REPORT BoliviaGovernmentLatin America and the CaribbeanWorld

The Distribution of Bolivia’s Most Important Natural Resources and the Autonomy Conflicts


July 2008, Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval

This paper shows that the Eastern lowland states of Bolivia that have recently held “autonomy” referenda also have the highest concentrations of land ownership, and receive disproportionate shares of natural gas revenues. These states also have a much smaller indigenous population than the rest of the country.

As the paper shows, Bolivia distributes its hydrocarbon revenues more than any in the world to provincial and local governments, with the national government receiving only about 25 percent of total hydrocarbon revenues and the national hydrocarbon company receiving another 25 percent.

The concentration of land in Bolivia – among a very small group of landowners – appears to be among the very worst in the entire world. The largest farms, although only 0.63 percent of the total, encompass more than 66 percent of all agricultural land. At the other end of the spectrum, 86 percent of farms account for just 2.4 percent of agricultural land, and many other rural families own no land at all.

The Eastern lowland states also have a disproportionate share of Bolivia’s natural gas resources, and receive the lion’s share of the hydrocarbon revenue. These states also have a much higher per capita income – 1.4 times more — than the other provinces.

The paper also notes that there is a significant demographic divide between the Eastern lowland states and the rest of Bolivia. The Eastern lowland provinces have a much lower indigenous population than the rest of the country, meaning there is a vast demographic gap in a country where the indigenous majority has suffered centuries of discrimination. Indigenous Bolivians today have much higher rates of poverty, extreme poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition.

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