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Tiahuanaco click on the image to enlarge
The first inhabitants of Bolivia were nomadic hunter-gatherers who, it is widely believed, traveled across the Bering Strait. It is held that these first Asian colonizers reached the South American continent by 12,000 BC. This initial settlement period lasted until about 1400 BC when the more advanced culture of the Chavin began spreading their influence from coastal Peru throughout the Andes. Around 300 BC, the Chavín inexplicably disappeared, and in their place the Tiahuanco culture of the Bolivian Altiplano rose to dominance. During the next 1000 years the Tiahuanaco culture prospered and advanced in art, agriculture and architecture. Tiahuanaco architecture is characterized by large stones, weighing up to 100 tons, with stone cutting, squaring, dressing, and notching that rivals even the Inca in artisanship. The Tiahuanaco civilization then gave way to the Inca Empire. Theories abound about what happened to Tiahuanaco, including one which claims that the Inca royalty were the descendants of the crumbling Tiahuanco culture. The Incas quickly grew to dominate an immense region stretching from Columbia to Argentina, and including all of the Bolivian highlands.

Francisco Pizarro click on the image to enlarge
The Spanish conquest of the land that would become Bolivia began in 1531 under Francisco Pizarro. The conquistadors made rapid progress, exploiting the trust (and later the disunity) of the Indians to secure the territory that within two years became known as Alto Peru. In 1544, deposits of silver were discovered at Potosí. The wealth generated by the mines fueled the Spanish economy for more than two centuries. Because of the mines, the Cuzco-Potosi road was colonized in all directions, resulting in the establishment of cities like La Paz, Sucre and Santa Cruz, which were founded before the start of the 1560s.
Potosi click on the image to enlarge
The life of the indigenous miners was difficult, working conditions were appalling, and many of the enslaved Indians and Africans died within a few years of working there. However, a vibrant economic life ensued, and new forms of cultural and artistic life came about, along with rebellions and conflicts.

Pedro Domingo Murillo click on the image to enlarge
Bolivia was the first of the Spanish colonies in America that struggled to win independence from the crown. Twenty-five years were spent trying to achieve it. The independence movement began in 1809, and was led by the patriot Pedro Domingo Murillo. The national hero's struggle, however, was silenced when he was captured and murdered. Independence was finally won in 1824 with the Battle of Ayacucho (Peru), commanded by Marshall Antonio Jose de Sucre. In 1825, the first formal declaration of independence was made. The first constitution was drafted in 1826, when liberator Simon Bolivar was elected as the first president of the republic.
antonio de sucre click on the image to enlarge
He transferred power to Marshall Sucre, and the city of Charcas, then the capital, was renamed in the new president's honor. Sucre's term was short-lived. Several periods of anarchy and military dictatorships followed. In 1836 Peru and Bolivia united, but the union fell about a decade later. Throughout this period there were four decades of constitutions, presidents and revolutions, until the War of the Pacific with Chile (1879-1883). Bolivia lost its access to the sea and became landlocked as a result. In 1953, Chile declared the port of Arica ‘free’ and has allowed Bolivia certain privileges in its use. In 1992 Peru agreed to allow Bolivia free use of the port of Ilo for 100 years. However, much commercial access to the ocean depends on river, air or rail transportation.

El Chaco War with Paraguay click on the image to enlarge
After the War of the Pacific, there was relative tranquility; education and agricultural systems were improved. The El Chaco War with Paraguay during the 1930s left a painful loss of lives, money, and goods. Despite the hard blow to the nation’s economy, the era created a new social consciousness that brought better conditions for workers. In the 1950s, universal voting rights, agrarian reform, and the nationalization of tin mines were obtained. Nevertheless, a new era of presidents interspersed by intermittent military juntas was underway during the 60s and 70s. During the 156 years from independence to 1981, there were 192 coups in Bolivian government, an average of one every 10 months.

Victor Paz Estenssoro click on the image to enlarge
Victor Paz Estenssoro held the presidency between 1952–56 and 1960–64. He was elected again in August 1985, at the head of a loose coalition of both left- and right-wing parties. By the time Paz Estenssoro ceded office to Jaime Paz Zamora in August 1989, rampant hyper-inflation (an estimated 14,000 per cent in 1985) had been dramatically cut after initial unrest over the government’s strict austerity program. Paz Estenssoro had been the candidate of one of Bolivia’s five main political parties, the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (MNR). Other currently registered parties include: Revolutionary Left Movement - New Majority (Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria - Nueva Mayoría, MIR-NM), Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS), New Republican Force (Nueva Fuerza Republicana, NFR), Civic Solidarity Union (Unión Cívica Solidaridad, UCS), Nationalist Democratic Action (Acción Democrática Nacionalista, ADN),  and Indigenous Pachakuti Movement (Movimiento Indígena Pachakuti, MIP)

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada click on the image to enlarge
In October of 2003, a massive popular revolt, sometimes called The Bolivia Gas War, against then-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada ended in his resigning his post. The protests were sparked by plans to export natural gas to the United States, with many Bolivians fearing the benefits would not reach the broad population.  The mountain capital of La Paz filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters who demanded, among other things, natural resource and coca rights. This marked the first effective large-scale popular uprising in Bolivia’s democratic history.

Carlos Mesa click on the image to enlarge
Then in May 2005, another popular protest resulted in the resignation of President Carlos Mesa. The protests were in many ways a continuation of the 2003 Bolivia Gas War, and some refer to the 2005 protests as the Second Bolivian Gas War. The protest's main goals were the nationalization of the gas and oil (collectively, "hydrocarbons") extraction industries in Bolivia, and the increased participation of Bolivia's indigenous majority in the political life of the country.

Evo Morales click on the image to enlarge
The recent swearing in of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, of Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), has brought new hopes for economic equality and self-determinism. President Morales, who vowed to complete the struggle of Che Guevara, has pledged to change Bolivia’s economic model and end neo-liberalism. Morales has stated that all of Bolivia’s natural resource rights should be returned to Bolivian nationals in order to stamp out poverty. However, the president has rejected expropriating the assets of multinational energy companies operating in Bolivia’s gas sector, preferring to retain foreign investment under the principle that the state would be treated as an equal partner.  

The highly sensitive domestic issue for of the US-sponsored ‘war on drugs’ – coca and its products, in the case of Bolivia – is widely unpopular in a country where coca is considered to be both a traditional product and a valuable cash crop. The government had originally announced that all coca plantations would be eradicated by the end of 2002. This was always highly unlikely and the government eventually conceded 12,000 hectares (approximately 50 sq miles) of plantation for ‘traditional’ purposes. However, after the economic crisis in Argentina and Brazil, which deeply affected Bolivia, impoverished farming communities made strong demands to be allowed to grow coca once again. President Morales has pledged to decriminalize coca cultivation, and that, though he desires an agreement with the US to fight narcotrafficking, the fight against drugs must not be an excuse for the US to dominate the Bolivian people.
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