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Bolivia , officially Republic of Bolivia, republic (2005 est. pop. 8,858,000), 424,162 sq mi (1,098,581 sq km), W South America. One of the two inland countries of South America, Bolivia is shut in from the Pacific in the W by Chile and Peru; in the E and N it borders on Brazil, in the SE on Paraguay, and in the S on Argentina. Sucre is the constitutional capital and seat of the judiciary, but La Paz is the largest city, political and commercial focus of the nation, and the administrative capital and seat of government. Bolivia Shopping for Gifts, Food, Travel, Tourism, Souvenirs, Clothing, Jewelry, Shop Bolivia.

Bolivia presents a sharp contrast between high, bleak mountains and plateaus in the west and lush, tropical rain forests in the east. In the southeast it merges into the semiarid plains of the Gran Chaco . The Andes mountain system reaches its greatest width in Bolivia. Two cordilleras, the western one tracing the border with Chile and the eastern running north and south across the center of the country, are divided by a high plateau ( altiplano ), most of it 23,000 ft (3,660 m) above sea level—barren, windswept, and segmented by mountain spurs.

Despite the harsh conditions the altiplano is the population center of Bolivia. Many sections for want of drainage have brackish lakes and salt beds, notably the extensive Salar de Uyuni in the south. In the north are Lake Titicaca , which Bolivia shares with Peru, and Lake Poopó . This region, world famous for its breathtaking scenery, was the home of one of the great pre-Columbian civilizations. Well known are the ruins of Tiahuanaco .

The eastern mountains, consisting of three major ranges, rise to the cold, forbidding heights of the Puna plateau (as high as 16,000 ft/4,880 m) and in the north to the snowcapped peaks of Illimani (21,184 ft/6,457 m) and Illampú (21,276 ft/6,485 m). In these mountains lies the source of the exploited wealth of Bolivia—its minerals. Tin is by far the most important product, but silver was once the chief metal, and tungsten, copper, wolframite, bismuth, antimony, zinc, lead, iron, and gold are also mined. The names of some mining towns, notably Potosí and Oruro, are world famous.

From the mountains, headstreams cut eastward, carving deep gorges and fingerlike valleys. In these valleys are some of Bolivia's garden spots—Sucre, Cochabamba, and Tarija . Santa Cruz de la Sierra and La Paz are the two main cities of tropical Bolivia. In the eastern foothills headstreams gather to form the Beni, the Guaiporé, and the Mamoré (tributaries of the Madeira, in Brazil), which flow through the torrid, humid yungas , covered with dense rain forests, and inhabited mainly by indigenous South Americans. The region is the most fertile in the country, yielding cacao, coffee, and tropical fruits, and in the early 20th cent. was a major source of wild rubber and quinine. Some of the more accessible valleys, with luxuriant scenery and a pleasantly warm climate, have become popular Bolivian resort areas.

Of the indigenous people, about 30% are Quechua and 25% are Aymara, but the citizens of European descent (some 15% of the people) or mixed European and native ancestry (about 30% of the population) have historically maintained economic, political, and social hegemony. Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara are Bolivia's official languages. A few indigenous groups have remained isolated from European culture. Most of the population is Roman Catholic, although many people of indigenous descent retain the substance of their pre-Christian beliefs. There is also an evangelical Protestant minority.

Despite the importance of its tin, silver, and other mines and its large reserves of natural gas and crude oil, Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in Latin America and still lives by a subsistence economy. A large part of the population makes its living from the illegal growing of coca, the source of cocaine; a government eradication program begun in the late 1990s has depressed the economy in those areas where coca-growing was important. Soybeans, coffee, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, and potatoes are the other major crops; timber is also important. Industry is limited to mining and smelting, petroleum refining, food processing, and small-scale manufacturing. The tin industry has received increasing competition from SE Asia, and as a result several tin mines have closed. Although Bolivia has much hydroelectric potential, it is underutilized.

Bolivia's mineral wealth furnishes the bulk of its exports, although natural gas, soybeans, and crude petroleum are also important. Petroleum products, plastics, paper, aircraft and parts, foods, automobiles, and consumer goods are imported. Brazil, Argentina, the United States, and Peru are the chief trading partners. Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.

Plans to export natural gas led to new demonstrations against the government beginning in Sept., 2003. As the demonstrations grew and continued into October, the government lost support in Congress and the president resigned and went into exile. Vice President Carlos Diego Mesa Gisbert, a former journalist, succeeded to the presidency, and subsequently won approval for exporting natural gas in a July, 2004, referendum. However, increases in fuel prices, autonomy for Santa Cruz prov., and other issues sparked a series of demonstrations in early 2005 that threatened to plunge Bolivia into chaos. Mesa offered some concessions, but when some of the protests continued he offered to resign (Mar., 2005). Congress rejected his resignation, and Mesa, who remained popular with many Bolivians, attempt to rally his supporters.

Passage in May of an oil and gas taxation law, which became law without Mesa's signature when he failed to veto it as he had said he would, led to protests by labor and indigenous groups, who demanded the industry be nationalized, and unsettled the oil-rich south and east. Continuing demonstrations by supporters of nationalization and roadblocks that isolated Bolivia's major cities led Mesa to resign in June; Supreme Court president Eduardo Rodgríguez Veltzé became interim president. In July the congress scheduled new presidential and congressional elections for December, and also approved calling a constitutional assembly and holding a referendum on greater autonomy for Bolivia's departments. The December elections resulted in a solid victory for oppostion leader Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS). Morales, an opponent of the coca-eradication program, became the first Bolivian of indigenous birth to be elected president. The election also marked the beginning of increasing polarization between supporters of Morales, largely of indigenous descent and inhabitants of Bolivia's poorer western highlands, and his conservative opponents, largely of European descent and inhabitants of the wealthier eastern lowlands.

In May, 2006, Morales moved to nationalize the natural gas and oil industry, sparking anxieties in Argentina and Brazil, countries that were largely supportive of his presidency but were also Bolivia's major natural gas customers and investors. In August, however, the nationalization process was temporarily suspended because of a lack of resources on the part of Bolivia's state energy company. A move in September to nationalize Brazilian-owned oil and gas refineries without compensation was suspended after Brazil's government protested, but the refineries were sold to Bolivia in June, 2007. In Oct., 2006, the government signed new agreements with the foreign energy companies, but aspects of the nationalization still remained to be finalized.

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