Incidents occurring between the Bolivian government and the Bolivian Urban Teacher's Union (Federacion Departamental de Trabajadores de Educacion Urbana de la Paz) and the Central Worker's Confederation (Central Obrera Boliviana, COB); relationship between the government and its teachers (1999-April 2002) [BOL38520.E]

Information on incidents occurring between the government of Bolivia and trade unions, including the Central Worker's Confederation (Central Obrera Boliviana, COB) and various teachers unions in 1999 and 2000 is extensive. For teachers' unions, while several reports indicate the specific union involved, most English reports make reference to teachers' unions in more general terms and it is therefore often unclear whether the union involved is in fact the Federacion Departamental de Trabajadores de Educacion Urbana de la Paz, the Bolivian Urban Teacher's Union.

Information of a more general nature, other than that reported in the context of union actions, regarding the relationship between the government of Bolivia and its primary and secondary school teachers could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to Country Reports 1999, there were a number of significant strikes during 1999 which centred on annual negotiations of salaries and benefits for public employees (2000, sec. 6a). Country Reports 1999 states,

Most strikes were conducted and led by the militant Trotskyite element of the Urban Teachers Union, which protested the Government's education reform plan, including reform of teacher training institutions, a merit-based salary system, and decentralization designed to give municipalities greater control over education (ibid.).

In 2000, there were two distinct periods of labour unrest, the first occurring in April which resulted in the government declaring a stage of siege from 8 - 20 April, and the second occurring in September and October (Country Reports 2000 2001, intro. and sec. 1a; LAWR 3 Oct. 2000; AI 2001). What follows details these incidents and the involvement of both the COB and unions representing the interests of teachers. Country Reports 2000 (2001) and 1999 (2000) also contain details of labour unrest in Bolivia within this time frame. Throughout 2001 and in early 2002, there are several reports of demonstrations involving various teachers unions, but fewer than in the previous two years.

According to the United States Department of State's 1999 Country Reports on Economic Policy and Trade Practices, the leadership of the urban teachers' union is "the most aggressive affiliate within the COB" (Mar. 2000). In opposition to the government's attempts at educational reform, this union conducted several strikes throughout 1999 (ibid.). In February 1999, teachers held what the Latin American Regional Report (LARR) Andean Group Report refers to as "the annual school teachers strike" (2 Mar. 1999, 8). According to this report, the "90,000 state school teachers have traditionally been among the most militant groups in Bolivia" (ibid.). During the February strike, which lasted three weeks (ibid.), the Weekly News Update on the Americas reported that on 10 February, the government began to fire those teachers participating in the strike, replacing them with university students and others "to work as replacement teachers" (14 Feb. 1999). The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions' (ICFTU) Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights corroborates the government's stated intention to do this (2000).

Regarding the February 1999 strike, Latinamerica Press writes:

Public school teachers... failed to show up for classes on Feb. 1, the first day of the school year, launching a strike instead.
The protest began a few days after Education Minister Tito Hoz de Vila announced that any teacher absent from classes for more than six days would be dismissed.
... On Feb. 10, Vilma Plata, the leader of urban teachers, was arrested after physically attacking the director of a school who had attempted to replace a striking teacher. A prosecutor accused Plata of sedition and causing bodily harm.
Teachers decided to return to classes Feb. 22. Hoz de Vila said that "unfortunately" 12 teachers were suspended this year for not complying with the decree and obeying union leaders (8 Mar. 1999, 5).

On 11 March 1999, teachers, students and parents demonstrated in La Paz, demanding that Plata, referred to as the leader of the La Paz Departmental Teachers' Federation, be released (Weekly News Update 15 Mar. 1999). Reports of the release of Plata were not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate, however she is mentioned again in connection with April and September 2000 demonstrations (see below) (EFE 14 Apr. 2000; IPS 27 Sept. 2000).

