Independence Day of Multinational State of Bolivia
Bolivia, country of west-central South America. Extending some 950 miles (1,500 km) north-south and 800 miles (1,300 km) east-west, Bolivia is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest and west by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru. Bolivia shares Lake Titicaca, the second largest lake in South America (after Lake Maracaibo), with Peru. The country has been landlocked since it lost its Pacific coast territory to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879–84), but agreements with neighbouring countries have granted it indirect access to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The constitutional capital is the historic city of Sucre, where the Supreme Court is established, but the administrative capital is La Paz, where the executive and legislative branches of government function.
Bolivia is traditionally regarded as a highland country. Although only one-third of its territory lies in the Andes Mountains, most of the nation’s largest cities are located there, and for centuries the highlands have attracted the nation’s largest amount of mining, commercial, and business investment. In the late 20th century, however, the demographic and economic landscape began to change as the eastern lowlands—particularly the department of Santa Cruz—developed rapidly.The country has a rich history. It was once the centre of the ancient Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) empire, and from the 15th to the early 16th century it was a part of the Inca empire. After the arrival of the conquistadores, Bolivia was subsumed within the Viceroyalty of Peru, and it provided Spain with immense wealth in silver.
Bolivia’s mountainous western region, which is one of the highest inhabited areas in the world, constitutes an important economic and political centre. There the Andes reach their greatest breadth and complexity. The system in Bolivia is dominated by two great parallel ranges. To the west along the border with Chile is the Cordillera Occidental, which contains numerous active volcanoes and the spectacular Uyuni Salt Flat; the cordillera is crowned by the republic’s highest peak, Mount Sajama, reaching an elevation of 21,463 feet (6,542 metres). To the east is the Cordillera Oriental, whose spectacular northern section near La Paz is called Cordillera Real (“Royal Range”). An impressive line of snowcapped peaks, some exceeding 20,000 feet (6,100 metres), characterize this northern section, which maintains an average elevation of more than 18,000 feet (5,500 metres) for more than 200 miles (320 km). Between these ranges lies the Altiplano (“High Plateau”), which extends from southern Peru through Bolivia to northern Argentina. The plateau is a relatively flat-floored depression about 500 miles (800 km) long and 80 miles (130 km) wide, lying at elevations between 12,000 and 12,500 feet (3,650 and 3,800 metres). To the north of the Cordillera Real is the Apolobamba range, bordered on the western slopes by lakes and protected areas where vicuñas, alpacas, and llamas thrive. Terraced fields built hundreds of years ago lie at the foothills of snow-covered peaks, which have been sacred to the Indians since ancient times.
The surface of the Altiplano is composed mostly of water- and wind-borne deposits from the bordering mountains, and it slopes gently southward, its evenness broken by occasional hills and ridges. The margins of the Altiplano are characterized by numerous spurs and interlocking alluvial fans (accumulations of silt, gravel, and other debris that were brought down from the mountains and that have spread out in the shape of a fan). In the middle of the Altiplano are the Titicaca and Poopó lakes and basins, which traditionally have been important agricultural, economic, and cultural areas.
From the high, snowcapped slopes of the Cordillera Real and the Apolobamba range, the descent to the eastern plains is extremely precipitous, plunging through a rainy and heavily forested belt of rugged terrain known as the Yungas—an Aymara word roughly translated as “Warm Lands” or “Warm Valleys.” The Yungas form the southern end of a region that extends along the eastern Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (where it is called the Alto Selva [“High Rainforest”]) and continues southeast through Bolivia as far as Santa Cruz. In Bolivia the name Yungas often refers to a smaller region northeast of La Paz, which, like the neighbouring region of Alto Beni (the upper basin of the Beni River north of Caranavi), is part of the larger Yungas region.
In southern Bolivia the Andes become much wider and are formed by a high, tilted block called the Puna, with west-facing escarpments and more gentle eastward slopes down to the plains. The Puna is broken up by the Valles, a system of fertile valleys and mountain basins that are generally larger and less confined than those in the Yungas. They lie at elevations mostly between 6,000 and 9,500 feet (1,800 and 2,900 metres) and are noted for their rich, varied agriculture and the so-called garden cities of Cochabamba, Sucre, and Tarija.
North and east of the Andes and Yungas is the Oriente region, an extension of the Amazon River basin that covers more than two-thirds of Bolivia. The vast area of the Oriente is composed of low alluvial plains (llanos), great swamps, flooded bottomlands, open savannas, and tropical forests. It supports the greatest variety of wildlife in the nation, as well as the largest population centre (Santa Cruz city) and the fastest-growing of Bolivia’s regional economies. In the extreme south is the Bolivian Chaco, which forms part of the Gran Chaco; it is a level area that varies strikingly with the seasons. During the rainy season it becomes a veritable swamp, but it is a hot semidesert during the remaining seven or eight months of the year. Northward from the Chaco the relief of the Santa Cruz department is somewhat more varied, exhibiting a gentle downward slope to the north. The Oriente includes much of the northern departments of Beni and Pando, where the low plains are covered by savanna and, in the far north, by expanses of tropical rainforest.
