Plurinational State of Bolivia

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Plurinational State of Bolivia
Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia
Tetã Hetãvoregua Mborivia
Wuliwya Suyu
Puliwya Mamallaqta
Flag of Plurinational State of Bolivia
Top: State flag
Bottom: Indigenous flag
Coat of arms of Plurinational State of Bolivia
Coat of arms
Location of Plurinational State of Bolivia
CapitalsSucre
La Paz
Largest citySanta Cruz de la Sierra
Common languagesSpanish
Guarani
Aymara
Quechua
GovernmentUnitary presidential republic
• President
Luis Arce
• Vice President
David Choquehuanca
Area
• Total
1,098,581 km²
Population
• 2019 estimate
11,428,245
CurrencyBoliviano

Bolivia, officially the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a country in South America bordered by Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay. It is currently led by a socialist government with the current ruling party being the Movement for Socialism (MAS) which has been in power since 2006, except for a year-long coup which occurred in 2019. The MAS party has implemented many socialist policies that have achieved numerous social achievements. Bolivia has been the target of multiple CIA coups.

History[edit | edit source]

Pre-colonial history[edit | edit source]

Map of indigenous nations in Bolivia

Bolivia is home to numerous indigenous nations, most notably part of the Incan Empire, a thriving civilisation that lasted from around 1400 until about 1533 when it fell as a result of civil war, disease brought from Europe, and colonization by Spain led by the brutal conquistador Francisco Pizarro.[1]

Spanish colonization[edit | edit source]

The initial looting of South America by European forces was initially fixated on silver and gold to personally enrich the conquistadors, and Spain mined the 4-km mountain of Potosí, uncovering 94 silver veins.[2]:134–5 However, the invading forces soon realised this would not be a sustainable source of wealth since merely increasing the amount of gold and silver would eventually just cause inflation for the colonising forces. The real source of wealth for the Spanish was found in brutal exploitation of the indigenous nations through the encomienda system.[3] The encomienda system granted land and indigenous subjects, which were essentially slaves, as a reward to nobles and soldiers from Spain.[3]

Most of the class politics in modern Bolivia can trace their roots to colonization and the encomienda system. The feudal nature of the encomienda system would change over time, but the process of extracting labor and resources from Bolivians to the imperial core (the U.S. and Europe) has remained a principal problem for Bolivians which would not be effectively overcome until the seizing of state power by the Movement for Socialism in 2006.

Independence[edit | edit source]

During the 19th century, independence movements swept through the Americas. The racial and class politics of Latin America was and is very complex with competing notions of independence such as the independence for nobility, indigenous nations, and African slaves who were now large in number due to the Atlantic slave trade. South American independence movements began gaining ground in the early 1800s and were led by elite Creole (mixed race) South Americans who had increasingly differing desires than those of the colonial authorities. Simón Bolívar, along with his right-hand man Antonio José de Sucre, led multiple wars and rebellions over the course of decades beginning around 1800 against Spanish Royalists in modern day Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela in pursuit of a united South American Republic.[4] In the Southern Cone of Argentina and Chile, José San Martín led an army made up of former slaves and poor peasants in a triumphant march across the Andes mountains to defeat the Spanish royalists in Chacabuco Chile in July of 1821.[4] The struggle against the Spanish Crown finally ended on July 26 of 1822 when Bolívar's and San Martín's armies converged in Ecuador to defeat the Spanish ending a two decade long struggle.

Post-independence Bolivian history was marked by internal struggles amongst the ruling elites typically fighting over personal gain resulting in coups, massacres, and even civil war. Tin replaced silver as the dominant metal, and the tin oligarch Simón Iturri Patiño controlled Bolivia through his representatives after moving to Europe.[2]:135

War of the Pacific (1879–1882)[edit | edit source]

In 1879 Bolivia and Peru were drawn by British capital into the War of the Pacific against neighboring Chile which resulted in Bolivia's loss of a part of the Atacama Desert, a region rich in nitrates, which also caused Bolivia to lose sea access.[5] This war caused Bolivia to become one of only two landlocked countries in South America with the other being neighbouring Paraguay. Bolivia's status as a landlocked country has had negative impacts to this day and remains a diplomatic issue between Bolivia and Chile.

Chaco War (1932–1935)[edit | edit source]

The Chaco War was fought between Bolivia and Paraguay over the sparsely populated and semi-arid land between the two countries. Some attribute the war to a dispute between the U.S. oil company Standard Oil (backing Bolivia) and the Royal Dutch Shell (backing Paraguay).[6] By the end of the war, tens of thousands lay dead on both sides.

