La Paz, the highest capital in the world, lies at an altitude of some 12,130 feet above sea level in a deeply eroded valley of the La Paz river.
La Paz, the highest capital in the world, lies at an altitude of some 12,130 feet above sea level in a deeply eroded valley of the La Paz river. It was founded on the site of an Indian village called Chuquiapu (Heritage of Gold). Taken from the Incas in the 16th century, the Spanish conquerors re-named it the Pueblo Nueva de Nuestra Senora de la Paz. It was re-christened La Paz at the close of the war of independence in 1825.
Government seat of landlocked Republic - surrounded by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Paraguay - La Paz is the nerve centre of Bolivia's communications system. Good roads are few and far between, and there are 1,454 miles of railway in operation. It is not, therefore, surprising that great use is made of air transportation to export the products of the country's main industries -- mining, petroleum and agriculture. With two airports already in use, a new airport is nearing completion at Lama on a great plateau above the capital and surrounding Lake Titicaca. Its runway is overshadowed by the snow-capped summits of the Illimani and other giant peaks of the Cordillera Real of the Andes.
The present Chief of State is Dr. Victor Paz Estenssoro, virtual founder of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionaria, and President of the Republic from 1952 to 1956. He took office in August 1960. A President is elected every four years by popular vote, and is ineligible for re-election for a further term until four years have elapsed since his last term.
A tourists delight, La Paz is a breathtaking mixture of the old and the new. Towering blocks of modern offices and flats contrast with the Indian market places and the dwelling of the poorer classes built with adobe walls and covered with tiles. The Prado is a handsome public promenade with parallel rows of exotic trees, shrubs and flowers, which are maintained with no small effort in so in hospitable a climate. The Presidential Palace and Legislative chambers surrounded the Plaza Murillo, which is named after the patriot who in 1809 led the first uprising in La Paz against Spain.
Two-thirds of Bolivia's 3,462,000 population are Indians of the Aymara, Quechua and Guarani tribes. One of President Estenssoro's difficulties in his attempts to establish a sound economy is to destroy the Indian tradition of producing just enough for his own wants.
Because of the city's high altitude, and consequent lack of oxygen, there are very few occasions when the fire brigade is called upon to fight a fire. Their main Function of late seems to have been to disperse demonstrators with high pressure hoses.
Bolivia's 150,000 organised workers, divided among than five thousand unions and formed into armed militias in 1952 for defence of "their" revolution, have been unwilling to accept President Estenssoro's austerity programme so soon after that revolution had brought them in sight of an existence above more subsistence level.
Military service in Bolivia is compulsory. All males between 19 and 49 are eligible for a period of two years with either the army or the air force. The standing army numbers between eight and ten thousand, but the permanent armed security force includes five thousand police and frontier carabineers.
President Estenssoro recently appealed to the United States for an emergency grant of twenty million dollars to the tide Bolivia over the next three months. An American mission is now visiting the country to investigate the precarious economic situation.