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The Americas

South American States

 

Modern Bolivia
AD 1825 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1825-2022), Upper Peru, Independent State of Acre / Republic of Acre (1899-1903), & Santa-Cruz Republic (1904)

Located in western-central South America, the modern republic of Bolivia borders Peru and Chile to the west, Brazil to the north, Paraguay to the south-east, and Argentina to the south. Its capital is Sucre, having been set here in 1839 upon the creation of the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation, although the administrative capital has been at La Paz since 1898. A country of extremes, landlocked Bolivia is the highest and most isolated country in South America. Located entirely in the tropics, it possesses every gradation of temperature from equatorial lowlands to arctic cold. It also has the largest proportion of indigenous people, who make up around two-thirds of the population.

The first Europeans arrived in the region in 1533 when Francisco Pizarro led a Spanish expedition towards the western coast of South America from Hispaniola and the newly-conquered Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. There he was fortunate in discovering the vast Inca empire just as it was reaching the end of a civil war. With just forty soldiers (aided by friendly native warriors), Pizarro quickly conquered much of the empire. Prior to Inca control, the region had been the centre of the Tiwanaku empire.

Just a decade later, in 1542, the viceroyalty of Peru was created to rival that of New Spain in terms of the territory and potential wealth it controlled within the Spanish Colonies. Territory which would later form Bolivia was under Peru's administrative capacity, being known as Upper Peru and being important for its supply of silver. In the eighteenth century, the creation of the viceroyalties of New Granada and Rio de la Plata reduced the importance of the Peruvian capital at Lima and removed much territory from Peru's control. Bolivia now formed part of Rio de la Plata.

When the wars of independence broke out in 1810 against Spanish overlordship of the American colonies, Peru re-absorbed Bolivia, but defeats on the battlefield between 1821-1824 saw the end of Spanish control. In 1825 the congress of Upper Peru created the republic of Bolivia, named after nationalist leader Simon Bolivar, president of Gran Colombia and dictator of Peru. He was also elected the first president of Bolivia.

Further conflict over borders and independence was largely avoided in 1899-1903 when Brazilian settlers took possession of the Bolivian territory of Acre. The Independent State of Acre was declared in 1899, otherwise known as the Republic of Acre. Brazil disavowed any involvement in the seizure, but its state of Amazonas disagreed. This continually sent in support to the state, ensuring that Brazil had no choice but to agree a land swap with Bolivia in 1903 which put the matter to bed with little blood having been shed. The Santa-Cruz Republic seems to have been an extremely short-lived attempt to replicate Acre's success, being declared and also ended in 1904.

Modern Bolivia is traditionally regarded as a highland country. Although only one-third of its territory lies in the Andes Mountains, most of the nation's largest cities are located there. For centuries the highlands have attracted the nation's largest amount of mining, commercial, and business investment. In the late twentieth century, however, the demographic and economic landscape began to change as the eastern lowlands developed rapidly, particularly in the department of Santa Cruz.

Despite revisions and numerous military coups, the state has retained a unitary system of government, whether elected or under military dictatorship, with the latter having held sway for much of Bolivia's history. The nation's political system is largely controlled by three political parties, but universal suffrage was only introduced in 1952, following the 'National Revolution'.


Torres del Paine, Chile

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from The British Invasion of the River Plate 1806-1807: How the Redcoats Were Humbled and a Nation Was Born, Ben Hughes (Pen & Sword Book Ltd, 2014), from Historia de la República del Perú, Jorge Basadre Grohmann (Ediciones Historia, Fifth Edition, Volume VIII, 1963, in Spanish), from National Geographic (March 1994), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), from Washington Post (10 June 1993, & 25 June 1996, & 8 August 1996, & 4 August 1997, & 6 August 1997, & Obituary of Victor Paz Estenssoro, 10 June 2001, & World In Brief, 10 July 2001, & Bolivian Leader, Fighting Cancer, to Resign, 28 July 2001, & World In Brief, 7 August 2001, & Protests force Bolivian Leader to Resign, 18 October 2003, & World In Brief, 9 June 2005, & Court Chief Assumes Presidency in Bolivia, 10 June 2005, & Protests push out Bolivia's Morales, 11 November 2019), and from External Links: United Nations Population Division, and BBC Country Profiles, and Encyclopaedia Britannica: Che Guevarra, and Bolivia (Rulers.org), and Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and Bolivia (Zárate's Political Collections).)

1824 - 1825

Venezuelan freedom fighter Simon Bolivar liberates from Spanish rule that territory which will become modern Bolivia (and he also gives it his name, initially as 'República Bolívar'). One year later, Bolivia becomes independent with Simon Bolivar as its president.

1825 - 1830

Simon Bolivar

Founder. Also president & dictator of Gran Colombia & Peru.

1828 - 1829

In trying to prevent the break-up of Gran Colombia, Simon Bolivar proclaims himself dictator on 27 August 1828. However, in the following year Peru fights Gran Colombia over the latter's claim that its territory extends beyond the Andes mountain range to the Amazon, and includes the Amazonian basin.

Simon Bolivar
Simon Bolivar was proclaimed 'the Liberator' for his work in freeing much of South America from Spanish colonial control, although his attempts to forge a new 'super-state' from the former colonies came to nothing

1829 - 1830

The war with Gran Colombia is ended with the Battle of Tarqui and the Gual-Larrea Treaty being signed on 22 September. The treaty specifies that the Colombian-Peruvian border is to retain the line which it had carried under Spanish colonial control (and the peace lasts until 1859). Bolivar resigns the post of dictator on 27 April 1830 after an assassination attempt dents his confidence.

1826 - 1828

Antonio José de Sucre

Supreme executive power for Bolívar (Jun 1826-Aug 1828).

1828

José Miguel de Velasco

Acting commander of Bolivia (Aug-28 Dec).

1828

Pedro Blanco

General. Provisional commander of Bolivia (18-31 Dec).

1829

José Miguel de Velasco

General. 'Accidental' commander of Bolivia (Jan-1 May).

1829 - 1839

Andrés de Santa Cruz

Marshal. Provisional (May 1829-1831). Defeated & fled.

1836 - 1841

The dictator of Peru is defeated and executed by Bolivian forces which invade the country in 1836. Bolivia's dictator, Marshal Andrés de Santa Cruz (a former president of Peru himself, in 1827), assumes power in Peru and quickly consolidates his position.

He deposes Luis José Orbegoso, dictator of Peru, and in October proclaims the 'Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation', which consists of Bolivia and both of the newly-declared Peruvian interior states, with himself as the supreme protector of the confederation and also retaining his other titles, including that of president of Bolivia.

The new state creates tension between the confederation and Chile, leading to the latter declaring war on 28 December 1836. Chile's ally, the Argentine confederation, follows suit on 9 May 1837. Eventual defeat for Bolivia comes in 1839 and Santa Cruz flees to Ecuador. Peru is fully reunited and reconstituted. In 1841, the new Peruvian president attempts to return the favour by invading Bolivia, but he is defeated and killed.

Map of Central America in the 1830s
The Federal Republic of Central America was formed of Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. This lasted from 1823-1841, by which time Mexico had grabbed much of Chiapas and the republic itself dissolved into the separate nation states known today - although Nicaragua did not control the independent Mosquito Coast until the end of the century, and British troops occupied eastern Belize (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1839 - 1841

José Miguel de Velasco

Dictator (Feb-Jun). President (provisional to 1840). Deposed.

1841

Sebastián de Ágreda

Provisional chief (Jun-Jul).

1841

Marian Enrique Calvo

Acting president (Jul-Sep).

1841 - 1847

José Ballivián

Provisional president (to 1844, then president). Deposed.

