1966, led to a succession of weak governments. Alarmed by public disorder and the rising Popular Assembly, the military, the MNR, and others installed Col. (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.

Military governments: García Meza and Siles Zuazo (1978)

Elections in 1979 and 1981 were inconclusive and marked by fraud. There were coups, counter-coups, and caretaker governments. In 1980, Gen. Luis García Meza Tejada carried out a ruthless and violent coup 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]." He was deposed shortly thereafter.) His government was notorious for human rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, and economic mismanagement; during his presidency the inflation that would later cripple the Bolivian economy could already be felt. Later convicted in absentia for crimes including murder, García Meza was extradited from Brazil and began serving a 30-year sentence in 1995.

After a military rebellion forced out García 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, twenty-two years after the end of his first term of office (1956-60), Hernán Siles Zuazo again became President. Severe social tension, exacerbated by economic mismanagement and weak leadership, forced him to call early elections and relinquish power a year before the end of his constitutional term.

Sánchez de Lozada and Banzer: Liberalizing the economy (1993)

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

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 marshall 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 Trotskyists, and were considered to be the most militant union in the COB. Their downfall was a major blow to the COB. The COB also became mired in internal corruption and infighting in 1996.

In the 1997 elections, Gen. Hugo Banzer, leader of the ADN, former dictator (1971-1978), won 22% of the vote, while the MNR candidate won 18%. Gen. 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 August 6, 1997. During the election campaign, General Banzer had promised to suspend the privatization of the state owned oil company, YPFB. Considering the weak position that Bolivia was in vis-a-vis international corporations, though, this seemed unlikely.

The Banzer government basically continued the free market and privatization policies of its predecessor, and 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 commodity exports, 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.

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 4-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 neighbour of La Paz. The MIR of Jaime Paz Zamora remained a coalition partner throughout the Banzer government, supporting this policy (called the Dignity Plan).

On August 6, 2001, Banzer resigned from office after being diagnosed with cancer. He died less than a year later. Banzer's U.S.-educated Vice President, Jorge Fernando Quiroga Ramírez, completed the final year of the term. Quiroga was constitutionally prohibited from running for national office in 2002 but can do so in 2007.

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 August 4, 2002.

A July agreement between the MNR and the fourth-place MIR, which had again been led in the election by former president Paz Zamora, virtually ensured the election of Sánchez de Lozada in the congressional run-off, and on August 6 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.

Evo Morales, Movement toward Socialism

The 2005 Bolivian presidential election was held on December 18, 2005. The two main candidates were Juan Evo Morales Ayma of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, and Jorge Quiroga, leader of the Democratic and Social Power (PODEMOS) Party and former head of the Acción Democrática Nacionalista (ADN) Party.

Morales won the election with 54 percent of the votes, an absolute majority unprecedented in Bolivian elections. He was sworn in on January 22, 2006 for a five-year term. Prior to his official inauguration in La Paz, he was inaugurated in a native ritual at the archeological site of Tiawanaku, before a crowd of thousands of native people and representatives of social movements from across Latin America. However, this ritual does not represent the views/opinions of most Quechua native speakers; it only represents native Aymaras. Since the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500's, this region of South America, with a majority native population, has been ruled by external forces, and Morales has stated that the 500 years of colonialism are now over, and that the era of autonomy has begun.

His recent presidential election victory has also brought new attention to the U.S. drug war in South America and its heavy emphasis on coca crop eradication. The US-led "Plan Dignidad" (dignity plan), which seeks to reduce coca production to zero, is seen by many Bolivians as an attack on their livelihoods and way of life. Morales has said his government will try to interdict drugs, but he wants to preserve the legal market for coca leaves and promote export of legal coca products.

On May 1, 2006, Morales announced his intent to re-nationalize Bolivian hydrocarbon assets. While stating that the nationalization initiative would not be an expropriation, Morales sent Bolivian troops to occupy 56 gas installations simultaneously. Troops were also sent to the 2 Petrobras-owned refineries in Bolivia, which provide over 90% of Bolivia's refining capacity. A deadline of 180 days was announced, by which all foreign energy firms were required to sign new contracts giving Bolivia majority ownership and as much as 82% of revenues (the latter for the largest natural gas fields). That deadline has since passed, and all such firms have signed contracts. Reports from the Bolivian government and the companies involved are contradictory as to plans for future investment. By far the biggest customer for Bolivian hydrocarbons has been Brazil, which imports fully 2/3rds of Bolivia's natural gas via pipelines operated by the huge semi-private Petrobras (PBR). Since gas can only be exported from landlocked Bolivia via PBR's large (and expensive) pipelines, the supplier and customer are strongly linked. How the nationalization will unfold is quite uncertain, as PBR has announced plans to produce sufficient 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 than at the time of previous nationalizations as well as the pledged support of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.


La Paz is the political capital of Bolivia.
La Paz is the political capital of Bolivia.

