Bolivia Recent History

Bolivia Recent History

Spanish conquest and colonial rule

Cerro Rico de Potosí

Cerro Rico de Potosí

View of the old coin in Potosí

View of the old coin in Potosí

When the Spaniards arrived in present-day Peru in 1531, the Inca Empire was divided between the Atahuallpa and Huascar brothers. This situation made the capture and murder of the last Inca ruler Atahuallpa by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro in Cajamarca much easier. Nevertheless it is still difficult to understand how a few hundred Europeans succeeded in conquering a huge and tightly organized empire practically in one stroke; the better armament with rifles and cannons as well as the carrying of horses unknown to the locals can only provide part of the explanation.

When the Spanish conquerors arrived in what is now Bolivia, the Inca empire had only existed there for about 100 years. After the conquest of “Alto Perú” (from 1535), as the region of today’s Bolivia was called by the Spaniards, the newly conquered areas were incorporated into the Spanish colonial empire. As a country located in South America according to thereligionfaqs, Bolivia was ruled for almost 300 years by Spanish viceroys in Lima, who were primarily interested in the exploitation of gold and silver.

Over several centuries, the 4,800 m high “Cerro Rico” (“Rich Mountain”), “discovered” in 1545, financed the maintenance of feudal structures in Spain with its silver production, as well as a not insignificant part of the economic development of Europe, especially the industrial revolution that was beginning in England. The “Cerro Rico” in Potosí became the center of silver mining in the whole of America and Potosí, with around 160,000 residents, became at times the largest city in the western hemisphere.

The Spanish colonial rule had a lasting effect on all areas of life for the local population. Thousands of Indian (and initially also African) forced laborers and slaves lost their lives in the mines, while others fled their traditional lands or were expelled. The rural Indian population was severely exploited under the Mita and Encomienda system. She also had to pay 10% of her income in the form of taxes to the Spanish crown (diezmo). So there were always Indian uprisings: the uprising led by Túpac Katari towards the end of the 18th century, which was also bloodily crushed by the Spanish troops, is considered the largest.

The only successful was the revolt of the Creoles (criollos). The Napoleonic occupation of the Iberian Peninsula on the other side of the Atlantic at the beginning of the 19th century had weakened Spain’s rule in the colonies considerably. This opened up space for the first Latin American independence movements in Venezuela and Argentina. As the last country in South America, Bolivia was liberated from Spanish colonial rule by Antonio José de Sucre and Simón Bolivar.

Modern Bolivia since the National Revolution

In recent Bolivian history, the role of Victor Paz Estenssoro, who led the revolution of 1952, should be highlighted. The National Revolution, as it is called in Bolivia, marks a historical change in both political and social terms. The main results include universal suffrage and civil rights for the previously excluded indigenous population, the establishment of schools in the countryside, the agrarian reform (1953) and the nationalization of the mines.

From the founding of the republic in 1825 to the National Revolution of 1952, the population remained extremely small with 1 to 2.5 million residents. The majority of the people lived in the Andean region. The country, which is roughly three times the size of Germany, was extremely sparsely populated and still is today. The rural indigenous population still made up the largest proportion with around 90%.

Between the late 1960’s and early 1980’s, the country was ruled by military dictatorships. In the second half of the 1960’s, the presence of the guerrillas led by Ernesto Che Guevara made international headlines. With the help of the Americans, however, the Bolivian-Cuban troops were crushed in October 1967, the “Che” was captured and murdered in the village school of La Higueras in the Vallegrande province (Santa Cruz department).

In 1982 a return to democratic conditions was fought for, but initially there was a turbulent phase under the left UDP government, at the end of which the country threatened to sink into economic chaos. With the election of Victor Paz Estenssoro in 1985 and his “New Economic Policy”, hyperinflation ended and the era of neoliberalism heralded. The successors Estenssoros, Paz Zamora (1989-1993) and Sánchez de Lozada (1993-1997 and 2002-2003) and Hugo Banzer / Jorge Quiroga (1997-02) stuck to this macroeconomic stabilization course.

Although the country showed a previously unaccustomed stability, the downside of the coin was gradually becoming more and more noticeable, namely high unemployment and below-average growth. Under the first government of Sánchez de Lozada (Goni), a reform phase was initiated with the law on popular participation and municipalization in rural areas, as well as the educational reform and the introduction of a pension fund, which, however, ended abruptly with the election of the former military dictator Hugo Banzer in 1997. As a result, the unfulfilled promises led to strong dissatisfaction among the population.

From the turn of the millennium, this led to a politically and socially extremely unstable period, which brought the country to the brink of civil war. Various social groups in the country, such as the coca farmers of the “Chapare” region and the residents of El Alto, as well as the regional movements of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Sucre, forced President Sanchez de Lozada to resign in October 2003 and paved the way ultimately paving the way for Evo Morales to win the election in 2005.

First of all, however, Vice President Carlos D. Mesa took over the highest office of state after President “Goni” had fled to the USA. Pressed on the one hand by the social movements operating on the street and without sufficient support from the representatives of the traditional elites in parliament on the other hand, he did not succeed in uniting the country on a minimal consensus. His final resignation in June 2005 led the country to the brink of civil war that could only be prevented at the last minute. Subsequently, the chairman of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Veltzé, took over the presidential duties, with the sole task of organizing new elections and in the meantime keeping the country together.