Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

Bolivia is a multiparty democracy with an elected president
and bicameral legislature. With no presidential candidate
receiving an absolute majority of the popular vote in the
elections of May 7, 1989, the Bolivian Congress selected Jaime
Paz Zamora to be President, in accordance with procedures
mandated by the Constitution. Paz Zamora succeeded Victor Paz
Estenssoro as President on August 6, 1989.
Police security forces and the military are generally
controlled by and responsive to the civilian Government.
Bolivia is the second poorest country in the Western
Hemisphere, and its economy only began to show consistent
growth in 1988-89 after years of severe contraction. Although
rich in mineral resources, in recent years Bolivia has
experienced high domestic production costs and low
international minerals prices. A major restructuring of the
minerals industry has contributed to already high
unemployment, currently about 20 percent.
The outgoing Paz Estenssoro administration's stringent
economic reforms ended the financial mismanagement and
hyperinflation of 1982-85 but were strongly opposed by
organized labor. Small coca-growing farmers resisted the
outgoing administration's antinarcotics campaign.
Human rights are provided for by the Constitution and are
widely respected. In response to increasingly violent street
demonstrations and a prolonged hunger strike in support of
teachers' union demands, the Government imposed a state of
siege on November 15 and detained more than 850 labor
activists; most were released within hours, nearly all within
10 days. People of European or mixed-race origin continue to
dominate the political and economic system to the detriment of
ethnic Indians. There are occasional reports of abuse of
prisoners and detainees by police, as well as concerns about
an overburdened and sometimes corrupt judicial system.
Bolivian women do not yet enjoy a status in society equal to
that of men but are gradually assuming a greater role in
business and the professions.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no political or other extrajudicial killings by the
Government in 1989. A terrorist group calling itself "Zarate
Willca" claimed responsibility for the politically motivated
machine-gun murder of two American citizen Mormon missionaries
in La Paz in May 1989. A government investigation resulted in
the arrest of four persons on charges of terrorist activities
and other crimes. No findings were announced in the
Government's investigation into the reported death of a
peasant at Achacachi last year at the hands of the military.
Late in 1989 Bolivian authorities arrested Luis Arce Gomez,
the notorious Interior Minister of the regime of General
Garcia Meza in 1980-1981. Widely despised for his role in the
tortures, kidnapings, and extrajudicial killing which
characterized that regime, Arce Gomez was also active in
narcotics trafficking. He faced charges and prosecution in
both Bolivia and the United States.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances
in Bolivia in 1989. Judicial proceedings are continuing in
cases involving disappearances during the early 1980 "s (before
the restoration of democracy), and the courts collected
further testimony as evidence during 1989.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture, and the Government neither
condones nor practices such activity. However, there have
been occasional charges of cruelty toward or degrading
treatment of detainees by individual police officers. Police,
prison, and security personnel are rarely tried and punished
for such acts. Corruption, malnutrition, unsanitary
conditions, and drug-related problems are endemic in Bolivia's
overcrowded prison system.
Clear evidence surfaced in 1989 of serious human rights abuses
over a period of years at the Espejos Rehabilitation Farm in
Santa Crcz department. According to testimony and forensic
evidence made public in late 1989, a number of prisoners were
severely mistreated and some, perhaps 40 or more, died and
were secretly buried in a clandestine cemetery. The officer
in charge of Los Espejos has been remanded for criminal
prosecution, and other officials face sanctions of various
The Government which took office on August 6 is publicly
committed to ameliorating conditions in the country's prisons.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution requires a court order for an arrest, and
detainees must be charged or released within 24 hours. The
Constitution also provides for a judicial determination of the
legality of a 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 in Bolivia except in
certain narcotics cases, and bail is generally granted.
Under the provisions of the state of siege declared by the
President on November 15, constitutional protections were
suspended and over 850 labor union activists were detained in
overnight police roundups. About 150 were transported to
small communities for internal exile, but all were released
within 10 days.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitutional right of fair public trial is adhered to in
most respects, but long delays in the judicial system are
common. Investigations, trials, and appeals procedures are so
lengthy that some prisoners eventually serve more time than
the maximum sentence for the crime with which they are being
charged. Defendants have the righ_ 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 provided because of a shortage of funds and
qualified personnel. The Constitution authorizes the Supreme
Court, Bolivia's highest civilian judicial body, to review
legislative measures to determine if they are in accordance
with a citizen's "specific rights or the Constitution."