The 1967 constitution, amended 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. Departmental autonomy further increased with the first popular elections for departmental governors (prefectos) on 18 December 2005, after long protests by pro-autonomy-leader department of Santa Cruz. Bolivian cities and towns are governed by directly elected mayors and councils. Municipal elections were held on 5 December 2004, with councils elected to five-year terms. 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 president is elected to a five-year term by popular vote. Elected president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned in October 2003, and was substituted by vice-president Carlos Mesa. Mesa was in turn replaced by chief justice of the Supreme Court Eduardo Rodríguez in June 2005. Six months later, on December 18, 2005, the Socialist native leader, Evo Morales, was elected president.

Legislative Branch: The Congreso Nacional ( National Congress) has two chambers. The Cámara de Diputados ( Chamber of Deputies) has 130 members elected to five-year terms, 70 of them in single-member districts (circunscripciones) and 60 by proportional representation. The Cámara de Senadores ( Chamber of Senators) has 27 members (three per department), elected to five-year terms.

Bolivia has had more coups d'etat than any other country, with approximately 60 coups in its history.

Administrative divisions

Bolivia is divided into nine departments, or in Spanish departamentos:

  • Chuquisaca (Sucre)
  • Cochabamba ( Cochabamba)
  • Beni ( Trinidad)
  • La Paz (La Paz)
  • Oruro ( Oruro)
  • Pando ( Cobija)
  • Potosí ( Potosí)
  • Santa Cruz ( Santa Cruz de la Sierra)
  • Tarija ( Tarija)

Additionally, each department is further divided into provinces, or provincias, cantons, or cantones, and municipalities, or municipalidades, which handle local affairs.


Map of Bolivia from the CIA World Factbook
Map of Bolivia from the CIA World Factbook

At 424,135 mi² (1,098,580 km² ), Bolivia is the world's 28th-largest country (after Ethiopia). It is comparable in size to Mauritania, and is half again as large as the US state of Texas.

Bolivia is a landlocked nation; it lost its connection to the Pacific coast in the War of the Pacific in 1879. However, it does have access to the Atlantic via the Paraguay river. The west of Bolivia is situated in the Andes mountain range, with the highest peak, Nevado Del Sajama at 6,542 metres (21,463  ft) located at the department of Oruro. The landscape encompasses many different backgrounds, which provide a beautiful view in one of the most incredible natural experiences one can experience. The west of the country is formed by a highland plateau, the Altiplano. The east of the country is lowland, and covered by the Amazonian rainforests. Lake Titicaca is located on the border between Bolivia and Peru. In the west, in the department of Potosí, lies the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat.

Major cities are La Paz, Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba.

Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat.
Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat.


Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America after the Guyanas, in part, due to high corruption levels; furthermore, critics often point out the imperialist role of foreign powers in the country since the "discovery of America". The country is rich, however, in natural resources, and has been called a "donkey sitting on a gold mine" because of this. Apart from famous mines, which were known by the Incas and later exploited by the Spaniards, Bolivia owns the second largest natural gas field of South America after Venezuela. Furthermore, El Mutún in the Santa Cruz department represents 70% of the world's iron and magnesium.

Bolivia's 2002 gross domestic product (GDP) totaled USD $7.9 billion. Economic growth is about 2.5% a year and inflation is expected to be between 3% and 4% in 2002 (it was under 1% in 2001).

Bolivia’s current lackluster economic situation can be linked to several factors from the past two decades. The first major blow to the Bolivian economy came with a dramatic fall in silver prices during the early 1980s which impacted one of Bolivia’s main sources of income and one of its major mining industries. The second major economic blow came from 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. The third economic blow came from the U.S. sponsored eradication of the Bolivian coca crop which was used in 80% of the worlds’ cocaine production at its peak. Along with the reduction in the coca crop came a huge loss of income to the Bolivian economy, particularly the peasant classes.

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. The most important 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% share and management control of public enterprises by agreeing to invest directly into the enterprise over several years rather than paying cash to the government).

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. While the capitalization program was successful in vastly boosting foreign direct investment (FDI) in Bolivia ($1.7 billion in stock during 1996-2002), FDI flows have subsided in recent years as investors complete their capitalization contract obligations.

In 1996, three units of the Bolivian state oil corporation (YPFB) involved in hydrocarbon exploration, production, and transportation were capitalized, facilitating the construction of a gas pipeline to Brazil. The government has a long-term sales agreement to sell natural gas to Brazil through 2019. The Brazil pipeline carried about 12 million cubic metres (424 million cu. ft) per day in 2002. Bolivia has the second-largest natural gas reserves in South America, and its current domestic use and exports to Brazil account for just a small portion of its potential production. The government expects to hold a binding referendum in 2004 on plans to export natural gas. Widespread opposition to exporting gas through Chile touched off protests that led to the resignation of President Sánchez de Lozada in October 2003.

In April 2000, Bechtel signed a contract with Hugo Banzer, the former president of Bolivia, to privatize the water supply in Bolivia's 3rd-largest city, Cochabamba. The contract was officially awarded to a Bechtel subsidiary named Aguas del Tunari, which had been formed specifically for that purpose. 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. Martial law was declared, and Bolivian police killed at least 6 people and injured over 170 protesters. 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. In 2001, Bechtel filed suit the Bolivian government for $25 million in lost profits. The continuing legal battle has attracted attention from anti-globalization and anti-capitalist groups.

