Bolivia country profile

  • Published
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.


Plurinational State of Bolivia

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

  • Population 10.8 million

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

  • Major languages Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 66 years (men), 71 years (women)

  • Currency boliviano

Getty Images


President: Luis Arce

Image source, Javier Mamani/Getty Images
Image caption,
President Arce (left) took office in November 2020

Luis Arce won the October 2020 presidential election, returning the Mas socialist party to power after a 12-month interregnum.

Opposition senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself interim president in November 2019 after President Evo Morales resigned in the tumultuous wake of a disputed election.

His bid to win another term in office had led to street protests, and he resigned after the armed forces withdrew their support.

Mr Morales, the first president to come from the Bolivia's indigenous majority, carried out a radical programme after winning power in 2005, aimed at addressing extreme social divisions and inequalities.

Ms Áñez withdrew from the October 2020 presidential election, and President Arce, a colleague of Evo Morales, has pledged to form a government of national unity.


Image source, Getty Images

Bolivia's media landscape is dominated by private newspapers and broadcasters

With hundreds of stations, radio is important, especially in rural areas.

The authorities use legal, political and economic means to pressure independent media, says Freedom House.


Some key dates in Bolivia's history:

Image source, 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 - 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.

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

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