August 6, 2011 - Independence Day

– Bolivia AND Jamaica

Bolivia is a landlocked nation in South America—in other words, it has no coast on any ocean or sea.

Jamaica, in contrast, is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. It borders on nothing but ocean!

These two very different nations both celebrate independence today. Bolivia won its independence from Spain on this day in 1825, after 16 years of struggle and war, and was named after one of the military heroes of that fight, Simon Bolivar. Jamaica celebrates its independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, although the nation maintains part of the Commonwealth and thus has U.K. Queen Elizabeth II as its ceremonial head of state.

Bolivia has 37 official languages! — Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and 34 other native languages. More than half of Bolivians are Amerindians of various background (including Quechua and Aymara), quite different from the ethnic heritage of all other South American nations, which are heavily European/white or mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European). Jamaica, on the other hand, has only one official language—English—and has a population that is largely of African descent.

Jamaica's Bob Marley and Reggae Music are famous worldwide. 
One of the most interesting things about Bolivia is its president, Evo Morales, the first indigenous person to be elected president of a South American country and one of the only indigenous persons to be democratically elected president in all of Latin America. Morales is sometimes harshly criticized—although he often criticizes others, such as the time when he called then-President George W. Bush a terrorist—but in 2009 he was named World Hero of Mother Earth by the United Nations. Some indigenous leaders are unhappy with his presidency, but Morales has managed to get higher vote percentages than almost anyone in Bolivia's history. Morales defies the custom of wearing “normal” formal men's clothes, a suit and tie, and instead often wears sweaters, even to meet other world leaders, or unconventional jacket and dress shirt with no tie, even to his own inauguration. Morales is also one of the very few heads of state to have visited The Daily Show with Jon Stewart! 

One of the most interesting things about Jamaica is that it hosted a bobsled team, even though Jamaica is a tropical island without snowy mountains on which to practice such a sport. The bobsled team competed in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada, and they quickly became crowd favorites as underdogs. Bobsledders from other countries loaned them spare sleds and offered them guidance and support. The Jamaican bobsled team didn't officially finish (let alone win), because they lost control and crashed during one of their four runs. However, they did improve, and they were very fast starters. After crashing, the four bobsledders got out of their sled and walked with it to the finish line. The crowd went wild.

At the 1994 Olympics, the Jamaican bobsled team finished ahead of many other countries, including the U.S., and in 2000 they won the gold medal at the World Push Championships in Monaco.

The Disney movie Cool Runnings is loosely based on the Jamaican bobsled team! 

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