Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1992

Bolivia is a multiparty democracy with an elected President and bicameral legislature.
Because no presiaential candidate received a majority of the popular vote in
the elections of May 1989, the Congress, in a procedure mandated by the Constitution,
selected Jaime Paz Zamora as President. The executive, legislative, and iudicial
powers are separate. Municipal elections held in December 1991 were perhaps
the most open in Bolivian history, in part due to electoral and judicial reforms including
the establishment of an imptirtial electoral court in 1991.
The police and the armed forces are generally responsible to and controlled by the
civilian Government, but there continued to be incidents of human rights abuses by
the security forces in 1992. According to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament
Agency, total military expenditures for 1989 were $182 million. While the Government
is not making a conscious effort to reduce military spending through legislation,
the defense budget has steadily eroded as a percentage of the gross domestic
product and of the total budget and will probably continue to do so.
Bolivia is rich in minerafe and hydrocarbons (petroleum), which account for the
bulk of its export earnings, but is still one of the poorest countries in the Western
Hemisphere. Its economy only began to show consistent growth in 1987-88 after
years of severe contraction. The Government has emphasized debt reduction, export
development, foreign investment, privatization, and a freer banking system to
strengthen Bolivia's economic base and accelerate development. The economy grew
4.1 percent in 1991 and an estimated 3.3 percent in 1992.
Respect for human rights is mandated by the Constitution and generally practiced.
Human rights abuses in 1992 included instances of mistreatment of detainees
and prisoners (generally with impunity or leniency for the perpetrators), substandard
prison conditions, an overourdened and often corrupt judicial system, prolonged
incarceration of detainees, and discrimination and violence against women
and indigenous people. Bolivia is involved in an extensive countemarcotics effort
against well-entrencned and increasingly violent foreign and domestic ding traffickers.
Government attempts to stem the flow of narcotics (principally cocaine-related)
have resulted in allegations of police abuses. While some of these allegations, such
as invasion of privacy and illegal confiscation of private property, seem credible,
more serious allegations have not been substantiated.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing.
^There were no cases of political
killings in 1992 by the Government, but several prisoners die each year as a result
of malnutrition or inadequate medical care. A bomb left at a gas pipeline near Sucre
by the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army (EGTK) terrorist group killed two children. In
addition, Colombian narcotraffickers carried out several killings. Five members of
the Pirmed. Forces of Liberation—Zarate Willka (FALZW) were sentenced in August
to terms ranging from 3 to 30 years in prison for the 1989 murder of two American
Mormon missionaries.
Two Bolivian police officers, charged with the execution of an alleged Peruvian
terrorist, Evaristo Salazar, were dismissed in 1991 and charged with negligent
homicide and coercion (the use of undue force in interrogation). Tney were sentenced
to 4 years in prison, but the Government appealed, asking only 2-yefir sentences.
A senior police official claimed that "extenuating circumstances" justified the appeal,
adding that the (Jovemment did not want to demoralize the antiterrorist police.
      b. Disappearance.
^There were no known politically motivated disappearances
during 1992.
Jumcial proceedings in the case of former dictator General Garcia Meza, being
tried in absentia for involvement in disappearances during his rule in 1981-82, are
now in their sixth year. The prosecution rested its case, but the court did not render
a decision before the end of 1992. Amnesty International representatives observed
the final stages of the case. Human rights groups and other individuals accused the
Government of protecting Garcia Meza; the (Jovemment denied the allegations and
pledged to capture Garcia Meza before it leaves office in August 1993.
c/Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.—
The Constitution prohibits torture, but there continue to be occasional allegations
of torture and credible charges of cruel and degrading treatment of detainees and
prisoners by police officers and prison personnel. Security personnel are rarely tried
and punished for such acts due to lack of evidence.
Between January and April, the Government captured 16 leading members of the
EGTK terrorist group. Some of the detainees claimed they were tortured; represent-
atives of the Bolivian Permanent Assembly on Human Ri^ts (APDHB) who visited
them endorsed the claims. Government officials denied that the prisoners had been
tortured, but tibe police admitted to depriving them of sleep during the interrogation
Conditions in most Bolivian jails remain very poor, as they have been for years.
Overcrowding, corruption, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, and drug and alcohol
abuse are common. For example, the San Pedro jail in La Paz, which was constructed
to hold no more than 200 inmates, has a population of more than 1,300.
