Connect with Us
BOLIVIA COUNTRY REPORT
SOURCE AND OWNERSHIP : US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bolivia is a constitutional, multi-party republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In December 2009, in a process deemed free and fair by international observers, citizens re-elected as president Evo Morales Ayma, leader of the Movement Toward Socialism Party. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, but there were allegations that security forces committed human rights abuses.
The most serious human rights problems included widespread corruption and inefficiency in the country’s law enforcement and judicial system, leading to arbitrary arrest or detention and denial of a fair and timely public trial, as well as violence against women.
Additional human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, restrictions on freedom of speech and press, lack of government transparency, trafficking in persons, and vigilante justice. Societal discrimination continued against women; members of racial and ethnic minority groups; indigenous persons; individuals with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons; and those with HIV/AIDS.
The government took steps in some cases to prosecute security service and other government officials who committed abuses; however, inconsistent application of the laws and a dysfunctional judiciary led to impunity.
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The legal mechanism to investigate and punish internal abuse and corruption remained suspended and unenforced through the year. Military authorities refused to provide information about at least six deaths of military personnel. For instance, on July 18, Santa Cruz Aviation Academy Cadet Wildo Daniel Delgado was shot and killed, but the military did not provide any information about the incident. On August 1, Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra told a congressional committee that 20 members of the armed forces had been killed as a result of internal accidents and possibly murder since 2010, of which 11 were a result of drowning. He did not release specific information about the cases.
On January 19, the Constitutional Court denied the military’s appeal to maintain jurisdiction in the case of Sub-lieutenants Jorge Castro Urena, Rudy Gerardo Flores Herrera, Franz Eduardo Garcia, and Roberto Roya Velasquez, all charged with the 2011 murder of Sub-lieutenant Grover Poma Guanto. The court ruled that civilian courts must adjudicate cases in which the military or its leaders are accused of committing human rights abuses. The military did not comply with the court’s ruling and on July 7 prosecutor Gilbert Munoz opened a case against the military for refusing to turn over all of the information related to the Poma case. Munoz’ petition was pending at year’s end.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
The constitution and laws prohibit such practices, but there were at least two reports that government officials employed them.
Brazilian citizen Adao Nilson Souza da Silva alleged that police apprehended and tortured him for nearly five hours on April 18 to coerce his confession to a high-profile murder. Souza reported that police suffocated him by forcing his head into a plastic bag. Legal authorities held Souza in preventive detention from April 18 until April 26, when another individual confessed to the murder. The government did not investigate the incident nor file charges against the police for the alleged torture.
On September 12, soldier Freddy Rodriguez alleged that a military instructor and other soldiers assaulted him on a military base in Tupiza, Potosi Department. Rodriquez was treated in the Eduardo Eguia Hospital in Potosi, and the local military authority pledged to investigate the alleged abuse within a 10-day period. Authorities released no information about the internal military investigation by year’s end.
Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding. Authorities acknowledged that due to corruption among low-ranking and poorly paid guards, the state was unable to regulate inmates within facilities. A lack of internal control created an unsafe environment, resulting in at least 36 inmate deaths. Hundreds of children lived in the unsafe penitentiary centers, leading to several cases of child abuse and at least two children’s deaths. Many prisoners were forced to pay bribes for protection and accommodation.
Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded and underfunded. On September 2, the National Penitentiary System announced there were 14,771 inmates, an increase of 1,282 since the end of 2012, in a system designed for between 5,000 and 5,750. The human rights ombudsman reported that as of July, 13 percent of the prison population was female. During the year 236 inmates received pardons as a result of a December 2012 executive order allowing for the release of up to 1,600 inmates. Severe bureaucratic delays and lack of access to legal counsel limited the number of inmates who received pardons. On September 11, President Morales issued an executive order to pardon up to 2,000 inmates, but by November 1, authorities had released only seven inmates.
Government authorities announced that the penitentiary system’s capacity for inmates increased by 750 through the addition of a 450-person rehabilitation center in Yacuiba, Tarija Department, on June 4, and a 300-inmate facility in Patacamaya, La Paz Department, on August 19. The media reported a lack of water and electricity prevented the Yacuiba facility from accommodating the 450 inmates projected and that as of October 29, the Patacamaya facility held 161 inmates.