The soldiers were made up of the indigenous peasantry and the urban middle class who would both become aware of their mutual states of impoverishment.[6] After the war, the oppressed draftees would not return to their roles passively. Indigenous activists who had gained a new perspective on their exploitation would go on to form the first labor unions of Bolivia in the years following the Chaco War.[6]

The Chaco War resulted in another humiliating loss of territory and human lives which had the unforeseen consequence of raising the class conciseness of the oppressed indigenous masses. The following decades would see the organized indigenous labor become a crucial political force in Bolivia.

Emergence of Bolivian labor (1935–1952)[edit | edit source]

The economic and political crises spurred by the Great Depression and the Chaco War sparked the founding of numerous leftist political parties, such as the pro-Soviet Revolutionary Left Party (PIR) and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers' Party (POR), showcasing a serious desire for systemic change in Bolivia.[6] Military leader David Toro, de facto 35th president of Bolivia from 1936–1937, capitalized on the leftist movements by nationalizing Standard Oil which many had felt was responsible for the disastrous Chaco War.[7] This marks the first time the left had won major gains indicating the increasing importance of the long toiling indigenous masses.

In 1941, the most important political party of the era, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), was founded by moderate-left and middle-class intellectuals.[8] In December of 1942, government forces under conservative president General Enrique Peñaranda opened fire on striking miners from Patiña Catavi mine killing hundreds. The MNR, led by Víctor Paz Estenssoro, opportunistically capitalized on this tragedy by attacking the Peñaranda government and supporting the miners thus winning over the support of much of Bolivia's labor movement for their party.[9] This marked another major example of political forces in Bolivia beginning to see the usefulness in organized labor as a crucial political ally. Throughout Bolivia's history, the mining of natural resources has been the most crucial aspect of the economy. Bolivia has long been oriented towards exporting to the imperial core which has left Bolivia underdeveloped and unequal despite the riches that are produced within the country. The significance of a consolidation of power of indigenous miners is crucial since resource sovereignty must be achieved before any progressive agendas could be enacted. The organisation of Bolivia's miners would go on to be the backbone of left-wing movements in Bolivia.

Social unrest would continue for the next few years as the MNR and factions within the military began consolidating power. In 1943, an important secret society within the military called the Razón de Patria (RADEPA) formed which would seize power with the help of the MNR.[9] Major Gualberto Villarroel emerged as the new leader of the military junta that ruled Bolivia which the United States refused to recognize until the MNR was expelled from the official government.[9] In 1945, the Villarroel administration supported the founding of the National Indigenous Congress which marked the first time the indigenous masses were included in official Bolivian politics.[9] The Villarroel would govern Bolivia for three years until the regime fell out of popularity after harsh political repression of the opposition.[10] Villarroel was killed during a popular protest turned riot in July of 1946. From 1946-1952, Bolivia would be led by a series of repressive conservative leaders forcing the MNR to go into exile. The MNR conducted clandestine activities and underwent the process of recreating its image as a left-winged party due to pushes from the grassroots within the party.[10] Despite the leftward shift, the MNR was not organized as a party of the workers and peasants against the ruling elites. The MNR was a multi-class formation largely ran by middle-class activists, young people, and students that worked with and received support from indigenous miners and other workers.[10]

Nationalist revolution (1952–1964)[edit | edit source]

The MNR won a plurality of the vote in the 1951 election, but the military prevented the party from taking power. Left with no legal options, the MNR distributed arms to the miners and proceeded to overthrow the largely defunct government, propelling Víctor Paz Estenssoro to the presidency.[11] The MNR government proceeded to carry out a radical reform agenda with the support of the militant indigenous miners at the grassroots levels. The reform agenda included breaking up large estates and giving out parcels of land directly to indigenous peasants, nationalizing the tin mines, and granting universal suffrage by abolishing literacy requirements for voting that had kept the indigenous masses from participating in politics since the founding of the republic.[12] Before the land reform, the 6% of landlords controlled 92% of land but only had 1.5% of their land under cultivation. The revolution weakened the military, shutting down the Military College, cutting the military budget from 22% to 7%, and removing 20% of officers while trying to arm the peasants at the same time. However, the USA sent over $5 million to the Bolivian military in 1962 and 1963.[2]:136–7

The Nationalist Revolution was a very important moment in the history of Bolivia showcasing the importance and power indigenous miners and peasants could have when they mobilized, but the revolution would quickly unravel. By the late 1950s, the more conservative faction of the MNR was in power. In 1962, Paz encouraged the military to crack down on civilian militias.[2]:138 The land reform carried out by the indigenous peasants would soon be consolidated once again by elite Bolivians with more resources and the nationalized mines would fall into the hands of the mine owners again by 1963.[12]

President Paz would go on to betray the working class base his party had relied on to seize power by breaking by sending in the military to gun down striking miners.[12] He removed the socialist Juan Lechín, his vice president, from his ticket for the 1964 election.[2]:138 In 1964, the revolution formally ended when the military, with the support of the CIA, returned to power under the dictatorship of General René Barrientos.[13] The following decades would see the rule of various semi-fascist and neoliberal regimes with the exception of Juan Torres.

