Independence Day in Bolivia

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Bolivian Independence Day is August 6th each year. The country gained its freedom from Spain after several centuries of occupation and celebrated by signing the Declaration of Independence on August 6th, 1825. Read our history pages to learn all about Bolivia's struggle to become an independent nation and govern itself. Previously known as the Republic of Bolivia (and now called the Plurinational State of Bolivia), for the past 184 years Bolivia has faced many obstacles along its path to becoming an individual nation.

Independence Day takes place in a similar manner each year. School children prepare weeks in advance and parade through the streets or at their schools in neatly pressed uniforms, carrying flags. Authorities, labor unions, the various branches of the military, and other organizations also parade, usually accompanied by marching bands. Fireworks displays are common in some areas, but not as much as in the U.S.

Traditionally, Congress meets in Sucre, Bolivia's capital city (located in the department of Chuquisaca) every August 6th for a special congressional session that is held in the "Casa de la Libertad" (similar to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, USA) where Bolivia's Declaration of Independence was signed in 1825 (it is housed in the building and on display for tourists and the public). Speeches are given, there are calls for unity and promises of improvement, new commitments are made, and the president addresses the nation. However, as of 2010 the Bolivian government decided that the president will rotate cities, eventually visiting many major Bolivian cities.

The president arrives early, at about 6 a.m. along with several ministers, for a walking procession to the Casa de la Libertad, led by Sucre's Mayor and the Prefect of Chuquisaca. Once inside, the president addresses the nation.

Celebrations in other regions of Bolivia

In La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and all other major cities and towns in the nation celebrations mostly consist of parades. In the capital cities of each department the state governors and civic leaders typically attend an early mass called the Tedeum. They also take part in a small procession during which they carry huge wreathes of flowers which they place at the feet of a statue symbolizing Bolivia's independence in the central plaza. Municipal and departmental leaders then gather on a small stage set up above the crowd and make short speeches, after which each city's parade begins. Typically, civic groups, schools, labor unions, various branches of the military, and members of organizations that represent many of the country's industries parade down a few short blocks of the street.

Morales decrees the whipala must fly

In 2009 President Evo Morales declared that he had signed a new decree declaring the WHIPALA* a national símbolo patrio (national symbol or national emblem) must be flown next to the original Bolivian flag at all state events. He instructed that from this day forward the WHIPALA* must be flown to the left of the Bolivian flag in all public areas and buildings, schools, and all private homes.

The outcry was immediate. Public officials in most of Eastern Bolivia promptly declared they would not follow these instructions and private citizens vehemently rejected flying it in their homes as well, stating it is not a national flag or national symbol. The surprising decree also lacked planning: where were hundreds of thousands of Bolivian households and public offices to find a whipala one day before Independence day? Most public officials initially declared the decree an imposition and misguided attempt to insult and cause division and confrontation, but over the past couple of years tensions have waned. The whipala was visibly absent throughout the city of Santa Cruz during celebrations during the first few years, but of late can be seen at almost all civic events.

Why so much tension over the whipala?

*The whipala (there are actually many versions of it depending on what region or Andean country one is from) is a multicolored flag invented in 1973 that is now carried by supporters of the Movement Toward Socialism (Evo Morales' political party) and it represents the Aymara and Quechua peoples of Western Bolivia. In all other regions of Bolivia indigenous and non-indigenous populations alike indicate it does not represent them, their culture, their political or religious beliefs, or their heritage and they consider it an imposition of the Aymaran culture upon their own.

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