The Weekly News Update reported on 3 May 1999 that "some 15,000 Bolivian university students, campesinos and teachers blocked the centre of La Paz with massive demonstrations on April 30" demanding that the government resolve Bolivia's economic crisis. According to this report, the demonstrations turned violent "with clashes between demonstrators and police in riot-gear" (ibid.). On 1 May 1999, La Paz's "May Day" march brought 25,000 "farmers, teachers, miners and union leaders" out to deliver "scathing attacks against the government's economic policy" (AFP 1 May 1999). According to the Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights, the COB national union centre was involved in organizing demonstrations on this day (ICFTU 2000).

On 9 June 1999, the COB called a strike to protest the economic and social policies of the government which, according to the Weekly News Update, partially shut down activities in La Paz and other cities (14 June 1999). During this strike action, public school teachers were reported to be "out in force, protesting the government's 'education reform' plan" and efforts to privatize teacher training (ibid.). The strike was declared illegal by the government (ibid.).

On 9 November 1999, the La Paz urban public school teachers' union and professors at the San Andres Greater University reportedly marched in Bolivia's main cities to demonstrate against "a new public employment statute that they say violates university autonomy and restricts basic rights" (Weekly News Update 15 Nov. 1999). The COB was involved in efforts to have the statute repealed because, as COB president Milton Gomez is reported to have stated, "it violates the basic rights of workers" (ibid.).

In response to a proposed increase in the cost of water supply in Cochabamba, widespread demonstrations took place in early 2000 (NACLA 1 Mar. 2001; LARR 16 May 2000). According to NACLA:

Protestors took to the streets of the Bolivian city in the valleys east of the Andes [in] January, February and April when the new owners of the municipal water system sharply increased the rates. A number of activist groups held parallel protests, including the small-scale coca growers (cocaleros) around Cochabamba, highlands campesinos and teachers' unions (1 Mar. 2001).

The protests in Cochabamba escalated and resulted in the government declaring a state of siege on 8 April 2000 (AI 2001; ibid. 14 Apr. 2000; Latinamerican Press 24 Apr. 2000). According to an Amnesty International press release, a state of siege, as defined by the Bolivian constitution, is "an emergency measure which can be taken by the executive to maintain public order 'in cases of serious danger resulting from an internal civil disturbance'"(14 Apr. 2000). Amnesty International detailed allegations of human rights violations during the state of siege in its annual report covering the year 2000:

Scores of union and community leaders were arrested; most were held incommunicado detention and sent into internal exile. Five people, including an army officer and a minor, were reportedly killed during violent confrontations between protesters and the military. A media blackout was imposed and local radio stations were forced off the air (2001).

According to EFE News Service, Vilma Plata, leader of the Urban Teachers' Union, stated that urban and rural schools throughout Bolivia were closed due to the "teachers' walkout" (14 Apr. 2000). On 17 and 18 April, "urban teachers, university students and teacher training students in La Paz" held protests and several preventative arrests were made (Weekly News Update 24 Apr. 2000).

The government lifted the state of siege on 20 April 2000 (ibid.; LARR 16 May 2000). According to NACLA, by May 2000,

...a social movement which united urban and rural Cochabambinos had forced the government to return the water company to public control. The other protesters pressured [President Hugo] Banzer into addressing land tenure laws, the installation of Chapare region military bases and teachers' salaries and working conditions (1 Mar. 2001).

"More intense and widespread" conflicts "erupted" in September, largely focused on coca eradication, among other issues (ibid.). The Weekly News Update of 18 September 2000 reported that the Bolivian Confederation of Urban Teachers started an "open-ended" strike on 13 September, demanding a 50 percent wage increase. The public school teachers, cocaleros and other labour sectors "had the country virtually shut down by Sept. 23" (ibid. 25 Sept. 2000). On 26 September 2000, Vilma Plata was again detained by police for several hours (IPS 27 Sept. 2000).

According to reports, security forces used "excessive and arbitrary force" against demonstrators, and 10 people died and more than 100 were injured between 24 September and 2 October 2000 (Latinamerica Press 9 Oct. 2000; AI 2001). The Weekly News Update reported 11 deaths (2 Oct. 2000).

