South America’s primary mountain range, the Andes, attains one of its widest points in Bolivia. Here the Andes are divided into two subranges, Cordillera Oriental and Cordillera Occidental. Peaks in these areas are in excess of 20,000 feet. Between these subranges lies the Altiplano which contains the highest navigable lake on earth. Lake Titicaca, which also lies in Peru, is 12,507 feet above sea level.
Also in the Altiplano is one of Bolivia’s capitals, La Paz. At 11,700 feet it is one of the highest cities in the world. This region is home to one of the centers of Inca civilization and pre–Inca cultures.
Lake Titicaca is what helps make the Altiplano livable. This body of water is large enough to temper the coldness in its vicinity. Grains have been raised for centuries on the surrounding arable land up to the amazing elevation of 12,800 feet. The area supports a major group of subsistence farmers to this day.
Bolivia has had a troubled history. Aside from numerous internal struggles, the country first lost its access to the Pacific Ocean in a conflict with Chile. It then lost its northern territory of Acre to Brazil in a dispute involving the rubber industry in the Amazon Basin. On top of all that, Bolivia was forced to give up 55,000 square miles of southeastern Gran Chaco territory to Paraguay. Bolivia has reactivated its claim to restore the Atacama corridor, ceded to Chile in 1884, to secure sovereign maritime access for Bolivian natural gas.
Modern Bolivia is the product of European domination, however that influence has not affected some of the Amerindian population clusters. But these indigenous Bolivians still lost their land as did their Peruvian and Ecuadorian counterparts. However, what made the richer Europeans in Bolivia wealthy was not land but minerals.
The city of Potosi in the Cordillera Oriental became well–known for the huge silver deposits in its surroundings. Zinc, copper, and other ores were found there. Bolivia’s tin deposits provided a large portion of the country’s export income throughout most of the twentieth century. But in the 1980’s, tin reserves declined and that along with weak world prices reached the point where Bolivia’s antiquated mining methods forced the industry to all but shut down.
Oil and gas are now accounting for an increasing portion of foreign revenues. Bolivia exports much of it gas to Argentina and Brazil. In return, Brazil is commtted to assisting the development of the corridor between Santa Cruz and Corumba, Brazil, in the southeastern lowlands. It is here that commercial agriculture–especially soybeans–is on the rise.
Comparatively democratic civilian rule was established in 1982, but leaders have faced difficult problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and drug production. Current goals include attracting foreign investment, strengthening the educational system, resolving disputes with coca growers over Bolivia’s counterdrug efforts, and waging an anticorruption campaign. The country does have its problems, but it also has its optimism.