|Bolivia Table of Contents
In 1825 Bolívar, first president of what became known as Bolivia, transferred authority over Upper Peru to his lieutenant, Sucre (1825-28), who called a constituent assembly in Chuquisaca to determine the future of the region. Almost all delegates wanted an independent Upper Peru and rejected attachment to Argentina or Peru. On August 6, 1825, the assembly adopted a declaration of independence. Five days later, the assembly, hoping to placate Bolívar's reservations about the independence of Upper Peru, resolved to name the new nation after him.
The new Republic of Bolivia, created in the territory that had formed the audiencia of Charcas, faced profound problems. The wars of independence had disrupted the economy. The entire mining industry was in decline because of destruction, flooding, and abandonment of mines. Lack of investment and scarcity of labor contributed to a sharp drop in silver production. Agricultural production was low, and Bolivia had to import food, even staples consumed by the Indian population. The government had serious financial difficulties because of the huge military expenditures and debt payments to Peru as compensation for the army of liberation. All these problems were aggravated by the isolation of the new republic from the outside world and the difficulties of securing its borders.
Bolívar entered La Paz triumphantly on August 8, 1825. During his brief rule of less than five months, he issued a flood of decrees, resolutions, and orders reflecting his ideas about government. He declared the equality of all citizens and abolished the tribute payments, replacing them with a "direct contribution" (contribución directa) that amounted to less than half of the previous payments. Bolívar also decreed a land reform to distribute land, preferably to Indians, and tried to reduce the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in politics. Most of his decrees could not be implemented during his short tenure, but they were included in the constitution he wrote for Bolivia after his departure in January 1826.
Despite his efforts at reform, Bolívar was outspoken about his doubts as to the ability of Bolivians to govern themselves. He was careful to avoid recognizing Bolivia's independence, always referring to the country as Upper Peru and signing his decrees as dictator of Peru. Only in January 1826, when he turned the country over to Sucre, did he promise that the Peruvian legislature would approve Bolivia's independence.
Sucre succeeded Bolívar in January 1826 and continued to rule by decree. He was formally installed as Bolivia's first elected president after the General Constituent Assembly convened in May and elected him. During his three-year rule, the government tried to solve its grave financial problems, which were aggravated by the lack of foreign credit. Sucre reformed the existing tax structure in an effort to finance public expenditures and tried to revive silver mining by attracting foreign capital and technology. In one of the most radical attacks on the church anywhere in Latin America, he confiscated church wealth in Bolivia and closed down many monasteries. The Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia never recovered the powerful role that it had held. Import duties and taxes on the internal movement of goods were also important sources of state revenue. In addition, Sucre reestablished tribute payments in an attempt to solve the country's financial crisis.
Sucre's attempts at reform were only partially successful because Bolivia lacked the administration to carry them out. Many Conservative Party criollos turned away when his reforms threatened to challenge the economic and social patterns of the colonial past. As opposition increased, the local nationalist elite came to resent the leadership of their Venezuelan-born president. The invasion of Bolivia by the Peruvian general Agustín Gamarra and an assassination attempt in April 1827 led to Sucre's resignation in 1828. Sucre left the country for voluntary exile, convinced that "the solution was impossible." Given troop command by Bolívar, however, Sucre routed General Gamarra's much larger force (8,000) in a decisive battle at Tarqui on February 27, 1829.
Despite the fall of his government, Sucre's policies formed the basis for the ten-year rule of Andrés de Santa Cruz y Calahumana (1829-39), the first native-born president, who was sworn into office in May 1829 after a series of short-term rulers. Santa Cruz, a mestizo, had a brilliant military career fighting for independence in the armies of Bolívar. His close connection with Bolívar had led to a short interlude as the president of Peru in 1826. It also made him a strong candidate to become Bolivia's new president after Sucre's resignation.
Santa Cruz created a relatively stable economic, social, and political order in Bolivia. In an attempt to overcome Bolivia's isolation, Santa Cruz opened the port of Cobija on the Pacific Coast. He also devalued the silver currency to finance government activities, instituted protective tariffs in support of the local cotton cloth (tucuyo) industry, and reduced the mining tax, thereby increasing mining output. In addition, Santa Cruz codified the country's laws and enacted Latin America's first civil and commercial codes. The Higher University of San Andrés in La Paz was also founded during his rule. Although Santa Cruz approved a democratic constitution, he ruled virtually as a dictator and did not tolerate opposition.
Santa Cruz continued his political ambitions in Peru while president of Bolivia. He established the Peru-Bolivia Confederation in 1836, justifying his act with the threat of Chile's expansion to the north. This threat, together with the constant turmoil in Peru and repeated attempts by Gamarra to invade Bolivia, had made Sucre's military intervention in a Peruvian civil war in 1835 a matter of life and death for Bolivia. After winning a number of battles in Peru, Santa Cruz reorganized that country into two autonomous states--Northern Peru and Southern Peru--and joined them with Bolivia in the PeruBolivia Confederation with himself as protector. The potential power of this confederation aroused the opposition of Argentina and, above all, Chile; both nations declared war on the confederation. Although Santa Cruz repelled an attack by Argentina, he failed to stop the Chilean expansion into the disputed territories on its northern frontier. His decisive defeat by Chilean forces in the Battle of Yungay in January 1839 resulted in the breakup of the confederation and ended the career of Bolivia's ablest nineteenth-century president. Santa Cruz went into exile in Ecuador.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress