History Files

The Americas

South American Colonial Settlements


Modern Bolivia
AD 1825 - Present Day

Located in 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. 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 from Hispaniola and the newly-conquered Aztec city of Tenochtitlan towards the western coast of South America. 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. 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. 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 was one of those regions that had been administered by the viceroyalty of Peru until 1776, where it was known as Upper Peru and was important for its supply of silver. When the territory was divided, Bolivia formed part of Rio de la Plata. When the wars of independence broke out in 1810 in South America, 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.

(Information by Peter Kessler, 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), and from External Links: United Nations Population Division, and BBC Country Profiles, and Encyclopaedia Britannica: Che Guevarra.)


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

1825 - 1830

Simon Bolivar

Also president of Gran Colombia & Peru.

1828 - 1830

In trying to prevent the break-up of Gran Colombia, Simon Bolivar proclaims himself dictator on 27 August 1828, but he resigns on 27 April 1830 after an assassination attempt dents his confidence. Instead he focuses his attention on securing some level of success in Gran Columbia itself, but that too breaks apart in 1830.

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

1836 - 1839

Andres de Santa Cruz

'Supreme Protector' of Bolivia. Defeated and fled the country.

1836 - 1841

The dictator of Peru is defeated and executed by Bolivian forces which invade the country. Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz creates the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation which survives until 1839. In that year the capital is moved to Sucre. Tension between the confederation and Chile leads 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. In 1841, the new Peruvian president attempts to return the favour by invading Bolivia, but he is defeated and killed.

1879 - 1883

Chile is victorious against Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific, gaining the provinces of Arica and Tarapaca, and denying Bolivia direct access to the Pacific. By this stage, the country has lost approximately half of its territory due to unsuccessful engagements in war.


The administrative capital is moved to La Paz, although Sucre remains the constitutional capital having been selected as such in 1839.


The province of Acre is persuaded by Brazil to secede from Bolivia as part of the Treaty of Petropolis. The treaty, signed on 11 November, ends tensions between the two countries but Bolivia loses Acre's rubber-rich resources.

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 that would connect Brazil with Bolivia


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).

1917 - 1918

In April 1917, Bolivia declares for the allies in the First World War against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, but does not take any active part in the war.

1932 - 1935

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 oil. Following its defeat by the Triple Alliance in 1870, Paraguay is reluctant to lose the territory, or the economic benefits an oil find might 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 on 27 November 1934 and replace him with the vice-president. A ceasefire is negotiated on 10 June 1935 (and recognised in 1938), by which time Paraguay controls about three-quarters of the territory.

1943 - 1945

Following the declaration of the United Nations in 1942, Bolivia joins the Second World War as an ally of the USA and Great Britain on 7 April 1943, against Japan, Germany and Italy.

1951 - 1952

The nationalist party 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 VÝctor Paz Estenssoro in charge of a progressive, liberalising, but controversial government.

1964 - 1966

A military coup lead by Vice-President Rene Barrientos overthrows the nationalist government. Two years later, a member of the military junta which governs the country, Rene Barrientos Ortuno, is elected president. He heads the first of a progression of weak governments.


The USA helps to suppress peasant uprising led by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara de la Serna, who is executed after being betrayed by peasants. 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 leftists.

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 kept the secret of this appearance for years


Alarmed by the state of the country under the current presidency, the nationalist party and the military install Colonel Hugo Banzer Suarez as president.

1971 - 1978

Hugo Banzer Suarez

Army colonel and 'president'. Forced to call elections.

1974 - 1978

Banzer is impatient with the ruling coalition and the splits which 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 forced to call elections in 1978.

1978 - 1980

The country experiences two years of of fraudulent elections, minor coups, and interim governments. In 1980 General Meza instigates a bloody coup while promising 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.

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. 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.


As the country slowly emerges from the effectives 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.


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 businessman is also killed during the attack.


Evo Morales is the first president to have his origins in Bolivia's indigenous majority when he is elected. 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.


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.


The bid by Evo Morales to win 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 ┴˝ez, an opposition senator who duly declares herself interim president.