1847 - 1848

Eusebio Guilarte

Interim president (to 2 Jan 1848).

1848

Manuel Isidoro Belzu

Interim president (6-18 Jan).

1848

José Miguel de Velasco

Provisional president (18 Jan-Dec).

1848 - 1855

Manuel Isidoro Belzu

Rival (Oct-Dec 1848). President (provisional, Dec 1848-1850).

1855 - 1857

Jorge Córdova

President (to Oct 1857).

1857 - 1861

José María Linares

Rival (Sep-Oct 57). President. Dictator (58). Deposed 1861.

1859 - 1860

Arguing that treaties which had been signed with Gran Colombia have been rendered void upon the dissolution of that federation, Peru fights another war over disputed territory bordering the Amazon, this time with the federation's successor in the region, Ecuador.

Plaza de San Francisco in Quito
Ecuador's cobblestoned Plaza de San Francisco in Quito was laid down in front of the striking white towers of the Monastery of San Francisco, built between 1536 and 1580

1861

Having transitioned from would-be rival president to legitimate president to dictator, José María Linares is now deposed. A three-man governing junta takes charge until a new president can be sworn in later in the year. Ruperto Fernández shares the task with Dr José María de Achá between January and May 1861, with Manuel Antonio Sánchez alongside them until April.

1861 - 1864

José María de Achá

Former junta member. President (May 1861 on). Deposed.

1864 - 1871

Mariano Melgarejo

Usurper. Dictator. Provisional 'president' until 1870. Deposed.

1865 - 1866

General Prado of Peru arranges an alliance with Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador, so that when a Spanish fleet attacks Peru in 1866 he, with the support of his allies, is able to defeat it at the Battle of Dos de Mayo in Callao.

1870 - 1871

Mariano Melgarejo has deposed the rightful president and assumed the post himself, but essentially governs as dictator. It is only right then that in November 1870 he faces a rebellion which is led by Colonel Agustín Morales. On 15 January 1871, Morales deposes Melgarejo, who is then assassinated.

1871

Agustín Morales

Army colonel & supreme chief of the revolution (15-21 Jan).

1871 - 1872

Agustín Morales

Provisional (to Aug 1872), then president. Assassinated.

1872

Juan de Dios Bosque

Acting president (27-28 Nov).

1872 - 1873

Tomás Frías

President (from 28 Nov).

1873 - 1874

Adolfo Ballivián

President. Died in office.

1874 - 1876

Tomás Frías

President for the second time.

1876 - 1879

Hilarión Daza

Provisional president. Deposed.

1879 - 1883

The War of the Pacific begins over a nitrate taxation dispute between Bolivia and Chile, with Peru being drawn in due to its secret alliance with Bolivia. There may also be other underlying causes and rivalries which serve to ignite the dispute.

Andes Mountains
The very nature of Chile's topography made it one of the toughest parts of South America for the Spanish to conquer

1879 - 1880

Uladislao Silva

President of the military junta (to 17 Jan 1880).

1880

Narciso Campero

Provisional president (19 Jan-May 1880). Returned in June.

1880

Aniceto Arce

Acting president (May-Jun).

1880 - 1884

Narciso Campero

President (to Aug 1884), then interim president (to Sep).

1881 - 1883

Chile invades Peru in 1881 as part of the War of the Pacific. In May 1881 the country is able to designate a Chilean governor of Peru. On 28 September 1881, Chile completes its occupation of Peru, with it ending on 23 October 1883.

As a result of the war, Chile acquires the provinces of Arica and Tarapacá from Peru, and the department of Litoral from Bolivia. Bolivia is now a landlocked country and, after its various wars in this century, has lost approximately half its territory due to unsuccessful engagements.

1884 - 1888

Gregorio Pacheco

President.

1888 - 1892

Aniceto Arce

President (after acting in 1880). Survived a coup attempt.

1890?