Overcrowding is so severe that 5 persons may be confined to a small cell with the
result that me occupants sleep sitting up because there is not enou^ space to lie
down. The new Qionchocoro prison mat opened in the spring is a model prison,
with modem facilities and efficient management, but its capacity is only 300, and
will offer little relief to overcrowding at San Pedro.
Under Bolivian law, children up to 6 years old may live in prison if the incarcerated
parent so desires. Currently, approximately 750 children are in jails throu^-
out Bolivia. In Santa Cruz, several family members (up to 17 in one case) live in
jail with the inmate because they have nowhere else to go.
There were allegations by human rights groups of sexual abuses within the women's
prison; prison administrators denied these allegations.
There are several prison deaths every year related to malnutrition and poor medical
care. For example, in August inmate Dolly Romero died as a result of inadequate
medical care in the Obrajes women's prison. According to family members, she had
asked for medical care several times during an 8-month period but was refused by
the judge assigned to her case. Her death spurred a hunger strike by 71 of the 240
inmates and ^mands for prison reform. There was a similar hunger strike in the
San Pedro jail after a 60-year-old man died of malnutrition and untreated asthma.
The Minister of the Interior formally testified on prison problems before the Human
Rights Commission in the Chamber of Deputies.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution requires a court order
for an arrest; detainees must be charged or released within 48 hours. In practice,
many detainees remain incarcerated for months, or even years, before coming to
trial. The Constitution also provides for a judicial determination of the legality of
detention, and prisoners are usually released if a judge rules that they have been
detained illegally. After the initial detention, prisoners may consult a lawyer of their
choice. Provisions for bail exist, except in certain narcotics cases, and bail is generally
E»le is not used as a punishment.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitutional right to a fair public trial is
adhered to in most respects, with one important exception: delays commonly result
in protracted judicial procedures lasting 3 to 4 years without sentencing. As a result,
about 80 percent of the prison population is unsentenced. Investigation, trial,
and appeal procedures are so protrad«d that some prisoners eventually serve more
time tnan the maximum sentence for the crime for wnich they were charged.
Defendants have the right to an attorney, to confront witnesses, to present evidence,
and to appeal a judicial decision. These rights generally are upheld in practice.
Although the law provides for a court-appointed defense attorney at public expense
if necessary, one may not always be available due to shortages of mnds and
qualified personnel. In June a pubUc defenders' office was established in La Paz to
provide counsel in criminal cases for people who cannot afford a lawyer. The office
currently has 10 lawyers who handle an average of 20 cases at a time. It hopes to
increase the case load to 80 per lawyer.
Corruption and intimidation in the judicial system remain serious problems.
Judges and prosecutors are poorly paid, making them susceptible to bribery. Corruption
is also endemic in the national police system, marked oy a hi^ly publicized
police corruption scandal in September. Senior police and government oflicials
lurged some corrupt police and improved oversight mechanisms, but appeared to
lave only limited success in combatting corruption. With the average police officer
earning only $50-60 per month, police oflicials acknowledge that preventing corruption
is a daunting challenge.
Narcotics traffickers often bribe judicial and other officials to release suspected
traffickers and their aircraft, return captured drugs, and purge incriminating files.
Surrendered narcotraffickers received extremely low sentences ranging from 3 to 7
{rears, and most were not even charged with narcotics offenses. The sentences were
ikely a result of poor prosecution and possibly of bribing judges. Three judges from
the special narcotics court were prosecuted for corruption. The Government has
taken steps to try to discipline Bolivia's judicial system; the Supreme Court formed
a commission to investigate charges of corruption in district courts. In August a spe-
cial council on judicial reform and modernization presented a draft law of judicial
organization which aims to reform the judicial system.
I. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence.—The
sanctity of the home and the privacy of citizens' lives are protected by the Constitution
and usuaUy respected in practice. However, there were credible allegations of
abuses by the rural countemarcotics police (UMOPAR) operating in the Chapare region
where most of Bolivia's illegal coca is grov/n. Camiiesino leaders claimed there
were several incidents of UMOPAR police entering homes in the middle of the night
under the pretext of searching for money or goods related to narcotraflicking. The
Interior Mmistry formed a human rights oonunission with government and nongovernmental
representatives to investigate the allegations. At least six police were
dismissed from tne special countemarcotics force as a result of the commission's investigations.
