Bolivia Brief History

Bolivia Brief History

According to Areacodesexplorer, Bolivia is often called “South Tibet of South America” ​​due to the country’s high and isolated location, without its own coastline. Bolivia is dominated by the Native American population and their culture, about 65% of the country’s population is of Native American descent. The number of different Native American groups amounts to about thirty. Bolivia is a multicultural and fascinating country with elements of ancient, long-gone cultures such as Tiahuanacu and Inca. Nature encompasses everything from the Amazon’s steaming rainforest to the windswept plateau Altiplano.

I was fascinated and captivated by this beautiful and exciting country. Rarely or never do I usually be scared during a trip. In Bolivia, I was really scared twice.

Bolivia history in brief

About 3,500 years ago, Aymara-speaking Indians from the central highlands of Peru invaded the Altiplano, the great plateau. Here the latter developed a high culture with the city of Tiahuanaco as centers. The first traces of this are dated to about the year 1,000 BC. Tiahuanaco, was for a time the world’s largest city and was located on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca. During its heyday, it affected areas all the way up to Ecuador and down to Chile. Tiahuanco is today Bolivia’s most important archeological center. The Tiahuanaco culture was later integrated, most likely into the Inca culture, which had its center in the city of Cuzco, Peru.

When the Inca chief Atahualpa was captured by the Spaniards in the city of Cachamarca in 1532, this meant the end of the Inca Empire. The Spaniards expanded throughout the Inca Empire and reached the area that today forms Bolivia in the late 1530s. In 1538 they founded the city of La Plata, now Sucre. In 1545, the Spaniards founded the city of Potosi, where they discovered huge silver deposits, which quickly grew into the largest and richest city in the Spanish Empire, filled with large palaces and churches. The Spaniards treated the Native American population very brutally and forced them to work in the mines as slaves. The importance of Potosí diminished rapidly when the silver ran out around 1650. In 1548, the Spaniards founded La Paz.

During the 16th and 18th centuries, there were several revolts against the Spanish rule, both among mestizos and Indians. It was not until after 1809 that a strong independence movement emerged. General Antonio José de Sucre, one of the closest men of the South American freedom hero Simón Bolívar, defeated the Spaniards at the Battle of Junin and Ayacuho in Peru in 1824 and at the Battle of Tumulsa defeated forces led by the freedom fighter Simon Bolivar and General Antonio Jose de Sucre the Spaniards. On August 6, 1825, Alto Perú declared independence. The country was named after the freedom hero Simon Bolívar and Sucre became its first president.

When Bolivia was founded, it was twice as large as it is today. From the very beginning, the country was characterized by unstable governments and constant military coups and was further weakened by poor economies and deep social conflicts. During the so-called Nitrogen or Pacific War of 1879-1883, Bolivia lost its entire mineral-rich coastal strip to Chile. Additional areas of the Amazon, rich in natural rubber, were ceded to Brazil in the 1860s and early 1900s.

Some important years in Bolivia’s modern history


A 100,000 km2 area in the Amazon was handed over to Brazil in exchange for building a railway along the Rio Madre River and giving Bolivians free access to the Pacific coast.


Drilled US Standard Oil for oil in the Bolivian Chaco area. In addition, it was thought that there would be oil in other parts of this area as well


Many border conflicts arose with Paraguayan military patrols. Both Bolivia and Paraguay were interested in possible new oil discoveries

1932 – 1935

In the so-called Chacko War, which was partly started by rival foreign oil companies, Bolivia lost most of the Chaco area in the southeast to Paraguay and about 55,000 Bolivian soldiers lost their lives. No oil was found in the part that went to Paraguay

1930s, 1940s

During this period, new nationalist and left-wing political movements emerged that challenged the traditional elite. Particularly influential was the radical Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR)


In the presidential election, MNR’s candidate Victor Paz Estenssoro won. However, he was prevented by a military coup from taking over, which triggered a popular uprising led by MNR


In a bloody revolution, the military regime was overthrown and Paz Estenssoro was installed as president. A major reform program was launched; the mines were nationalized, universal suffrage was introduced and a land reform was implemented. The national organization COB (Central Obrera Boliviana), dominated by the miners’ union, was formed and quickly became a power factor


Became president of Paz Estenssoro again


Paz Estenssoro was ousted by the military in November


The military coup in November 1964 marked the beginning of a long period of undemocratic rule. With the support of the United States, the miners’ union and Marxist student movements were fought. After several military coups, General Hugo Bánzer took power


Political parties and trade unions were banned. Violations of human rights increased. The economy grew, but it did so largely through foreign loans, while investment in industry was neglected


General Banzer was forced out of power after growing opposition within the country and pressure from the United States. This was followed by a chaotic period with several elections and military coups. Military regimes brought the country close to the brink of ruin. The United States, which has long been a close ally, became increasingly critical of the lack of democracy and the involvement of regimes in the rapidly growing cocaine trade.


In October, the military government relinquished power and Hernán Siles Zuazo was appointed president. Despite the government’s left-wing nature, the economic crisis forced austerity measures fairly immediately


In the presidential election, ex-president Victor Paz Estenssoro won. His previous left-wing policies were replaced by neoliberal reforms to bring order to the economy. The government announced a state of emergency to be able to make cuts, which shocked not least the former allied country organization COB (Central Obrera Boliviana)

1989 – 1993

Was MIR’s leader President Jaime Paz Zamora and

1993 – 1997

Was MNR’s leader Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada president


The harsh economy and the constant corruption scandals resulted in Hugo Bánzer being elected president, despite being a dictator in the 1970s. His right-wing party ADN formed a coalition government with several other parties

Bolivia Brief History