Due to a lack of internal policing, violence and riots among prisoners remained a problem. On April 11, inmates in Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison killed inmate Carlos Enrique Pereira Marisa, but authorities did not investigate his death. On August 23, a fire started during a violent conflict between two groups of inmates in Palmasola prison killed 35 people, including an 18-month-old child. Government authorities responded by moving 10 inmates suspected of leading the conflict to Chonchocoro prison in La Paz Department.
There are three women’s prisons located in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Trinidad. In Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro, men and women shared sleeping facilities. In the other facilities, men and women maintained separate sleeping quarters, but the populations comingled daily. Conditions for female inmates were similar to those for men. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. According to government ministry officials, 1,000 convicted juveniles (ages 16 to 21) were not segregated from adult prisoners in jails. Adult inmates and police reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. On January 17, National Penitentiary Director Ramiro Llanos ordered the relocation of 42 juveniles from the Calahuma facility in Viacha, La Paz Department, to San Pedro Prison in La Paz due to allegations of hazing and torture by police guards. After parents of the minors protested the relocation to the overcrowded San Pedro. Authorities returned the juvenile inmates to Calahuma on January 18. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners were scarce.
Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent, children as old as 12 lived with a parent, usually their mothers, in prison. According to the Ministry of Education’s Alternative Education Program data released in June, at least 2,100 children and adolescents lived in the country’s penitentiaries: 1,197 were younger than age six, while 903 were older than the legal limit of six. The government took some steps to relocate children from the country’s prison facilities. On July 10, San Pedro Prison Warden Carlos Coritza announced that officials had removed 40 to 50 minors from the facility; on July 16, Santa Cruz Social Policy Director Duberti Soleto announced that he had evacuated 96 minors; and on July 27, Human Rights Ombudsman Legal Advisor David Lopez announced that authorities had relocated 40 minors from the Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija.
There were reports of abuse of children living in prison facilities. On June 10, authorities at Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison discovered that an inmate had sexually abused a six-year-old boy living in the facility, and on June 20, La Paz’s San Pedro Prison authorities found a 12-year-old girl, whose incarcerated father, uncle, and godfather sexually abused her over a five-year period in the prison. Unsafe health conditions put children living in prison facilities at risk. After a meningitis outbreak in La Paz’s San Pedro Prison, resulting in the deaths of a woman and child on June 1, National Penitentiary Director Ramiro Llanos ordered evacuation of the estimated 236 minors living in the facility but canceled his directive after authorities were unable to secure temporary shelter for the minors.
Due to persistent corruption, a prisoner’s wealth often determined cell size, visiting privileges, ability to attend court hearings, day-pass eligibility, and place and length of confinement. In San Pedro Prison, the main facility in La Paz, officials demanded bribes of 686 to 6,860 bolivianos ($100 to $1,000) from inmates before assigning them to cells, leaving at least 180 inmates to sleep in hallways and open-air spaces. The media reported some rural facilities held as many as 45 inmates in the same cell. Inmates alleged there were an insufficient number of police officers to escort inmates to their judicial hearings, further delaying cases. Inmates also claimed that police demanded bribes in exchange for allowing them to attend hearings.
Services to sustain basic needs were inadequate. Prisoners had access to potable water, but the standard prison diet was insufficient, and prisoners who could afford it supplemented rations by buying food. National Penitentiary Director Ramiro Llanos declared that the state allocated the equivalent of 6.4 bolivianos ($0.92) for a prisoner’s daily diet and 3.2 bolivianos ($0.46) for the diet of underage children living with their inmate parents. The law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, but care was inadequate, and it was difficult for prisoners to obtain permission for outside medical treatment. On September 2, inmates in the new Patacamaya prison protested, alleging a lack of food, hot water, and beds in the facility.
Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate and maintained by the penitentiary system’s national office. Alternatives to sentencing for nonviolent offenders were not used. Authorities provide detainees reasonable access to visitors and permit observance of their religious practices. Authorities permitted prisoners to submit complaints periodically to a commission of district judges for investigation; however, due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not submit complaints of abuses.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as International Committee of the Red Cross, judges, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but in some cases security forces seized and held individuals under legally questionable circumstances.
