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History of Bolivia


This is the history of Bolivia.

See also the history of Latin America, the history of the Americas, and the history of present-day nations and states.

Pre-Colombian times

The Bolivian highlands, permanently settled for at least 13,000 years, were part of the culture of Andean South America before the arrival of the Spaniards. The archaeological record is fragmentary but suggests that agriculture started about 3000 BC. and that the production of metal, especially copper, began 1,500 years later.

The Andean region probably has been inhabited for some 13,000 years. Beginning about the second century BC, the Tiwanakan culture developed at the southern end of Lake Titicaca. This culture, centered around and named for the great city of Tiwanaku, developed advanced architectural and agricultural techniques before it disappeared around 1200 AD, probably because of extended drought. Roughly contemporaneous with the Tiwanakan culture, the Moxos in the eastern lowlands and the Mollos north of present-day La Paz, Bolivia also developed advanced agricultural societies that had dissipated by the 13th century.

The collapse of Tiwanakan influence resulted in the rise of seven regional kingdoms of the Aymara, the most powerful states located in the densely populated area around Lake Titicaca. The Aymara, a belligerent people who lived in fortified hilltop towns, had an extraordinary ability to adapt to the unique climatic conditions of the region and increased their food supply through irrigation and the process of freezing and drying crops. By maintaining colonists in the semitropical valleys on the eastern slopes of the Andes and on the Pacific Coast, they were able to produce both tropical and highland crops. Their basic social unit was the ayllu, a kinship group or clan that organized work and distributed land among its members.

The Aymara completely dominated the Uru, another major ethnic group in the pre-Columbian southern Andes. Although the Uru might have preceded the Aymara in the region, by the twelfth century they were poor fishermen and landless workers.

The Aymara, however, were not able to contain the expansion of the Quechua, the third major ethnic group. After the collapse of the Tiahuanacan Empire, a Quechua-speaking state emerged in the area around Cuzco became known as the Incas when they adopted the name of their rulers, were the most powerful group in the northern highlands. As the Aymara kingdoms in the south became weaker in the second half of the fifteenth century, the Incas began to conquer them.

The Bolivian highlands became known as the Kollasuyo, a densely populated area with great economic and mineral wealth that constituted one of the four administrative units of the Inca Empire. The highest official of the Kollasuyo was responsible only to the Inca (the emperor) and supervised a group of provincial governors, who in turn controlled members of the Aymara nobility. Under a draft system called the mita, the Incas forced local Indians in the Kollasuyo to work in the mines or on construction projects or to serve in the armies, compensating them fully for their labor. Despite their goal of extreme centralization, the Incas did not fundamentally change the organization of the Aymara kingdoms, which remained relatively autonomous. Many local chiefs kept many of their former powers and were, in general, reinforced by Inca authority. They were also able to retain their culture, their local religion, and their language. The regional nobility, although forced to send their children to Cuzco for education, continued to hold private property. Moreover, the system of sending colonists to the eastern valleys and the coast was tolerated under Inca rule.

In 1470, however, several Aymara kingdoms rebelled against Inca rule. The Incas completely defeated two states and pacified the region by sending mitimas, Quechua-speaking colonists, to Aymara territory, especially to the southern valleys and to the more central valley regions where Cochabamba and Sucre were later founded. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Incas had fully established their rule over the Kollasuyo. In the 1980s, the legacy of this resettlement policy could be seen in the predominance of Quechua speakers in many areas of Bolivia.

The Incas failed, however, to conquer the nomadic tribes in the eastern Bolivian lowlands. The remains of Incan fortresses there are evidence of this failure and suggest that the Incas could subdue only those cultures that were primarily based on agriculture. Thus, the Indian groups of the eastern two-thirds of Bolivia preserved their ways of life to a great extent, even after the Spanish conquest.

Spanish colonial period

Spanish Conquest of Bolivia

Francisco Pizarro, Diego de Almagro, and Hernando de Luque led the Spanish discovery and conquest of the Inca Empire. They first sailed south in 1524 along the Pacific coast from Panama to confirm the legendary existence of a land of gold called "Biru" (later altered to Peru).

