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Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia
The Plurinational State of Bolivia

President: Evo Morales (2006)
Historic and Judicial Capital: Sucre
Administrative Capital: La Paz
Monetary Unit: Boliviano
Total Land Area: 424,164 sq mi
Population (2012): 9,947,418
Most Populous Cities: La Paz 1,642,100, Santa Cruz 1,584,000, Cochabamba 815,800, El Alto 728, 800, Sucre 281,000
Ethnicity/Race: Quechua 30%, Mestizo 30%, Aymara 25%, White 15%
Official Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
Religion: Roman Catholic 95% (no national religion.
Life Expectancy: 67.2
Literacy Rate: 86.7% (2011)
Fun Facts:

  • Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 12,507 ft., is the highest commercially navigable body of water in the world
  • 60% of Bolivia is Amazonian jungle.
  • La Paz, at an altitude of 11,910 ft is the highest administrative capital in the world.
  • Bolivia is the largest exporter of quinoa.

History

Modern Bolivia was the birthplace of the ancient Tiahuanaco Civilization, one of the earliest civilizations in the Americas, which would later give rise to the Incan Empire that encompassed Bolivia and Andean region of South America.  In the 16th century Bolivia like most of Latin American succumed to military encroachment from Spain and became Spanish colonies.  Spanish colonization in Bolivia followed the same narrative repeated throughout Latin America where the indigenous populations were marginalized and reduced to slavery.  However unlike in other Spanish colonies, Bolivia’s indigenous peoples largely thrived because the country’s remote geography protected them from European diseases and conflicts.  The existence of a large indigenous group forced to live under the oppression of their Spanish colonizers created a highly stratified and unequal society and set into motion a long, violent history of political, social, and economic conflict that unfortunately continues to the present day.

In 1825, Bolivia gained its independence from Spain and was named after Simón Bolívar, the great South American revolutionary figure and liberator.  Hampered by continued internal strife, Bolivia lost great slices of territory after military defeats to neighboring countries. Most notably, the country lost its outlet to the Pacific Ocean to Chile after the War of the Pacific in 1884 and in 1935 it gave up an estimated 260,000 square kilometers to Paraguay after the Chaco War.  This loss of territory stunted the country’s economic growth and left a legacy of poverty and underdevelopment which almost a century later, Bolivia is still struggling to overcome.

The 2oth century brought many reforms aimed at giving more economic opportunity to its marginalized indigenous communities.  This started a grassroots movement  that would continue for 50 years, culminating with the election of Bolivia’s first indigenous President in 2005.  In recent years Bolivia has enacted greater civil rights and economic opportunities to its  indigenous and marginalized populations.

Size and Location

The Plurinational State of Bolivia is the fifth largest country in South America and is equal in size to California and Texas combined. Landlocked, Bolivia shares its borders with Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, Chile to the southwest, and Peru to the west. It is among the most geographically diverse countries in Latin America. The towering Andes Mountains and the the Altiplano, the Savannah lowlands and the Amazon make up the rich geography of this nation.

People and Culture

Over 60 percent of Bolivia’s people are indigenous, mostly Quechua, Aymara, or Guarani. European colonization and subsequent immigration created the multicultural society that exists today including Mestizos, Europeans, Asians, and Africans.  Spanish is considered the universal language however the indigenous Guarani, Aymara, and Quechua languages are widely spoken and all four as well as 34 other indigenous languages, are official state languages. The mix of different cultures within Bolivia has contributed greatly to diversity in art, cuisine, literature, and music.

Government and Economy

Bolivia is a democratic republic, divided into nine autonomous regions called departments: La Paz, Oruro, Potosi, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Tarija, Pando, Beni, and Santa Cruz. Its main economic activities include natural gas, refined petroleum, agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and manufacturing goods such as textiles, clothing, and refined metals. Although Bolivia is blessed with abundant natural resources, it remains the poorest country in South America and the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere where an estimated fifty-four percent of the population live in poverty.