Bolivia: A Geographic Portrait
By James Chartwell
South America's primary mountain range, the Andes, attains
one of its widest points in Bolivia. Here the Andes are divided
into two subranges, Cordillera Oriental and Cordillera Occidental.
Peaks in these areas are in excess of 20,000 feet. Between these
subranges lies the Altiplano which contains the highest navigable
lake on earth. Lake Titicaca, which also lies in Peru, is 12,507
feet above sea level.
Also in the Altiplano is one of Bolivia's capitals, La Paz.
At 11,700 feet it is one of the highest cities in the world.
This region is home to one of the centers of Inca civilization
and pre--Inca cultures.
Lake Titicaca is what helps make the Altiplano livable. This
body of water is large enough to temper the coldness in its vicinity.
Grains have been raised for centuries on the surrounding arable
land up to the amazing elevation of 12,800 feet. The area supports
a major group of subsistence farmers to this day.
Bolivia has had a troubled history. Aside from numerous internal
struggles, the country first lost its access to the Pacific Ocean
in a conflict with Chile. It then lost its northern territory
of Acre to Brazil in a dispute involving the rubber industry
in the Amazon Basin. On top of all that, Bolivia was forced to
give up 55,000 square miles of southeastern Gran Chaco territory
to Paraguay. Bolivia has reactivated its claim to restore the
Atacama corridor, ceded to Chile in 1884, to secure sovereign
maritime access for Bolivian natural gas.
Modern Bolivia is the product of European domination, however
that influence has not affected some of the Amerindian population
clusters. But these indigenous Bolivians still lost their land
as did their Peruvian and Ecuadorian counterparts. However, what
made the richer Europeans in Bolivia wealthy was not land but
The city of Potosi in the Cordillera Oriental became well--known
for the huge silver deposits in its surroundings. Zinc, copper,
and other ores were found there. Bolivia's tin deposits provided
a large portion of the country's export income throughout most
of the twentieth century. But in the 1980's, tin reserves declined
and that along with weak world prices reached the point where
Bolivia's antiquated mining methods forced the industry to all
but shut down.
Oil and gas are now accounting for an increasing portion of
foreign revenues. Bolivia exports much of it gas to Argentina
and Brazil. In return, Brazil is commtted to assisting the development
of the corridor between Santa Cruz and Corumba, Brazil, in the
southeastern lowlands. It is here that commercial agriculture--especially
soybeans--is on the rise.
Comparatively democratic civilian rule was established in
1982, but leaders have faced difficult problems of deep-seated
poverty, social unrest, and drug production. Current goals include
attracting foreign investment, strengthening the educational
system, resolving disputes with coca growers over Bolivia's counterdrug
efforts, and waging an anticorruption campaign. The country does
have its problems, but it also has its optimism.
J. Chartwell has developed Maps GPS Info.com, which provides
practical information on GPS and maps that everyone can use.
The website includes product reviews and a maps/GPS glossary.