Because the rapidly expanding Inca Empire was internally weak, the conquest was remarkably easy. After the Inca Huayna Capac died in 1527, his sons Huascar and Atahualpa fought over the succession. Although Atahualpa defeated his brother, he had not yet consolidated his power when the Spaniards arrived in 1532, and he seriously misjudged their strength. Atahualpa did not attempt to defeat Pizarro when he arrived on the coast in 1532 because the Incan ruler was convinced that those who commanded the mountains also controlled the coast. When Pizarro formed alliances with Indians who resented Inca rule, Atahualpa did not modify the Inca ceremonial approach to warfare, which included launching attacks by the light of the full moon. Atahualpas refusal to accept the permanent Spanish presence and to convert led to the bloody Battle of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532. Pizarro executed Atahualpa's 12 man honor guard and took the Inca captive at the so-called ransom room. One year later, the Inca capital of Cuzco fell and was refounded as a new Spanish settlement in 1534.

Despite Pizarro's quick victory, Indian rebellions soon began and continued periodically throughout the colonial period. In 1537, Manco Inca, whom the Spanish had established as a puppet emperor, rebelled against the new rulers and restored a "neoInca " state. This state continued to challenge Spanish authority even after the Spanish suppressed the revolt and beheaded Tupac Amaru in the public square of Cuzco in 1572. Later revolts in the Bolivian highlands were usually organized by the elders of the community and remained local in nature, the exception being the great rebellion of Tupac Amaru II in the 18th century.

During the first two decades of Spanish rule, the settlement of the Bolivian highlands now known as Upper (Alto) Peru or Charcas was delayed by a civil war between the forces of Pizarro and those of Almagro. The two conquistadors had divided the Incan territory, with the north under the control of Pizarro and the south under that of Almagro. Fighting broke out in 1537, however, when Almagro seized Cuzco after suppressing the Manco Inca rebellion. Pizarro defeated and executed Almagro in 1538 but was himself assassinated three years later by former supporters of Almagro. Pizarro's brother Gonzalo assumed control of Upper Peru but soon became embroiled in a rebellion against the Spanish crown. Only with the execution of Gonzalo Pizarro in 1548 did Spain succeed in reasserting its authority; later that year, colonial authorities established the city of La Paz, which soon became an important commercial and transshipment center.

Indian resistance delayed the conquest and settlement of the Bolivian lowlands. The Spanish established Santa Cruz de la Sierra in 1561, but the Gran Chaco, the colonial name for the arid Chaco region, remained a violent frontier throughout colonial rule. In the Chaco, the Indians, mostly Chiriguano, carried out unrelenting attacks against colonial settlements and remained independent of direct Spanish control.

Spanish Administration

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, and Potosi, site of the famed Cerro Rico "Rich Mountain" was, for many years, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere.

The longevity of Spain's empire in South America can be explained partly by the successful administration of the colonies. Spain was at first primarily interested in controlling the independent-minded conquerors, but its main goal soon became maintaining the flow of revenue to the crown and collecting the tribute of goods and labor from the Indian population. To this end, Spain soon created an elaborate bureaucracy in the New World in which various institutions served as watchdogs over each other and local officials had considerable autonomy.

Upper Peru, at first a part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, joined the new Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata (whose capital was Buenos Aires) when it was created in 1776. The viceroy was aided by the audiencia (council), which was simultaneously the highest court of appeal in the jurisdiction and, in the absence of the viceroy, also had administrative and executive powers. The wealth of Upper Peru and its remoteness from Lima convinced the authorities in Lima to create an audiencia in the city of Chuquisaca (present-day Sucre) in 1558. Chuquisaca had become particularly important as Potosi's administrative and agricultural supply center. The jurisdiction of the audiencia, known as Charcas, initially covered a radius of 100 "leagues" around Chuquisaca, but it soon included Santa Cruz and territory belonging to present-day Paraguay and, until 1568, also the entire district of Cuzco. The president of the audiencia had judicial authority as well as administrative and executive powers in the region, but only in routine matters; more important decisions were made in Lima. This situation led to a competitive attitude and the reputation of Upper Peru for assertiveness, a condition reinforced by the economic importance of the region.

