Incan rule lasted only a short period of time in Bolivia.
The Spanish arrived in the early 1500s and, even though they
didn't initially settle the lands, their stops along the coast left behind numerous
European diseases that killed much of the local population.
These diseases not only killed many of the people, but also killed many members
of the Incan royal family, leading to instability in the empire.
The instability created by these diseases meant the Spanish
explorers had a much easier task ahead of them in their takeover of the region.
Francisco Pizarro quickly defeated the Incan rulers in 1532-1533. At this time the
region of Bolivia was incorporated into the region of Peru.
As was common at the time, the region was fought over by the conquistadors
as well as by Spain, who claimed control over much of
South America. It wasn't until 1548 that Spain truly took power in modern
day Bolivia and in that same year they established La Paz
as their colonial capital.
Although Spain held control and power in Bolivia,
their presence was limited in scope and the indigenous people fiercely fought this
takeover. Many of the Quechua and Aymara hid in the mountains to maintain freedom,
while many of the Chiriguano, who lived in the lowlands in the east, also maintained
freedom and resisted Spanish control.
The region of Bolivia slowly grew under Spanish
rule as their focus was on economic growth as opposed to takeover. The Spanish developed
some colonies faster than others depending on the potential wealth each offered.
Bolivia fell under the jurisdiction of Peru (and later that
of Argentina), but held great potential itself, primarily
due to the silver mines found in Sucre, Potosi, and the surrounding areas.
The Spanish made settlement of the region secondary as their
focus remained on economic wealth, but the country also send Jesuit missionaries
to the region in the 1500s to convert the people to Catholicism. These attempts
were received very differently by the various groups in Bolivia.
Many of the people readily converted, perhaps in order to gain economic and political
power, which they gained with their conversion. Many of these converts also adopted
the Spanish language and some even married Spanish settlers, creating a mestizo
Despite those who converted, most of the people refused to convert and maintained
their traditional languages and religions. This cultural clash lasted for centuries
and even today is prevalent. These differences led to a wide divide between the
Spanish and the locals and also led to a number of rebellions
against the Spanish rulers.
The greatest of these rebellions came in 1780 with the rebellion of Tupac Amaru
II. Amaru killed a local Spaniard who was cruel to the indigenous population, then
united other indigenous people to his cause. His rebellion was well received by
the locals, but the Spanish sent an army to destroy it in 1781, killing Amaru. Despite
this, many others continued to revolt against Spain and tensions
between the two groups remained high.
At this same time many ethnic Spanish in the middle class, commonly referred to
as criollos, also grew weary of Spanish rule. The arguments of the criollos
and the indigenous people were magnified in the early 1800s when Spain
was taken over by France.
With the fall of Spain conflicts quickly escalated in what
is today Bolivia between numerous groups. Many people in
the upper class supported Spanish rule, but much of the middle class and indigenous
people sought independence. These debates led to war and finally the takeover of
the region by Peru in 1817. However, the region did gain freedom
from Spain with the help of Antonio Jose de Sucre (from Argentina) and Simon Bolivar (from Venezuela),
after whom the country was later named. In 1825 Bolivia finally gained complete
independence as it broke away from Peru.
Separation from Peru and border conflicts didn't ease after
this time. Peru and Bolivia again joined as a confederation
and went to war with Chile, then with each other. Although
Bolivia initially won these battles, the tides later turned as Chile became a military
power and took much land from Bolivia including their coastline along the Pacific
Ocean. The result of losing this war, the War of the Pacific, Bolivia became a landlocked
country in 1883.
This was the end of Bolivia's wealth and power. Sadly
since this time Bolivia has struggle politically and economically. The country has
relied on natural resources for economic growth and stability, beginning with silver,
then moving to tin, and today is reliant on natural gas. Education and social progress
have also been slow to catch up as economic progress has lagged behind and most
of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of the population.
The economic, social, and political stagnation have prevented great changes in the
country, but it has also maintained the historic culture and today
Bolivia has one of the most authentic indigenous cultures in the Americas.
The Quechua and Aymaras continue to live much as they have in the past with traditional
dress, food, languages, and to a lesser degree religion (although over time most
of the people have converted to Catholicism). Sadly, this also means that many of
these people live in poverty as they have few social rights and the economic situation
doesn't allow for many opportunities.
The 1900s saw much of the same that the country experienced in the late 1800s, which
sadly includes poverty and little social, economic, or political progress. The state
again declined in 1936 when Bolivia lost the Chaco War with
Paraguay, again ceding more lands. The greatest result
from this war, in addition to the loss of land, were the social changes the people
began to demand.
In the early 1940s, as much of the world was at war, Bolivia
turned inward to address some of their social issues. This was led by Gualberto
Villarroel in the mid-1940s, which eventually led to conflict and a civil war in
1949. The results of the war were social changes and greater rights for all citizens,
but most notably with rights being extended to the indigenous people, which made
up the majority of the population.
The changes didn't always work as planned and resistance led to a military overthrow
of the government in 1964. This only continued the troubled political and economic
state in the country as civil rights were often suppressed and freedoms revoked.
From president to president the economy, the political situation, and the social
situation fluctuated, both for the better and worse. During this time the black
market also rose in prominence, most notably in the growth of drugs, which were
smuggled to North America. Sadly this market was more
stable than the legal market at the time so was an attractive option for the people.
In 1982 a civilian government again took control of the country, but many of the
same problems continued, with economic decline hitting a trough in the mid-1980s.
However, with the civilian government leading the country social changes and freedoms
expanded as human rights violations lessened and even ended in many cases.
Although the country has since become fairly stable and human rights have greatly
improved, the country is still far from where it wants to be. Political debates
have continued as the government has sought to privatize a number of institutions,
but many of the indigenous people seek greater public control and social programs.
This led to numerous protests in the 2000s as well as the resignation of a number
of presidents. In the midst of resignations, Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, a Supreme
Court judge took over in 2005 until elections could be held.
The result of the elections was that Evo Morales took over as president, a very
liberal indigenous candidate. Morales has taken over numerous private industries
in Bolivia and his actions have led to numerous economic
trade restrictions on the country as the political structure is changing to a more
communist structured economy. Numerous parts of the country have also passed referendums
for autonomy from the central government. In this state, the future of Bolivia is
still very much uncertain.