On September 4, law enforcement officials illegally detained Luis Vasquez, lawyer to National Convergence Party Senator Roger Pinto, who was in exile in Brazil, at the Santa Cruz Viru Viru Airport for eight hours. Vasquez was en route to Brazil to advise Pinto about his legal affairs (see section 2.d.).
The case against former Central Bank president (1995-2006) Juan Antonio Morales, charged with illicit enrichment for bonuses he received and granted to bank employees in 1995-97, continued at year’s end. Despite the Constitutional Court’s October 2012 decision to strike down the anticorruption law’s retroactivity clause, under which authorities brought the charges against Morales, the government did not dismiss the case. In addition, the lead prosecutor overseeing the investigation, Harry Suaznabar, was accused of involvement in the extortion network uncovered by the Jacob Ostreicher case, and he fled the country in January (see section 4). Since his arrest in 2011, Morales remained under house arrest, although the government granted him permission to teach at a university.
The national police have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country, but military forces may be called to help in critical situations. The police report to the Ministry of Government, and the military forces report to the Ministry of Defense. The legal mechanism to investigate and punish internal abuse and corruption remained suspended and unenforced through the year as a result of national police strikes in June 2012, when the government agreed to revise the code. On May 22, Vice Minister of Government for Citizen Security Humberto Echalar announced that the government would resume negotiations with the National Police Association about implementing the new disciplinary law, but the parties did not reach agreement by year’s end.
The law requires that police obtain an arrest warrant from a judge and that the police inform the prosecutor of an arrest within eight hours. The law also mandates that a detainee appear before a judge within 24 hours (except under a declared state of siege, in which a detainee may be held for 48 hours), at which time the judge must determine the appropriateness of continued pretrial detention or release on bail. The judge shall order the detainee’s release if the prosecutor fails to show sufficient grounds for arrest. The state allows suspects to select their own lawyers, and the state also provides a lawyer from the public defender’s office if the suspect requests one.
Arbitrary Arrest: Legal authorities neither presented formal charges nor dismissed the case against U.S. citizen Jacob Ostreicher in violation of the legal limit of 180 days to complete the investigation process and present charges against a suspect. Ostreicher returned to the United States December 16. Police arrested Ostreicher in 2011 for suspicion of money laundering and affiliation with a criminal organization, placed him in preventive detention, and held him until December 2012, when he was released under house arrest. In November and December 2012, authorities arrested more than a dozen government officials on allegations of extortion related to the case, but none of the officials had been tried by year’s end. The government alleged that corrupt officials pressured the judge to reverse his initial decision to grant Ostreicher bail in 2011 and to postpone court hearings in his case more than 20 times. The government also alleged that during Ostreicher’s imprisonment, the arrested officials illegally sold Ostreicher’s business assets and stole the proceeds (see section 4). On February 20, President Morales called on Ostreicher to prove the origin of his investments in the country, despite the fact that Ostreicher had not been charged with a crime.
Pretrial Detention: A national penitentiary report released in September confirmed that 83 percent of all inmates, 12,260 individuals, were in preventive detention. The law affords judges the authority to order preventive detention if there is a high probability that a suspect committed a crime, if evidence exists that the accused seeks to obstruct the investigation process, or if a suspect is considered a flight risk. If a suspect is not detained, a judge may order significant restrictions on the suspect’s movements. Detainees generally had prompt access to their families and access to lawyers. Approximately 70 percent of detainees could not afford legal counsel, and the public defenders assigned to their cases were overburdened.
The Construir Foundation, a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported in May that prosecutors and judges relied heavily on preventive detention. The report found that prosecutors seek preventive detention for suspects in 70 percent of cases and that judges order preventive detention in 54 percent of cases. In Santa Cruz, which had the country’s largest prison population, judges ordered preventive detention of suspects in 86 percent of all cases.