Spain exercised its control of smaller administrative units in the colonies through royal officials, such as the corregidor, who represented the king in the municipal governments that were elected by their citizens. By the early seventeenth century, there were four corregidores in Upper Peru.

In the late 18th century, Spain undertook an administrative reform to increase revenues of the crown and to eliminate a number of abuses. It created an intendancy system, giving extensive powers to highly qualified officials who were directly responsible to the king. In 1784, Spain established four intendancy districts in Upper Peru, covering the present-day departments of La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosi, and Chuquisaca.

The Spanish crown at first controlled the local governments indirectly, but centralized procedures as time went on. At first, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, Count of Oropesa confirmed the rights of local nobles and guaranteed them local autonomy. But the crown eventually came to employ Spanish officials, corregidores de indios, to collect tribute and taxes from the Indians. Corregidores de indios also imported goods and forced the Indians to buy them, a widely abused practice that proved to be an enormous source of wealth for these officials but caused much resentment among the Indian population.

With the first settlers in Upper Peru came the secular and regular clergy to begin the conversion of the Indians to Christianity. In 1552, the first bishopric in Upper Peru was established in La Plata; in 1605 La Paz and Santa Cruz also became bishoprics. In 1623, the Jesuits established the Royal and Pontifical Higher University of San Francisco Xavier of Chuquisaca, Upper Peru's first university.

Indian reaction to colonial rule and conversion to Christianity varied. Many Indians adapted to Spanish ways by breaking with their traditions and actively attempting to enter the market economy. They also used the courts to protect their interests, especially against new tribute assessments. Others, however, clung to their customs as much as possible, and some rebelled against the white rulers. Local, mostly uncoordinated, rebellions occurred throughout colonial rule. More than 100 revolts occurred in the 18th century alone in Bolivia and Peru.

Although the official Inca religion disappeared rapidly, the Indians continued their local worship under the protection of local Indian rulers. But as Christianity influenced the Indians, a new folk-Catholicism developed, incorporating symbols of the indigenous religion. Whereas early Indian rebellions were anti-Christian, the revolts at the end of the 16th century were based in messianic Christian symbolism that was Roman Catholic and anti-Spanish. The church was tolerant of local Indian religions. In 1582, for example, the bishop of La Plata permitted the Indians to build a sanctuary for the dark Virgen de Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca (Copacabana has been a traditional Aymara religious center ever since).

The conquest and colonial rule were traumatic experiences for the Indians. Easily susceptible to European diseases, the native population decreased rapidly. The situation of the Indians worsened in the 18th century when Spain demanded higher tribute payments and increased mita obligations in an attempt to improve the mining output.

These profound economic and social changes and the breakup of native culture contributed to the increasing addiction of Indians to alcohol. Before the Spanish arrived, the Incas had consumed alcohol only during religious ceremonies. Indian use of the coca leaf also expanded, and, according to one chronicler, at the end of the 16th century "in Potosi alone, the trade in coca amounts to over half a million pesos a year, for 95,000 baskets of it are consumed."

Increasing Indian discontent with colonial rule sparked the great rebellion of Tupac Amaru II. Born Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, this educated, Spanish-speaking Native American took the name of his ancestor, Tupac Amaru. During the 1770s, he became embittered over the harsh treatment of the Indians by the corregidores de indios. In November 1780, Tupac Amaru II and his followers seized and executed a particularly cruel corregidor de indios. Although Tupac Amaru II insisted that his movement was reformist and did not seek to overthrow Spanish rule, his demands included an autonomous region. The uprising quickly became a full-scale revolt. Approximately 60,000 Indians in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes rallied to the cause. After scoring some initial victories, including defeating a Spanish army of 1,200 men, Tupac Amaru II was captured and killed in May 1781; nonetheless, the revolt continued, primarily in Upper Peru. There, a supporter of Tupac Amaru II, the Indian chief Tomas Catari, had led an uprising in Potosi during the early months of 1780. Catari was killed by the Spaniards a month before Tupac Amaru II. Another major revolt was led by Julian Apaza, a sexton who took the names of the two rebel martyrs by calling himself Tupac Catari (also spelled Katari). He besieged La Paz for more than 100 days. Spain did not succeed in putting down all of the revolts until 1783 and then proceeded to execute thousands of Indians.