The commission declared there was no evidence to coniirm many alleged
abuses, and that there had been a lai;ge decline in allegations of abuses since
its investigation began.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
There are no legal or institutional barriers to
freedom of speech and press in Bolivia. Both state-owned and private radio and television
stations operate in Bolivia. AU newspapers are privately owned, and most of
them generally adopt antigovemment positions. There continue to be numerous
credible charges of politicians and drug traffickers bribing journalists for greater
and more favorable coverage; the professional and union organizations deny such
The Government respects academic freedom. Public universities ei\joy autonomous
status by law, and that status is respected. However, various university-based
Marxist-oriented groups continue efforts to deny academic freedom and to impose
their political agenda on the education process.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The rights of peacefiil assembly
and association are provided for by law and are respected in practice. The year
was marked by almost daily demonstrations and rallies carried out by a wide variety
of labor, political, and student organizations.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Roman Catholicism predominates in Bolivia; the Constitution
recognizes it as the oflicial religion. Catholic bishops receive a nominal stipend
from the State, and the Government has designated the Catholic Church as
the coordinator of all official public ceremonies. However, citizens are free to practice
the reli^on of their choice. An estimated 400 religious groups, mostly Protestant,
are active. Missionary groups—usually evangelical Christians—are required to
register with the Foreign Ministry as nongovernmental organizations (NGO's).
There is no indication that missionary groups have been treated differently from
other NGO's, and no registrations have been disapproved.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on travel witlun Bolivia or abroad. The Government
does not impede emigration and guarantees departing citizens the right to
return. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Bolivia is a multiparty democracy with an elected president and a functioning,
independent, bicameral legislature. Opposition groups ranging from the far left to
the ri^ht function freely. The December 1991 municipal elections were free and fair,
resulting in a peaceful, constitutional change of local governments.
Suffrage is universal and obligatory. There are no legal impediments to women
or members of indigenous groups voting, holding political office, or rising to leadership
in the Government. Nevertheless, the number of women who have attained
prominent positions in politics is still small, and indigenous groups have little representation
in the Government.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding Intemationcd and Nongovernmental Investigation
ofAlleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government is sensitive to the opinions of domestic and international human
rights organizations and is willing to discuss human rights concerns with them.
Both chambers of Congress have committees responsible for monitoring the observance
of human rights. The Catholic Church, APDHB, labor organizations, and the
press have been aggressive monitors of human rights and comment frequently on
relevant issues and developments. International groups such as Amnest^^ International
and the Washington Office on Latin America also observe human rights in
Bolivia and have visited uie country.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Although the law contains an advanced family code passed in the 1970's, Bolivian
women generally do not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. Many rural and
poor women are unaware of their rights under the law, and traditional prejudices,
social conditions, and limited political influence remain major obstacles to advancement
for women. In rural families, women contribute significantly to economic activity
and often control the family finances but nonetheless are considered socially and
politically subordinate. In urban settings, women are slowly achieving a greater role
in business and professional life, as their participation in cooperatives, community
affairs, and education increases. In both rural and urban settings, women are more
likely than men to be illiterate and employed in low-level or domestic jobs.
There are no reliable or complete statistics indicating the extent of violence
against women in Bolivia. However, many women and some women's rights groups
have made credible charges that this is a serious problem. Violence against women
is a criminal offense in Bolivia, and legal sanctions are regularly applied when cases
come to the attention of the authorities. There is no penalty, however, for domestic
violence that results in "mild wounds" if the family members involved live together.
Women are reluctant to bring charges in cases of domestic violence, and abuse such
as wife beating is underreported. Legal counseling is available for women on a limited
basis through private organizations. The Center for Investigation and Development
of Women, along with other oi^anizations such as the Tlatform for Women,"
is working through Congress to change the Penal Code in order to extend better protection
for women from violence.
Although prohibited by the Constitution, discrimination against people of indigenous
background continues. The Aymaraand Quechua-speaking Indian majority of
the population remains at the lower end of the country's socioeconomic scale and
is disadvantaged in terms of health, life expectancy, education, income, literacy, and
employment. Government programs, including infrastructure projects sponsored by
the social investment fiind such as schools, health clinics, and water systems, directly
beneflt some of the disadvantaged.
Section 6. Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Bolivian workers may establish and join organizations
of their own choosing. The Labor Code requires previous authorization for the
establishment of a trade union, restricts more than one union from establishing itself
at a given enterprise, and allows the Government to dissolve trade unions by
administrative act. However, the Government does not enforce these provisions of
the law and has used none of these powers in recent history. The Labor Code also
denies civU servants the right to organize and prohibits strikes in all public services,
including banks and public markets. Nevertheless, virtually all government workers
are unionized.
