Independence

Resistance to Spanish colonial rule had been less intense in Bolivia than neighbouring Peru. The most notable uprising took place in 1781 and was led by
Túpac Katari
, who successfully laid siege to La Paz for eight months, but was eventually crushed. Inspired by the French and American revolutions at the end of the 18th century, the
criollos
, descendants of Spaniards born in Latin America, became increasingly frustrated by trade restrictions and high taxes imposed by the Spanish bureaucracy in the interests of Spain.

While Spain was occupied defending its borders against Napoleon's armies between 1808 and 1810, the University of San Francisco Xavier, at Sucre, called for the independence of all Spain's American colonies. When Spain tried to restore its rule in the following years the
criollo
commercial elites rebelled and took up arms against the Spanish authorities, under the leadership of the Venezuelan
Simón Bolívar
. On 9 December 1824 Simón Bolívar's general,
Antonio José de Sucre
, won the decisive battle of Ayacucho in Peru and invaded Alto Perú, defeating the Spaniards finally at the battle of Tumusla on 2 April 1825.

On 9 February 1825, when he first entered La Paz, Sucre had already promulgated the decree of independence, but his second in command,
Andrés Santa Cruz
, was for retaining links with Peru. Bolívar was of two minds, but Sucre had his way and Bolivia was declared independent on 6 August. In honour of its liberator and first president, the country was named República de Bolívar, soon to be changed to Bolivia. La Plata became the capital and Sucre became the second president.

The Republic

For most of the period since independence, three main features have dominated Bolivian history: the importance of mining; the loss of territory through disputes and wars with neighbouring countries; and chronic political instability.

The noble principles of revolution were soon forgotten as the
caudillos
(military 'strongmen') revealed themselves to be defenders of the political and economic status quo. Although in the 19th century the army was small, officers were key figures in power-struggles, often backing different factions of the
criollo
land-owning elite, whose interests had replaced those of the former colonial rulers. At the end of the 19th century the political elite ended the existence of the
ayllus
, the indigenous communal lands, which were swallowed up into the huge ranches (
latifundios
) of the landowners. The
indígenas
, who had suffered under the
mita
, the system of compulsory labour, now became serfs, as their lives and labour were owned by the estate owners.

For much of the 20th century the Bolivian economy depended on tin exports. The construction of railways and the demand for tin in Europe and the USA led to a mining boom after 1900. In 1902 export earnings from tin exceeded those of silver for the first time. By the 1920s the industry was dominated by three 'tin-barons', Simón Patiño, Mauricio Hochschild and the Aramayo family, who exercised great influence over national politics.

Political instability

Bolivian politics have been even more turbulent than elsewhere in Latin America. When the governing class was not engaged in conflicts with neighbouring countries, internal power struggles consumed all its energies. Between 1825 and 1982 there were no fewer than 188 coups d'état, earning the country a place in the Guinness Book of Records. The longest lasting government of the 19th century was that of Andrés Santa Cruz (1829-1839), but when he tried to unite Bolivia with Peru in 1836, Chile and Argentina intervened to overthrow him.

An 1899 revolt called the
Guerra Federal
, led by business groups from La Paz and the tin-mining areas, defeated Sucre and made La Paz the centre of government. This has never been forgiven or forgotten by Sucre which, to this day, hopes to regain full capital status.

Since independence Bolivia has suffered continual losses of territory, partly because of communications difficulties and the central government's inability to control distant provinces. Following its rapid defeat in the
War of the Pacific
(1879-1883) Bolivia lost her costal provinces. Chile later agreed to build a railway between La Paz and Arica. When Brazil annexed the rubber-rich
Acre Territory
in 1903, Bolivia was compensated with another railway, but this Madeira-Mamoré line, which cost a life for every rail-tie, never reached its intended destination of Riberalta. And there was no railway at all to compensate Bolivia for its great loss in the
Chaco War
(1932-1935).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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