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Minkanews study guides / learning scheme 129 – Topic No 2

Historical roots of the Bolivian crisis[]

About the study guides[]

This study guide is No 2 in the series 29 ‘Multidisciplinary issues’. Access level 1 (100)Readers (learners and tutors) can help to improve this study guide and share their work on the jointly editable pages of Minkapedia ( which may be found also by googling ‘minkapedia’ / putting the term ‘minkapedia’ into your web browser’s search engine)

The constitutional crisis in Bolivia[]

The roots of the constitutional crisis in Bolivia, which Minkanews is currently reporting on, goes back at least to the founding days of the Republic. This week Minkapedia this ‘collaborative education’ corner of the news-sheet tries to throw some light on the historical (1824-1830) background of the crisis.

Basic reference: Pages 198 to 209 of Lynch, John. Simon Bolivar: a life.[]

The last battle of the South American revolution was not Ayacucho (1824) but Tumusla (1 April 1825) in Upper Peru, now Bolivia. Olaneta the leader of the ultra-royalist elements in the creole aristocracy was killed in the battle, but many members of the elite had already declared support for Bolivar – but not necessarily for the new republican constitution which Bolivar was drafting. Between 1 April, August 6 1825 (the official date of independence) and the Constitution of 1826 many of the principles – those of what is called in Lynch the Bolivarian Enlightenment – came to be lost in the small-print of the constitutional clauses and the spirit and manner of their implementation.

Bolivia’s frontiers: the 9 February decree proclaiming independence[]

Upper Peru (later Bolivia) had been ruled by the Spanish from the vice-regal capital in Lima but after the Bourbon reforms it depended on Buenos Aires, capital of the then new viceroyalty of La Plata. Grand Marshal Sucre had “issued at La Paz a decree (9 February 1825) proclaiming the virtual independence of Upper Peru”. Unlike the case of United States independence, the proclamation was by military authority and not by an assembly (of those seeking independence).

Why did Bolivar agree to this decree?[]

Initially he didn’t and reprimanded Sucre for meddling in political matters, though three months later he confirmed the decree. Lynch claims that the reasons were compelling. He states:

  • (1)Bolivar knew that neither Peru nor Argentina would agree to the other gaining territory
  • (2) he did not want “to enlarge the power of either country by awarding them a valuable mining zone” (Potosi – called the treasury of the Spanish empire)
  • (3)Bolivar “took account of opinion in Upper Peru itself”.

Thus Bolivia came into being by effectively separating from ‘Argentina’. Most of the nations surrounding Bolivia have claimed and/or acquired a part of its (original) territory – notably Chile, following the War of the Pacific 1879.

Was/ is the territory of Bolivia legitimate?[]

Several principles are subscribed to in justifying borders:

  • (1) Divine right as determined by papal edict (Treaty of Tordesillas - not much good if you do not recognise the Pope e.g. British North America)
  • (2)Cultural inheritance from previous periods (whereby colonial aristocrats posed as inheritors of pre-hispanic culture)
  • (3) uti possidetis “by which new states succeeded to the territorial jurisdiction of the major administrative units of the colonial period” and which sidesteps the legitimacy of the colonial boundaries.

The less centralised model of British ‘colonialisation’ in North America provided the ‘major administrative units’ i.e. States which when brought together in a continental assembly gave birth to a relatively strong federation / confederation. Bolivar had no ready-made ‘decentralised’ system to draw on. For two centuries after 1532 all of Spanish South America had been ruled from Lima.

Was the Bolivian revolution Bolivarian?[]

“A ‘representative’ assembly met on 10 July in Chuquisaca (aka Charcas, La Plata, Sucre). ” Santa Cruz (the province and the city) the centre of today’s movement for autonomy was then “penalised by mass illiteracy” and had only two out of the 48 representatives in the constituent assembly. “Thirty of the deputies were graduates of the University of Chuquisaca. …. Thus the Creole aristocracy came into their inheritance, replacing Spaniards in a social hierarchy – caballeros, cholos, indios – which endured for many generations to come.”

The assembly first named the new republic Bolivar (later Bolivia) and requests Bolivar to produce a draft for the new constitution. Bolivar retired to Peru, arriving at his La Magdalena residence near Lima 7 February 1826. Between then and 12 May 1826 the constitution was written (and dispatched to the then Bolivia capital Chuquisaca 1800 miles away. The couriers Colonel William Ferguson and Captain Belford Hinton Wilson covered the distance in 21 days.)

Bolivar’s constitution was intended to forge a path between anarchy and tyranny. Controversially it provided for a president-for-life and for the successor to be chosen by the president. The literacy and property qualifications also excluded the bulk of the population (Indians) from the electoral roll, from voting.Read more

Readers (learners and tutors) can help to improve this study guide and share their work on the jointly editable pages of Minkapedia ( which may be found also by googling ‘minkapedia’ / putting the term ‘minkapedia’ into your web browser’s search engine)