Bolivia History Essay Questions

Bolivian Independence, achieved after centuries of Spanish colonial rule, was a process that spanned more than 15 years, from 1809 to 1825, and involved numerous battles and countless deaths. The struggle for independence started locally and later Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre gave cohesiveness to fragmented and unorganized cause.

Ultimately, this new and independent country, Bolivia, would get its name from the Simon Bolivar, the military and political leader that changed the course of Colonial South America. Bolivia during the 18th century was known as Upper Peru and as was an autonomous region dependant on the Viceroyalty of Peru. Local government was the responsibility of the Royal Audience directed by a President.

This Audience was known as the Audiencia de Charcas. As was the case in other places, the Spanish overseers were widely ignorant of the situation of the people and considered themselves superior to the indigenous people. It was not uncommon for these Oidores to make the people bow to them. In 1776 a reorganization of territories was ordered by Spain and Upper Peru joined the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata against the wishes of the Viceroyalty of Peru—which would stand to lose valuable natural resources and the money that would come with them.

This would bitterly divide the relationship between these two regions. Further dividing the bases of power was the implementation of the intendancy system that subdivided the power of Viceroy and created internal power struggles between Intendants and Viceroys. At the start of the 19th century a perfecto storm of circumstances came together to fan the flames of independence in South America.

In 1807, Napoleon invaded Spain in a quest to increase his empire. This created an enormous vacuum of power and oversight in South America permitting the independence movements to begin their fight in earnest while the Spanish Monarchy was distracted with its own problems back home.The first wave of nationalist uprisings in Bolivia occurred in 1809, when the government juntas of Charcas and La Paz were formed as a reaction to the events in Spain—the chaotic, almost anarchic, situation in Spain was duplicating itself in Bolivia.

The junta in Charcas was created by the removal of the President, Ramon Garcia Leon de Pizarro, by the Audience because the Spanish Oidores suspected him of wanting to join with Portugal. The representatives of the Monarchy decided to convert Upper Peru into a junta that would remain loyal to Spain in spirit while isolating itself politically from the other surrounding regions including the Viceroyalty of Peru. In La Paz, the junta there was an effort to break free from Spanish rule altogether and wanting complete independence from any European power. These juntas ended up being short lived, however, and soon fell back under Spanish control thanks to the intervention of the Viceroy of Peru and the better equipped Royalists easily defeated the nationalists, who were lacking in money, resources and military experience.The defeat of the juntas did not mark the end of the independence movement; they constituted an important part of the history of Bolivia. The juntas were able to promote and encourage the independence movement which was kept alive by a six guerrilla armies that formed away from the cities and took control of various regions of Bolivia.

In 1810, these six breakaway regions would come to be known as republiquetas (little republics) and each were headed by a caudillo (military leader or dictator). These regions had little or no influence in the surrounding areas but were strong enough to withstand any interference by the royalist forces for more than 15 years.With the American war of independence still fresh in the mind of the world; especially in South America which was subject to Colonial Spanish rule, people began to question the legitimacy of colonial occupation. In 1807, a South American aristocrat and liberal thinker had just returned from his travels in Europe.

In Venezuela, this man, Simon Bolivar was beginning a revolution of South American independence from Spain. His struggle would take him all over South America and his cause gained followers every day that passed. After having liberated Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, Bolivar was now close to liberating Peru in 1821. In Upper Peru, following 1817, there was relative calm with the power of the caudillos and the Viceroy of Peru reaching a point of equilibrium. In 1820 this equilibrium was broken with the conservative general, Pedro Antonio de Olañeta, refusing to recognize the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and breaking away from the Viceroyalty of Peru. He also refused to join the rebel armies of Bolivar that were beginning to approach Upper Peru as he considered himself “the only defender of the throne and altar” in the region. With the fall of Peru to Bolivar the next he set his sights on was Upper Peru.

In the latter half of 1823 the forces of Bolivar crossed Bolivia and on December 9, 1824 the rebel forces under the command of Antonio Jose de Sucre defeated the royalist army in the Battle of Ayacucho.The remaining royalist forces were easily defeated at El Callao but there remained one last military obstacle: General Olañeta. As the last holdout, he attempted to surrender Upper Peru to Brazil in a last ditch effort to maintain Spanish control in the area but to no avail. In one final battle on April 9, 1825 Olañeta and Sucre met on the battlefield. Olañeta’s troops now knowing that defeat would be their destiny murdered Olañeta on the battlefield and surrendered to the rebel army.

Spain’s last outpost in South America was now lost forever. A constitutional congress was summoned and on August 6, 1825 to create a new Magna Carta as well as name this new independent country Bolivia in honor of the aristocrat turned liberator, Simon Bolivar. From August 12 to December 29, 1825, Bolivar led Bolivia on the path to democracy and independence and after he stepped down fellow war hero, Antonio Jose de Sucre, would continue in the presidency.

Today, Bolivia’s Independence Day is now celebrated every year on 6th August. Celebrations are held throughout the country and it is a common sight to see schoolchildren parading through the streets in their school uniforms while proudly carrying the Bolivian flag.

Bolivia Country Study 

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016. Status: Partly Free. Freedom Rating: 3; Political Rights 3; Civil Liberties: 3.



Bolivia is a constitutional democracy that has enjoyed 35 years of civilian rule, but its difficult political history since achieving independence 1825 has left a complex legacy.

