Bolivia News & Current Events

Updated May 3, 2023 | Infoplease Staff

News and Current Events

Get caught up with the most important historic and current events in Bolivia.

Bolivia's First Indigenous President Asserts the Rights of the Native Population

Bolivian Indian activist Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) won 54% of the vote in Dec. 2005 presidential elections, becoming the country's first indigenous president.

He carried out two of his three major initiatives in 2006: nationalizing Bolivia's energy industry, which is expected to double the country's annual revenues; and forming in August a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, which will ensure greater rights for indigenous Bolivians.

His third major initiative is to legalize the growing of coca, which many Bolivians consider an integral part of their culture. In July 2007, Morales announced plans to nationalize the country's railways, which for the past 10 years have been run by investors from Chile and the United States. His controversial coca policy, his plans to limit foreign investment, and his close ties with the leftist governments of Venezuela and Cuba have predictably antagonized the United States. Morales has referred to himself as the “United States' biggest nightmare.”

On Dec. 9, 2007, Morales presented a new constitution to congress. The new chapter, which will give indigenous people more rights, recognize 37 official languages, and grant indigenous communities autonomy, was approved by 164 of the 255 constituent assembly members. The opposition boycotted the meeting, however, claiming that the document is illegal because it was not approved by the required two-thirds majority. Regardless of the opposition, the government plans to submit the document to a referendum in 2008.

On May 4, 2008, at least one person died and many were injured when clashes broke out in the Santa Cruz province after a poll was held in opposition to President Morale's government. The government strongly disapproved of the prosposed referendum, which would give more autonomy to the Santa Cruz province, including the ability to elect its own legislature, raise taxes for public works, and create its own police force.

On Aug. 10, 2008, President Morales won a recall referendum with 63.5 percent of voters supporting his administration. The recall vote was an unsuccessful effort to remove Morales from office by Podemos, an opposition party—Morales has garnered criticism from some lowland provinces for his policies, including the acceptance of financing from Venezuela.

On Sept. 10, 2008, President Morales ordered the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, to leave the country, accusing Goldberg of "conspiring against democracy" and encouraging rebel groups who were protesting in eastern Bolivia.

In November, 2008, relations between Bolivia and the United States deteriorated further—the U.S. suspended duty-free access for Bolivian exports and President Morales suspended U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operations, accusing its agents of espionage.

A new constitution that extended the rights of the indigenous majority, granted increased autonomy to the states, and allowed the president to run for a second five-year term was passed in a national referendum in January 2009 despite widespread protests.

In December, Morales was elected to a second term, taking more than 60% of the vote, well ahead of his conservative opponent.

Constitutional Court Rules That Morales Can Seek Third Term

In the spring of 2013, Bolivia's Constitutional Court ruled that President Evo Morales could run for a third term in the 2014 elections. Even though the country's constitution only allows two consecutive terms, the court ruled that Morales's first term would not be counted because it predated Bolivia's current constitution, which was amended in 2009. The 2009 constitution limited both the president and vice-president to two consecutive terms. Opposition and critics said the ruling proved that the government controlled the court.

In May 2013, President Morales expelled the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID). Morales had threated to expel the agency for some time, accusing it in the past of funding groups that opposed his policies such as a planned highway through a rainforest preserve. A state news agency in Bolivia reported that the USAID was "accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations." USAID, which had nine American employees in Bolivia, had already reduced its presence in the country. In 2007, USAID had an $89 million budget for programs in Bolivia. However, the budget had been decreased to $17 million in 2013.

Meanwhile, on May 16, 2013, hundreds of teachers, miners and other workers marched into Bolivia's capital. It was the 11th day of demonstrations for higher pensions. Protestors asked for their pensions, which ranged from $21 to $28 a month, to be doubled. Protestors attempted to take over the plaza where the government was located and miners set off dynamite. Police fought off protestors with tear gas.

Morales Embroiled in Controversy Involving NSA Leaker Snowden

Bolivia found itself involved in the international controversy surrounding the future of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about U.S. domestic surveillance to several news organizations in June 2013. President Morales offered asylum to Snowden.

Bolivia was one of about 20 countries from which Snowden sought asylum. On July 3, the plane carrying Morales from Russia back to Bolivia was diverted because several European nations, believing that Snowden was on board the plane, refused Morales access to their airspace. The move created a diplomatic furor, and Morales called the incident an "affront to all [Latin] America," and the vice president, Alvaro Garcia, said Morales was "being kidnapped by imperialism."

France apologized the day after the incident. Morales's regional allies, including presidents from Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela, met in a show of solidarity and demanded an explanation about the incident.

Morales Wins Third Consecutive Term

President Evo Morales won a third consecutive term on Oct. 12, 2014, taking 61% of the vote. His closest opponent in the election was the Democratic Unity Party's Samuel Doria Medina who received 24.5%. During his victory speech, Morales said, "This victory is the victory of the anti-colonialists and the anti-imperialists."

