|Bolivia Table of Contents
Cities, serving as administrative and trade centers, were an integral part of colonial Bolivia. They were the domain of whites and mestizos who appropriated a share of the agricultural produce from the surrounding Indian communities. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, the population as a whole remained overwhelmingly rural; in 1900, for example, a scant 14 percent lived in cities of more than 5,000 inhabitants. Although cities grew as mining and commerce expanded, only about one-quarter of the population were city dwellers in 1950.
Massive urbanization on a scale sufficient to change the face of society was a postrevolution phenomenon. From the 1950s onward, cities grew disproportionately faster than rural Bolivia. From 1950 to 1976, the three fastest-growing cities increased at a rate of 4.7 percent annually; the fastest, Santa Cruz, at 6.9 percent. In the early 1980s, annual rates of increase in cities were nearly triple those of the countryside. The urban population increased at 3 to 4 percent a year through the 1970s and most of the 1980s. Demographers projected comparable rates to continue to the end of the century. Analysts anticipated that urban residents would constitute 56 percent of the population by the year 2000.
La Paz, founded in 1548 as a way station en route from the silver mines of Potosí to Lima, was the largest city and had an estimated population of 992,000 residents in 1985. The population of Santa Cruz--long an insignificant frontier outpost--swelled to 441,000 as a result of the postrevolutionary development of the Oriente. Other major cities included Cochabamba (317,000), Oruro (178,000), and Potosí (113,000).
Bolivia's pattern of urbanization is exemplified in the growth of Cochabama. In 1900 Cochabamba consisted of 22,000 residents and included only 7 percent of the total departmental population. Over the next half-century, the city's population expanded at 2.5 percent annually to 81,000 in 1950, when it contained 16.5 percent of the total departmental population. The pace of urban growth quickened to 3.5 percent annually between 1950 and 1976; by 1976 Cochabamba consisted of 200,000 residents and included 28 percent of the overall departmental population. During this period, squatters pushed far beyond the city's previous southern and eastern limits; for example, Cochabamba's airport, which had served as one part of the southern boundary, became surrounded by new urban communities. Between 1976 and 1986, urban growth intensified to 4.2 percent annually as the city encompassed 31 percent of the department's population.
Migrants in search of employment accounted for an increasing share of Cochabamba's growth. Demographers estimated that 64 percent of the city's population expansion between 1976 and 1986 resulted from migration. By 1986 more than one-third of Cochabamba's residents had been born outside the city. The pattern of migration also changed in the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast with the previous predominance of migrants from rural communities in Cochabamba Department, the percentage of migrants from the Altiplano climbed to 40 percent in 1976, to 54 percent in 1983, and to 60 percent in 1986. The increasing rate of migration reflected the troubled state of the Altiplano economy rather than a significant expansion of jobs in Cochabamba. Employment in the manufacturing sector, which primarily consisted of small-scale establishments, remained steady at 16 percent of total employment between 1976 and 1986. Instead, most migrants found employment in the service sector.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress