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Rough Cut: Bolivia: On the Road With Evo
Background Facts and Related Links

Country Profile

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. Seventy percent of Bolivians live below the poverty line, and nearly 15 percent subsist on less than US$1 a day. It is a country of extremes, with high plateaus and tropical lowlands and climates ranging from humid and tropical to semiarid and cold.

Although rich in natural resources, the nation has a history of political corruption. Home to the continent's second-largest natural gas field, Bolivia derives much of its income from energy resources. Silver and coca, the plant used to make cocaine, are other primary sources of income.

In recent years, the United States has been conducting a large-scale campaign to eradicate Bolivia's cultivation of coca, 80 percent of which is estimated to be refined for smuggling into the United States.

Since the invasion and occupation of the area by the Spanish more than 300 years ago, Bolivian politics have been engulfed in turbulence.

The Republic of Bolivia was established in 1825. The current republic has two capitals: La Paz, the administrative capital, and Sucre, the constitutional capital.

A revolution in 1952 brought the reform-minded Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) to power. Though their 12-year rule proved tumultuous, the MNR brought voting to all adults and promoted rural education. Then a military junta overthrew the president and brought a succession of weak governments to power. The military and the MNR instated a general as president in 1971, but his excessive human rights violations and fiscal crises led to early elections.

Election fraud, military coups and counter-coups, and interim governments marred the late 1970s and early 1980s. Leaders were accused of narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses and economic incompetence.

In 1993, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada introduced an economic liberalization, sparking violent protests. Teachers' unions failed to achieve member support to improve working conditions, and a crackdown on coca production left many rural farmers jobless and bound for the cities to find jobs.

In 2000, Sanchez de Lozada came back to power with 22.5 percent of the vote, edging out Juan Evo Morales Ayma, an indigenous cocalero (coca-grower), who received 20.9 percent.

Over the next five years, Bolivia saw massive social unrest, in opposition to water privatization and in support of development of Bolivia's natural gas resources. In 2005, President Carlos Mesa resigned in the face of 80,000 protestors surrounding the presidential palace to support nationalization of the natural gas industry.

Indigenous protesters argued there was insufficient indigenous representation in government, and a wave of public sentiment carried Evo Morales to office in December 2005.

Evo Morales won 54 percent of the vote, unprecedented in Bolivian elections. He held both indigenous and traditional inauguration ceremonies.

Morales promised to alleviate poverty and discrimination, exert more control over natural gas reserves, and re-examine current coca eradication programs. He's critical of U.S. influence in Bolivian farming policy. The two countries have a cooperative history, although the coca debate could lead to shaky relations as the Morales agenda moves forward. There is also the consideration of Bolivia's foreign debt.

A 2006 report by the International Debt Observatory reveals that the real GDP per capita for Bolivians is less today than it was 27 years ago. The International Monetary Fund cancelled almost all of Bolivia's debt to it in 2006. Much of the country's remaining $6.7 billion deficit is owed to international lending institutions.

Sources: BBC News; CIA Factbook; International Debt Observatory; U.S. Department of State;

Related Links

BBC Profile: Evo Morales
A pre-election look at the man who would become the first indigenous president in Bolivia's history, with links to featured BBC news stories from Latin America.

Bolivia: Leasing the Rain
A co-production of FRONTLINE/World and NOW With Bill Moyers, "Leasing the Rain" takes a look at the battle over water privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Blog From Bolivia
The Democracy Center, based in Cochabamba and San Francisco, works globally to advance human rights through a unique combination of efforts that includes investigating and reporting, training citizens in the art of public advocacy, and organizing international citizen campaigns.

"Bolivia, the Drug War and a Leaf"
Resource Center of the Americas, a human rights organization, published this article by Gary Payne in 2003 about Bolivian reactions to the plan to eradicate coca.

"Bolivian Coca Growers Fight Eradication"
The nonprofit Global Policy Forum presents this 2003 article from The Washington Times on the U.S.-led war on drugs in Bolivia.

Yahoo! News Bolivia Coverage
Yahoo! News compiles print, audio and video stories on Bolivia from wire and news services, updating daily.
This page from provides country maps, geographical statistics and other visitor-friendly information about Bolivia's history and attractions.

"'Evo Fashion' Arrives in Bolivia"
This amusing news item from the BBC tells the story of a creative Bolivian businessman who is producing a range of woolly sweaters inspired by the much-discussed dress-sense of President Evo Morales.

Evo Morales
This site about President Morales is maintained by the Wipala Brigade, a global network of volunteers using the Web to work toward the goals of the democratic revolution of Morales's government.

"Bolivia's Challenges"
This article presents a view of Bolivia's economic challenges as seen by the International Debt Observatory, a group of left-wing economists.