In the late 18th century, a growing discontent with Spanish rule developed among the criollos (persons of pure Spanish descent born in the New World). Criollos began to assume active roles in the economy, especially in mining and agricultural production, and thus resented the trade barriers established by the mercantilist policies of the Spanish crown. In addition, criollos were incensed that Spain reserved all upperlevel administrative positions for peninsulares (Spanish-born persons residing in the New World).

The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, questioning of authority and tradition, and individualistic tendencies, also contributed to criollo discontent. The Inquisition had not kept the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, and others out of Spanish America; their ideas were often discussed by criollos, especially those educated at the university in Chuquisaca. At first the criollos of Upper Peru were influenced by the French Revolution, but they eventually rejected it as too violent. Although Upper Peru was fundamentally loyal to Spain, the ideas of the Enlightenment and independence from Spain continued to be discussed by scattered groups of radicals.

Struggle for Independence

As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew. Independence was proclaimed in 1809, but 16 years of struggle followed before the establishment of the republic, named for Simon Bolivar, on August 6, 1825.

The invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1807-08 by Napoleon's forces proved critical to the independence struggle in South America. The overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty and the placement of Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne tested the loyalty of the local elites in Upper Peru, who were suddenly confronted with several conflicting authorities. Most remained loyal to Spain. Taking a wait-and-see attitude, they supported the Junta Central (Central Junta) in Spain, a government in the name of the abdicated Ferdinand VII. Some liberals eagerly welcomed the reforms of colonial rule promised by Joseph Bonaparte. Others supported the claims of Carlota, Ferdinand's sister, who governed Brazil with her husband, Prince Regent John of Portugal. Finally, a number of radical criollos wanted independence for Upper Peru.

This conflict of authority resulted in a local power struggle in Upper Peru between 1808 and 1810 and constituted the first phase of the efforts to achieve independence. In 1808, the president of the audiencia, Ramon Garcia Leon de Pizarro, demanded affiliation with the Junta Central. The conservative judges of the audiencia were influenced, however, by their autocratic royalist philosophy and refused to recognize the authority of the junta because they saw it as a product of a popular rebellion. On May 25, 1809, tensions grew when radical criollos, also refusing to recognize the junta because they wanted independence, took to the streets. This revolt, one of the first in Latin America, was soon put down by the authorities.

On July 16, 1809, Pedro Domingo Murillo led another revolt by criollos and mestizos in La Paz and proclaimed an independent state in Upper Peru in the name of Ferdinand VII. The loyalty to Ferdinand was a pretense used to legitimize the independence movement. By November 1809, Cochabamba, Oruro, and Potosi had joined Murillo. Although the revolt was put down by royalist forces sent to La Paz by the viceroy of Peru and to Chuquisaca by the viceroy of Rio de La Plata, Upper Peru was never again completely controlled by Spain.

During the following seven years, Upper Peru became the battleground for forces of the United Provinces of the River Plate (now Argentine Republic) and royalist troops from Peru. Although the royalists repulsed three Argentine invasions, guerrillas controlled most of the countryside, where they formed six major republiquetas, or zones of insurrection. In these zones, local patriotism would eventually develop into the fight for independence.

By 1817, Upper Peru was relatively quiet and under the control of Lima. After 1820, the Conservative Party criollos supported General Pedro Antonio de Olaneta, a Charcas native, who refused to accept the measures by the Spanish Cortes (legislature) to conciliate the colonies after the Liberal Party revolution in Spain. Olaneta, convinced that these measures threatened royal authority, refused to join the royalist forces or the rebel armies under the command of Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre. Olaneta did not relinquish his command even after the Peruvian royalists included him and his forces in the capitulation agreement following their defeat in the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824, the final battle of the wars of independence in Latin America. Olaneta continued a quixotic war until Sucre's forces defeated his forces, and he was killed by his own men on April 1, 1825, in a battle that effectively ended Spanish rule in Upper Peru.