A prominent landowner and political figure, Colonel Manuel Pando stages a coup against President Aniceto Arce. The coup fails so Pando flees to Acre, a Bolivian territory which is sparsely settled and with no official presence. He discovers encroachment by Brazilian settlers which he reports to the Bolivian government. He later returns to respectability, and even successfully runs for office in 1899.

Emperor Peter II of Brazil
Exiled from Brazil for the last years of his life, Emperor Peter II found a form of immortality as the subject of some late Victorian photography (this example being by Joaquim Insley Pacheco (1830-1912))

1892 - 1896

Mariano Baptista

President.

1896 - 1899

Severo Fernández Alonso

President. Deposed by Serapio Reyes Ortiz.

1898

Bolivia gains access to Acre, alarming the Brazilian settlers there. They rebel, with the support of authorities of Brazil's state of Amazonas. The Bolivians abandon the territory, while Amazonas sends in adventurers under the command of the Spaniard, Don Luís Galvez Rodrigues de Arias, to secure the territory.

In the same year the country's administrative capital is moved to La Paz, although Sucre remains the constitutional capital having been selected as such in 1839. Serapio Reyes Ortiz began a rebellion against the government in December 1898, securing the post of president in April 1899.

1899

Serapio Reyes Ortiz

Opposed Alonso (1898-1899). Junta president (Apr-Oct 1899).

1899

On 14 July 1899, the 'Independent State of Acre' is declared. It is more informally known as the Republic of Acre. Brazil does not approve these activities, recognising Acre as Bolivian territory.

1899 - 1904

Manuel Pando

President, and then interim president (6-14 Aug 1904).

1900 - 1903

On 15 March 1900, a Brazilian force suppresses the republic of Acre and, on 25 April the territory is reincorporated back into Bolivia, following the arrival of a Bolivian force. The Bolivians again withdraw after encountering the Brazilian inhabitants, who again receive assistance from Amazonas.

The Independent State of Acre
The 'Independent State of Acre' was declared by Brazilian settlers who encroached into Bolivia's territory but who then managed to make it impossible for Brazil to fail to support them

This Brazilian state sends an 'Expedition of the Poets' under command of the journalist, Orlando Correa Lopez. The expedition proclaims the 'Second Republic of Acre' in November 1900. On 24 December, Bolivia suppresses this.

Amazonas sent a third expedition, this time led by a Brazilian soldier by the name of José Plácido de Castro. This arrives on 6 August 1902, following which Castro establishes control over most of the area. The 'Independent State of Acre' is considered to be re-established on 7 August 1902. The rebels complete their takeover of Acre on 24 January 1903.

This time the occupiers have the support of the Brazilian government and they officially proclaim their state's existence on 27 January 1903. Brazil occupies part of Acre, creating the territory of North Acre. Bolivia's Colonel Pando send troops of his own into Acre, but conflict between Brazil and Bolivia is avoided through a preliminary peace agreement on 21 March 1903. This finally concedes the territory to Brazil.

On 13 May Brazil fully occupies Acre. The peace agreement between it and Bolivia is ratified by the Treaty of Petrópolis on 17 November 1903, which grants Acre to Brazil in exchange for territories in Mato Grosso.

Signees of the Treaty of Petropolis
During the rubber boom era, the then-Bolivian territory of Acre was much desired both by Brazil and Bolivia, with the latter ceding it to the former in return for a large sum of money and the concession of the construction of a new railway which would connect Brazil with Bolivia

1904

Perhaps emboldened by recent actions in Acre, Bolivia's region of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (now the department of Santa Cruz) forms a break-away Santa-Cruz Republic. However, any success here is short-lived. The republic appears to be reincorporated back into Bolivia in the same year.

1904 - 1909

Ismail Montes

President.

1909 - 1913

Eliodoro Villazón

President.

