Santa Cruz Department (Bolivia)

Santa Cruz Department
Departamento Autónomo de Santa Cruz
Autonomous Department


Coat of arms
Motto: Siempre libres cruceños seamos
Anthem: Bajo el cielo más puro de América

Location within Bolivia
Country  Bolivia
Capital Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Provinces 15
Established as department by law 23 July 1826
  Governor Ruben Costas(VERDES)
  Senators Oscar Ortiz(PODEMOS)
Jorge Agulera(PODEMOS)
Guido Guardia(MAS)
  Deputies 25 out of 130
  Total 370,621 km2 (143,098 sq mi)
Area rank 1st in Bolivia
  33.74% of Bolivia
Population (2016)
  Total 3,412,921
  Density 9.2/km2 (24/sq mi)
Time zone BOT (UTC-4)
Area code(s) +(591) 3
Official language Spanish, Guaraní
ISO 3166-2 BO-S
Abbreviations SC
Aerial photo of forest, Santa Cruz Department, 2009.

Santa Cruz, with an area of 370,621 km², is the largest of the nine constituent departments of Bolivia. In the 2012 census, it reported a population of 2,655,084. The capital is the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The department is one of the wealthiest departments in Bolivia, with huge reserves of natural gas.

Government and administration

According to current Constitution, the highest authority in the department lies with the governor. The former figure of prefect was appointed by the President of the Republic till 2005, when the prefect for the first time was elected by popular vote to serve for a five-year term. In 2010 the first governor was elected according to the implementation of autonomy after a struggle for almost a decade by the people of Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz also has a Departmental Assembly (Asamblea Departamental), which derives but differs from the previous Departmental Council (Consejo Departamental). It is a state legislature with limited legislation powers, being able to make laws in certain subjects in exclusivity and in some others in concurrence with the state legislative branch. .


The department covers a vast expanse of territory in eastern Bolivia, much of it rainforests, extending from the Andes to the border with Brazil. The department's economy depends largely on agriculture, with sugar, cotton, soybeans and rice being grown. The amount of land cultivated by modern farming techniques is increasing rapidly in the Santa Cruz area, where weather allows for two crops a year.

In recent years, the discovery of natural gas in the department has led to plans for the development of a regional natural gas industry that is likely to boost the local economy. Bolivia’s energy minister said two proposed liquefied petroleum gas plants may allow the country to boost supplies to Brazil and Argentina by 2010, easing a shortage of the fuel after a lack of investment reduced output. The processing plants would be built in Santa Cruz and each would produce about 200 tons of liquefied petroleum gas a day. The plants would help turn a deficit of gas into a “surplus”.

The department also hosts El Mutún, the world's second largest iron ore reserve (after Carajás in Brazil) and largest magnesium deposits are also located there. Located in the Germán Busch Province in the Santa Cruz Department of Bolivia, near Puerto Suárez, El Mutún extends across the border into Brazil, where it is called the Serrania de Jacadigo. Also known as the "Serrania Mutún", it has an area of about 75 square kilometers. Its estimated reserves are about 40.205 billion tons of iron ore of 50% iron, mainly in hematite and magnetite form, and in lesser quantities in siderite and manganese minerals. This can be compared with an estimate of the total world reserves of iron ore: 800 billion tons of crude ore containing more than 230 billion tons of iron.

In July 2004, the people voted in a nationwide referendum to allow for regulated exportation of the gas.[1]


Santa Cruz Department is the largest of the Bolivian departments and covers a wide and diverse area. In the west lies a series of temperate Sub-Andean ranges and valleys while to the north and south lies two different lowlands areas; the Beni and Chaco lowlands respectively. To the northeast lies the flat Llanos Chiquitanos areas and beyond these the Serranías Chiquitanas ranges. In the far east the departments have small parts of the huge Pantanal wetland.


The first settlers of Santa Cruz were mainly Spaniards that accompanied Ñuflo de Chávez, as well as Guarani, and some Flemings, Portuguese, Germans and Italians working for the Spanish crown.[2] Among the first settlers there were also Sephardic Jews[3] recently converted to Christianity who were persecuted by the Inquisition in Spain. Santa Cruz has a multicultural population: 60% are Castizos with both Mestizo and European ascendants, 30% are Natives (Chiquitano, Chane, Ayoreo, etc) 10% are Whites of European descent, of whom about a quarter are so-called "Russian" Mennonites of German tradition, language and descent.


At 416 meters above sea level, it is warm and tropical most of the year. Winters are short and last only 2–3 months but can get very cold very suddenly. "Surazos" (southerly winds that blow in from Argentina) can drop the temperature by as much as 30 degrees overnight. This extreme cold lasts only a few days at a time and the beautiful, sub-tropical Santa Cruz is pleasant throughout most of the year. Here the climate varies by geographical zone: temperate to cold in the western sierras and warm to hot and humid as one descends into the extensive plains.


The Department of Santa Cruz is divided into 15 provinces.

Province Capital Area (km²)
Andrés Ibáñez Santa Cruz de la Sierra   4,821 1,653,001
Ignacio Warnes Warnes 1,216 108,888
José Miguel de Velasco San Ignacio 65,425 69,972
Ichilo Buena Vista 14,232 92,721
Chiquitos San José 31,429 82,429
Sara Portachuelo 6,886 42,278
Cordillera Lagunillas 86,245 120,111
Vallegrande Vallegrande 6,414 26,576
Florida Samaipata 4,132 32,842
Obispo Santiesteban Montero 3,673 181,169
Ñuflo de Chávez Concepción 54,150 116,545
Ángel Sandoval San Matías 37,442 14,415
Manuel Maria Caballero Comarapa 2,310 23,267
Germán Busch Puerto Suárez 24,903 42,799
Guarayos Ascensión 20,293 48,301

Call for autonomy

Eastern departments in Bolivia, including Santa Cruz, have majority of the natural gas reserves. Bolivian president Evo Morales is planning to introduce legislation to tackle the poverty in the country by redistributing the wealth of the nation.[4]

In May 2008, the rightist government of Santa Cruz began conducting a referendum for autonomy from the national government over, among other things, strains between the local government and President Evo Morales. Morales's attempts to change the constitution have been fiercely opposed by opposition governors who run five of Bolivia's nine regions.

Altar in the church of San Rafael de Velasco, Santa Cruz.

Places of interest

Cataratas Arcoiris Bolivia, Noel Kempff Mercado National Park


  1. Gas Referendum
  2. Al Margen de mis Lecturas, by Marcelo Terceros Banzer. Published September 1998
  3. History of the Jewish People, written by Eli Birnbaum.
  4. Morales offers dialogue to rivals
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Coordinates: 18°25′05″S 62°20′42″W / 18.418°S 62.345°W / -18.418; -62.345

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