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The Anatomy of National Revolution

Bolivia in the 20th Century

Marcin Kula

The Bolivian revolution in 1952 aimed at modernizing the country: the revolutionaries nationalized the large tin mines, limited the power of the upper classes, proceeded to the agrarian reform, and tried to strengthen the role of the state in the economic life. Because the success of the revolution was limited, it is necessary to discuss the economic instruments, which a country may use to limit its backwardness. The second important point, which makes the 1952 revolution interesting is the alliance of the intellectuals and the workers, an alliance which can also be observed in the Polish «Solidarity» movement at the end of the 20 th century.
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Chapter 1: Bolivia First!


For Bolivia, the 20th century began in 1932 with the outbreak of the war with Paraguay. It is impossible to give a more precise date, since there was no official inaugural shot.

The object of the conflict was the area known as the Chaco Boreal, which is the portion of the Gran Chaco to the north of the Rio Pilcomayo. The arid steppe region almost the size of today’s Poland, was at the time inhabited by a total of approximately 20,000 people including several hundred Whites. It had been disputed since the colonial times. The border had never been precisely defined. The exercise of sovereignty was rather theoretical; land was bought out just in case by people who resided far away; the local Indians, some of whom continued to live in nomadic tribes, were never even aware of the fact.

In the period in question, there was hope that large oil deposits would be discovered in the Chaco – and hence the area became valuable. When the war with Paraguay heated up, there were rumours that it had broken out because of the petroleum conglomerates. Standard Oil had significant investments in Bolivia at the time, while Royal Dutch Shell and various English and Argentinean interests were more closely allied with Paraguay. It was thus suspected that these companies were funding the war. This supposition became widespread not just in Bolivia but throughout Latin America. Even the young Cubans – far away though they were – wrote...

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