The rivers of Bolivia belong to three major systems—the Amazon tributaries in the northwest, north, and northeast, the Pilcomayo-Paraguay system in the south and southeast, and an isolated, inland-draining system centring on Lakes Titicaca and Poopó on the Altiplano in the west. The Uyuni Salt Flat is a smaller inland-draining basin nearby but separate from the Titicaca-Poopó system.
The great swampy and forested plains along the northeastward-flowing Beni and Mamoré rivers, which are headwaters of the Amazon River, contain several lakes and lagoons, some of them large, such as Lakes Rogagua and Rogoaguado. The Amazon headwaters cut deeply into the Andes; even La Paz in the far west—only a short journey from Lake Titicaca—is in the Amazon drainage basin. Serving as the border between Bolivia and Brazil, the Iténez River flows north toward Guayaramerín. Great stretches of these rivers are navigable.
The Pilcomayo River originates near Sucre and Potosí. It cuts southeastward across the Puna, gathering the waters of the Pilaya River west of Villamontes before entering the Gran Chaco, where it forms part of the border with Argentina; farther southeast, at Asunción, Paraguay, it joins the Paraguay River. Far upstream from that confluence, the Paraguay runs southward parallel to Bolivia’s far eastern border. In the vicinity of the river in Bolivia are several shallow lakes, the largest of which are Cáceres, Mandioré, Gaiba, and Uberaba. North of these are the great Xarayes Swamps. This region, like that in the northeast, is subject to widespread flooding during summer. The eastern lowlands of Bolivia adjoin Brazil’s Pantanal (wetland) system, which also drains into the Paraguay River.
The third watershed constitutes the largest region of inland drainage in South America. Lake Titicaca alone covers 3,200 square miles (8,300 square km)—nearly the size of Puerto Rico—and is South America’s largest inland lake (coastal Lake Maracaibo is more extensive). Situated on the Bolivian-Peruvian border at an elevation of 12,500 feet (3,810 metres), it is also the world’s highest commercially navigable lake. Because of its depth, which averages two to three times that of Maracaibo, Titicaca also holds the greatest volume of standing fresh water on the continent. Of the many islands dotting its surface, the best known in Bolivian waters are the Islands of the Sun and Moon, both sacred sites of Inca mythology. The basin’s drainage system maintains Titicaca as a largely freshwater lake despite its high evaporation rate. Water from the lake feeds the Desaguadero River. Occupying a very shallow depression in the plateau, only a few feet below the general level of the surrounding land, Lake Poopó rarely was more than 10 feet (3 metres) deep before it disappeared altogether by the end of December 2015, principally as a result of climate change-exacerbated drought. The lake, the second largest in Bolivia, had dried up earlier, in the mid-1990s, but returned as the result of a normal rainfall cycle, which appeared to be catastrophically disturbed in the early 21st century by global warming and its effect on the drought-and-deluge extremes that resulted from the El Niño oceanic and climatic phenomenon. When its waters were low, Lake Poopó had covered an area of some 1,000 square miles (2,600 square km), but, because of the flatness of the surrounding land, at high water the lake could reach almost to Oruro to the north, fully 30 miles (50 km) from its low-water shore. The Lacajahuira River, the only visible outlet of Lake Poopó, disappeared underground for part of its course and emptied into the Coipasa Salt Flat.
The Uyuni Salt Flat, a hydrologically isolated area that lies to the south of the Coipasa Salt Flat, is similar but much larger. Covering about 4,000 square miles (10,400 square km), it is a windswept expanse that is even more extensive than Lake Titicaca. South of the Uyuni Salt Flat are the much smaller Lakes Colorado and Verde, as well as hot springs, geysers, and a rich variety of wildlife, all at the base of picturesque inactive volcanoes. This highland region is often hard to reach during the rainy season.
The soils of the Altiplano—mainly clays, sands, and gravels—are dry and loosely consolidated; slopes that are exposed to strong winds or storm water are severely eroded. Soils to the south of the plateau are highly saline, but in the north rich topsoils border Lake Titicaca. In the Yungas the soils on the steep valley sides erode rapidly wherever forest is cleared and the slopes are not carefully terraced. The wider basins in the Valles region, particularly around Cochabamba, contain deeper, more fertile soils that respond well to irrigation. In the Oriente, topsoil quality varies, but there are large fertile expanses in Santa Cruz, where soybeans, cotton, and corn (maize) are grown.