Bolivia Children's Encyclopedia

Bolivia Children’s Encyclopedia


The state crossed by the Andes and political instability

Bolivia is the third largest state in South America and the highest; here is the city of Potosí, which is the highest on the continent. It also has the distinction of having two capitals: Sucre, the official capital, and La Paz, the seat of the government. Bolivia is a country rich in resources, but despite this it is one of the poorest in America.

Silver is not enough

The Bolivian territory is crossed by the Andes, which divide to form the Western Cordillera, whose highest peak is the Nevado de Sajama (6,542 m), and the Eastern Cordillera (with Mount Illimani, 6,462 m). To the east open the yungas, very fertile valleys, and the Amazonian and Chaco lowlands. Between the two mountain ranges, on a very high plateau (3,600 m on average) where there is also Lake Titicaca and the climate is more favorable, most of the population lives; in the mountains the climate is arid, in the yungas temperate and humid and in the lowlands quite warm.

Although the Spaniards subjugated the Aymará and Quechua populations, who had given birth to the Inca empire, over half of the Bolivian population is of Indian origin. Economic conditions are not good: the country lives off exported metals (silver, copper, lead) and agricultural products for local consumption (potatoes, corn) and for export (coffee, sugar). Only a few Bolivians enjoy this wealth and the social contrasts are very strong. In the most remote regions, coca is grown, which is illegal but has become a vital resource for the poorest farmers.

An uninterrupted instability

Bolivia became an independent republic in 1825, after three centuries of Spanish domination, and was named after the hero of the war of liberation, Simón Bolívar. From the beginning, his political life was marked by frequent popular uprisings followed by harsh repression and repeated military coups. This political instability (Bolivia has had 16 constitutions to date), together with the loss, in 1884, of the only access to the sea due to the war with Chile, made Bolivia one of the most backward countries in Latin America.

In the second half of the twentieth century the town was the scene of a continuous conflict. After twelve years of governments led by the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, a populist-inspired party, a phase of military governments began that repeatedly clashed with revolutionary guerrilla groups (in one of these conflicts, in 1967, Ernesto Che Guevara lost his life).

By the early 1980s, Bolivia was economically exhausted, while the military regime appeared to be completely discredited. In 1982 the military returned power to Parliament and finally a civilian government could be established, but the drastic measures required by the economic crisis – in 1985 Bolivia recorded the highest inflation in the world, with a rate of over 11,000% – have raised very strong popular protests. In 1989, inflation fell to 15%, but the situation remained extremely difficult, also because in the previous decades a parallel and illegal economy had developed, centered on the production and trade of cocaine. For Bolivia history, please check

Following this, the governments of Bolivia implemented a series of economic reforms inspired by free market principles and fought the drug economy, using both repression and incentives for farmers to abandon the cultivation of coca. But such measures have always met with strong popular resistance, which has resulted in repeated social unrest.

Bolivia Children's Encyclopedia