LAWR reported that on 13 October 2000 the government reached agreements with the Central Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos (CSUTC, representing farmworkers), the federation of coca-growers from the department of La Paz, and the urban and rural teachers confederations (17 Oct. 2000). Teachers were to receive a bonus of approximately 50 dollars (US) as well as "respect for the existing seniority structure ...unionisation rights and a number of improvements to working conditions" (ibid.). Reports on whether these conditions were fulfilled were not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

In early 2001, teachers and teachers' unions were reported to be involved in various marches and demonstrations (Weekly News Update 25 Mar. 2001; ibid. 1 Apr. 2001; AP 9 Apr. 2001). In March 2001, teachers joined several other groups in a march organized by the COB (Weekly News Update 25 Mar. 2001). According to AP, teachers "shut down many schools... throughout the country" during the first week of April in a general protest against government policies (9 Apr. 2001) and La Paz teachers were on strike to demand several weeks back wages (Weekly News Update 15 Apr. 2001). The COB reportedly started negotiations with the government on 10 and 11 April, pulled out due to the arrest of "between 50 and 150 people" on 12 April, and resumed talks with the government on 14 April (ibid.). According to an El Pais report, two prominent union leaders Oscar Olivera and Evo Morales reportedly "confirmed that protest leaders [were] being targeted for assassination" (ibid.), however reports corroborating these allegations were not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Regarding the new protests, an analyst with the Latin American Institute of Social Investigations is cited in AP as saying "the government never really solved the problems of last year... the conflicts are repeating themselves" (AP 9 Apr. 2001).

Teachers were further involved in marches, strikes and demonstrations in late April (Weekly News Update 30 Apr. 2001) and early May (AFP 1 May 2001), however, Los Tiempos, a Cochabamba daily as cited in Weekly News Update, reported that only 20 per cent of school teachers observed a country-wide strike of 2 May (6 May 2001).

In October 2001, police were reported to have used tear gas against students and teachers in La Paz who were demonstrating against the privatization of the technical school system (Weekly News Update 14 Oct. 2001). Teachers were also reported to have joined in demonstrations in January of 2002 (ibid. 27 Jan. 2002). Further reports on the activities of teachers unions, and specifically the Bolivian Urban Teacher's Union, were not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

The following excerpt from a NACLA Report on the Americas article provides some insight into the relationship between the COB and teachers' unions and, in the opinion of the authors, the eroding strength of the COB, as of 1 March 2001:

State mine closures in 1985 cut 23,000 jobs, leaving less than 7,000 union miners employed, and crippling the miners union--long the leading force in the COB. Political infighting further weakened the demoralized labor federation, and Bolivia's neoliberal governments, bolstered by their international allies, pressed every advantage they could to destroy the COB's power. Where the COB continued to lead resistance--in the ongoing battle of the teachers unions against the 1995 educational reform, for example--the struggles were isolated or focused on sectoral issues, and not on the society-wide distributional or political battles of the past. As a consequence, teachers and other groups made little headway. The pattern was seen during the mid-1990s resistance to the privatizing of the railways, the oil and gas industry, the national airline and other industries. The apparently relentless privatization of the fruits of 50 years of labor struggle further demoralized the COB and called its legitimacy into question. In its last congress, the urban teachers union and other sectors of unionized workers refused to participate, and squabbles over control of ever-reduced power continued unabated. Even worse, the last two COB congresses, both held in 2000, had no quorum and therefore could elect no leadership.

