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A Concise History of Bolivia

A worthy, if ponderous, read and as the nice bartender from Nougatine (my favorite bar for eavesdropping) said, “That looks like some heavy stuff.” I couldn’t have asked for a better conversation starter. After 30mins and a fair amount of a cucumber martini (read: gin infused with cucumber and a squeeze of lemon) it was time to close the book and listen to Jean George chat up two young Asian women next to me.

Back to the book...this is a great book for getting an overview of the country of Bolivia and how it came about. It gives a timely context to some of the incidences and attitudes described by Harry Franck in Vagabonding Down the Andes. I skimmed quite a bit though – the only place I could read it without my eyelids drooping (besides a bar with a gin martini) was on the subway which allowed for about 15 minutes of quality reading time at a shot.

I learned about how the conquering Spaniards embraced the existing Indian social structure to their advantage and about the war over guano which lost Bolivia its ocean access. And then there’s silver and tin. It seems that after colonialism and before the cold war, politics consisted of a bunch of hot air where each party promised everything, sucked the country dry and then either overstayed their welcome to the post or ran off to be diplomat somewhere far, far away when things started changing out of their favor. Not like ours is much better at times.

It’s crazy – loosely connected communities that have been successfully organized by an Indian social structure for ages (I have no idea how long) gets taken over, the new regime incorporates the Indian social structure into the colonial social structure, and finally centuries later the old colonial/indian hybrid social structure is permanently abolished through more politics and now you have a country with no past model for a functioning social structure and lots of military rule.

After the 50s there was a peasant revolution and the indigenous, bottom-of-the-rung farmers finally started getting a say in politics and some land to boot. Some changes that took place for the farmers were the disassembly of the hacienda system and the right to bear arms, but there still ensued another 50 years or so of military rule. Now there have been at least two bilingual (indigenous—Amayran or Quechua—don’t know which and Spanish) candidates in power. Ever so slowly the country has moved from military rule towards some sort of multi-party democracy with most, if not all, people being recognized. The level of education has risen and although still high, the infant mortality has dropped significantly.

Bolivia is a country with a rich history and I’m looking forward to meeting its people. A place’s government does not necessarily reflect everything or even anything of its people.

Amazon Link: A Concise History of Bolivia

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