The Bolivian population (7.957. 000 residents In 1998, according to one estimate) continues to grow rapidly, with an average annual increase in the nineties, equal to 24 ‰. Over 40 % of the population is made up of natives, among which the Aymará and Quechua predominate, who mostly live in rural settlements, located in the region of Lake Titicaca, in the central plateau and in the high valleys of the Eastern Cordillera. The remaining population, made up, if we exclude a small minority of Amazonian Indians, of Mestizos (30 %) and whites (28 %), resides largely in the cities, where 62 is now concentrated% of the total (1997). The urbanization rate is fairly high and the urban network, made up of medium-sized cities, is clearly dominated by the de facto capital, La Paz (the capital by law is Lucre), the true political-administrative hub of the country and the only urban center with metropolitan features. Among the other cities, Santa Cruz de la Sierra (almost 800,000 residents in 1993), the main center of the eastern part of the Bolivia, which has experienced particularly intense and dynamic economic development, has assumed increasing importance. For Bolivia 2005, please check ehealthfacts.org.
Since the mid-1980s an austerity and structural adjustment plan for the economy has been in place, aimed at getting Bolivia out of a chronic situation of underdevelopment: it is estimated that about 40 % of the population still lives below the threshold. of poverty and that it is difficult to have access to basic social and health services (45 % of the population does not benefit from drinking water, the illiteracy rate is 17 % and only a quarter of the population has followed higher level studies). In the early 1990s the government tried to implement a rigor-oriented economic restructuring program, which achieved mixed results, with high social costs.
The inflation rate, which was very high until the early 1990s, then fell to around 10 %, the foreign debt began to decline and significant increases in production concerned the agricultural and construction sectors; but on the other hand there has been an increase in the trade deficit, public debt amounts to almost 60 % of GDP and the Bolivian economy is still heavily dependent on international aid. Furthermore, a fraction that is difficult to quantify, but certainly not insignificant, of GDP derives from the export of coca, of which it is estimated that Bolivia still satisfies 30 % of world demand, despite the program to reduce narcoculture supported, even if less generously. than in the past, from the United States.
In 1993 the economic restructuring plan involved a downsizing of the workforce, with massive layoffs in the mining sector, which, in addition to provoking social protest movements, resulted in the conversion of many of the newly unemployed into coca growers.
The economic physiognomy of Bolivia is still substantially linked to the agricultural sector, where 47 find employment% of the population; the traditional subsistence agriculture, practiced in mountain areas, is flanked by speculation agriculture, mechanized and rationally managed, oriented to the production of cotton, sugar cane and soy, crops that are concentrated in the Santa Cruz region; in recent years this area has been the scene of an agricultural colonization that has also affected the livestock sector, with the creation of technologically advanced companies. The industrial sector is still very fragile, not very diversified and largely linked to mining activities, which mainly supply zinc, natural gas and oil. A crucial step for the economic development of Bolivia is represented by the improvement of the communication infrastructures, which are very inadequate to the needs of the country.
The greater institutional stability and the succession of regularly elected governments (in line with the political trends of the whole of Latin America in the 1990s) marked important steps on the way to the democratization of Bolivia, but did not yet offer a solution to the most serious problems, namely the predominant role of the armed forces in the political life of the country and the dependence of the Bolivian economy on the production and trade of drugs.
The presidential elections of 1989 were won by J. Paz Zamora, of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), thanks to an agreement with the former dictator, General H. Bánzer Suárez, leader of the Alianza Democrática Nacionalista (ADN). The new administration, in which the most important departments were attributed to members of the ADN, continued, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, the austerity policy of the previous government and tried to stimulate foreign investment by starting a privatization program, opposed by the unions united in the powerful Bolivian Central Obrera (COB). The measures taken, completely similar to those of other Latin American countries in the same years, achieved a rapid reduction in the rate of inflation, but at the same time increased the inequality of wealth and created new unemployment, especially in the mining sector (already proven by crisis of the international tin market of the mid-1980s). Paz Zamora also resumed the programs against the cultivation and marketing of coca, launched in 1986 with the support of the United States and carried out essentially by the Unidad Móvil de Patrullaje Rural (UMOPAR), a special department of the army created in 1988 and endowed with substantial funding.
The problem of coca cultivation continued to represent the most important political issue for the ruling class and for the life of the country. In fact, since the 1970s-1980s, a parallel economy had developed in Bolivia, as well as in Peru and Colombia, linked to the international drug trafficking, difficult to control by the state apparatuses, and a source of corruption at all levels of public administration. However, the fact that a significant part of the gross domestic product was connected with drug trafficking and 50% of the imports were paid in narcodollars jeopardized the real possibilities of action of the government, especially since the cultivation of coca represented practically the only source of livelihood for a part of the Bolivian peasants, particularly in the region of Chaparé. Furthermore, the plans agreed with the Washington government since the late 1980s, which had involved the intervention of the US military, had provoked protests from a section of public opinion that saw in this a blatant violation of national sovereignty. The economic incentives offered by Paz Zamora to farmers who changed cultivation and the non-extradition to the United States, promised to drug traffickers who decided to collaborate with justice, did not have great effects;
In the general elections of June 1993, the moderate Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) prevailed; with the support of the populists of the Unión Cívica Solidaridad (UCS) and the Movimiento Bolivia Libre (MBL) the MNR brought its secretary, G. Sánchez de Lozada, to the presidency, who resumed the policy of cuts in social spending and accelerated privatization. Like his predecessors, Sánchez de Lozada faced popular opposition to austerity measures, which intersected with the resumption of the UMOPAR program to uproot coca plantations. The presence of the army in the Cocharé valley sparked protests across the country from farmers, the COB and teachers, protests that ceased only when the government decided, in September 1994, to withdraw the armed forces from the region and to support the locally organized crop conversion programs. Following a general strike, called by the COB in March1995 against the privatization of the school system and the trade union restrictions imposed on the teaching staff, the government proclaimed a state of siege which lasted until October. At the same time, disregarding the previous agreements, it resumed the occupation of the villages by UMOPAR which caused numerous victims among the peasant population, while new collusions of public officials with drug trafficking were discovered. Opposition to government measures continued in all sectors, from health to public education, to transport, until peasants protest marches against the introduction of a new agricultural law in September-October 1996.
On the international level, Bolivia’s traditional search for an outlet to the Pacific was partially satisfied by an agreement concluded in 1993 with Peru, which granted Bolivia facilities in the use of the port of Ilo until 2091, while similar facilities they were granted in 1995 by Chile for the port of Arica. Furthermore, in January 1997, a free trade agreement reached the previous October with the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR) entered into force.
The weakness of the government in the face of increasing social instability caused the defeat of the majority party in the general elections of June 1997, which saw the affirmation of ADN. Bánzer Suárez, responsible for one of the bloodiest phases of the dictatorship in Bolivia between 1971 and 1978, was elected President of the Republic by the Congress in August. Backed by a coalition between ADN, MIR, UCS and the populist Conciencia de Patria (CODEPA), Bánzer pledged to push ahead with economic reforms and support US anti-drug trafficking policy. That commitment led his administration to confront hard COB, which he proclaimed in 1998several general strikes, often resulting in clashes between demonstrators and police forces, and with coca growers, against a new drug plan presented by the government in January 1998. The first months of 1999 were also marked by strong social tensions: demonstrations and strikes followed one another throughout the country against the government’s economic policy.