Located between the Andes and the Amazon, South America’s highest and most isolated country is both geographically and culturally diverse.
Although various ethnic groups coexist, Quechua and Aymara people make up two-thirds of Bolivia’s population. Enslaved by the Spanish conquistadores, they experienced centuries of exclusion from political and economic power, which has left them particularly vulnerable. Inequality is also expressed geographically: white settlers dominate the east, while most indigenous people eke out a living on the barren and unyielding altiplano, high in the Andes.
But a resurgence of ethnic identity and bitter folk memories have fuelled protests against the privatisation of basic services such as water – and culminated in the election of the first indigenous Bolivian president, Evo Morales.
A new constitution in 2009 gave greater rights to indigenous people – but huge challenges lie ahead. Indigenous women, especially, suffer malnutrition, and maternal and infant mortality.
And according to Unicef and the ILO (the International Labour Organisation) more than half of Bolivia’s children are obliged to work. In mining areas, children are believed to comprise ten per cent of the workforce.
Meanwhile, a US-funded crop-eradication programme has angered farmers who rely on coca cultivation for survival. Used to make cocaine, coca is revered in Bolivia for its ability to boost stamina and relieve pain.