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Bolivia’s mountainous western region, which is one of the highest inhabited areas in the world, constitutes an important economic and political centre.
There the Andes reach their greatest breadth and complexity.
In the late 20th century, however, the demographic and economic landscape began to change as the eastern lowlands—particularly the department of Santa Cruz—developed rapidly. It was once the centre of the ancient Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) empire, and from the 15th to the early 16th century it was a part of the Inca empire.
After the arrival of the conquistadores, Bolivia was subsumed within the Viceroyalty of Peru, and it provided Spain with immense wealth in silver.
Although only one-third of its territory lies in the Andes Mountains, most of the nation’s largest cities are located there, and for centuries the highlands have attracted the nation’s largest amount of mining, commercial, and business investment.
Middle- and upper-class households, especially those in the cities, are far more likely to own telephones and computers and to enjoy the offerings of mass culture, from Internet cafés and flashy discotheques to satellite and cable TV programming (including [soap operas], game shows, and news) and a wider variety of food, clothing, and public transportation.
These enticements are partly responsible for rural-to-urban migration among younger Bolivian adults.
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Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work! Extending some 950 miles (1,500 km) north-south and 800 miles (1,300 km) east-west, Bolivia is bordered to the north and east by Brazil, to the southeast by Paraguay, to the south by Argentina, to the southwest and west by Chile, and to the northwest by Peru.The reality of life for the urban poor, however, is far from the ideal.