According to the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, "Bolivia... became an autonomous republic 6 August, 1825, taking its name in honour of Simon Bolivar, its founder. The Constitution under which the republic is now governed dates from 28 October, 1880, and aims at a unitarian republican polity."

History of Contemporary Bolivia

19th century

During the presidency of Mariscal Andres de Santa Cruz, Bolivia enjoyed the most glorious period of her history with great social and economic advancement. Santa Cruz got involved in internal Peruvian political problems and succeeded in unify Peru and Bolivia into a confederation the Confederacion Peru-Boliviana. As Santa Cruz openly declared the Inca Empire to have been awoken his state was perceived as a threat to regional power balance and a menace to countries on former Inca territory. The War of the Confederation broke out and different wars against almost all its neighbors were fought during this period with sound victories against its enemies but maybe the turning point took place on the fields of Paucarpata where the Confederacion Peru-Boliviana lead by Santa Cruz forced the Chilean and Peruvian rebel armies to sign the peace treaty know as the Paucarpata Treaty which included their unconditional surrender; later this treaty was discarded by the Chilean parliament. The rebel Peruvians and the Chilean army set of to a new war against Santa Cruz, defeating the Confederation on the fields of Yungay. This was the turning point on Bolivian history after this moment for nearly 60 years, coups and short-lived constitutions dominated Bolivian politics.

Going through a vicious economical and political crisis Bolivia's military weakness was demonstrated during the War of the Pacific (187983), when it lost its seacoast and the adjoining rich nitrate fields to Chile. 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 elites followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first third of the century.

Early 20th century

Living conditions of the indigenous peoples, who constitute more than half 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 (1932-1935) marked a turning point. Great loss of life and territory discredited the traditional ruling classes, while service in the army produced stirrings of political awareness among the indigenous people. A large portion of Gran Chaco was surrendered to Paraguay. In return Bolivia was given an access to the Paraguay River where later Puerto Busch was founded and with this free access to the Atlantic Ocean over international water. In 1936 the Standard Oil was nationalized and the state-owned firm Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) created. From the end of the Chaco War until the 1952 revolution, the emergence of contending ideologies and the demands of new groups convulsed Bolivian politics.

The Bolivian National Revolution

Standing alongside the Mexican Revolution, the Bolivian National Revolution is one of the most significant sociopolitical events to occur in Latin America during the 20th century. The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) emerged from the ashes of the Chaco War in 1941 as a middle-class political coalition eschewing marxism for a vague nationalist ideology better suited to Bolivia's social reality. The MNR participated in the military-civilian regime of Gualberto Villarroel (1943-46) but was deposed in 1946 by the mining oligarchy and the Partido Izquierda Revolucionario (PIR). Its members fled into exile and spent the next six years organizing. The party intiatied a brief but bloody civil war in October of 1949, but was defeated and once again, exiled. The MNR emerged victorious in the 1951 elections, but the results were called fraudulent by the opposition, and its right to the presidency was denied. On 9 April 1952, the MNR led a successful revolt and set into motion the Bolivian National Revolution. Under President Victor Paz Estenssoro and later, Hernan Siles, the MNR introduced universal adult suffrage, carried out a sweeping land reform, promoted rural education, and, in 1952, nationalized the country's largest tin mines. What is especially significant about the Revolution is that, for the first time in Republican history, the State attempted to incorporate into national life the Aymara and Quechua peasants that together constituted no less than 65 percent of the total population. Although the policies pursued by the MNR were largely corporatist and assimilationist, it marked a significant turning point in Bolivia's contested history of indigenous-state relations.

