Landscape and climate
Bolivia is a presidential republic in South-America. Bolivia is as regards the surface, the fifth largest country of South-America and measures 1.098.581 km2. It is around 26 times bigger than Holland. Bolivia is situated in the centre of the Andes Mountains, which runs from north to south, crossing the South-American continent. The Bolivian Andes Mountains is a cordillera range. In between is the Altiplano, which is situated at approx. 4000 meters. The eastern mountain range is called the Cordillera Oriental and there are mountaintops which reach 6500 meters. The western mountain range is called Cordillera Occidental and is familiar for its volcanic activity and dry desert areas. The Altiplano has a border in the north at Lake Titicaca and in the south at an area with deserts and salt lakes. Lake Titicaca is situated at 3810 meters above sea level, it’s surface is of 8800 km2, it’s around 400 meters deep and is the highest sailable lake of the world.
South of all this the area changes into an area of valleys (valles), which are at 2000-3000 meters. The northern part of the lowlands belongs to the Amazon. Here we find the rainforest (Orient). To the south, it changes into a sort of savannah landscape with grassy plains (pampas). In the southwest there are long deserts of saltplains.
The Andes massifs divide Bolivia into climate zones and are very important for the climate. In the northern part of the Amazon, the climate is tropical and moist, in the southern part it is dry and hot, in the valleys it is often cool and in the highlands it is cold. The rainy season is in summer, from December ´till March. The winter lasts from April ´till August which is the dry season. In the eastern mountain range, the Cordillera Oriental, there is a lot of snow and a lot of rain in the lower parts. In the western mountain range, the Cordillera Occidental, there is not a lot of rain. Because of the constant temperature (9°C) of the Lake Titicaca, there is a mild climate around the lake. In the south and the southwest corner of the country it gets colder and it can freeze during the winter. In the high Andes Mountains, the winter is sunny and dry. At 4000 meters it is around 10-15°C, but it feels a lot warmer because of the hot sun. At night the temperature drops below 0. The average summer temperature is only a few degrees higher than in Winter, as it rains regularly and is cloudy during Summer.
Bolivia counted in 2000 around 8.150.000 people. There are approx. 7,5 residents per km2. Three quarters of the population live in the cities and in the valleys of the Andes Mountains. Approx. 56% of the population is Indian, approx. 30% is mestizo (of an Indian-white origin), approx. 10% is of white origin (mostly Spanish) and approx. 4% is black and from Asian origin. 60% live in the cities, 20% more than in 1976, so urbanization is growing. The biggest cities are La Paz , Santa Cruz , Cochabamba , El Alto (approx. 446.000), Oruro, the capital Sucre and Potosí. El Alto, a district of La Paz, is the fastest growing city of Bolivia. The composition of the population is different from place to place: in La Paz, half of the population is Indian and the population of Santa Cruz is three quarters mestizo and European. The average life expectancy in Bolivia is approx. 64 years old. 41,2% of the population is younger than 15 years; only 4,3% is 65 years or older. Unfortunately Bolivia has the highest cot deaths of South-America; per 1000 children who were born alive, 63,7 children died in 2000 during their first year. The populations growth in 2000 was 1,83%.
The Quechua- and the Aymará- Indians are the largest in number. There are approx. 2,5 million Quechua and approx. 2 million Aymará in Bolivia. The Aymará live around Lake Titicaca and around La Paz. The Quechua mostly live in the other parts of the Andes Mountains. Smaller Indian tribes live in the lowlands, such as the Baures and the Moxo-indians. Only around 30.000 Indians live as they have always lived, the rest is already influenced by the western world. Nomads are being threatened by wood cutting, diseases and colonization of their communities There are 32 Indian tribes in total in Bolivia.
Culture and traditions
It’s easy to see the influence of the Inca´s in Bolivia. A lot of ruins are still in tact. A very old tradition, which has not been lost, is the weaving of carpets in different colors and patterns. Part of the traditional clothing, which has remained important, is the hat. It is different in each region and there are at least 100 different kinds, from bowler hats to cowboy hats.
There are a lot of festivals in Bolivia, which always come together with a lot of alcohol, food and dancing. Each area has its own instruments, music, dances and costumes, but you can hear the Spanish influence in all the kinds of Bolivian music. Some of the instruments are flutes, drums, charango (a small guitar) and the zampońa, (panpipes of all sizes with a lot of different pipes and tones). The songs in the western area are often melancholy, such as the Huayńo, Tinku and Morenada. In the east, the songs are often cheerful to dance on, such as the Saya, Cueca and Taquirari. Some of the songs are famous in Europe, such as ´El condor pasa´, ´Llorando se fue´ (better known as the Lambada).
Social political situation
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South-America. Most of the Bolivian population cannot take care of their basic needs. According to statistics of the Bolivian authorities, Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South-America. Most of the Bolivian population cannot take care of their basic needs. According to statistics of the Bolivian authorities, 60% of the population lives in poverty and 32% in extreme poverty. Even though social indicators concerning life expectancy, health, education, food, etc. have improved, Bolivia is very low on the Human Development Index of the UNDP (2000: 104th place of 162 countries). The literacy level of adults has risen to 85% in the last few years. Almost a third of the population who live in the country and more than a third of the women in the country are still illiterate. Temporary and permanent migration to the cities continues. The economical growth of the last few years (approx. 4% per year), which was absorbed because of the population growth (approx. 2,5% per year), has not brought any improvement to the distribution of income of the country.
In October 2003 Bolivia was worldwide in the news because of the ´Gas war´. This was about a conflict concerning the exploitation of the natural gas reserves in Bolivia (the largest in South-America). The reserves were discovered during the ´90´s and are situated in the south-eastern province, Tarija. The conflict is mostly about exporting or industrialization. In October 2004 protests and demonstrations led to a lot of deaths. Local groups and unions asked for the resignation of the president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. After his resignation, vice-president and former journalist Carlos Mesa became president on October 18th.
Unfortunately Carlos Mesa did not finish his period in office either. Under a lot of pressure due to strikes, protests and blockades (which were mostly for the parliament and not for the president) he resigned in June 2005.
The highest judge of Bolivia, Eduardo Rodriguez Veltzé took over from Carlos Mesa. This interim president, who received a lot of support and respect of the people, wrote out new elections for December 2005.
During this election it became clear that the traditional parties MNR, MIR and ADN, did not have any chance. The new party ´PODEMOS´ (we can do it) of Jorge ´Tuto´ Quiroga seemed to have a good chance of winning, but in the end it became clear that the people found this party too old and too traditional.
In the end, the winner of the elections was the MAS party of Evo Morales. A lot of people were happy: finally a man of the people, an indigena as president. Others could hardly believe it: a farmer without a good education, who did not even finish his high school and is now the president?
Meanwhile Evo Morales has been ruling since January 2006 and his popularity is changing every day. Since August 2006 people have been involved in debates to rewrite the Asamblea Constituyente (national assembly to rewrite the constitution).
It is still exciting to find out how it all will go, when they finish and rewrite this constitution.
Evo Morales has good connections with Cuba and Venezuela and says he does not want to have a lot to do with the USA. This last part is difficult: Bolivia depends on foreign aid, as that of the USA. So the question is if it will do any good to the Bolivian economy, if certain trade agreements are not renewed with the USA.
At the moment it is quiet in Bolivia. There are less strikes and protests than before, but still there are certain areas who do not agree with the president, its government and there are certain areas of the country and also certain groups (especially the high middleclass and the higher class) that are waiting in excitement to see what will happen to this new government.