What is Bolivia, and how was it formed? Let’s take you on a thrilling journey to find out all about Bolivia’s constitution and its history!
The Plurinational State of Bolivia
Bolivia is located in west-central South America. It shares borders with Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, and Brazil. Moreover, it’s the fifth-largest territory in South America. The country is home to between 9 and 11 million people. Also, it is multiethnic. Plus, while there are more than 30 indigenous languages in Bolivia, the official language is Spanish.
Previously, one part of Bolivia belonged to the ancient Inca Empire. Pre-Columbian Bolivia lasted until the 1500s when conquistadors from Spain conquered the Incas.
Independence From Spain in 1809
In the mid-1500s, the Spanish conquest put a stop to the Incas reign. The occupied territory of Bolivia became known as Charcas. By 1809, the war of independence began. Yet, it took until 1825 until Bolivia was fully independent. Moreover, in the years before independence, the country faced war for 16 years. On the 6th of August, 1825, the country officially became the Republic of Bolivia, as ruled by the Congress of Upper Peru. Interestingly, Simon Bolivar inspired the name of the country.
In the years that followed, the country experienced almost 200 coups. Most of them were uprisings by indigenous workers against the European rulers.
The 1825 Constitution
The constitutional history of Bolivia dates back to the original Constituent Assembly. The assembly created the first document in 1825. Generally, it intended to establish Bolivia’s centralized government. It also included executive, legislative, and judicial divisions. The creators used some elements of the U.S. model. Furthermore, the National Congress received autonomy along with policy-making privileges. Unfortunately, this constitution was not adopted.
The 1826 Constitution
The government created a new document in 1826. It was made by Simon Palacio and had some key points that made it different from the original constitution. This Bolivian constitution created a fourfold division of political powers. Additionally, it established lifetime presidential mandates as well as an independent judiciary. Plus, this document created the Tricameral Congress, which included the Senate.
The Senate received the responsibility to oversee new laws and manage court or church officials. Moreover, another important factor from this constitution was the establishment of the Chamber of Tribunes. It received legislative powers and worked alongside the Chamber of Censors. This chamber managed political powers and limited presidential powers if needed. Furthermore, this constitution was important because it established a system based on executive branches.
The 1831 Constitution and the 1836 Constitution of the Peru Bolivian Confederation
As mentioned, Bolivia faced numerous coups in the 1820s. These coups lasted until 1880. The new 1831 constitution was created to limit some of the freedoms in the previous document. Namely, it divided the Senate and the Deputies. Additionally, it also terminated life presidency. Moreover, it shortened the presidential term to four years.
Unfortunately, the restraints in this document did not work as intended. The Santa Cruz presidency grew even bigger. In 1836, Bolivia invaded Peru successfully. Again, they reformed the constitution. The 1836 constitution only lasted for four years. It reflected most of the clauses from the 1831 document.
The Constitutional Revisions Between 1839 and 1880
The Caudillismo system held the most power in the following four decades. New charters were frequently introduced with government changes.
In fact, the legislative power approved six different constitutions. Those documents mainly institutionalized and reinforced executive power. Some important revision dates include 1843, 1851, 1861, 1868, and 1871. This era came to an end after 42 years in 1880. Yet, it was a tumultuous period in Bolivian government history since it focused on power in the executive. Moreover, the Congress mainly agreed with all demands of the ruling caudillo.
The Constitution of 1880
The War of the Pacific lasted from 1879 and up to 1880. In the end, Chile defeated Bolivia. After the defeat, a new constitution emerged. Overall, the 1880 constitution was by far the most durable. Some of the key charters focused on bicameralism adoption.
What’s more, it also placed the legislature at the forefront of all political debates. Plus, the actions of politicians and legislators during this era culminated in Bolivia successfully achieving a functioning constitutional order. That included political parties, active legislature, and interest groups. Additionally, this constitution became the rulebook for democracy. In 1884, laws were created to establish congressional oversight over executive power.
The Constitutional Reforms of 1935 and 1947
Sadly, Bolivia’s time of political prosperity soon came to an end. The global economic downfall in the 1930s, along with the fall of President Urey, created an uproar. From 1935 to the 1952 revolution, populist movements merged with reformist efforts. Those movements were led by middle-class intellectuals and military officers.
Furthermore, in 1938, Colonel Becerra persuaded the assembly to approve several reforms. Those reforms left a deep impact on the Bolivian people. By 1944, there were many constitutional reforms. Some included women’s voting rights and a change in presidential terms from four to six years. In 1947, a new constitution limited those terms to four years again.
The 1952 Revolution and the 1961 Constitution
Many consider the 1952 revolution to be a major turning point for Bolivia. The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement was in charge of this revolution. It was inspired by the Bolsheviks.
Overall, the movement gained the support of workers, peasants, and the middle class. Together, they revolted against nationalists. As a result, the revolution transformed Bolivian society. It gave voting rights to indigenous peoples and promised a collective society.
However, the revolution didn’t produce a new and functioning presidential order. The revolution failed to deliver on its promises, but it still managed to inspire the people of Bolivia. A few years later, in 1961, a new constitution was approved. It institutionalized the gains of the revolution. Moreover, the key points in this constitution were the agrarian reforms. Some charters also managed to nationalize the mines and adopt universal suffrage.
The 1994 Constitutional Amendments
Before the 1990s, the successive military regimes did not enforce the previous constitutions. However, in 1994, the 1967 constitution was amended. It was enforced to monitor the new republican character of Bolivia. This constitution provided a balance of legislative, judicial, and executive powers.
Congress was again given the role to approve legislation and debate it. Still, the final say was still dependent on the executive. The Supreme Court was in charge of judicial power. Yet, there were many lower and departmental courts. The constitutional amendments of this era were essential. They supported democratic governance. Also, they allowed local populations to vote and elect local governments and assemblies freely.
The 2006 Constitutional Process and the 2009 Constitution
Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was elected in 2005. As one of his first tasks, Morales promised to create a new constituent assembly. Morales wanted to end inequality and injustice among Bolivia’s indigenous peoples.
In 2007, the president presented a draft of the newest constitution. The Congress approved this draft. But, it faced some political disagreements that postponed the process.
In 2009, there was a Constitutional Referendum that finally and fully accepted the draft. The constitution included the nationalization of the various economic sectors and the decentralization of power. Plus, it emphasized the importance of diversity and ethnicity in Bolivia.
As you’ve seen, Bolivia has had a difficult history. It took a long time until it became a unitary republic with a democratic government.