1909

Peru's border with Bolivia is ratified with the Treaty of Polo-Bustamante which formally partitions Lake Titicaca, and also marks the boundary with Tacna (which until then had been part of Chile). Peru's border with Brazil is also settled, this time with the signing of the Treaty of Velarde-Rio Branco. This sets the border along the rivers of Yaravi and Yaverija.

1913 - 1917

Ismail Montes

President.

1917 - 1918

In April 1917, Bolivia declares for the allies in the First World War (mainly Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the USA) against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, but does not take any active part in the war.

Vienna in 1918
With the various peoples who made up its ethnically-diverse population pulling apart from it in 1918, Austria was left with a rump state which greatly reduced its power and significance in post-Austro-Hungarian empire Europe

1917 - 1920

José Gutiérrez Guerra

President (to 12 July). Deposed.

1920

Bautista Saavedra

'Political chief' (12-13 July only).

1920 - 1921

President José Gutiérrez Guerra is seemingly removed from his post. On 13 July 1920 the military forms a three-man government junta to oversee the transition to a more preferable choice for president. This consists of José María Escalier, Bautista Saavedra, and José Manuel Ramírez. The new president comes from the ranks of this very same junta.

1921 - 1925

Bautista Saavedra

President (former junta member).

1925 - 1926

Felipe S Guzmán

Provisional president.

1926 - 1930

Hernando Siles Reyes

President (to May 1930). Overthrown.

1930

Again the presidency is interrupted. The council of ministers takes charge between May and 25 June 1930, through an eight-man panel which consists of Alberto Diez de Medina, Germán Antelo Arauz (to 17 June only), Franklin Mercado, José David Toro, José Aguirre Achá, Fidel Vega, and Carlos Banzer. Another member, Ezequiel Romecín Calderón, succeeds Arauz between 17-25 June.

This civilian council is replaced by a military junta on 28 June 1930, with Carlos Blanco Galindo serving as the sole chairman of the military government junta until 1931.

Paraguayan prisoners of war in Quime, Inquisivi province, Bolivia
The Chaco War erupted in 1932 between Bolivia and Paraguay when it was suspected that the Gran Checo region sat on top of a potentially highly-profitable oilfield (shown here are Paraguayan prisoners of war in Quime, in Bolivia's Inquisivi province)

1930 - 1931

Carlos Blanco Galindo

Chairman of the military government junta.

1931 - 1934

Daniel Domingo Salamanca

President. Overthrown by frustrated generals.

1932 - 1934

The Chaco War arises between Bolivia and Paraguay over the Gran Chaco region when oil is discovered nearby, leading both countries to believe that the region is rich in supplies. Following its defeat by the Triple Alliance in 1870, Paraguay is reluctant to lose the territory, or the economic benefits an oil find may deliver, and skirmishes have been taking place between the two protagonists since the late 1920s.

Frustrated with the course of the war, Bolivian generals seize their president, Daniel Domingo Salamanca, on 27 November 1934 and replace him with the vice-president, José Luis Tejada Sorzano.

1934 - 1936

José Luis Tejada Sorzano

Former vice-president. Raised by the army. Removed.

1935 - 1936

A negotiated ceasefire ends the Chaco War on 10 June 1935 (and this is formally recognised in 1938). By this time Paraguay controls about three-quarters of the territory in the Gran Chaco region. President José Luis Tejada Sorzano fulfils about two years of his term of office before he too is removed by the military. A governing junta replaces the presidency until 1938.

1936

Germán Busch

Provisional chairman of the governing junta (17-20 May).

1936 - 1937

José David Toro

Chairman of the governing junta (from 20 May 1936).

1937 - 1939

Germán Busch

Chairman of the governing junta (to 1938), then president.

1939 - 1940

Carlos Quintanilla

Provisional president.

1940 - 1943

Enrique Peñaranda

President.

1943 - 1946

Gualberto Villarroel López

Chairman of governing junta (to Apr 1944), then president.

