05.05.09

Bolivia – A Short History

Posted in Bolivia at 12:00 pm by Jackson Lee

Hunter-gathers never reached Bolivia, instead,the region was first occupied by the Aymara people when they arrived around 1500 BC to build the great city (now ruins of questionable tourist value) of Tiwanaku. Around 950 AD, someone turned off the water and the Titicana basin, along with the Aymara people, lost much of there fertility and ultimately disappeared leaving another wide hole in the human history of Bolivia.

Pre Hispanic History Of Bolivia

El Fuerte de Samaipata - Pre Inca - Circa 1000 AD Religious Location in Bolivian Andes

Expanding from their base in Peru, the Inca empire conquered western Bolivia just before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1524. Taking advantage of internal chaos, in less than ten years, the Spaniards savaged the Inca empire and quickly moved their focus to doing what they loved most – ripping every penny of value they could find from the land.
The next 300 years were a period of almost seamless colonial control. Túpac Amaru, a well educated mestizo (mixed blood) named after his famous ancestor, was a notable speed bump to Spanish rule when he buoy the population into open rebellion in the late 18th century. By July 1783, after only two years of fighting, roughly 8% of the Indigenous population (100,000 people) had perished violently and the Spanish were back in total control.
By 1825 the independence wars of South America have reached the gold mines of Bolivia. After 293 years of colonial rule the great liberator Simón Bolívar (who the country is named after), supported by the military genius of General José de San Martín, succeeds in liberating Bolivia from the Spanish. Due to its mineral wealth, Bolivia was one of the last regions in South America to be freed of colonial rule.
From here, Bolivia’s history feels like it was hit (and dragged) by a 150 year long, out of control, steam train. While the rest of the world crusaded its way through the industrial, spiritual and electronic revolutions; Bolivia forgot to take its medication and developed a severe case of political bipolarism. More than 190 revolutions, coups, and tantrums – at a break neck spend of one government every ten months – restricted the country and left the population with a case of acute post traumatic stress syndrome.
Its neighbors, sensing its emotional difficulties, went on the offensive and during a bloody 60 year period Bolivia lost almost half its land. The War of the Pacific (1879 – 1884) ended with Chile annexing its coastline. Brazil’s invasion of 1903 earned it the rubber rich region of the Acre River. And finally the war (1932-35) with Paraguay exhausted both nations and resulted in the loss of 100,000 sq miles of the Gran Chaco’s. It wasn’t a good time to be looking for national pride.
The later half of the 20th century, perhaps reflecting the military failings of the previous 60 years, was a messy period of military governments, human rights abuses, violent coups, national bankruptcy’s and the rise of the coca leaf (narcotics) as the political and economic focal point of the country. Amongst a few short periods of economic and social stability, Bolivia limped into the 21st century as the poorest country in South America – having spent much of its history making Spain, and its more recent ruling class, filthy rich.
By the time my boots set foot in the southern border town of La Quiaca, Evo Morales  – the first indigenous leader of South America – had lead Bolivia since 2005: running the country with a fresh, I can sort out the past 500 years of problems, brand of socialism. What chance does this man have of improving the living standards of his people? Will Evo turn out to be another despotic ruler? What really can be done to improve Bolivia? These are all questions worth answering.Hunter-gathers never reached Bolivia, instead, the region was first occupied by the Aymara people when they arrived around 1500 BC to build the great city (now ruins of questionable tourist value) of Tiwanaku. Around 950 AD, someone turned off the water and the Titicana basin, along with the Aymara people, lost much of there fertility and ultimately disappeared leaving another wide hole in the human history of Bolivia.

Expanding from their base in Peru, the Inca empire conquered western Bolivia just before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1524. Taking advantage of internal chaos, in less than ten years, the Spaniards savaged the Inca empire and quickly moved their focus to doing what they loved most – ripping every penny of value they could find from the land and indoctrinating Christianity into the locals.

The descendents of Inca's - Andean kids take photos for cash with Lake Titicaca in the background (one of the historic wealth bases of the Inca's)

The next 300 years were a period of almost seamless colonial control. Túpac Amaru, a well educated mestizo (mixed blood) named after his famous ancestor, was a notable speed bump to Spanish rule when he buoy the population into open rebellion in the late 18th century. By July 1783, after only two years of fighting, roughly 8% of the Indigenous population (100,000 people) had perished violently and the Spanish were back in total control.

Spanish Church of Considerable Wealth in Sucre

By 1825 the independence wars of South America have reached the gold mines of Bolivia. After 293 years of colonial rule the great liberator Simón Bolívar (who the country is named after), supported by the military genius of General José de San Martín, succeeds in liberating Bolivia from the Spanish. Due to its mineral wealth, Bolivia was one of the last regions in South America to be freed of colonial rule.

From here, Bolivia’s history feels like it was hit (and dragged) by a 150 year long, out of control, steam train. While the rest of the world crusaded its way through the industrial, spiritual and electronic revolutions; Bolivia forgot to take its medication and developed a severe case of political bipolarism. More than 190 revolutions, coups, and tantrums – at a break neck spend of one government every ten months – restricted the country and left the population with a case of acute post traumatic stress syndrome.

Its neighbors, sensing its emotional difficulties, went on the offensive and during a bloody 60 year period Bolivia lost almost half its land. The War of the Pacific (1879 – 1884) ended with Chile annexing its coastline. Brazil’s invasion of 1903 earned it the rubber rich region of the Acre River. And finally the war (1932-35) with Paraguay exhausted both nations and resulted in the loss of 100,000 sq miles of the Gran Chaco’s. It wasn’t a good time to be looking for national pride.

The later half of the 20th century, perhaps reflecting the military failings of the previous 60 years, was a messy period of military governments, human rights abuses, violent coups, national bankruptcy’s and the rise of the coca leaf (narcotics) as the political and economic focal point of the country. Amongst a few short periods of economic and social stability, Bolivia limped into the 21st century as the poorest country in South America – having spent much of its history making Spain, and its more recent ruling class, filthy rich.

By the time my boots set foot in the southern border town of La Quiaca, Evo Morales  – the first indigenous leader of South America – had lead Bolivia since 2005: running the country with a fresh, I can sort out the past 500 years of problems, brand of socialism. What chance does this man have of improving the living standards of his people? Will Evo turn out to be another despotic ruler? What really can be done to improve Bolivia? These are all questions worth answering.

Evo Morales - military service photo

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