With the spectacular scenery, good climate, and a wealth of culture, Bolivia is made up of a spectrum of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural people. It is recognized as one of the most stable countries in South America with a government dedicated to being environmentally responsible.
Bolivia is a constitutional republic. The executive branch is headed by a president, who is elected by popular vote for one five-year term and is not allowed to serve consecutive terms. The president selects his cabinet members from a list submitted by the Senate. The legislative branch is run by a bicameral National Congress, which consists of the Chamber of Senators with 27 members and the Chamber of Deputies with 130 members. Both houses serve the same five-year term as the president. The Supreme Court heads the judicial branch and consists of judges appointed for 10-year terms by the National Congress.
Bolivia has wrestled with internal conflicts, including illegal cocaine production. Past presidents addressed the problem by criminalizing illegal coca leaf growth; creating tougher prohibition policies; cooperating with other nations in their anti-narcotic campaigns; and by introducing alternative crops for farmers, who are reluctant to give up a cash crop as lucrative as coca.
In 2005, Evo Morales was elected by the largest margin in Bolivia's history. He is also the country's first indigenous leader.
Despite vast natural resources that include oil, tin, gold, silver, tungsten, copper, and manganese, Bolivia is still one of the poorest countries in South America. Since Bolivia lost its Pacific coastline to Chile in 1884 and became landlocked, export and import opportunities have been substantially limited. Some argue that this is a primary reason for Bolivia's stunted economic development. Diplomatic relations between the countries have been strained ever since, as Bolivia demands access to the coastline and Chile offers duty-free use of its ports, but refuses to give up sovereignty of the land.
Morales hopes to improve the economy and standard of living by nationalizing natural resources and increasing social spending, policies contrary to those of his two predecessors. He also hopes to improve Bolivia's educational programs, end illiteracy, and help the agricultural sector, all in an effort to fight poverty and empower the poor majority.
Bolivia is largely dependent on foreign aid, mainly from the United States. The tourism sector, however, has seen growth as visitors are attracted by the varied terrain and natural beauty of Bolivia.
Bolivia's cultural achievements have been dominated by the Inca culture. Their textiles, metalwork, and architecture are evident in many existing structures in the country; and there are fine collections in the museums in La Paz and Tiahuanaco.
Spinning and weaving are traditional handicrafts, with regional distinctions. Techniques and patterns are cherished, as evidenced by the few changes that have been seen in the last 3,000 years.
Folk music is also distinctive to the various regions of Bolivia and has been influenced by pre-Inca, Inca, Spanish, Amazonian, and African elements. Andean music, which was purely instrumental, has become popularized with the addition of vocal parts. The cueca is the dance most closely associated with Bolivia, involving handkerchief-waving couples. It derives from the Spanish fandango and celebrates courtship.