1943 - 1945

Following the declaration of the United Nations in 1942 which formalises the list of allied countries, Bolivia joins the Second World War as an ally of the USA and Great Britain on 7 April 1943, against Japan, Germany, and Italy. By this time Bolivia is being governed by the National Revolutionary Movement.

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler at the height of his rule over Nazi Germany envisioned a 'Greater Germany' covering a vast swathe of Central Europe with 'living room' for Germans and a subservient Slavic population in the east to handle manual work

1945

Representatives of fifty countries gather at the 'United Nations Conference on International Organization' in California's San Francisco, USA, between 25 April and 26 June 1945. In that time they draft and then sign the UN charter, which creates this new international organisation. It is hoped that it will be able to prevent another world war like the one just ended. Bolivia joins the United Nations on 14 November, three weeks after its formation.

1946

Néstor Guillén Olmos

Senior judge, then chairman of provisional govt junta.

1946 - 1947

Tomás Monje Gutiérrez

Chairman of provisional govt junta (from Aug 1946).

1947 - 1949

José Enrique Hertzon Garaizábal

President. Party of the Republican Socialist Union (PURS).

1949 - 1951

Mamerto Urriolagoitia Harriague

Acting president (to 24 Oct), then president. PURS.

1951 - 1952

The National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) wins the 1951 presidential elections but their candidate is blocked from taking up his post. The following year the party leads a revolution which largely consists of peasants and miners who overthrow the military regime and successfully place Ángel Victor Paz Estenssoro in charge of a progressive, liberalising, but controversial government (once he is able to return from exile).

The Bolivian nationalist revolution of 1951
Bolivia's national revolution of 1952 has largely been relegated to the dustbin of history by successive Bolivian governments, despite its profound and continuing relevance for events in the country

1951 - 1952

Ballivián Rojas

Chairman of the military governing junta. Overthrown.

1952

Hernán Siles Zuazo

Provisional president (11-16 Apr). MNR.

1952 - 1956

Ángel Victor Paz Estenssoro

President. MNR.

1956 - 1960

Hernán Siles Zuazo

Now full president. MNR.

1960 - 1964

Ángel Victor Paz Estenssoro

Second term of office. MNR. Overthrown.

1964 - 1966

A military coup lead by Vice-President Rene Barrientos Ortuño overthrows the nationalist government and joins the military junta which subsequently governs the country. Between 4 November 1964 and August 1966, the military junta is back in charge.

Its chairman switches between Rene Barrientos Ortuño (military general), and General Alfredo Ovando Candía. Two years later, from August 1966, Barrientos takes up the post of president to head the first of a succession of weak governments.

1966 - 1969

Rene Barrientos Ortuño

President. Bolivian Revolutionary Front (FRB). Killed.

1967

The USA helps to suppress a peasant uprising which is led by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara de la Serna, who is executed after being betrayed by some of the very peasants he has attempted to support.

Born in 1928 Che Guevarra has been a theoretician and tactician of guerrilla warfare, a prominent communist figure in the Cuban Revolution (1956-1959), and a guerrilla leader in South America. Following his death at the hands of the Bolivian army he is regarded worldwide as a martyred hero by generations of left-leaning people.

Che Guevara
Che Guevara was captured in Bolivia and, moments before his execution, he was pictured here alongside Bolivian soldiers and an undercover CIA agent who for years kept the secret of this appearance

1969

Luís Adolfo Siles Salinas

President (Apr-Sep). FRB. Overthrown.

1969 - 1970

Alfredo Ovando Candía

Military. Former junta chairman (1964-1966). Ousted.

1970

Another military coup removes Candia and replaces him with a temporary three-man governing military junta. Governing between 6-7 October 1970, this consists of Efraín Guachalla Ibáñez, Fernando Sattori Román, and Alberto Albarracín Crespo.

1970 - 1971

Juan José Torres Gonzáles

Military general (7 Oct to 21 Aug).

