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Bolivia - People

Bolivia has an estimated population of 10 million, with a life expectancy of 68 years. The official languages are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara, and the literacy rate is 86.7%, unevenly distributed between men and women. Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Latin American region.

According to the 2001 census, Bolivia’s ethnic distribution is estimated to be 62% indigenous and 38% non-indigenous (all categories are self-identified). The largest of the approximately three dozen indigenous groups are the Quechua (31% or 1.6 million), Aymara (25% or 1.3 million), Chiquitano (2% or 112,000), and Guarani (2% or 112,000). No other indigenous groups represent more than 0.5% of the population. German, Croatian, Serbian, Asian, Middle Eastern, Canadian and other minorities also live in Bolivia. Many of these minorities descend from families that have lived in Bolivia for several generations.

The government generally describes plurinationalism as the recognition and self-determination of Bolivia's 36 indigenous groups (including Bolivians of African descent). Jubenal Quispe, a lawyer and academic, describes the plurinational model as the only viable option to replace the failed "single nation society theory" since, in his opinion, in Bolivia multiple nations coexist within the same space. Advocates frequently link plurinationalism to the "decolonization" of Bolivia. According to proponents, efforts to "integrate" the indigenous -- via western education, military service, and other reforms -- failed because the "criollo and mestizo elites" could never (and will never) overcome the indigenous peoples' resistance. Proponents of plurinationalism claim their theory is the only one that can unify a country like Bolivia. The opposition decries plurinationalism, stating it will "Balkanize" rather than unite the country.

Bolivia is one of the least developed countries in South America. Almost two-thirds of its people, many of whom are subsistence farmers, live in poverty. Population density ranges from less than one person per square kilometer in the southeastern plains to about 10 per square kilometer (25 per sq. mi.) in the central highlands. The annual population growth rate is about 1.69% (2010).

The great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic, although Protestant denominations are expanding rapidly. Many indigenous communities interweave pre-Columbian and Christian symbols in their religious practices.

According to the 2001 census, the literacy rate was 75%, with 14% responding as illiterate. The literacy rate is low in many rural areas. Under President Morales, a number of areas have been declared “illiteracy free” but the level of literacy is often quite basic, restricted to writing one’s name and recognizing numbers. Approximately 20% of the population has received no formal education.

The socio-political development of Bolivia can be divided into three distinct periods: pre-Columbian, colonial, and republican. Important archaeological ruins, gold and silver ornaments, stone monuments, ceramics, and weavings remain from several important pre-Columbian cultures. Major ruins include Tiwanaku, Samaipata, Incallajta, and Iskanwaya. The country abounds in other sites that are difficult to reach and have seen little archaeological exploration.

The Spanish brought a tradition of religious art which, in the hands of local indigenous and mestizo builders and artisans, developed into a rich and distinctive style of architecture, painting, and sculpture known as “Mestizo Baroque.” The colonial period produced the paintings of Perez de Holguin, Flores, Bitti, and others as well as the skilled work of unknown stonecutters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. An important body of native baroque religious music from the colonial period was recovered and has been performed internationally to wide acclaim since 1994.

Important 20th-century Bolivian artists include, among others, Guzman de Rojas, Arturo Borda, Maria Luisa Pacheco, and Marina Nunez del Prado. Bolivia has rich folklore. Its regional folk music is distinctive and varied. The “devil dances” at the annual Oruro carnival are among the great South American folkloric events, as are the lesser-known carnival at Tarabuco and the “Gran Poder” festival in La Paz.

In the 2001 census, approximately 62 percent of the population over the age of 15 identified themselves as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara groups. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that 70 percent of indigenous persons lived in poverty or extreme poverty with little access to education or minimal services to support human health, such as clean drinking water and sanitation systems. The government carried out some programs to increase access to potable water and sanitation in rural areas where indigenous people predominated. The governmental Indigenous Fund initiated support in 2010 for development projects designed to primarily benefit indigenous communities. The fund had a budget of more than 900 million bolivianos ($129 million) but allotted only 70 million bolivianos ($10 million) for 82 projects in the year.

Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political issue. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the “ayllu” system, which was not legally recognized during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not fully accomplished.

The law states that indigenous peoples have the right to control natural resources in their territories, but indigenous people protested outside exploitation of their resources and sometimes complained that authorities did not properly consult them. In August and September 2011 indigenous leaders marched to protest the construction of a highway through indigenous lands without prior consultation required by the constitution and international conventionsection.

Indigenous persons were well represented in government and politics, but they bore a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas. The government continued to try to improve individual and family situations through the delivery of cash conditional transfers and retirement payments to low-income persons and the elderly. For example, under the cash conditional transfer program, pregnant women and children under the age of two receive money if they undergo medical checkups.

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Page last modified: 19-12-2012 19:54:14 ZULU