Denial of justice due to prolonged preventive detention remained a problem. Although the law establishes that the investigatory phase and the trial phase of a case shall not exceed 36 months combined, the Construir Foundation estimated approximately 75 percent of suspects remained in preventive detention longer than the legal limits. The law states that no one shall be detained for more than 18 months without formal charges. If after 18 months the prosecutor does not present formal charges and conclude the investigatory phase, the detainee may request release by a judge. The judge must order the detainee’s release, but the charges against the detainee are not dropped. Judicial corruption, a shortage of public defenders, inadequate case-tracking mechanisms, and complex criminal justice procedures kept many suspects detained for more than 18 months before trial.
On February 8, Judge Estrella Monano Ocampo ordered the immediate release of Luis Cordoba Marca, who had been held for more than 21 years in preventive detention in Santa Cruz’s Palmasola Prison. Cordoba alleged government authorities never informed him about the nature of the charges against him. On July 24, a representative of the Santa Cruz Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office announced its concern about the case of Palmasola inmate Zacarias Navia Navia, who had been held in preventive detention for more than 23 years without a sentence. On December 5, the government released Navia.
Children from 11 to 16 years of age may be detained indefinitely in children’s centers for known or suspected offenses or for their protection on the orders of a social worker. There is no judicial review of such orders.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt and overburdened. In September, Council of Magistrates President Cristina Mamani stated that the backlog of cases was 500,000 and that there were only 815 judges nationwide. A report by the Construir Foundation, the Catholic University in La Paz, and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that in urban jurisdictions only 10 new department prosecutors were hired between 2008 and 2012 and that criminal court judges had a backlog of nearly 129,000 cases. Authorities generally respected court orders but sometimes levied charges against judges to pressure them to change their verdicts.
On August 15, the Ministry of Transparency’s Institute of Studies in Transparency and Corruption released a report citing the average judicial delays in corruption cases. The study reported that although the law mandates that the investigation process of a case cannot exceed 180 days, the average length of a corruption case investigation was 417 days. The study also found that instead of the 20-day period required between the formal charge and the first court hearing, the average case took 454 days to come before a judge or jury.
The constitution and law provide for the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail and for a fair trial without undue delay. Defendants enjoy the right to presumption of innocence and trial by jury. They also have the right to consult an attorney, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, confront adverse witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, access government-held evidence, and file an appeal. Defendants who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a public defender or private attorney at public expense.
On February 5, former Pando governor Leopoldo Fernandez of the Democratic and Social Power (PODEMOS) Party, on trial for assault and homicide, was released from prison and ordered to serve house arrest due to his poor medical condition. In 2011 his detention period exceeded the three-year limit on detention without a conviction, but his trial continued at year’s end. On July 25, Vice Minister of Environment Jorge Barahona announced the government was in the process of expropriating Fernandez’s 7,413-acre farm in Pando due to a lack of productivity that harmed the local community’s economic interest, a move that Fernandez called “political persecution.”
In at least one case, judicial authorities did not accommodate a suspect’s health condition, possibly contributing to his death. On October 12, former president of the National Highway Service Jose Maria Bakovic suffered a heart attack and died in La Paz. Bakovic’s lawyer Audalia Zurita stated that legal authorities mandated his client’s presence at a court hearing in La Paz, despite medical professionals’ warnings that he could not travel from his home in Cochabamba to the high altitude region without serious risks to his health.
While there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees, opposition members alleged that charges against some elected officials were politically motivated (see section 3).
There is a judiciary process for civil matters, and the law provides for criminal remedies for human rights violations. At the conclusion of a criminal trial, the complainant can initiate a civil trial to seek damages. The ombudsman for human rights can issue administrative resolutions on specific human rights cases, which the government may enforce (the ombudsman’s resolutions are nonbinding. The state does not have to accept his recommendations). Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court can order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not always respect these rights. The government used the antiracism law to restrict both rights, and some media outlets reported the government pressured them to report favorably about its policies. Some members of the press also alleged that government officials verbally harassed individual journalists and intimidated media outlets perceived to be critical of the government.
Freedom of Speech: The lawsuit brought under the 2010 antiracism law against television presenter Milena Fernandez by Oruro Mayor Rossio Pimental in July 2012 continued unresolved. On January 29, Vice Minister of Decolonization Felix Cardenas announced his office would join the case against Fernandez, who stated during a July 2012 television program that the city of Oruro was “foul smelling.” Hearings in the case on both October 13 and November 5 were cancelled, and the case was pending at year’s end.