1971

Alarmed by the state of the country, on 21 August 1971, General Hugo Banzer Suárez leads a coup to topple Torres. He installs a three man junta for a day, between 21-22 August 1971 (as described by the Washington Post, 10 June 2001, in the obituary for Victor Paz Estenssoro).

This junta consists of Jaime Florentino Mendieta Vargas, General Banzer himself, and Andrés Selich Chop who acts as chairman. After that one brief day, Banzer takes the position of president and governs until 1978. Former MNR president, Victor Paz Estenssoro, had supported Banzer's coup but he finds himself being exiled between 1973 and 1978.

1971 - 1978

Hugo Banzer Suárez

Army colonel. 'President' (22 Aug to 21 Jul). Deposed.

1974 - 1978

Banzer is impatient with the ruling coalition and the divisions which serve to delay any decision-making processes. Following an attempted coup in 1974 he replaces civilians with military staff and suspends all political activities. Although the country improves to an impressive degree, he is deposed in 1978 and a new spate of military leaders move in (he returns in 1997).

Bolivia's President Hugo Banzer Suárez
In his first stint as president of Bolivia, Hugo Banzer Suárez teamed up with Mayor Manfred Reyes of Cochabamba to privatise water usage there, an event which later sparked the 'Water War'

1978

Víctor González Fuentes

Chairman of the military governing junta (21 Jul, some hours).

1978 - 1979

David Padilla Arancibia

Chairman of the military governing junta (Nov-Aug).

1979

Wálter Guevara Arze

Acting president (Aug-1 Nov). MNR. Ousted after 85 days.

1979

Alberto Natusch Busch

Military (1-17 Nov only).

1979 - 1980

Lidia Gueiler Tejada

Acting (and first female) president (17 Nov-18 Jul). PRIN.

1980

After experiencing two years of of fraudulent elections, minor coups, and interim governments, in 1980 General Meza instigates a bloody coup. The latest elected president, Hernán Siles Zuazo, is prevented from taking office and instead is forced to leave the country. Before taking over completely, Meza initially governs (for one day, on 18 July 1980) through a three-man governing junta which consists of himself, plus General Waldo Bernal Pereira and General Ramiro Terrazas Rodríguez.

Meza himself promises to remain in power for just a year when popular sentiment reveals how unwelcome his coup really is. The coup itself is sometimes dubbed the Cocaine Coup as it is rumoured to be backed by cocaine traffickers. It is also supplied with European mercenaries who have been recruited by former Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie.

Nikolaus 'Klaus' Barbie, 'Butcher of Lyon'
Nikolaus 'Klaus' Barbie, former Nazi SS officer, became known as the 'Butcher of Lyon' for having personally tortured prisoners, and he later surfaced in Bolivia until his arrest and deportation in 1983

1980 - 1981

Luis Garcia Meza Tejada

Military dictator. Deposed.

1981 - 1982

Quickly revealing himself to be a ruthless despot, Garcia Meza is deposed by a military government when he changes his mind and refuses to step down as promised. Between August and September 1981, the standard three-man governing military junta takes charge, consisting of General Waldo Bernal Pereira (again), General Celso Torrelio Villa, and Vice-Admiral Óscar Pammo Rodríguez.

1981 - 1982

Celso Torrelio Villa

Military (Sept-19 Jul).

1982

Presidential rule is returned in 1982, but only after a reluctant military is persuaded not to install another dictator and following a failed attempt by Garcia Meza to regain power. Between 19-21 July a three-man governing military junta oversees the transition to civilian control. This consists of General Natalio Morales Mosquera, Vice-Admiral Óscar Pammo Rodríguez (again), and General Ángel Mariscal Gómez.

1982

Guido Vildoso Calderón

Military (21 Jul-Oct only).

1982 - 1985

Hernán Siles Zuazo

Second term of office. MNRI. Forced to step down.

1985

The country's congress and labour unions force President Siles to shorten his term of office by one year so that new elections can be called (as related by the Washington Post, 8 August 1996).