The military regime of 1976 revised the military penal code
and established the military court system. The law defined
and established military jurisdiction over actions against the
security of the State and against military personnel and
Corruption of the judicial system remains a serious problem.
Narcotics traffickers often bribe judicial and other officials
in exchange for releasing suspected traffickers and their
aircraft, returning captured drugs, and purging incriminating
files. The Government has taken some steps to discipline
Bolivia's judicial system. Under provisions of the
antinarcotics legislation signed into law in July 1988, the
Government has begun creating three-judge special narcotics
control courts. They are to function as first-instance
tribunals in narcotics-related cases.
Terrorist threats against judges and other officials involved
in the cases of four detainees allegedly linked to "Zarate
Willca" (see Section l.a.) delayed the timely consideration of
the charges against the four defendants.
      f. 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 are normally respected
in practice.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
By law, citizens enjoy freedom of speech and exercise it
widely without government interference. Both state-owned and
private radio and television stations operate in Bolivia. All
newspapers are privately owned. Since the restoration of
democracy in 1982, Bolivians have enjoyed a generally
unrestricted press representing the full spectrum of political
The privately owned La Paz television channel 4 and Radio
Metropolitana, which were closed by the Government in June
1988 after they broadcast an interview with then-fugitive
narcotics trafficker Roberto Suarez, were allowed to reopen in
1989. The owner of the two closed media outlets organized a
political party in September 1988 and campaigned freely for
president, even while his stations remained off the air. His
party won a plurality in the balloting in La Paz Department.
The Government has consistently respected academic freedom.
Public universities enjoy autonomous status by law, and that
status is respected.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The rights of peaceful assembly and association are provided
for by law and generally respected in practice.
On November 14, however, the Government imposed a state of
siege in response to civil disturbances growing out of a
strike by the nation's teachers, and police arrested over 850
people (see Section l.d.)- Apart from the arrests, curfew
restrictions and other curbs on assembly were relatively minor.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Roman Catholicism predominates in Bolivia, and the
Constitution recognizes it as the country's official religion;
Catholic bishops receive a nominal stipend from the State.
Other religious groups, however, operate openly. The Mormons,
Baha'is, Seventh-Day Adventists, Methodists, and others freely
proselytize and operate churches, training centers, and social
welfare projects throughout the country. The small Jewish
community has not reported any discrimination. Citizens are
free to practice the religion of their choice and to maintain
links with coreligionists abroad.
The Government has issued rules designating the Roman Catholic
Church to coordinate all public ceremonies in which
governmental authorities and institutions participate. Based
on a decree issued in July 1985, the Government of President
Paz Estenssoro (1985-1989) declared all existing religious
registrations void, and required religious groups to
reregister. In 1989 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Worship reiterated that numerous religious groups were
operating in Bolivia illegally (that is, without legal
registration) and threatened to begin legal proceedings
against them. The Government of President Paz Zamora has
indicated that it may move soon to write the administrative
regulations for registration into law, a step which would
require further congressional action. Some evangelical
Protestant groups complain that they are subject to more
stringent registration procedures than the Catholic Church.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on travel within 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 function freely both in and out of the
Congress. On May 7, Bolivia held free and fair elections
which resulted in a peaceful, constitutional change of
administration on August 6.
Suffrage has been universal since the 1952 revolution.
Nevertheless, people of European or mixed-race origin are
predominant in the political system.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government is sensitive to the opinions of both
international and domestic organizations and is willing to
discuss human rights concerns with them. The Congress has
committees responsible for monitoring observance of human
rights. The Catholic Church, the Permanent Assembly on Human
Rights in Bolivia (APDHB) , labor organizations, and the press
have been aggressive monitors of human rights. These
organizations comment frequently on issues and developments
related to human rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Although protected in theory and sometimes in practice by
social legislation, Bolivian women do not enjoy a social
status equal to that of men. Cultural traditions, social
conditions, and limited political influence remain major
obstacles to advancement for women. In rural families, women
contribute significantly to economic activities and often
control the family finances, but nonetheless they 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.
There are no reliable and complete statistics indicating the
extent of violence against women in Bolivia. A study prepared
by a women's rights group in November 1989 cataloged 98
articles in 5 major newspapers between March and October 1989
concerning violence involving women (including such categories
as suicide, attempted suicide, and death in childbirth).
