Whites, or blancos, also known as the gente decente or gente buena (decent or good people), sat atop the ethnic pyramid of the late 1980s. They represented roughly 5 to 15 percent of the population. Socioeconomic and cultural boundaries rather than narrow racial criteria marked blanco status, although the vocabulary describing whites (as well as other ethnic groups) was rife with racial terminology. Although whites were well aware of the admixture of Indian genes in their ranks, their sense of superiority rested largely upon the notion of "purity of the blood" based on a strong sense of aristocracy and good lineage.

The standards for membership in the white elite varied by region, as did the degree of traditionalism and adherence to the Spanish heritage. In general, the white elite was culturally homogeneous and true to its Spanish heritage. Its members preserved the Hispanic traditions that dominated national society, even though these were not shared to a great degree by the mestizo and Indian majority.

Whites were not as widely distributed geographically as mestizos, but they resided in both urban and rural areas. In the large cities and smaller towns, they traditionally held highstatus positions as professionals, wealthy merchants, or highranking government officials. In rural Bolivia, whites were the wealthy and influential patrones. Patrón status implied not only financial independence but also a European life-style, a particular code of moral behavior, a lineage traceable to colonial roots, local origin, and a leisurely attitude toward work.

Whites saw their own sense of honor and morality as much stronger than that of mestizos or Indians. Theft, drunkenness, premarital pregnancy, and physical violence were censured among whites but expected among those of lesser status and, presumably, breeding. Whites viewed upwardly mobile Indians or mestizos, even those mestizos who had amassed great wealth, as inveterate social climbers and pretentious upstarts. Deficiencies of lineage notwithstanding, mestizos or cholos of financial means could gain a measure of social acceptance through marriage to a daughter of an impoverished white family. The children of such a match, depending on their education and good fortune, were usually accepted as whites.


Country Studies main page | Bolivia Country Studies main page