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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Bolivia is a landlocked country that is a place of many contrasts. It is the poorest nation in South America, yet it is rich in natural resources. It is the highest, most rugged, and most isolated country in the southern hemisphere. It has some of the coldest and hottest weather on the planet and can be among the windiest, driest, and most swampy of places. More than 60 per cent of the population is indigenous, the highest in South America. There are many other interesting facts about Bolivia.

Geography

The country hasn’t always been landlocked. It lost Litoral, a coastal department, to Chile in 1879 in the War of the Pacific, which was fought between Chile on the one side and Bolivia and Peru on the other. The Andes Mountains run through the western part of the country, while the east includes part of the Amazon Basin and its rainforests. In the southwest is the largest salt flat in the world. La Paz is the highest capital city in the world, situated 11,900 feet above sea level. The country has the world’s highest navigable lake, Lago Titicaca, at 12,500 feet.

Climate

Bolivia experiences large differences in temperatures between regions, but not so much between seasons in the one location. Despite its tropical setting, temperatures in the highlands can fall below freezing at night and snow is common in many areas. In the lower altitudes, winter temperatures can be quite pleasant. The rainforest area is very hot and wet for much of the year. La Paz, in the highlands, has an average maximum temperature range through the year of just 63 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit and an average minimum of 34 to 43 degrees.

History

The region has been constantly inhabited for over 2,000 years, initially by the Aymara people. It was part of the Inca Empire which ruled much of the western part of the continent from the thirteenth century. The Spanish conquered the area in the sixteenth century and it was known as Upper Peru or Charcas. The city of Potosi became a wealthy mining area and had the largest population in the New World at one time. After fighting the Spaniards for 16 years, the region became a republic in 1825 named after Simon Bolivar, its first president. The country has suffered frequently from political instability and economic problems throughout its history.

People

Most of the population is Amerindian, including about 30 per cent who speak Quechua and 25 per cent who use the Aymara language. Around 30 per cent are Mestizo, who are of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry, and 10 per cent are Caucasian, mainly of Spanish descent. The main religion is Roman Catholic, the faith of 78 per cent of residents. Two-thirds of the population live in poverty. Half have Spanish as their first language. About 90 per cent of children go to school at some stage but often only for a year or even less. Illiteracy is still high, especially in rural areas.

Economy

The country has the lowest level of economic output per head of all South American nations, despite plentiful natural resources. Inflation reached 14,000 per cent in the early 1980s. This was followed by a huge fall in the price of tin in the 1980s, its main mineral, and the withdrawal of western financial support after the end of the Cold War in 1991. There have been plenty of economic reforms, including private ownership and encouragement of foreign investment but this has often been overshadowed by protest against reform, political instability, and racial tension. Agriculture remains the largest industry although only 3 per cent of the land is arable and permanent crops take up just 0.2 per cent.

Government and politics

Bolivia is a republic with a long history of political unrest. Between independence in 1825 and 1981, it had 193 coups and countercoups, with each new government lasting an average of 10 months. Relative political stability in recent decades is often attributed to Victor Paz Estenssoro, who ran for president eight times, succeeding four times. His intermittent presidency stretched over a period of more than 37 years.

Transport and communication

Accessibility varies due to the country’s terrain. This makes flying a popular option. Bolivia had 1,009 airports in 2008, ranking it seventh in the world, although only 16 of these have paved runways. The country has 2,200 miles of rail, and 39,000 miles of roads but just 6 per cent of them are paved. It has more than 6,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways, putting it fourteenth in the world, plus the use of the Paraguay River to the Atlantic Ocean. Bolivia has no shortage of television stations, boasting 48 of them, and has 251 radio stations. It has more than three million mobile phones among its population of 10 million.

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