Press Freedoms: Some media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably about government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. Journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing all of its advertisements, thus denying a significant source of revenue, and launching stringent tax audits, forcing companies to spend time and resources to defend themselves.
The Presidency Ministry’s August 2012 lawsuit against the Fides News Agency and daily newspapers Pagina Siete and El Diario under the antiracism law for spreading and inciting racism remained unresolved. The government brought the charges after the newspapers published headlines claiming President Morales called eastern, lowland individuals lazy.
The Bolivian Broadcasting Association continued to express concern about the 2011 telecommunications law that mandates the redistribution of broadcasting licenses and provides the government with a 33 percent share of the licenses. The association asserted the law would restrict freedom of expression and stated it could lose 400 broadcasters to the government when their licenses expire in 2017.
Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and harassment against members of the press corps. There were also allegations that government officials targeted and harassed media outlets perceived to be critical of the government. In February, the National Observatory for Media Outlets and the Unite Foundation reported that in 2012 there were at least 81 cases of verbal and physical aggression against 130 media-sector employees. The National Press Association, which represents 20 media outlets, reported there were 33 cases of violent assault and 27 cases of verbal harassment against its journalists in 2012.
On May 21, protesters who accused the station of biased reporting broke into the station of Radio AM 1080 “Voice of the Majority” in Caranavi, La Paz Department. The protesters threatened to kill journalist Franz Eddy Loza and technician Juan Carlos Mazarro, and they destroyed the station’s equipment. On May 22, the Ministry of Communication condemned the act as “an attack on the freedom of the press,” but the government took no further action against the perpetrators.
In January police arrested four suspects on homicide charges for their alleged involvement in the October 2012 attack on Popular Radio in Yacuiba, Tarija Department. During the attack broadcaster Fernando Vidal and studio technician Karen Arce suffered severe burns. Minister of Communication Amanda Davila denounced the attack, and Government Minister Carlos Romero pledged a rapid and thorough investigation. On June 5, one of the suspects, Antonio Camacho, was released on parole, but he fled, and his whereabouts were unknown at year’s end. The other three suspects remained in preventive detention awaiting trial at year’s end.
There were no government restrictions on access to the internet or credible reports that the government monitored e-mail or internet chat rooms without appropriate legal authority, but Vice President Garcia Linera stated in October 2012 that the government recorded the names of people who insulted President Morales on social media sites.
The 2012 census found that 9 percent of households had internet access, but families in rural regions of the country reported more limited at-home access. For instance, the census found that only 3 percent of households in Potosi Department maintained internet access in their residences. An August 2012 Captura Consulting study found that 53 percent of citizens occasionally used the internet but that fewer than 15 percent used it on a daily basis.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The law requires a permit for most demonstrations, but the government rarely enforced the provisions, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits.
While most demonstrations were peaceful, occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, and dynamite. Security forces (police and on occasion the military) at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities.
On February 14, police used tear gas to prevent a group of peaceful protesters from entering the central government square to demand the government pass a law to prevent gender-based violence. Authorities granted the protesters access to the square after several female cabinet ministers participating in the march intervened.
At year’s end authorities continued to investigate the 2011 case in which police forces in Yucumo, Beni, used tear gas and other methods to disband a peaceful march by indigenous leaders protesting the construction of a highway through their land. In January 2012, the prosecutor ruled out the involvement of President Morales, Vice President Garcia Linera, and former minister of government and current ambassador to the UN Sacha Llorenti. On August 1, however, former ministry of government lawyer Boris Villegas, detained on charges of extortion related to the Jacob Ostreicher case, told prosecutors that Llorenti ordered police to intervene in the march (see sections 1.d. and 4.). On September 10, prosecutors sent eight questions to President Morales to provide information about his involvement in the case, and on September 30, Morales responded in writing that he did not order nor did he know who approved the police intervention. Former police commander Oscar Munoz, detained in 2011 on charges related to police aggression, remained under house arrest, and prosecutors did not present charges against additional suspects by the year’s end.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The law prohibits travel 24 hours before elections and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Exile: The UNHCR reported that as of January 2013 there were 618 Bolivian refugees living in exile abroad and 156 Bolivians in the process of seeking asylum.
