The history of Bolivia up to independence
The first residents
Between 20,000 and 10,000 BC came across North and Central America. The first hunter-gatherers in the area of today’s Bolivia. Initially, however, they did not settle the high mountains. Then slowly people settled down. Different cultures developed over time. They included the Wankarani, Chiripa and Uru.
One of the greatest cultures was that of Tiahuanaco. It was created around 1500 BC. BC south of Lake Titicaca. The former city is still largely unexplored. The best known is the sun gate. The site is a World Heritage Site. The city was abandoned around 1200 AD. Later the Aymara lived here. Most of the Aymara tribes were subjugated by the (Quechua speaking) Inca from 1450 onwards.
The Inca founded the city of Cusco (in today’s Peru) around 1200. From here they built a huge empire that also encompassed a large part of Bolivia. Until 1527, much of the west coast of South America belonged to the Inca Empire.
Pizarro conquers the Inca Empire
In 1532 the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his men conquered the Inca Empire. That was already weakened by a war for the succession of the Inca ruler, and many Indians had died of smallpox and measles. The Spaniards had brought these diseases with them from Europe and they had spread rapidly via Central America to South America. In 1533 Bolivia became a Spanish colony.
Upper Peru as part of the Viceroyalty of Peru (1542-1776)
So Bolivia became a Spanish colony. However, it wasn’t called that at the time. It was called Upper Peru (Alto Peru). In 1542 the Spaniards founded the Viceroyalty of Peru, which initially comprised almost all of South America. Bolivia was one of them.
Potosí – the silver mine
The Spaniards quickly recognized the rich silver deposits Bolivia had. The exploitation of the Potosí silver mines began as early as 1545. Indios were forced to work in the mines, and thousands died. Since most of them did not come from the high mountains, the thin air here bothered them a lot, because Potosí is at an altitude of 4000 meters.
Part of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata
In 1717 the north was split off as the viceroyalty of New Granada (today Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela) in order to better manage the large colony. In 1776 the south was also separated. Bolivia no longer belonged to Peru, but with Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina to the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. By 1800 the silver supplies in Potosí were slowly exhausted. Tin now assumed the role of the most important natural resource and remained so until around 1950.
History of Bolivia: From Independence to Today
Struggle for independence (1809-1825)
At the beginning of the 19th century, the struggle for independence began in Central and South America. In 1809 the struggle began in Bolivia under the leadership of Simón Bolívar. But it was not until 1824 that the last Spaniards were finally defeated by Antonio José de Sucre in the battle of Ayacucho. Bolivia became a separate state on August 6, 1825 and named itself after Simón Bolívar. Sucre became the first president of Bolivia, but had to resign in 1828. To get more information on Bolivia and South America, check petsinclude.
The relationship with the neighbors
In 1829 Andrés de Santa Cruz became president. His ten-year tenure was one of the most stable in Bolivia’s history. In 1836, Peru and Bolivia formed a confederation. Chile and Argentina saw themselves threatened by this and declared war (Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation War). In 1839 they were successful and Santa Cruz had to abdicate and flee.
In the Saltpeter War (1879-1883) Bolivia lost an area on the Pacific to Chile. Bolivia and Peru fought together against Chile for this coastal area, in which there was a lot of saltpetre. Saltpetre is needed to make fertilizer, so it is a valuable raw material. Numerous presidents took turns in quick succession.
Border Issues in the 20th Century
In 1903, Bolivia had to cede its north-western region to Brazil. In the Chaco War (1932-1935) Bolivia fought against Paraguay. It was about an area in the south that belongs to the Gran Chaco. Paraguay won and Bolivia lost even more land. Why was that so? Lines had never been drawn before. They had simply been determined by Spain, and they often separated Indian peoples. They still live across borders throughout South America.
A few rich landowners and mine owners stood on one side, and a large number of poor people without education on the other. As everywhere in South America, this led to conflict. Sometimes land reforms were carried out, then the military put back to power and reversed everything.
National Revolution (1952) and Víctor Paz Estenssoro
A left-wing movement (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, MNR for short) was founded and won the 1951 elections with Víctor Paz Estenssoro. But the military took power. In 1952 there was a revolt by parts of the army, students, trade unions and other supporters of the MNR, the “National Revolution”. Paz Estenssoro became president after all (three times: 1952-1956, 1960-1964 and 1985-1989). Nationalizations and land reforms were carried out. The Indians received civil rights and the right to vote. Economically, however, there was a decline.
Military Government (1964-1982)
In 1964 the military took power. Several generals held the presidency, sometimes left-wing, sometimes right-wing. Between 1825 and 1982 there were almost 200 attempted coups in Bolivia.
Guerrillas in the 1960s
In the mid-1960s guerrilla troops emerged in the highlands, including the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, in German: National Liberation Army). She received support from Cuba. The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara, fought alongside the ELN and was captured and executed by Bolivian soldiers in 1967.
In 1982, military rule finally ended. Hernán Siles Zuazo, who had been president between 1956 and 1960, took office from 1982 to 1985. The economic decline could no longer be stopped. The tin prices had fallen sharply because it was now being mined more cheaply in East Asia. Hundreds of thousands of cattle, llamas and sheep died in a drought in 1982/83. In 1984 Bolivia declared itself insolvent.
No solution in the 1990s and early 21st century
The country was now governed democratically, but there were repeated unrest. One wanted to solve the economic problems with privatizations, then everything was reversed. The rural population continued to suffer from great poverty. The number of illiterate people was very high.
Evo Morales – President from 2005 to 2019
Evo Morales won the 2005 elections. He is the first President of Bolivia of indigenous descent. Morales belongs to the socialist party MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo, in German: Movement to Socialism).
In 2006 the natural gas industry was nationalized. In the same year, close trade relations were established with Venezuela and Cuba, both countries with politically left-wing governments. Taxes were increased.
In 2009 the country received a new constitution. Morales campaigns for the rights of coca farmers. In 2009 and 2014, Morales was re-elected with a large majority. The economy has been booming for years and the poverty of the population has been greatly reduced.
Even after the 2019 presidential election, Morales was chosen as the winner. But there were apparently inconsistencies in the counting of the votes. There were protests in Bolivia for weeks. Finally Morales stepped back. The previous second vice-president of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, then declared herself interim president, that is, temporary president.