1985 - 1989

Ángel Victor Paz Estenssoro

President. Third term of office. MNR.

1988

As the country slowly emerges from the effect of massive economic mismanagement, US pressure forces a proposed clampdown on coca production. With legislation coming into effect, a protest by growers in Champare Province turns into the Villa Tunari Massacre when UMOPAR rural patrol units kill twelve and wound over a hundred.

Villa Tunari, Cochabamba
With coca producers in the small town of Villa Tunari in Cochabamba staging a peaceful rally against the clampdown, nervous police opened fire on them, resulting in the Villa Tunari Massacre

1989 - 1993

Jaime Paz Zamora

President. Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR).

1990

Following its kidnapping of a businessman and an attack on a US embassy guardhouse in which a US marine is killed, the Marxist-Leninist Nestor Paz Zamora Commission militant group comes to the attention of the authorities. Its members are quickly and brutally executed or captured once intelligence is gained regarding the location of their base. The kidnapped businessman is also killed during the attack.

1993

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada wins the presidential election without actually achieving the required majority. Even so he is accepted as president by congress on 6 August (according to the Washington Post, 10 June 1993).

1993 - 1997

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada

President. MNR.

1997 - 2001

Hugo Banzer Suárez

President again. AND. Resigned.

2001

President Banzer of the Nationalist Democratic Action (AND) party temporarily transfers his constitutional powers to Vice-President Jorge Quiroga on 1 July 2001. He flies to the USA to access medical treatment for cancer, resigning the presidency on 6 August 2001 due to his lung cancer. He is officially succeeded by Quiroga.

Bolivia's constitutional capital of Sucre
Bolivia's constitutional capital of Sucre is today a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, having been declared a 'World Heritage Site' in 1991

2001 - 2002

Jorge Quiroga Ramírez

Former vice-president. AND.

2002 - 2003

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada

Second term of office. MNR. Resigned.

2003 - 2005

Carlos Mesa Gisbert

Former vice-president. Succeeded Lozada. No party.

2005

Due to popular protests against him, Mesa submits his resignation on 6 June 2005, with this being accepted by congress three days later. Hormando Vaca Diez, head of the senate, is constitutionally designated as the successor, but he declines the honour due to continued popular protests.

Instead, congress selects Eduardo Rodríguez, president of the supreme court, who is to serve until presidential elections can be held later in the year.

2005 - 2006

Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé

Acting president. Former supreme court president.

2006 - 2019

Evo Morales

President. MAS IPSP.

2006

Newly-elected Evo Morales of the 'Movement towards Socialism Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples' (MAS IPSP) is the first president to have his origins in Bolivia's indigenous majority. As a leader of a coca-growers union, he is also the first president to emerge from the social movements whose protests have already forced Bolivia's previous two presidents from office.

Evo Morales
As Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales managed to introduce a new constitution which created a plurinational state to end what was, in effect, a system of apartheid

2006 - 2007

Violent clashes occur when the government of Evo Morales attempts to push through equality laws for the indigenous minority by changing the rules on majority voting.

2013

In May Bolivia passes a law which paves the way for President Morales to seek a third term of office. The constitution states that presidents can serve only two terms but the supreme court rules that, because the constitution had been changed during Mr Morales' first four years in office, his first term does not count towards his total. Opposition politicians denounce the law as being unconstitutional.

2019

The bid by Evo Morales to win yet another presidential term leads to street protests, and he resigns after the armed forces withdraw their support. The constitutional court rules that, following the resignations of Mr Morales, his deputy, and the presidents of both chambers of congress, the next in line to assume the role of head of state without the need for congressional approval is Jeanine Áñez, an opposition senator who duly declares herself interim president.

2019 - 2020

Jeanine Áñez

Female interim president. MDS. Arrested & imprisoned.

2020 - On

Luis Alberto Arce Catacora

President. MAS IPSP.

 
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