Bolivia Essay, Research Paper

Bolivia is located in the west-central part of South America and is the fifth largest country

of the continent having an area about twice the size of Spain. Bolivia is landlocked

bordering five countries; Brazil on the northeast, Paraguay to the southeast, Argentina on

the south, and Chile and Peru on the west. The main physical feature of Bolivia is the

Andes Mountains, which define the country’s three geographic zones. First is the

Altiplano, or plateau region, which lies between the Cordillera Occidental (west) and the

Cordillera Real (northeast). On the northern end of the Altiplano lies the Lake Titicaca,

the highest navigable body of water in the world. Secondly are the Yungas which form a

transition zone between the peaks of the Andes and the Amazonian forest. Lastly are the

Lowlands which make up over two-thirds of the national territory; north and east of the

Andes. Most of Bolivia’s important rivers are found in the northern lowlands all which

eventually flow into the Amazon. (Box 234, 277, 314)

The area of modern Bolivia was controlled by Spanish conquest in 1525. The

territory of Bolivia, a part of the ancient empire of the Incas, was conquered in 1538 by

the Spanish conquistador Hernando Pizarro. As Spanish royal authority weakened during

the Napoleonic wars, judgment against colonial rule grew. Between 1808 and 1810, the

Wars of Independence took place in Upper Peru which constituted efforts to achieve

independence. The revolt on May 25, 1809 was one of the first in Latin America. On July

16, 1809, Upper Peru proclaimed itself an independent state. The Battle of Ayacucho in

1824 was the final battle that effectively ended Spanish rule in Upper Peru. On August 6,

1825, Bolivia achieved independence from Spain after a struggle led by Simon Bol?var and

Antonio Jos? de Sucre. To satisfy Bol?var’s reservations about the independence of Upper

Peru, the new nation was named after him. Five days after Bolivia declared its

independence from Spain, on August 11 the newly independent nation was named Bolivia,

after Simon Bol?var. (Country Study 15-16)

The type of government run in Bolivia is a Democracy. The 1967 constitution,

revised in 1994, provides for balanced executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Along

with the three branches there are nine administrative departments each controlled by a

governor. The Executive branch is headed by the President. The current president is

Hugo Banzer Suarez, elected in August 1997; the Vice President is Jorge Fernando

Quiroga Ramirez. The president and vice president are chosen through popular vote

elections to a four-year term. The president appoints the cabinet. The Legislative branch

is a bicameral National Congress, composed of a twenty-seven member Senate and a one

hundred thirty member Chamber of Deputies. The Judicial branch is the Supreme Court

composed of twelve members elected by congress and local courts. The national capital

and seat of government and Congress is La Paz while Sucre is the legal capital and seat of

judiciary. (Country Study 169,174-5,177)

With its history of social controls and bouts of hyper-inflation, Bolivia has

remained one of the poorest and least developed South American countries. Bolivia

experienced two major revolutions in economic policy during the second half of the

twentieth century. However, Bolivia has experienced generally improving economic

conditions since the late 80’s. In the late 1980s, trade of the coca plant, used for cocaine,

became a large-scale illegal activity in underground economy. These activities thrived,

employing two-thirds of the work force, totaling more than the official international trade.

Early 90’s successes included the signing of a free trade agreement with Mexico. (Country

Study 101-2)

Agriculture plays an important role in the economy; Bolivia is the second most

agricultural country in South America. Nearly half of the population is employed in the

agricultural sector. Bolivia’s major products are soybeans, cotton, potatoes, corn,

sugarcane, rice, wheat, coffee, beef, barley. Tin has long been the country’s most

important mineral. However, since the collapse of tin prices in the mid-1980s, Bolivia has

come to rely more on its other natural resources, which include deposits of natural gas,

petroleum, tungsten, silver and gold. (Blair 171-2)

The Spanish language became a part of the culture as a result of Spanish control

before receiving independence in 1825. Spanish is the official language, yet only about

half of the people speak it as their first language. Spanish is spoken by many of the

mestizos and Bolivians of European descent, but is not spoken by about 40% of the

