A land locked nation in west central South America, named in honor of Simon Bolivar. Bolivia was the home of an important pre-Columbian civilization, whose ruins are at Tiahuanaco. This civilization may have been that of the Aymara Indians and began sometime before a.d. 500. In the 15th century the Inca Empire conquered the Aymara; nevertheless, they still dominate their area, and more than half of Bolivia’s population remains pure Indian. The Spanish conquistadors Gonzalo and Hernand o Pizarro defeated the Bolivian Indians in 1538, and the discovery of silver in 1545 led to the use of Indian forced labor to mine it.
The first European settlement at Chuquisaca, now Sucre, was founded in 1538; Potosi, founded in 1545, was for half a century the richest source of silver in the world; La Paz was settled in 1548 by Alonso de Mendoza on the site of an Inca village; while Santa Cruz, established in 1560, was a Jesuit missionary center. In 1559 the administrative unit of Charcas was formed by Spain and included not only modern Bolivia but parts of Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Paraguay. Until 1776 Charcas was part of the viceroyalty of Peru and after that of the viceroyalty of La Plata. One of the early abortive uprisings in America against Spanish rule took place in Chuquisaca in 1809. In 1824, aided by Generals Simon Bolivar of Venezuela and Jose de San Martin of Argentina, Bolivia won its independence. The turning point was the battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824, in which Antonio Jose de Sucre, born in Venezuela, defeated the Spanish. Independence was proclaimed the next year, and Sucre became the first president. He was succeeded by Andres Santa Cruz. Deciding to combine Bolivia with Peru, he invaded the latter in 1836. Chile opposed this move and defeated Santa Cruz at the battle of Yungay on January 20, 1839. In 1841, when the president of Peru tried to seize La Paz, the Bolivian president, Jose Ballivian, defeated him on November 20 at Ingavi.
Bolivia and Peru were again involved in war with Chile in the War of the Pacific from 1879 to 1884. The conflict stemmed from a dispute over nitrate deposits in Bolivia’s Atacama province, now Antofagasta, its only coastal territory, which Chile won. Conservatives governed the country until 1899, when the liberals came to power. Their leader, Ismael Montes, was president from 1904 to 1909 and from 1913 to 1917. In 1903 Bolivia reluctantly gave up the Acre region, with its rubber resources, to Brazil for a cash indemnity and a railroad. An opposition group overthrew the government in 1920, but the troubles of the 1930s Great Depression caused a military group to exploit discontent and seize the presidency. The boundary between Bolivia and Paraguay in the Gran Chaco lowland s had long been in dispute, and the discovery of oil in the area brought war, from 1932 to 1935. Both sides were completely exhausted in the struggle, and a treaty in 1938 gave three-fourths of the disputed region to Paraguay.
Bolivia’s history in the last two decades has reflected wider world trends. In 1967 the Cuban revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who had come to Bolivia to lead guerrilla warfare, was captured and executed. Alfredo Ovand o Cand ia seized the presidency in 1969 and nationalized U.S. oil companies.
Since then one coup has followed another. Bolivia has had its first woman president, Lidia Gueiler Tejada; and in August 1981 the 190th government in the 156-year history of the country took office. In the 1980s Bolivia became the world’s largest producer of coca making the country of interest to antidrug policy makers in the United States. In the 1990s the Bolivian government applied policies to try to eliminate the coca crop, but were often resisted by the small farmers who depended on coca growing for their livings. In 2002, American-educated Gongalo Sanchez de Lozada was elected president. There continues to be conflict between government forces, and cocagrowing interests. In 2005, Juan Eva Morales Ayna, a socialist, became Bolivia’s first president of indigenous ancestry.
Sucre is the constitutional capital; but La Paz, the largest city, is the administrative and political capital.