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Bolivia, named after independence fighter Simon BOLIVAR, broke away from Spanish rule in 1825; much of its subsequent history has consisted of a series of nearly 200 coups and countercoups. Democratic civilian rule was established in 1982, but leaders have faced difficult problems of deep-seated poverty, social unrest, and illegal drug production.
In December 2005, Bolivians elected Movement Toward Socialism leader Evo MORALES president – by the widest margin of any leader since the restoration of civilian rule in 1982 – after he ran on a promise to change the country’s traditional political class and empower the nation’s poor majority. However, since taking office, his controversial strategies have exacerbated racial and economic tensions between the Amerindian populations of the Andean west and the non-indigenous communities of the eastern lowlands.
15-64 years: 60.7% (male 3,014,419/female 3,129,942)
65 years and over: 4.6% (male 207,792/female 261,904) (2011 est.)
conventional short form: Bolivia
local long form: Republica de Bolivia
local short form: Bolivia
geographic coordinates: 16 30 S, 68 09 W
time difference: UTC-4 (1 hour ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
note: Sucre (constitutional capital)
over 3,047 m: 4
2,438 to 3,047 m: 5
1,524 to 2,437 m: 5
914 to 1,523 m: 6 (2012)
Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America. Following a disastrous economic crisis during the early 1980s, reforms spurred private investment, stimulated economic growth, and cut poverty rates in the 1990s. The period 2003-05 was characterized by political instability, racial tensions, and violent protests against plans – subsequently abandoned – to export Bolivia’s newly discovered natural gas reserves to large northern hemisphere markets.
In 2005, the government passed a controversial hydrocarbons law that imposed significantly higher royalties and required foreign firms then operating under risk-sharing contracts to surrender all production to the state energy company, which was made the sole exporter of natural gas. The law also required that the state energy company regain control over the five companies that were privatized during the 1990s – a process that is still underway.
In 2006, higher earnings for mining and hydrocarbons exports pushed the current account surplus to about 12% of GDP and the government’s higher tax take produced a fiscal surplus after years of large deficits. Debt relief from the G8 – announced in 2005 – also has significantly reduced Bolivia’s public sector debt burden. Private investment as a share of GDP, however, remains among the lowest in Latin America, and inflation reached double-digit levels in 2007.
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