Before 1982, when it established more democratic governance, Bolivia’s political history was marked mostly by periods of harsh dictatorship and unstable rule. Until 2005 the country's political leadership, whether democratic or dictatorial, was white or mestizo. The Amerindian community was left largely unrepresented. In 2003 and 2005, mass street protests over distribution of energy wealth and other economic issues — led by Evo Morales, an Amerindian peasant leader — caused the fall of two successive governments. In December 2005, Evo Morales won the presidential election by a clear majority, becoming the first indigenous president in the country’s history. Looking to previous radical and nationalist governments from the 1930s and 1950s, Morales carried out a radical platform of oil and gas nationalization, legalization of coca (a traditional Amerindian crop), regional autonomy, and diplomatic realignment away from the U.S. and towards Cuba and Venezuela. In 2014, he won a third term in office after a controversial court decision allowed him to run for an additional term despite a constitutional two-term limit.

Bolivia is the 28th largest country in the world and the fourth largest in South America at just under 1.1 million square kilometers. Land-locked, Bolivia is bordered by five countries (Peru to the northwest, Brazil to the north and northeast, and Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile to the south). The population is small at approximately 11 million in 2016 (ranked 81st in the world). Between 56 and 70 percent of the population is ethnically indigenous, or Amerindian, with the largest groups being the Aymara and Quechua. The remaining population is white or mestizo (mixed race). While Bolivia possesses rich soil and resources, including some of the largest natural gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere, it is South America's poorest economy in per capita Gross National Income (GNI), ranked by the World Bank at 124th in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) measurement at $5,740 in 2013. In all of Latin America and the Caribbean, only Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua are poorer.


Pre-Columbian Civilization and the Spanish Conquest

It is now believed that the Bolivian highlands have been inhabited for at least 12,000 years. The development of farming communities dates to around 3000 BC. One of the great ancient Andean civilizations, located near Bolivia's Lake Titicaca, flourished for several centuries before falling into decline after AD 1000. Later, the Aymara-speaking people who lived in the region were conquered in the 15th century by the Quechua-speaking Inca empire.

The Spanish conquest of the Inca civilization in the early to mid-1500s allowed Spain to extend its control from Central America to much of western and central Latin America, including the area of Bolivia (then called Upper Peru). Among the main discoveries was an Inca silver mine at Potosi. This area remains rich in silver and other natural resources, which have played a dominant role throughout Bolivia's history.

Spanish colonial rule was based on a system of large estates and other economic holdings (encomiendas) for exploiting silver and tin mines. These were largely worked by the indigenous population at minimal or no pay. As the representative of the Spanish monarch, the governor of the territory dispensed the mines' riches to privileged elites of Spanish descent, who came to preside over Bolivia's economic, social, and political life after the end of Spanish rule in 1825.

From Bolívar to Bolivia

Upper Peru was liberated from Spain in 1825 by the revolutionary forces of Simón Bolívar (who had already freed a swath of Spanish-controlled territory extending north to Venezuela). Bolívar oversaw the writing of the country's constitution and his top lieutenant, Antonio José de Sucre, became the first president. The new republic was named after Bolívar in part to convince him not to unite it with Peru. Although Sucre was forced from power in 1828, a new president, Andrés de Santa Cruz, stabilized the economy and organized the country's internal affairs. His ambitions to create a confederation with Peru, however, led to warfare with the two countries' neighbors. In 1839, Bolivia was defeated by Chilean forces and the confederation project ended.

From Generals to Radicals

For 125 years, the Aymara and Quechua Amerindians as well as much of the mestizo population were dispossessed, while Bolivia's politics and economy were governed mainly by a small population of wealthy whites.

After Santa Cruz's ouster, Bolivia experienced 40 years of erratic rule by a series of "caudillos," or strongmen. In 1879, Bolivia lost the mineral-rich Atacama region, its only point of access to the sea, to Chile in the War of the Pacific. At this time, two political parties formed: the Conservative Party, which advocated a quick peace with Chile to include mining concessions, and the Liberal Party, which rejected the peace deal and criticized Bolivia's dependence on foreign mining interests. A more liberal constitution was adopted in 1880 establishing an active bicameral legislature, but the basic law continued to restrict the vote to a small minority based on property and literacy qualifications. Several decades of relative political stability followed, although power still changed hands by force. Disastrous losses in the 1932–35 Chaco War with Paraguay led to a military seizure of power in 1935. A series of nationalist military governments proceeded to take control of Bolivia's natural resources and introduce land reform, but in 1947–52 conservatives reasserted themselves in government, stemming for a time the nationalist Left.

Consent of the Governed

The 1825 Bolívarian revolution was a revolution for the few. For 125 years afterwards, the Aymara and Quechua Amerindians as well as much of the mestizo population were dispossessed, while Bolivia's politics and economy were governed mainly by a small population of wealthy whites. It is only in Bolivia's modern history, beginning with the 1952 revolution, that consent of the governed can be considered more fully. From the mid-20th century until the early 2000s, popular and radical movements for change and military and conservative political forces have interchanged power and policies. In 2005, Amerindian leader Evo Morales, heading a popular peasant movement, was elected president to establish a more representative government, but many less representative and undemocratic features from Bolivia’s unstable political legacy remain and Morales’s rule has been marked by political conflict and some infringements on the rule of law and other freedoms.

The 1952 Revolution

In 1952, the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR), a leftist party first formed in 1941 and led by Víctor Paz Estenssoro and Hernán Siles Zuazo, seized power by force. The MNR had ruled from 1943 to 1946 and had won the 1951 elections, but it was prevented from assuming office by the military. In response, the MNR assembled armed civilians and portions of the security forces to seize control. Backed by peasants and workers, the new revolutionary government nationalized natural resources, enacted land reform, and abolished property and literacy requirements for voting. While influenced by nationalist and Marxist movements, the MNR government espoused democracy and did not adopt the repressive features of other leftist governments in the hemisphere.


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