Bolivia, deriving its name from the statesman and dictator Bolivar, is a republican state in western South America,; from 8° to 23° S. lat., and from 57° 30' to 73° W. long., and enclosed by Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, the Argentine Republic, and Chili. The Argentine frontier is undetermined, and the coast provinces were added to Chili in the Peruvian war of 1879-83. Area, 438,175 sq. miles. Pop. nearly 2-1/2 millions. Formerly called Upper Peru, and being part of the viceroyalty of Buenos Ayres, Bolivia declared its independence, and adopted its new name in 1825. The constitutior prepared by Bolivar, which it then adopted, has since been greatly modified. Its history has been a series of useless revolutions. The terms of peace with Chili not only deprived Bolivia of its sea-board, but also of its stores of guano and nitre, and included a heavy war indemnity. The state is divided into fourteen provinces; and the seat of the government, formerly at La Paz, is now at Sucre. The chief towns are La Paz (26,000), Cochabamba (14,705), Sucre (12,000), Potosi (11,000).
The executive government is entrusted to a President (constitutionally to be elected every four years - a provision seldom attended to), two Vice-Presidents, and two Chambers - the Senate and the House of Representatives - elected by universal suffrage. The ministry is divided into five departments. The Andes proper no longer form part of Bolivia, but are the western boundary; but it contains the lofty plateau of Oruro, averaging 13,000 ft. in height, and having 150 miles breadth, and includes the volcanoes of Sahama, Illampu, and Illimani, over 21,000 ft. high. Of the two parts of the great plateau, the northern is the more populous, owing to the presence of Lake Titicaca, and of well-watered valleys around it. Lake Titicaca has an area of 3,200 sq. miles, and is 720 ft. deep, and contains several islands, the largest of which was the original home of the Incas. Lake Titicaca is connected with the salt lake and swamps of Paria by the Rio Desaguaders, 160 miles long; and to the west is the Laguna de Soiposa, which is covered in the dry season with a crust of salt. The southern table-land is a desert, where the streams alternately flood the pampas in the rainy season, and lose themselves in the sand in the wet one. On the north, the Cordillera Real system, with the peaks of Illimani (21,300 ft.) and Sorata (24,800 ft.) reaches above the line of perpetual snow, while in the east it forms a series of terraces, which sink gently to the plains of Eastern Bolivia, which belong in the north to the basin of the Amazon, and in the south to that of La Plata, both of which rivers have their feeders in this district, the Rio Grande, which, uniting with the Beni, forms the Madeira, and the latter the Pilcomayo, which through the Gran Chaco forms the Paraguay. The plateau of Titicaca is the highest in the world except that of Thibet, and yet unlike this which has only mountainous sheep-runs, the former has populous cities, bounteous crops and harvests, and numerous herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Although it is within the tropics, its variety of elevations gives Bolivia a great range of climates and productions. The districts over 11,000 ft. are called punas, and the region of snow and ice over 12,500 ft. the puna brava, The climate of this region, owing to the rarity of the atmosphere and to the winds, is cold and dry but healthy, with scanty vegetation of coarse grasses, barley, and potatoes. The rainy season is from November to March. The heads of the valleys descending to the lowlands vary in climate from temperate to sub-tropical, and the productions have a corresponding variation from wheat and maize to tropical fruits, The plains below the 5,000 ft. limit lie east of the inner Cordillera, and are called yungas. These are well-watered, and have a luxuriant vegetation, with fine forests in the north and wide savannahs in the south. Most tropical productions are to be found here, and the copal and caoutchouc trees abound. The overflowing rivers and swamps of the north give rise to fevers. The rainfall is uncertain. The alpaca, guanaco, llama, vicuna, and the chinchilla are abundant in the punas. The fauna of the east is the same as that of Brazil, and includes jaguars, pumas, tapirs, and other wild animals. Besides being valued for their skins, the three first-named animals are useful beasts of burden. Chinchilla skins are a valuable article of commerce, and the vicuna yields a long, fine wool. The highlands abound in sheep, and the lowlands in herds of cattle.
But most attention has been given to developing the mines of Bolivia, and although transport is difficult, great profit attends the working of the gold, silver, copper, and tin. Potosi, which is said to have produced since 1545 over six hundred millions sterling, still produces 2,800,000 oz.; Oruro the same, and Huanchaca more than twice that amount. The silver mines in all are calculated to produce over £3,000,000 a year. Gold mining is abandoned, but a little is washed out of the rivers at the foot of the Cordillera Real. The copper mines are not much worked. Lead and quicksilver are found to some extent along with the silver.
The difficulties of transport present great obstacles to foreign trade, but there is now some prospect of railways being largely used to enable Bolivia to have her own Pacific trade. The great need for the country is a stable government and a steady credit. The present amount of the public debt is unknown, and is variously estimated, and of the revenue two-thirds is expended on the standing army. Much attention and capital are being bestowed on the coca and cinchona plantations, which seem to promise well.
The population of Rolivia is much mixed, and about one-third of it live in the cities. Besides half-castes, and descendants of the former negro slaves - slavery was abolished in 1836 - there are the Indians, who are divided into three classes - the civilised Indians, who are descended from the Incas, and have 50 per cent. of pure blood; the semi-civilised Indians of the north-east llanos, who retain part of the 17th century civilisation of the Jesuits; and the wild Indians, who, though hating the Spanish race, are comparatively harmless. It is to the half-breeds of Spanish and Indian blood that Bolivia chiefly owes her independence. The religion is Roman Catholic, but tolerance of other religions prevails. There are four dioceses. Of three universities, two are for law. Only 5 per cent. of the children go to school, and literature is at a low ebb.