Morales dedicated his third term re-election to Hugo Chávez. Critics expressed fear that Morales would follow Chávez's lead and attempt to stay in office past 2020. The Constitution currently bars him from seeking a fourth term, but last year Bolivia's Constitutional Court ruled that Morales could run for a third term in the 2014 elections. Many suspect his party would seek another change to the Constitution, allowing him to run again like Chávez did in Venezuela.

Indeed, a referendum was set for Feb. 21, 2016, for voters to decide if Bolivia's Constitution should be changed to allow Morales to seek another term in 2020. The country's first indigenous president, Morales is seen as a successful leader who has reduced poverty and given a voice to Bolivia's indigenous people.

However, days before the Feb. 2016 referendum, news broke that Morales had fathered a child out of wedlock with a young woman in 2007, a year before he became president. The most damaging part of the scandal was evidence that the young woman, Gabriela Zapata, had benefited financially due to her relationship with Morales. For example, the company where she works as a top executive has received government contracts worth over $500 million.

A few days after the report, Morales admitted to the affair and having fathered the child who died shortly after birth. As for relations to Zapata, Morales said, "After 2007, I cut all ties." However, a Bolivian news agency published a 2015 photo of Morales and Zapata embracing at a carnival. The scandal torpedoed Morales's hopes for run for a fourth term as voters narrowly rejected the referendum.

How Bolivia’s Government Kept Inflation Under Control

In December 2022, many South American countries are suffering from runaway inflation. Bolivia, with an inflation rate of just over 3%, appears to be the exception. In fact, Bolivia has the lowest inflation in the region.

This is due to several government policies, including a fixed currency exchange rate. Holding the rate steady stabilizes prices, improves consumer confidence, and makes imports cheaper.

On the other hand, this makes it more difficult for domestic producers to sell their wares.

Bolivia is also helping to insulate its citizens against rising fuel and food prices by heavily subsidizing both. Bolivia is a fuel producer, and the state has a monopoly on fuel sales, so it can keep prices low for consumers.

Some argue, however, that these measures aren’t sustainable in the long term.

Source: Foreign Policy

Peru-Bolivia Border Blocked by Protesters

More than 20 people have been killed in protests along the Peru-Bolivia border, and parts of the border are blocked off from cross-border travel.

In December 2022, former president Pedro Castillo was impeached after he attempted to dissolve Parliament. Dina Boluarte replaced Castillo. She is Peru’s first female president.

Protesters are calling for her resignation.

Source: BBC News

Dispute Between Chile and Bolivia over Silala Settled by ICG Ruling

The International Court of Justice has ruled that the Silala River is an international waterway, ending a dispute between Bolivia and Chile.

The judge ruled that:

  • Chile does not need Bolivia’s permission to use the river
  • Both above-ground and below-ground water flows from Bolivia to Chile, so Bolivia has the right to maintain or dismantle existing canals
  • Both countries must cooperate in protecting the waterway

Source: MercoPress

Bluegrace Energy Empowers Indigenous Communities and Launches Environmental Initiative

Bluegrace Energy has launched several initiatives aimed at empowering indigenous communities in Bolivia and protecting the environment.

In Sepember 2022, the company signed a cooperation agreement with CIDOB (the Confederation of Nations and Indigenous Peoples of the Chaco, East, and Amazon of Bolivia). Bluegrace also agreed to deliver food support to indigenous families in need, and water to community fire brigades.

The company’s Adopt a Forest campaign aims to protect Bolivia’s 20.5 million acres of forest.

Source: LeLezard

Amid Protests, Bolivia Sets a Date for a New Census

Bolivian president Luis Arce has set a date for a new census. The census will take place on March 23, 2024. The last Bolivian census took place in 2012.

Before the announcement, the La Paz region had been rocked by protests by people who feared that a new census would be delayed until after the 2025 elections.

A census is needed to update spending allocations, as well as the number of seats to which the La Paz region would be allocated in Parliament.

The protests left four people dead and 170 injured.

Source: France 24

In Bolivia, Literacy Training Makes a Big Difference

In 2022, more than 20,000 Bolivian seniors learned to read through the government-sponsored “Bolivia Reads” literacy program.

In 1995, Bolivia had a 23% illiteracy rate. In 2022, that rate is only 2.7%, thanks to the program.

Source: SFGate

Bolivia and Beyond

Bolivia is a fascinating country, with breathtakingly beautiful geography and unparalleled cultural diversity.

Would you like to learn more about Bolivia and its neighbors? Check out our treasure trove of articles about Latin America and the Caribbean.

See also Encyclopedia: BoliviaU.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Bolivia.

National Institute of Statistics (INE) (In Spanish Only) .