BOL36724.E of 12 March 2001 contains further information on the COB. On 28 August 2001, AFP reported that Juan Lechin Oquendo, the 89 year-old founder of the COB, died of heart failure.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 28 August 2001. "Bolivian Union Figure Juan Lechin Oquendo Dies at 89." (NEXIS)

_____. 1 May 2001. "Bolivian Protestors Call General Strike Despite Resumption of Dialogue." (NEXIS)

____. 13 April 2000. "Bolivian Students Clash Again with Police in Capital." (NEXIS)

_____. 1 May 1999. Antonio Ortega. "Latin Americans Demand Higher Wages, Jobs on May Day." (NEXIS)

Amnesty International (AI). 2001. International Report 2001. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2002]

_____. 2000. Annual Report 2000.$FILE/bolivia_2000.pdf [Accessed 10 Apr. 2002]

_____. 14 April 2000. "Bolivia: The State of Siege is No Excuse For Human Rights Violations." (AI Index: AMR 18/02/00) [Accessed 10 Apr. 2002]

Associated Press (AP). 9 April 2001. Vanessa Arrington. "Tensions, Protests Mount in Bolivia as Social Crisis Deepens." (NEXIS)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000. 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 4 Apr. 2002]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 4 Apr. 2002]

EFE News Service (EFE). 14 April 2000. "Bolivian Government Breaks up Protests, Reaches Agreement with Peasants." (NEXIS)

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) [Brussels]. 2000. Annual Survey Of Violations of Trade Union Rights. [Accessed 9 Apr. 2002]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 27 September 2000. Thomas Gebhardt. "Government Announces Anti-Protest Offensive." (NEXIS)

Latin American Regional Report (LARR) Andean Group Report. 16 May 2000. "Water Revolt Sparks Off Wider Protests."

_____. 2 March 1999. "Bolivia: Parent Power."

Latin American Weekly Report (LAWR)[London]. 17 October 2000. "'Uprising' Ends with Negotiated Solution: Shaky Deal with Cocaleros Could Become Unstuck Again." (NEXIS)

_____. 3 October 2000. "Banzer Tries to Halt New Bolivian 'Uprising' With Offers to Teachers and Coca Planters."

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 8 March 1999. "Strikers, Banzer Face Off."

_____. 24 April 2000. "Resistance and Repression."

_____. 9 October 2000. "Protests Paralyze Country."

North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) Report on the Americas. 1 March 2001. No. 5, Vol. 34. Linda Farthing and Ben Kohl. "Bolivia's New Wave of Protest." ("Linda Farthing and Ben Kohl worked in Bolivia for seven years. Linda is on the Board of the Andean Information Network, which works on drug war issues in Bolivia. Ben is Visiting Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University.") (NEXIS)

United States Department of State. March 2000. Country Reports on Economic Policies and Trade Practices 1999. Washington, DC. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2002]

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York [New York]. 27 January 2002. Issue 626. "Cocaleros March, Police Attack."

_____. 14 October 2001. Issue 611. "Cocaleros Talk, Conflict Looms."

_____. 6 May 2001. Issue 588. "Pact Halts Strike, Roadblocks."

_____. 30 April 2001. Issue 587. "Marchers Reach La Paz."

_____. 15 April 2001. Issue 585. "Campesinos, Workers March."

_____. 1 April 2001. Issue 583. "New Strikes and Marches."

_____. 25 March 2001. Issue 582. "One March Ends, Another Starts."

_____. 2 October 2000. Issue 557. "Eleven Killed in Bolivian Protests."

_____. 25 September 2000. Issue 556. "National Uprising Rocks Bolivia."

_____. 18 September 2000. Issue 555. "Teachers, Students and Campesinos Protest in Bolivia."

_____. 24 April 2000. Issue 534. "Bolivia: State of Siege Lifted."

_____. 15 November 1999. Issue 511. "Bolivian Workers, Campesinos Protest New Laws."

_____. 14 June 1999. Issue 489. "National General Strike in Bolivia."

_____. 15 March 1999. Issue 476. "Chilean Indigenous Clash with Police."

_____. 14 February 1999. Issue 472. "Striking Teachers Replaced in Bolivia."

_____. 3 May 1999. Issue 483. "Bolivian Workers, Students Stage Protests."

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

Latinamerica Press,

Latin American Regional Reports, Southern Cone Report,

Latin American Weekly Report,


World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites including:

Andean Information Network
Freedom House,

Freedom in the World 2000

Human Rights Watch
U.S. Department of State,

Economic Policies and Trade Practices 1999, 2000, 2001

World Confederation of Labour

World Socialist Website