Operation Condor[edit | edit source]

Juan Torres, one of the most left-leaning officers in the Bolivian military, seized power amongst an internal military struggle and attempted to enact a progressive agenda. In 1971, the United States overthrew Juan Torres, who was later kidnapped and killed by CIA-backed death squads.[14] His successor, Hugo Banzer, tortured and executed thousands of dissidents and brutally crushed a strike of tin workers. In 1975, the CIA gave Banzer information that was used to locate and target leftist priests and nuns.

Movement for Socialism[edit | edit source]

In 2006, Evo Morales, a member of the Movement for Socialism party and the first indigenous president of Bolivia, was elected. His policies decreased total poverty by 25% and extreme poverty by 43%.[15] From 2006 to 2017, the economy grew by an average of 4.9% per year.[16] In 2014, Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy.[17]

In 2019, the CIA organized a military coup against Morales after he won the 2019 election by more than 10%. The United States created over 60,000 fake Twitter accounts to spread capitalist propaganda and Jeanine Áñez took power without an election. Áñez was an imperialist liberal who called the indigenous Aymara people "satanic."[18] In 2020, a general election was held and Luis Arce, another member of Movement for Socialism, won the election in a landslide. This election was confirmed to be fair by international observers.[19]

In January of 2022, the Bolivian government intercepted US weapons that were intended for right-wing separatist groups in the wealthy Santa Cruz region.[20]

In June of 2024, a coup attempt by a right-wing faction of the military was swiftly halted by the Bolivian government and protestors.[21][22]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Mark Cartwright (2015-8-14). "Inca Civilization"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Vijay Prashad (2008). The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World: 'La Paz'. [PDF] The New Press. ISBN 9781595583420 [LG]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Teresa A. Meade (2016). A History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to the present 2nd Edition: 'Chapter 2; Colonial Background' (p. 26).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Teresa A. Meade (2016). A History of Modern Latin America: 'Chapter 3: Competing Notions of Freedom; South American Independence Movements' (pp. 73-75). USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
  5. G. A. Ignatovich, B. I. Koval’, IU. P. Pavlov (1979). The Great Soviet Encyclopedia: 'Bolivia; The formation and development of the independent state'.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Marc Becker (2017). Twentieth century Latin American revolutions: 'Chapter 3: Bolivia's nationalist revolution, 1952-1964; Chaco War' (pp. 84-85). Rowman & Littlefield.
  7. "The Americanisation of Bolivian Oil". NACLA. Retrieved February 10, 2022.
  8. Marc Becker (2017). Twentieth century Latin American revolutions: 'Chapter 3: Bolivia's Nationalist Revolution; Socialism' (p. 86). Rowman and Littlefield.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Marc Becker (2017). Twentieth-Century Latin American Revolutions: 'Chapter 3: Bolivia's Revolution, 1952-1964; Socialism' (p. 8).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Marc Becker (2017). Twentieth-Century Latin America Revolutions: 'Chapter 3: Bolivia's Nationalist Revolution, 1952-1964; Socialism' (p. 93).
  11. Marc Becker (2017). Twentieth Century Latin American Revolutions: 'Chapter 3: Bolivia's Nationalist Revolution; Insurrection' (p. 95). Rowman and Littlefield.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Teresa A. Meade (2016). A History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to Present: 'Chapter 10: Post-World War II Struggles for Sovereignty' (pp. 234-237). John Wiley & Sons.
  13. William Blum (2000). Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Super Power: 'A Concise History of US Global Interventions' (p. 144). Common Courage Press.
  14. "10 of the Most Lethal CIA Interventions in Latin America" (2016-09-18). Telesur English. Retrieved 2022-02-11.
  15. Ellie Mae O'Hagan (2014-10-14). Evo Morales has proved that socialism doesn’t damage economies The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2020-01-20.
  16. Bolivia Closes 2018 Among The Highest Economic Growth Rates (2018-12-08). TeleSur. Archived from the original on 2020-01-13.
  17. UNESCO Declares Bolivia Free of Illiteracy (2014-07-18). TeleSur. Archived from the original on 2019-12-02.
  18. Valentina De Marval (2019-11-15). "Did Bolivia’s interim president delete anti-indigenous tweets?" AFP Fact Check. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  19. "ONU, OEA y Uniore descartan fraude en elecciones generales" (2020-10-23). Página Siete. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  20. Ben Norton (2022-01-15). "Bolivian intercepts US weapons shipment to right-wing separatist region" Moderate Rebels.
  21. "President Luis Arce Appoints New Military Command and Fails Coup Attempt" (2024-06-26). TeleSur.
  22. "Pro-coup Bolivian troops are chased out of La Paz's central plaza by protesters. #bolivia" (2024-06-26). BreakThrough News.