Bolivia Recent History

In the early years of the twentieth century (1903) there were other disputes over the possession of Acre, on the Brazilian border, on the High Amazons. The result was a short-lived war that awarded Brazil 70000 miles of mining territory which in return gave a monetary allowance and other territorial compensation.

The next two presidents Ismael Montes (1904/09, 1913/15) and Eliodoro Villazon (1909/13), intensified the construction of the railway network to encourage the exploitation of the mines, developed pastoralism and agriculture. According to Abbreviationfinder, an acronym site which also features history of Bolivia, Villazon also instituted civil marriage, reorganized public finances by founding the “Bank of the Bolivian Nation”.

During the First World War, Bolivia initially declared neutrality but in 1917, on April 13, it broke diplomatic relations with Germany and participated in the conflict. But still in 1917 still a revolution imposed José Gutierrez Guerra on the presidency, who remained in government until 1920, when Battista Saavedra succeeded him. He organized the Air Force, built very important roads and railways such as the one from Atocha to Villazon which is the first communication with Argentina; revived the industries and established the first social laws of Bolivia.

At the end of 1928 the question of the possession of the Gran Chaco between Bolivia and Paraguay returned to the topical. In December of that year the first armed conflicts broke out on the border; the two states mobilized and there was little lack of war between them. But on 17 and 18 December Paraguay and Bolivia accepted the mediation of the International Conference of American States, held in Washington, definitively closing the controversy.

In recent years Bolivia was devastated by numerous insurrections, which erupted by the people who wanted to participate freely in the government. The most important was that of 1952, headed by Hernan Siles Suazo.

But the economic situation remained precarious and even the political one did not improve. From 1960 to 1964 Paz Estenssoro was president who, while on the one hand he tried to produce improvements, on the other he did not admit opposition of any kind and he arrested all those who opposed him, creating the void around him. Vice-president was Juan Lechin who, instead, strenuously defended the workers’ trade union interests. This dualism certainly did not bring much needed tranquility and indeed, as was foreseeable, in 1963 it led to a breakdown.

Bolivia Recent History

Estenssoro, with the connivance of the army, decreed many dictatorial measures and won the elections of June 1964. The military demanded the installation of a candidate for the vice-presidency, the skilled and reckless aviator, General Renè Barrientos.

Bolivia’s economy, partly because of the high production costs of tin, the country’s main resource, partly because of the collapse of its price on world markets, entered a very serious crisis. There were bloody riots that forced the military to intervene and appropriate power, with the expulsion of Estenssoro, who was replaced by General Alfredo Ovando Candìa, in November 1964. In fact, who governed was Barrientos who in May 1965 exiled the unionist Lechin, together with his collaborators.

In July 1966 Barrientos was elected president of the republic. The economy, however, did not improve, there were new unrest with the students and miners on the front line. They suffered many harsh repressions by the military who, however, had to suffer repercussions from the guerrillas who had settled in the mountains. In one of these actions in 1967 the famous Che Guevara died. On April 27, 1969, Barrientos was killed in a plane crash. He was succeeded by his deputy Adolfo Siles. From here to 1972 several coups followed and after various events Colonel Hugo Banzer Suarez came to power, who, one year after his appointment, proclaimed, on November 23, 1972, the state of siege, given the insistence protests and strikes, due to the indigence of the people and the ever-growing devaluation of the currency.

The government, in an attempt to solve the problems, at least the most pressing, entered into a trade agreement with Brazil in May 1974. With this agreement Bolivia undertook to supply 7 million cubic meters of gas for 20 years, in exchange for financial aid and technicians. The latter were used for the construction of a petrochemical plant and a steel complex. Incredibly, precisely because of this agreement, the military accused Banzer of wanting to support Brazil’s hegemonic aims.

In 1977 in Bolivia there was a general mobilization of the workers’ movement. Banzer was forced to bring the unions back to their homeland and then call the elections for the following June 1978. Here there were frauds which led to the cancellation of the consultations and since his appointment by legal means was expected to be difficult on 21 July, General J. Pereda Asbun became president with a coup. After about 4 months he was ousted by General D. Padilla, but in July 1979, after regular elections, Siles Zuazo was appointed. Other characters took turns in power, each for a very short time, until in July 1980 the elections showed a sharp increase in the claims.

Continuous bloody events, coups and repressions, violence and an increase in the external debt, convinced the military to respect those elections that had designated Suazo. He immediately found himself in a grip of difficulties including, in addition to galloping inflation, also tax evasion, corruption and inefficiency of the public administration, natural disasters, hostility of the international financial system. Everything helped to ensure that the government in a very short time found itself in the midst of intense social unrest.

In December 1984 a general strike was held which lasted 18 days. Siles shortened his mandate by one year and drew up new elections for June 1985. The leftists were defeated. Banzer returned to the government with the most votes and Paz was the president. The union almost disappeared, accompanying the bad luck of the mining sector, now of no importance.

What instead provided income above normal for about 200,000 farmers, from that moment became the immense fields dedicated to the cultivation of coca. Huge disputes for this occurred with the United States which, containing the major points of arrival of the drug, demanded the immediate destruction of these plantations.

The Bolivian government attempted in 1986 to launch a plan to eradicate the cultivation of coca in 50,000 hectares. The plan failed to obstruct the poor peasants and anti-American political forces in the country.

In May 1989 new presidential elections took place. The candidates were three: Banzer, Sanchez de Lozada and J. Paz Zamora.

None of the three had a majority but Zamora was chosen, with the lowest number of votes, after being imprisoned and then clandestine for his activity in socialism. However, the presence of Banzer in the actual guide of the country was clearly perceived.

With a policy of austerity and privatization, as indeed was the case for other Latin American countries, a certain decrease in inflation was achieved but unemployment increased, especially in the now almost extinct mining sector. Zamora then intensified his programs against drug cultivation that caused so many conflicts with the United States. He proposed economic incentives to the peasants and the promise of non-extradition to the United States, as requested, but to no avail. Indeed, in the early nineties, there was irrefutable proof that even government officials belonged to drug trafficking.


The general elections of 1993 gave power to the moderate “Revolutionary Nationalist Movement”, which led its leader G. Sanchez de Lozada to the presidency. He immediately made cuts in public spending and accelerated the privatizations including that of the school system, proposed in 1995, caused unions and teachers to arise, so much so that the government was forced to proclaim the state of siege. Similar oppositions occurred in other sectors, from health to transport, and finally in September-October 1996 there were protest marches by the peasants, especially against the introduction of a new agrarian law.

In June 1997, the general elections, with this climate, led to the defeat of the hitherto majority party and the affirmation of the Nationalist Democratic Alliance.

In the following August Banzer Suarez was elected president of the republic and immediately declared himself engaged in the fight against drug trafficking. And this provoked during 1998 some clashes between armed police forces and coca farmers, with several general strikes.

But against government policy in general, strong social tensions also had to occur throughout 1999 with demonstrations and constant strikes.