Military Rule

Twelve more tumultuous years of national reform left the country bitterly divided and in 1964, a military junta overthrew President Paz Estenssoro at the outset of his third term; an event that many assert brought an end to the National Revolution and marked the beginning of nearly 20 years of military rule in Bolivia. Many scholars have looked to the CIA in explaining the November 1964 coup, but an increasing number of declassified U.S. documents refute the claim. Towards the end of Paz's second term, Barrientos a popular, Quechua-speaking General had succeeded in co-opting the peasant unions formed in the wake of the 1953 agrarian reform, establishing the Pacto Militar-Campesino (PMC). Throughout the 1960s Barriento leveled the peasant unions against labor unrest in the mines. The 1969 death of President Rene Barrientos, a former member of the junta elected President in 1966, led to a succession of weak governments. A coup was led by the military, only to see a countercoup led by leftist Juan Jose Torres. Alarmed by public disorder, the military, the MNR, and others installed Col. (later General) Hugo Banzer Suarez 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 Banzer's presidency, but demands for greater political freedom undercut his support. His call for elections in 1978 plunged Bolivia into turmoil once again.

Elections in 1978, 1979, and 1980 were inconclusive and marked by fraud. There were coups, counter-coups, and caretaker governments. In 1980, Gen. Luis Garcia Meza carried out a ruthless and violent coup. His government was notorious for human rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, and economic mismanagement. This led to a breakdown in relations with the U.S., which under both the Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations refused to recognize Garcia's government due to its drug ties. [*] Later convicted in absentia for crimes, including murder, Garcia Meza was extradited from Brazil and began serving a 30-year sentence in 1995. Garcia Meza recently published an unapologetic autobiography entitled simply, Yo Dictador.

Transition to Democracy

After a military rebellion forced out Garcia 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 allowed it to choose a new chief executive. In October 1982 -22 years after the end of his first term of office (1956-60)- Hernan 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.

In the 1985 elections, the Nationalist Democratic Action Party (ADN) of Gen. Banzer won a plurality of the popular vote, followed by former President Paz Estenssoro's MNR and former Vice President Jaime Paz Zamora's Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). But in the congressional run-off, the MIR sided with MNR, and Paz Estenssoro was chosen for a fourth term as President. When he took office in 1985, he faced a staggering economic crisis. Economic output and exports had been declining for several years.

Hyperinflation had reached an annual rate of 24,000%. Social unrest, chronic strikes, and unchecked drug trafficking were widespread. In 4 years, Paz Estenssoro's administration achieved economic and social stability. The military stayed out of politics, and all major political parties publicly and institutionally committed themselves to democracy. Human rights violations, which badly tainted some governments earlier in the decade, were no longer a problem. However, his remarkable accomplishments were not won without sacrifice. The collapse of tin prices in October 1985, coming just as the government was moving to reassert its control of the mismanaged state mining enterprise, forced the government to lay off over 20,000 miners.

Although the MNR list headed by Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada finished first in the 1989 elections, no candidate received a majority of popular votes and so in accordance with the constitution, a congressional vote determined who would be president. The Patriotic Accord (AP) coalition between Gen. Banzer's ADN and Jaime Paz Zamora's MIR, the second- and third-place finishers, respectively, won out. Paz Zamora assumed the presidency, and the MIR took half the ministries. Banzer's center-right ADN took control of the National Political Council (CONAP) and the other ministries.

Paz Zamora was a moderate, center-left President whose political pragmatism in office outweighed his Marxist origins. Having seen the destructive hyperinflation of the Siles Zuazo administration, he continued the neoliberal economic reforms begun by Paz Estenssoro, codifying some of them. Paz Zamora took a fairly hard line against domestic terrorism, personally ordering the December 1990 attack on terrorists of the Nestor Paz Zamora Committee.

Paz Zamora's regime was less decisive against narcotics trafficking. The government broke up a number of trafficking networks but issued a 1991 surrender decree giving lenient sentences to the biggest narcotics kingpins. Also, his administration was extremely reluctant to pursue coca eradication. It did not agree to an updated extradition treaty with the US, although two traffickers have been extradited to the U.S. since 1992. Beginning in early 1994, the Bolivian Congress investigated Paz Zamora's personal ties to accused major trafficker Isaac Chavarria, who subsequently died in prison while awaiting trial. MIR deputy chief Oscar Eidwas was jailed in connection with similar ties in 1994; he was found guilty and sentenced to 4 years in prison in November 1996. Technically still under investigation, Paz Zamora became an active presidential candidate in 1996.