National Convergence Party Senator Roger Pinto, who was granted political asylum by the Brazilian government in June 2012, fled to Brazil on August 23. Pinto had been living in the Brazilian embassy since May 2012, after the Bolivian government refused to grant safe passage, accusing him of 21 criminal charges and convicting him on one corruption count in June. Pinto remained in Brazil at year’s end.
On August 8, Tarija District Attorney Gilbert Munoz brought a new corruption charge against suspended Tarija governor Mario Cossio, on which grounds Judge Carsen Romero de Pena ordered Cossio’s arrest. Minister of Transparency Nardi Suxo stated in June that Cossio faced 22 other criminal charges. Cossio was suspended from his position in 2010 on corruption charges, and in 2011 he was granted asylum in Paraguay, where he remained at year’s end.
The UNHCR reported that 733 refugees from more than 20 countries resided in the country. According to media reports, most refugees were Peruvian and lived in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. The state did not provide temporary protection or resettlement services to these persons.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees.
Refoulement: On March 19 and 20, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (IA Court) heard arguments in the case of the Family Pacheco Tineo v. Bolivia. The family alleged that in 2001 the government violated their refugee status by forcibly returning them to Peru, where they were imprisoned. The family submitted a petition to the IACHR in 2002, which found in 2004 that the government had violated several provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR referred the case to the IA Court in February2012, but the court had not issued a ruling at year’s end.
The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage. Many citizens of voting age, particularly in rural areas, lacked the identity documents necessary to vote. A broad spectrum of political parties and citizens’ groups functioned openly. Elections for national offices and municipal governments are scheduled every five years.
Recent Elections: Monitoring groups from the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, and the Carter Center considered the 2009 national presidential and legislative elections peaceful, free, and fair.
The nation’s first judicial elections, held in October 2011, were deemed free and fair by observers from the OAS and the Union of South American States. Electoral laws, however, prohibited media access to the candidates prior to the elections, and opposition leaders claimed the pre-selection of candidates by congress rendered the vote “legal but not legitimate.”
Political Parties: There are no undue restrictions on political parties, but some opposition political leaders alleged the government’s charges against some elected officials and opposition political leaders were politically motivated. On May 3, Margoth Arriaga, mayor of San Ramon in Beni Department and member of the Beni First Party, was arrested and placed in preventive detention on corruption charges. On May 6, she suffered a stress-induced heart attack and was taken to the German Busch Hospital in Trinidad for treatment. At least five court hearings in her case were canceled without explanation, and at year’s end she remained in preventive detention without formal charges or a sentence.
Beni Governor Ernesto Suarez (PODEMOS Party), who resigned to allow for a special election on January 20, remained under investigation at year’s end. In 2011 Suarez was suspended from office on corruption charges. On July 2, former ministry of government lawyer Boris Villenas, held on charges of extortion related to the Jacob Ostreicher case, told prosecutors that former minister of government Sacha Llorenti built a false case against Suarez in order to remove him from office (see sections 1.d. and 4). On July 10, Suarez filed a lawsuit alleging sedition against Presidency Minister Juan Ramon Quintana, Llorenti, and Supreme Court President Gonzalo Hurtado.
On February 5, the Constitutional Court announced its decision striking down four articles of the Department Autonomy Law that allowed the government to suspend from office elected officials who were under investigation but who had not been sentenced. The Constitutional Court decision was not automatically applied retroactively, and suspended officials had to file legal appeals to resume their elected functions. At least one official was reinstated. On February 7, the Potosi City Council restored Social Alliance Party member Rene Joaquino Cabrera to his position as mayor. He was suspended from office in 2010 after being charged but not convicted of corruption. Suspended governors Ernesto Suarez and Mario Cossio and approximately 20 other officials were removed from office under the unconstitutional provisions (see sections 1.d.).
