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Bolivia: Foreign Relations
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Relations


Bolivia's foreign relations have been determined by its geographical location and its position in the world economy. Located in the heart of South America, the country has lost border confrontations with every neighboring nation. Along with Paraguay, Bolivia is a landlocked nation that must rely on the goodwill of neighboring countries for access to ports. Bolivia's highly dependent economy has exacerbated the nation's already weak negotiating position in the international arena. Economic dependency has established the parameters within which Bolivia could operate in the world.

Bolivia's history is replete with examples of a recurring tragicomedy in the course of international affairs. Modern Bolivia is about one-half of the size that it claimed at independence. Three wars accounted for the greatest losses. Of these, the War of the Pacific, in which Bolivia lost the Littoral Department to Chile, was clearly the most significant; it still accounted for a large part of Bolivia's foreign policy agenda in the late 1980s. Territorial losses to Brazil during the War of Acre (1900-1903) were less well known but accounted for the loss of a sizable area. The bloody Chaco War with Paraguay (1932-35) culminated in the loss of 90 percent of the Chaco region

Relations with the United States fluctuated considerably from the 1950s to the 1980s. United States economic aid to Bolivia during the 1950s and 1960s, the highest rate in Latin America, was responsible for altering the course of the 1952 Revolution. Subsequent United States support for military regimes of the right, however, left a legacy of distrust among sectors of the Bolivian population. The lowest point in bilateral relations was reached during the military populist governments of General Ovando (1965-66 and 1969-70) and General Torres (1970-71). Student protesters burned the binational center in 1971, and the military government expelled the Peace Corps. In the late 1970s, then-President Jimmy Carter's human rights program began Bolivia's transition to democracy by suspending United States military assistance to Bolivia. Washington's nonrecognition of Bolivia's military right-wing governments in the early 1980s because of their ties to the narcotics industry established a new pattern in United States-Bolivian relations.

The democratic era that began in 1983 also ushered in a more cordial phase in Bolivian regional relations. Bolivia's relations with Brazil and Argentina improved significantly, owing in part to a common bond that appeared to exist between these weak democratic governments emerging from military rule and facing the challenges of economic chaos. In early 1989, relations with Brazil were at their highest level in decades, as evidenced by new trade agreements. Relations with Argentina were rather strained, however, because of Argentina's inability to pay for Bolivian natural gas purchases. Bolivian-Chilean relations remained contentious because Bolivia's principal foreign policy goal revolved around its demand for an access to the Pacific Ocean.

In the 1980s, Bolivia became more active in world affairs. Adhering to a nonaligned policy, it established relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba, East European countries, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In some cases, such as with Hungary, relations matured into trade agreements. Bolivia also maintained an important presence in the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN).

Data as of December 1989

Last Updated: December 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bolivia was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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