Violence against women is a criminal offense in Bolivia, and
legal sanctions are regularly applied when cases come to the
attention of the authorities. However, many women are
reluctant to bring charges in cases of domestic violence, and
the incidence of such abuse as wife beating is very likely
underreported. Legal counseling is available for women on a
limited basis through private organizations.
Although prohibited by the Constitution, discrimination
against people of indigenous background continues. The
Aymara- and 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, and employment. All political leaders
acknowledge it is a problem. The Government's programs to
ease Bolivia's economic crisis, including activities sponsered
by the Social Emergency Fund, are of direct benefit to some of
the disadvantaged, within the constraints of severely limited
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Bolivian workers have the right to establish and join
organizations of their own choosing, and they are free to
elect their own leaders. They possess and exercise the right
to strike. Labor law prohibits any labor contract which
denies workers' constitutional rights and freedoms. The
Bolivian Workers Central (COB), an umbrella labor organization
which represents the majority of unionized workers, is
independent of the Government. In past years it has
frequently paralyzed the economy with crippling strikes. In
1989, despite declines in membership and political influence,
the COB mobilized demonstrations on various social and
economic issues throughout the country.
Some COB affiliates, such as the teachers' union, went out on
strike for extended periods during 1989. Antigovernment labor
demonstrations, most of which were associated with these
strikes, were generally more peaceful than in the past, but
some occasionally resulted in violence between demonstrators
and police or military personnel. On November 15, the
Government declared a state of siege and detained over 850
labor activists including officials of the teachers' union as
well as senior officers of the Communist-led COB. About 159
of those detained were sent to internal exile in small towns
but all were released within 10 days.
The Government places no restrictions on a union's right to
join international labor organizations. The COB, which had
been independent since its founding in 1952, became an
affiliate of the Communist-controlled World Federation of
Trade Unions in 1988. As in previous years, the COB in 1989
was represented at the International Labor Organization (ILO)
convention in Geneva.
In its 1989 report, the ILO Committee of Experts (COE) cited
several provisions of Bolivian labor law which do not conform
with Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, including:
denial of the right of public workers to organize unions; the
requirement for prior authorization before forming a union;
the limit of one union in an enterprise; the possibility of
dissolving a union by administrative action; and, the power of
the executive to prohibit strikes by imposing compulsory
arbitration. The Committee encouraged the Government to adopt
legislation developed in cooperation with the ILO which would
rectify these shortcomings.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Bolivian workers have the right to organize and bargain
collectively. Tha law does not extend this right to
government workers, but the distinction is largely ignored in
practice, as virtually all government workers are unionized.
Negotiations between government representatives and freely
elected labor leaders are common.
The Labor Ministry has an established procedure for resolving
union complaints of discrimination or unfair practices by
employers and does not hesitate to involve itself in mediation
of labor disputes. In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling, a
legal dispute over the procedure by which unions select their
leaders is pending and may have to be settled by legislation.
There are no export processing zones or other areas in which
organizing or collective bargaining are impeded.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Bolivian law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and none
has been reported.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Bolivian law prohibits the employment of minors under 18 years
of age in dangerous, unhealthy, or immoral work. Revisions in
Bolivia's 50-year-old Labor Code, which Bolivian officials
discussed during the year with experts from the ILO, may
clarify ambiguities in the law concerning the employment of
children under 14 years of age. In practice, the legal
provisions concerning employment of children are not
rigorously enforced.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Bolivia's labor laws contain conditions for child protection,
paid vacations, and protection of workers' health and safety.
In practice these laws are not rigorously observed, and the
Government has not provided funds for adequate enforcement.
The mines, often old and operated with antiquated equipment,
are particularly dangerous and unhealthy. In urban areas,
about half the labor force observe an 8-hour day and a
workweek of 5 or 5 1/2 days.
Bolivia has a minimum wage law as well as an elaborate system
of bonuses and compensations for the private sector. In 1989
the Government fixed the minimum wage at the equivalent of
approximately $23 per month. A minimum wage earner cannot
easily support a family at an acceptable standard of living.
Moreover, labor leaders and the APDHB, while conceding the
Government's achievements in bringing financial stability out
of the chaos of 1985, continue to express concern that high
rates of unemployment are contributing to difficult living
conditions, despite the modest economic gains of 1987-89