Participation of Women and Minorities: The law mandates gender parity in the candidate selection process at all levels of government. The gender parity laws increased female representation. Women made up 44 percent of the Senate, 23 percent of the lower chamber of congress, 28 percent of department legislative assemblies, and 43 percent of town councils. Women held seven of the 20 cabinet positions. Women also accounted for 33 percent of the Supreme Court, 57 percent of the Constitutional Court, and 43 percent of the National Land and Dispute Court. Women remained significantly underrepresented in municipal executive positions; for example, only 7 percent of mayors were female. On May 20, Gina Reque Teran became the first woman to achieve the rank of general in the armed forces.
Credible NGOs reported that women participating in politics sometimes faced violence and harassment. In some cases winning female candidates reported they were threatened with violence in order to force their resignation so a male alternative candidate could assume the position. The Association of Female Mayors and Alderwomen stated that between 2000 and 2009, its members reported 249 cases of politically motivated harassment and violence. On February 6, community members burned down the house of Cuatro Canadas mayor Dominga Fernandez in an attempt to force her resignation. On August 27, Petronila Aliaga, elected to the Colquencha town council in La Paz Department, resigned from office, stating she feared the constant threats and verbal attacks she suffered from some male community leaders.
The constitution and electoral law set aside seven special indigenous districts to increase the participation of minority indigenous communities in the lower house of congress. One of these seven seats is reserved for an Afro-Bolivian representative. The law also required the pre-selection of an undefined number of indigenous candidates for the 2011 judicial elections. Indigenous persons held 40 percent of the positions on the four highest courts.
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption.
Corruption: According to the World Bank’s 2011 worldwide governance indicators, government corruption and lack of transparency remained serious problems. According to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, 86 percent of citizens believed the police were corrupt or extremely corrupt, and 76 percent labeled the country’s judiciary as corrupt or extremely corrupt.
Police corruption remained a significant problem, partially due to low salaries and lack of training. On August 31, U.S. authorities arrested police officer Fabricio Ormachea Aliga in Miami on charges of extortion. Ormachea, an investigator in the police anticorruption unit, allegedly promised to suspend a pending investigation involving a Bolivian living in Miami in exchange for approximately 205,000 bolivianos ($30,000).
There was also widespread corruption in the country’s judiciary. In February Attorney General Ramiro Guerrero stated that nearly 100 prosecutors were under investigation for corruption and other charges or had already been convicted and suspended. President of the Council of Judges Cristina Mamani stated that in the first six months of the year, there were 1,698 lawsuits filed against judges, jurists, and prosecutors. Of the 1,698 suits, 428 resulted in penalties, 300 were dismissed, and the remaining cases were pending. The majority of guilty cases resulted in warnings and minor administrative penalties, and only three judges were dismissed from their positions.
There was little progress in the investigation of 14 government officials, including Fernando Rivera Tardio, Denis Efrain Rodas Limachi, Boris Villegas, and Jose Manuel Antezana Pinaya, who were arrested in November and December 2012 in connection with the Jacob Ostreicher case. Former Ministry of Government official Villegas made several public allegations about the extortion network’s involvement in several other open cases, including the corruption case against former Beni governor Ernesto Suarez. The Ministry of Government’s Transparency Unit announced that as of May 28, lawsuits had been opened against the extortion network for alleged abuse in at least 24 pending cases, but at year’s end all of the suspects remained in preventive detention without trial (see section 1.d.).
The Ministry of Anticorruption and Transparency and the Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for combating corruption, but most corrupt officials operated with impunity. On August 15, Transparency Minister Nardy Suxo reported that of the 400 cases she referred to the Attorney General’s Office, only 80 resulted in convictions. Cases involving allegations of corruption against the president and vice president require congressional approval before prosecutors may initiate legal proceedings.
Whistleblower Protection: The law provides protection to public and private employees for making internal disclosures and lawful public disclosures of evidence of corruption. The transparency minister is responsible for protecting the identity of whistleblowers.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to report potential personal and financial conflicts of interest and to declare their income and assets. The law mandates that elected and appointed officials disclose their financial information to the auditor general, but their declarations are not available to the public. According to the law, noncompliance shall result in internal sanctions, including dismissal. The auditor general must refer cases involving criminal activity to the Attorney General’s office.
Public Access to Information: No laws provide for access to government information.