The Capital of Bolivia
What is the capital of Bolivia? It is a pretty straightforward question, but depending on who you ask, the answer is not always so simple.
The government is divided between two cities in Bolivia – Sucre and La Paz. On Sporcle quizzes, we accept both capital cities as being correct, but generally lean towards La Paz when it comes to what to display. La Paz is the first capital displayed in the CIA World Factbook, which is what we typically use to help guide our geography standards. This doesn’t really fly with everyone though, and there exists some debate around the site as to what the ‘true’ capital of Bolivia is.
Bolivians also have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to this issue. In the past, citizens on both sides of the debate have staged protests over which city should be capital.
So what gives? Why does Bolivia have two capitals anyway? Should one of the cities really be considered more of a capital than the other?
To better understand our questions, we first have to look at the history of Bolivia.
A Tale of Two Cities
Spain began colonizing the Americas in the 1500s, eventually dividing the continent up into large territories called viceroyalties, which were each governed by a viceroy. What is now Bolivia formed part of the Alto Peru Viceroyalty, which also consisted of Peru and certain parts of what is now Chile.
Bolivia gained its independence in 1825, and Sucre was made the capital. This was largely due to Sucre’s proximity to the silver mines in the nearby mountains. However, it wasn’t long before La Paz began to emerge as it’s own important tin mining city. Over time, Bolivia’s tin industry began to catch up to, and eventually surpass, its silver industry in Sucre. La Paz would eventually become more important to Bolivia for economic purposes.
The first decades of sovereignty were not always smooth sailing for Bolivia. In 1899, Bolivia’s Liberal Party and Conservative Party clashed in a struggle for political power. The Liberal Party was backed largely by the tin mine owners of La Paz. Sucre’s silver mine owners backed the Conservative Party. When the Liberals overthrew the Conservatives, they bid to move the country’s seat of government to La Paz.
Ultimately, they reached a compromise. La Paz would become the seat of the executive and legislative branches of government. Sucre would remain the seat of the judicial branch. Today, Sucre remains the only capital of Bolivia listed in the Bolivian constitution. La Paz is the administrative or de facto capital in many circles.
La Paz or Sucre?
In Bolivia, there remain some pretty passionate feelings regarding what the primary capital should be.
Looking at the two cities, it’s hard to ignore the fact that La Paz is 4 times larger than Sucre. It is also the location of the central bank, government ministries, and foreign embassies. All these factors contribute to a large chunk of Bolivians and people abroad who consider La Paz as the primary capital.
On the other hand, there are some pretty strong sentiments in Sucre that feel differently. Did we mention that Sucre’s airport features a sign that reads, Welcome to the Capital of Bolivia? In recent years, various movements have called for the executive and legislative branches to return to the city they left over a century ago. Many in Sucre believe this would help boost the economy and help the city grow.
At the end of the day, we’re hesitant to declare that one city has more of a definitive claim as capital than the other. This is ultimately something best left for Bolivians to decide. So for now, we’ll just go with both. The more capitals, the merrier.