Native American population. The remainder speak Quechua, the language of the Inca, or

Aymar?, the pre-Inca language. Compound dialects of Spanish-Aymar? and Spanish-

Quechua are also widely spoken. (Blair 91-3)

In 1961 the government gave up its right to mediate in church affairs; they

proclaimed religious toleration and permitted the establishment of non-Roman Catholic

churches. The Constitution of 1967 granted official status to the Roman Catholic Church

and guaranteed the public exercise of all other religions. Religion was traditionally the

domain of women, men felt no obligation to attend church or to practice their religion.

The Bolivian population is predominately Roman Catholic, the official religion. Other

minorities include: Protestant, especially Evangelical Methodists, and Jewish. In 1980s

Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gained increasing followers. (Blair 105-6, 115)

Body language is as significant as spoken language. Bolivians greet friends

warmly; women kiss on each cheek while touching each arm and men either shake hands

or give an abrazo; a type of hug followed by a series of pats on the shoulder and another

handshake. It is common to see females of all ages walking arm in arm or hand in hand.

Eye contact is a must; avoiding another’s eyes is considered insulting. Ask before taking a

picture of someone in Bolivia; people sometimes believe that you are capturing their spirit.

Sometimes indigenous natives will ask for money when their picture is taken. Also be

careful about taking photos in religious shrines. (Customs and Culture)

The Bolivian diet consists mainly of a wide variety of potatoes and quinua which is

a high protein grain. Bolivia’s food is dominated by meat dishes, accompanied by rice,

potatoes and shredded lettuce. The alcohol is strong and Bolivian drinking habits are

lusty. In La Paz a favorite dish called fricase is made with pork and seasoned with yellow

hot pepper. Sucre is famous for chorizos (sausage) and ckocko, a dish of chicken cooked

in chicha with raisins. A favorite dish of people in the tropics is locro, a rice soup made

with charque (beef jerky) or chicken, green bananas, eggs and served with yuca. Salte?as,

a meat or chicken turnover, are another popular food of Bolivians eaten mainly in the

altiplano and valley regions. (Customs and Culture)

Only a passport is required for entry into Bolivia. U.S. citizens do not need a visa

for a one-month stay. Business visa requires $50.00 US fee and company letter explaining

purpose of trip. U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors are encouraged to register at the

U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country. Registering with the embassy may help you to

replace lost identity documents or help family members contact you in case of an

emergency. (Fodor’s 141)

La Paz, the highest capital city in the world is a great attraction for travelers. La

Paz has a number of museums, including The Museo de Metales Preciosos Pre-

Columbinos. About thirty-seven miles to the east of the city is Illimani (21,188ft),

Bolivia’s most famous peak. The Illimani and the 21,080ft Ancohuma offer great climbing

opportunities in the Cordillera Real. Forty-three miles west of the city is the historical

ceremonial center of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia’s most important archaeological site. Lake

Titicaca is regarded as the highest navigable body of water in the world. This freshwater

lake measures one hundred forty-five miles from northwest to southeast and sixty miles

from northeast to southwest which also includes 36 islands. Cochabamba, founded in

1574, is Bolivia’s largest market town. It has historical and archaeological attractions,

including the 400-year-old cathedral, the Convento de Santa Teresa and the Museo

Arqueol?gico. (Fodor’s 105,120,125)

Blair, David Nelson. The Land and People of Bolivia. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1990.

Box, Ben, ed. South American Handbook (1995). Illinois: Passport Books, 1994.

“Customs and Culture.” Andean Rural Health Care.

customs.htm. Online. 29 January 1999.

Federal Research Division Library of Congress. Bolivia: a country study. Washington

D.C.: GPO, 1991.

Fionn Davenport, Anto Howard, and Chelsea S. Mauldin, eds. Fodor’s: South America,

3rd ed. New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications, Inc., 1997.

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