The 1993 elections continued the tradition of open, honest elections and peaceful democratic transitions of power. The MNR defeated the ADN/MIR coalition by a 34% to 20% margin, and the MNR's Sanchez de Lozada was selected as president by an MNR/MBL/UCS coalition in the Congress.

Sanchez de Lozada pursued an aggressive neoliberal economic and social reform agenda. The most dramatic change undertaken by the Sanchez de Lozada government was the capitalization program, under which investors acquired 50% ownership and management control of public enterprises, such as the Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) oil-corporation, telecommunications system, electric utilities, and others. The reforms and economic restructuring were strongly opposed by certain segments of society, which instigated frequent social disturbances, particularly in La Paz and the Chapare coca-growing region, from 1994 through 1996.

In the 1997 elections, Gen. Hugo Banzer, leader of the ADN, 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 hold a majority of seats in the Bolivian Congress. The Congress elected him as president and he was inaugurated on August 6, 1997.

The 2000 Cochabamba protests

Between January and April 2000, a series of anti-privatization protests took place in Cochabamba against the privatization of the municipal water supply that was being pushed through on the recommendation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Bolivian government declared martial law, killing several people, arresting protest leaders and shutting down radio stations, but after continued disturbances and civic pressure, the government finally rolled back the privatization on April 10.

The 2002 presidential election

President Hugo Banzer resigned in August 2001, due to being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Jorge Quiroga. In the 2002 elections, Sanchez de Lozada ran again, and narrowly beat NFR's Manfred Reyes Villa and the cocalero and indigenous leader Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, in an election claimed to have been tainted by clear signs of electoral fraud.

Several days before Bolivians went to the voting booths, the U.S. ambassador, Manuel Rocha, warned the Bolivian electorate that, if they voted for Morales, the US would cut off foreign aid and close its markets to the country. Morales nonetheless received nearly 21% of the vote, putting him only a couple points behind Sanchez de Lozada.

Black October

In recent years, an increasingly divisive conflict has been the Bolivian Gas War; a dispute over the exploitation of Bolivia's large natural gas reserves in the south of the country.

Strikes and blockades first erupted in September 2003, with several deaths and dozens of injuries in confrontations with the armed forces. Sanchez de Lozada resigned under pressure from protesters, fleeing the country to the United States, but not before formally handing over the presidency to his vice-president, Carlos Mesa, in order to preserve the Constitutional order. Mesa was inaugurated and promised to address the demands of the protesting majority. However, he resigned on 7 March 2005 in face of mounting protests, claiming he was unable to continue governing the country, but with promises of support, he withdrew his resignation.

In May-June 2005, Mesa again tendered his resignation and in a hastily convened session of the Parliament in Sucre, Mr.Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze - the President of the Supreme Court - became president on the night of June 9, 2005. Political agreements were reached to modify the Constitution, and allow the full renewal of Parliament, simultaneously with a Presidential Election, on December 4, 2005.

The 2005 presidential election

Previous economic reforms, the criminalization of coca farming, and the empowerment of the indigenous population through MAS led to the victory of Evo Morales. In the elections of December 2005 Evo Morales and MAS obtained a comfortable victory reaching 54% of the electorate's votes.

The Evo Morales Administration

In March 2006, president Evo Morales announced the increase of the minimum wage by 50%. However, six Bolivian workers in every ten are part of the informal economy, thus limiting the extent of such a legally mandated increase in wages.

On May 1, 2006, Evo Morales delivered on his promises to nationalize most of Bolivia's natural gas fields, which many indigenous Bolivians had demanded for years. Federal troops were sent in to occupy the gas fields and take back control from foreign companies that same day. Many were operated by Petrobras, Brazil's largest energy company, and this political development was expected to strain relations between Morales and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. On October 29, 2006, the Morales government signed agreements with eight foreign gas firms including Petrobras, to give the Bolivian national gas company a majority stake in the gas fields, bringing the nationalization to completion.

References

Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

See also

Bolivia Gas War (the social conflict about the issue of the Bolivian natural gas reserves)

External links

U.S. State Department Background Note: Bolivia

History of Bolivia

Bolivia

Rulers.org Bolivia List of rulers for Bolivia

Bolivia Information Forum Background and analysis of Bolivian issues

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