Workers in the private sector possess and frequently exercise the ridit to strike.
The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts has criticized
the requirement in the Labor Code that strike votes require the approval of threefourths
of employees actually in service instead of a simple majority. Solidarity
strikes are illegal, but the Government has never prosecuted those responsible for
such strikes. The only significant strike in 1992 was a public schoolteadiers' strike
which had wide civic support and resulted in a pay raise for teachers.
Unions are not truly independent of the Government and political parties. All
unions are underfinanced and depend on outside support. The political parties all
have labor committees that attempt to influence union activity, but they nave been
only partially successful in recent years. The Government places no restrictions on
a union's rirfit to join international labor organizations. The Bolivian Labor Confederation
(COB) became an affiliate of the Communist-dominated World Federation of
Trade Unions in 1988.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Bolivian workers have the
legal right to organize and bargain collectively. The law does not extend this right
to government workers, but the distinction is largely ignored in practice, as virtually
all government workers are organized. Consultations between government representatives
and labor leaders are common but there are no collective bargaining
agreements as the term is normally used. In state industries, the union issues a list
of demands, and the Government concedes some points. Private sector employers
normally use public sector settlements as guidelines for their own adjustments, and
some private sector employers even exceed what the Government grants. However,
the Government, conscious of International Monetary Fund guidelines, rarely grants
wage increases that exceed the rate of inflation. As in the public sector, there is no
real collective bargaining and no signed agreements.
The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers.
Complaints are referred to the National Labor Court, which often takes a
year or more to rule on a question. Labor activists say that a problem is often moot
Dy the time the court rules.
In July the Minister of Labor rescinded the "trade union leave" of two union leaders.
This leave guarantees the right of workers to function as labor leaders and still
receive their s^uaries. Apparently, one of the reasons for rescinding this leave was
that the two leaders worlced with the American Institute of Free Labor Development.
After the U.S. Ambassador protested the Labor Minister's act, the two leaders
were fired from their iobs at the petroleum workers' social security clinic. The Labor
Minister then ordered, them reinstated in their jobs, but the employer refused to let
tjiem return to work, despite a provision in the Bolivian Constitution that guarantees
freedom of association. To date, neither the jobs nor union positions have been
There are seven special commercial or industrial duty-free zones in Bolivia, and
labor law and practice are the same in these zones as in the rest of the country.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or com-
{mlsoiy labor and the law is generally complied with ana enforced. No cases of
breed or compulsory labor were reported during 1992.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The law prohibits the employment
of persons under 18 years of age in dangerous, unhealthy, or immoral work. Bolivia's
labor code is ambiguous on the conditions of emplojnment for minors from age
14 through 17 years of^age, and it permits apprenticeship for children between the
ages of 12 and 14. This practice has been repeatedly criticized by ILO committees,
to which the Government resnonded that it would present legislation reforming this
and other provisions of the Labor Code by the end of the year. Responsibility for
enforcing cnild labor provisions lies with the National Office of Minors which is part
of the &)vemment's Social Action Group for the Presidency. Existing legal provisions
concerning employment of children are generally not enforced; young children
can be found on the streets hawking goods, shining shoes, and assisting transport
operators. They are not usually employed in factories or businesses. Bolivia has
compulsory education throu^ the elementary level. In practice, all urban children
receive elementary education while only a half of rural children do. Less than 30
percent of Bolivian children advance beyond elementary school.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government, both by statute and presidential
decree, has established a minimum wage and system of bonuses and fringe
benefits. A worker earning only the minimum wage would not be able to sustain
a decent standard of living, let alone support a family. However, woricers in most
occupations earn more than the minimum wage. Though the minimum wage is well
below the prevailing wage in most occupations, it is significant because certain
fringe benefits are pegged to it. Approximately 20 percent of the urban work force
street vendors, shoe polishers, and lottery ticket sellers, for example—are not covered
by the minimum wage.
In urban areas, only half the labor force enjoys an 8-hour workday and a workweek
of 5 or SVz days. Like many other labor laws, the maximum legal workweek
of 44 hours is not enforced. Responsibility for the protection of workers health and
safety lies with the Labor Ministry's Bureau of Occupational Safety. Labor laws that
provide for the protection of workers' health and safety are not adeqpiately enforced.
Although the state-owned mining corporation Comibol has a special office charged
with mine safety, the mines, often old and operated with antiquated equipment, are
particularly dangerous and unhealthy.