The first known inhabitants of Bolivia belonged to a culture known as Tiahuanaco, which appeared more than 2,000 years ago. Tiahuanaco ruins can be seen near Lake Titicaca. In the 13th century A.D., this culture lost power. In the 15th century, the Quechua-speaking Incans from the area that is now Peru conquered the altiplano. Some of the communities they formed, called ayllus, can still be seen in the altiplano.

 In 1538, the Spanish conquered the Incan Empire. They forced the indigenous people to work in the country's silver mines and brought Africans to work as slaves. In 1780, a leader called Tupac Amarú rallied the indigenous people in an unsuccessful revolt against the Spanish.

In 1809, Bolivians founded an independent government under Pedro Domingo Murillo and fought against the Spanish. Although Murillo was executed, Bolivians continued to fight. In 1824 and 1825, Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre won decisive victories over the Spanish in Peru and Bolivia. Bolivia became an independent republic. Sucre was its first president. Several military dictatorships followed, until 1883, when 50 years of civilian government began.

 The War of the Pacific between Bolivia and Chile, which began in 1879, concerned land near the Pacific Ocean that was rich in nitrates. As a result of this war, Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific Ocean, leaving the country landlocked. The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932-35) was also fought to gain control of land that was rich in natural resources. Bolivia lost more land because of this war. After the Chaco War, the civilian government was overthrown and a military government came to power. 

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There are still Incan roads in Bolivia. These roads were built over some of the roughest terrain in the world. During Incan times, messengers called chasquis ran along these roads delivering messages across the Incan empire.
During the early 1940s, the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) party was formed to nationalize Bolivia's mines. In 1952, the MNR took control of the government, nationalized the mines, reformed the educational system and gave all Bolivian adults the right to vote. In 1953, under the Agrarian Reform Law, land was transferred from wealthy landowners to indigenous people.

 The MNR lost power in 1964. The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great unrest, and thousands of people left the country. In the mid-1980s, Bolivia took steps towards democracy and underwent economic reform. Although the economy strengthened during the 1990s, Bolivia remains one of South America's poorest countries. The current president of Bolivia is Hugo Banzer Súarez. At present, Bolivia is working to privatize publicly owned companies and utilities, attract foreign investment and improve education.