Bolivia - Infrastructure, power, and communications

Bolivia has a changing infrastructure. Communication has rapidly adapted to new technology, as exemplified by the continued rapid growth of cellular phone use. At the same time some of the traditional and still useed infrastructure has deteriorated, especially the fine railway system in western and central Bolivia whose construction

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Bolivia 55 675 116 N/A 27 N/A 7.5 0.47 78
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Brazil 40 444 316 16.3 47 3.1 30.1 18.45 3,500
Peru 84 273 144 14.1 30 N/A 18.1 3.09 400
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( ) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

started in 1877. In 1976 diesel engines replaced steam locomotives.

The 3,685-kilometer (2,290-mile) single track railroad, most of it narrow gauge, has 2 unconnected systems. The Western Network, built much earlier, connects La Paz with Cochabamba and the Chilean ports of Arica and Antofagasta. It also connects with Argentina. In bygone days a railroad journey from La Paz to Buenos Aires was popular and comfortable. The Eastern Network connects the city of Santa Cruz to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Another line goes from Santa Cruz to Argentina. Many attempts to connect the 2 systems with a link from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz have never succeeded. The same is true of the so-called "inter-oceanic corridor" that would go from the Brazilian Atlantic coast to the Chilean Pacific coast, passing through Bolivia. Currently most Bolivian railroads are in disrepair. In 1964 there were 103 locomotives, but only 34 in 1995. The Bolivian railway system was a state corporation known as ENFE. In 1991, a Japanese study estimated that upgrading the railway system would require US$46 billion over 30 years. Hopes to privatize and capitalize the system were only partially accomplished when in 1995 the Chilean consortium, Cruz Blanca, acquired 50 percent of ENFE. By 1999, Bolivia again had 55 operating locomotives with around 2,000 railway cars. The passenger load was 750,000 in 1992 and is still below 1 million per year. Freight also has declined sharply.

Currently most Bolivians travel by inter-city buses, called flotas. There are many private bus companies, large and small. Those who can afford it go between the principal cities by air, and if going on to a nearby small town use the flota. Until 1992, there was a single national airline owned by the state, Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (LAB), established in 1925 and one of the oldest airlines in the Americas. As with the railroads it was capitalized and privatized when 50 percent was acquired by the Brazilian airline company, VASP. The completely private company, Aerosur, competes with LAB for internal flights. The Bolivian armed forces operate Transportes Aereos Militares (TAM) which carries paying passengers. In 1999, LAB still had 65 percent of the customers. LAB also flies to the United States (Miami) and neighboring South American countries. About a dozen foreign airlines fly to the 3 Bolivian international airports, La Paz/El Alto, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz which have runways over 3,050 meters long. An Argentine airline flies to Tarija which is close to Argentina and Paraguay. The World Factbook claims that Bolivia has 1,382 airports, of which 1,016 have paved runways of under 915 meters. Many of these are little used.

Bolivia is an inland country but has free port privileges in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Chile, and river ports in Paraguay. There is some shipping on the large inland lake, Titicaca, which also carries many tourists between Bolivia and Peru. Navigation on the many large rivers that are part of the Amazon and Plate river systems is un-organized, underdeveloped, and uncounted but offers much potential with small, primitive river ports currently available. Navigation is possible on about 19,000 kilometers (11,806 miles) of the rivers.

Bolivia has about 43,000 kilometers (26,720 miles) of highways of which only 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) are paved. In recent years, Bolivia has made highway construction and maintenance a priority. Bolivia's electric power generating capacity is rated at 787 megawatts. Electricity consumption in 1998 was 2,412 billion kilowatt-hours. The state electric agency, ENDE, was also capitalized and privatized by 3 U.S. consortia in 1997. The state-owned long distance telephone company, ENTEL, was purchased in 1995 by an Italian firm. ENTEL has a monopoly until 2001. It is an active cellular phone provider, with service among the cheapest in Latin America. In 1998, there were 27 cellular phones per 1,000 inhabitants (in 1996, 18 per 1,000), and use is growing at an ever increasing rate. Local traditional phone calls are managed by local owner cooperatives but are state regulated. In the largest cities (La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz) 3 of these are responsible for 85 percent of all local calls. In 1987, Bolivia had 145,000 telephones, which grew to 370,000 in 1996. The use of computers is also accelerating. In 1998, there were 7.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. Televisions are 116 per 1,000 (about one-quarter are black and white) and radios 675 per 1,000. Bolivia has 18 significant newspapers. Currently it is reported that there are approximately 190 radio stations and 60 TV stations.

The privatization of the state-owned LAB, ENFE, ENDE, and ENTFL has created much controversy and is an important issue in present-day Bolivian politics.

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