Bolivian 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 and enjoys nominally 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, though economic crises in the region have derailed progress at integration. The U.S. Andean Trade Preference and Drug Enforcement Act (ATPDEA) allows numerous Bolivian products to enter the United States free of duty on a unilateral basis, including alpaca and llama products and, subject to a quota, cotton textiles.

The United States remains Bolivia's largest trading partner. In 2002, the United States exported $283 million of merchandise to Bolivia and imported $162 million. Bolivia's major exports to the United States are tin, gold, jewelry, and wood products. Its major imports from the United States are computers, vehicles, wheat, and machinery. A Bilateral Investment Treaty between the United States and Bolivia came into effect in 2001. 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. Soybeans are the major cash crop, sold into the Andean Community market. The extraction of minerals and hydrocarbons accounts for another 10% of GDP and manufacturing less than 17%.

The Government of Bolivia 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. Rescheduling 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 debted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Enhanced HIPC debt relief programs, which by agreement restricts Bolivia's access to new soft loans. Bolivia was one of three countries in the Western Hemisphere selected for eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Account and is participating as an observer in FTA negotiations.

In 2004 the government gave great importance to the development of port facilities at Puerto Busch on the Paraguay river. Further north in Puerto Suarez and Puerto Aguirre, which are connected to the Paraguay river via the canal tamengo, which passes through Brazil, mid-size container ships traverse. As of 2004 about half of Bolivia's exports leave via the Paraguay river. When Puerto Busch is finished, larger ocean-going ships will be able to dock in Bolivia. This will greatly increase Bolivia's competitiveness, in that they will have a reduced need for foreign ports, such as those in Peru and Chile, which adds to the price of exports and imports. Tobacco is produced by Bolivian farmers, but even more is imported to satisfy domestic demand. In 1992 Bolivia produced over 1,000 million tons of it.


Cristo de la Concordia in Cochabamba.
Cristo de la Concordia in Cochabamba.

Bolivia's ethnic distribution is estimated to be 30% Quechua-speaking and 25% Aymara-speaking Amerindians. 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). The remaining 30% is Mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian), and around 15% is classified as white.

The white population consists mostly of criollos who consist of families of relatively unmixed Spanish ancestry, descend from the early Spanish colonists, which have formed much of the aristocracy since independence. Other smaller groups within the white population are Germans who founded the national airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano, as well as Italian, American, Basque, Croatian, Russian, Polish and other minorities, many of whose members descend from families that have lived in Bolivia for several generations.

Also noteworthy is the Afro-Bolivian community that numbers under 0.5% of the population, descended from African slaves that were transported to work in Brazil and then migrated down south to Bolivia. They are mostly concentrated in the Yungas region ( Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas provinces) in the department of La Paz, some three hours from La Paz city. 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 kilometer in the southeastern plains to about 10 per square kilometer (25 per sq. mi) in the central highlands. As of 2006, the population is increasing about 1.45% per year.

La Paz is the world's highest capital city at 3,600 meters (11,800 ft.) above sea level. The adjacent city of El Alto, at 4,200 meters (13,800 ft) above sea level, is one of the fastest growing in the hemisphere. Santa Cruz, the commercial and industrial hub of the eastern lowlands, also is experiencing rapid population and economic growth.

The great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic (the official religion), although Protestant denominations are expanding strongly. Islam practiced by the descendants of Middle Easterners is almost nonexistent. There is also a small Jewish community that is almost all Ashkenazi in origin. More than 1% of Bolivians practice the Bahá'í Faith (giving Bolivia one of the largest percentages of Bahá'ís in the world). There are colonies of Mennonites in the department of Santa Cruz. Many Native communities interweave pre-Columbian and Christian symbols in their worship. About 80% of the people speak Spanish as their first language, although the Aymara and Quechua languages are also common. Approximately 90% of the children attend primary school but often for a year or less. The literacy rate is low in many rural areas, but according to CIA the literacy rate is 87% which is higher than Brazil’s literacy rate or other Middle Eastern countries. The cultural development of what is present-day Bolivia is divided into three distinct periods: pre-Columbian, 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 Tiawanaku, Samaipata, Incallajta, and Iskanawaya. The country abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen little archaeological exploration.

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.

Bolivian artists of stature in the 20th century include, among others, Guzmán de Rojas, Arturo Borda, María Luisa Pacheco, and Marina Núñez del Prado. Bolivia has 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.


Bolivian culture has many Inca, Aymara and other native influences in religion, music and clothing. The best known fiesta is the UNESCO heritage "El carnaval de Oruro". Entertainment includes football, which is the national sport, and more correctly the foosball, played in many street corners by kids and adults. Zoos are a popular attraction with a diverse population of interesting creatures but with lack of proper funding.

National symbols

The Cantuta (often spelled kantuta or qantuta) (Cantua buxifolia or Fuchsia buxifolia) is a flower found in the high valleys of the Yungas, and is considered the national flower of Bolivia.

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