Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia country profile

Map of Bolivia

A country of extremes, landlocked Bolivia is the highest and most isolated country in South America.

It has the largest proportion of indigenous people, who make up around two-thirds of the population.

The country has the second-largest reserves of natural gas in South America, but there have been long-running tensions over the exploitation and export of the resource. Indigenous groups say the country should not relinquish control of the reserves, which they see as Bolivia's sole remaining natural resource.

Bolivia is also one of the world's largest producers of coca, the raw material for cocaine. A crop-eradication programme, though easing the flow of conditional US aid, has incensed many of Bolivia's poorest farmers for whom coca is often the only source of income.

FACTS

Plurinational State of Bolivia

Capital: Sucre (official), La Paz (administrative)

  • Population 10.2 million

  • Area 1.1 million sq km (424,164 sq miles)

  • Major languages Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 65 years (men), 69 years (women)

  • Currency boliviano

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LEADER

President: Evo Morales

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First elected in December 2005, Evo Morales, from the Aymara indigenous group, is first president to come from the country's indigenous majority.

As a leader of a coca-growers union, he was also the first president to emerge from the social movements whose protests forced Bolivia's two previous presidents from office.

Having come to power with a radical programme aimed at addressing the extreme social divisions and inequalities of Bolivia, he achieved in a few short years real social gains for the majority of Bolivians.

Mr Morales' political ideology combines standard left-wing ideas with an emphasis on traditional indigenous Andean values and concepts of social organisation.

By the middle of 2006, he had renationalised Bolivia's oil and gas industries.

With the gas money, Mr Morales's administration invested heavily in public works projects and social programmes to fight poverty which reduced by 25% during his government. Extreme poverty dropped by 43%.

In February 2016, Mr Morales lost a referendum that would have allowed him to run for president for a fourth term.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

The Bolivian media continue to be polarized, resulting in a great deal of tension for journalists that the authorities do nothing to defuse, Reporters Without Borders reported in 2015.

Newspaper readership is limited by low literacy.

With hundreds of stations, radio is important, especially in rural areas. Bolivia's media landscape is dominated by private newspapers and broadcasters although there has been a rapid growth in state-owned media, including community radio stations, Freedom House said.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Bolivia's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hugo Banzer formed a notoriously brutal military regime after taking power in the 1970s. He returned to power via the ballot box in 1997

1538 - Spanish conquer Bolivia, which becomes part of the vice-royalty of Peru.

1824 - Venezuelan freedom fighter Simon Bolivar, after whom Bolivia is named, liberates the country from Spanish rule. One year later, Bolivia becomes independent with Simon Bolivar as its president.

1952 - Peasants and miners overthrow military regime; Victor Paz Estenssoro returns from exile to become president and introduces social and economic reforms, including universal suffrage, nationalisation of tin mines and land redistribution, and improves education and the status of indigenous peoples.

1964 - Vice-President Rene Barrientos stages military coup, ushering in a period of political unrest punctuated by uprisings and military coups.

1989 - Leftist Jaime Paz Zamora becomes president and enters power-sharing pact with former dictator Hugo Banzer.

2003 September-October - 80 killed, hundreds injured in protests fuelled by government plans to export natural gas via Chile. President Sanchez de Lozada resigns under pressure of protests and is succeeded by Carlos Mesa. Mesa is forced to resign two years later after protests continue. Socialist leader Evo Morales wins presidential elections, becoming the first indigenous Bolivian to fill the post.

2006 - Bolivia completes its gas nationalisation programme, giving the state control over the operations of foreign energy firms.

2009 - New constitution giving greater rights to indigenous majority is approved in a national referendum.

2014-2016 - Evo Morales wins a third term as Bolivia's president; two years later he loses a referendum for the right to run a fourth time.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A village in the Amazon, a region which residents are trying to protect from outside intrusion

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