Democracy and rights

The democratic institutions are weak in Bolivia abbreviated as BOL, and the shortcomings are great in respect for human and civil liberties and the principles of the rule of law. Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the constitution, but especially investigative journalists risk legal processes and the media is increasingly crowded by the government.

Political parties can be formed and function freely and elections have been held regularly. But since the Movement for Socialism (MAS) came to power in 2006, it became so dominant in society that other parties had a hard time making an impact. MAS opponents also accused the regime of harassment through the judiciary.

One line of contention has long been MAS’s efforts to invalidate the Constitution’s ban on more than two consecutive terms of office for a president. In a 2016 referendum, voters said no to allowing the president to sit for three terms instead of two. But MAS did not settle for that, but managed to get the Constitutional Court to rule that the rule is not “applicable,” which meant that then-President Evo Morales was given the green light to stand for a fourth term in the 2019 election. extensive protests and demonstrations by both supporters and opponents of the government, sometimes with violent elements. At one point, the Constitutional Court building in Santa Cruz was burnt down.

After the election, the protests grew into a storm against what the opposition perceived as electoral fraud and after three weeks Evo Morales resigned. The interim president who succeeded him, Jeanine Áñez, gave police and military the right to use force to defeat protests (see Current Policy). An election was scheduled for May 2020 but has been postponed indefinitely due to the corona pandemic.

In international rankings that measure democracy and the rule of law, Bolivia falls far below the Latin American countries. Only prominent authoritarian states rank much lower, such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In Transparency International’s index of corruption in 180 countries and territories, Bolivia is in 123rd place (the entire list is here).

Anti-corruption laws are poorly enforced and corruption is widespread in many public sector and economic sectors, such as the police and extractive industries. There is no law that guarantees access to public information. People elected by the people must declare their income, but neither is the information disclosed.

Freedom of expression and media

The law guarantees freedom of speech and censorship does not exist. But harassment and political pressures directed at journalists exist. The situation was made worse by the increasing polarization between supporters and opponents of President Morales.

According to a 2009 decree, media that “lie”, engage in party politics or “insult” the government can be denied access to publicly funded advertising. Journalists who are perceived as particularly troublesome are often persecuted by the judiciary. The National Journalists ‘Association warns that police are monitoring journalists’ activities online. Arbitrary arrests and widespread impunity for violence against journalists contribute to self-censorship.

Representatives of the MAS government occasionally accused critical journalists of being part of an international conspiracy against President Morales.

At the same time, the media themselves contributed to the increasingly tight tone. Reporters Without Borders has reported on media that gave way to pure rashness against Morales, who is aymara, while his supporters in La Paz resorted to violent attacks on representatives of privately owned media.

In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Bolivia is ranked 114 out of 180 countries. In South America, only the crisis and war-affected countries Venezuela and Colombia are worse off (the entire list is here).

A new law for telecommunications was adopted in 2011 and strengthened the state’s control over the etheric media. The law was met with harsh criticism from the private media companies, which were largely opposed to President Morale’s policies.

Judicial system and legal security

Traditionally, the judiciary has been under strong political influence and permeated by corruption at all levels. During President Morale’s first term in office, several judges were dismissed for cooperating with the right-wing opposition, and new appointments failed due to political contradictions. It crippled an already ineffective legal system, and Morales was accused of politicizing the judiciary.

In all of Latin America, only Venezuela ranks lower in the World Justice Project’s ranking of legal certainty in 126 countries in 2018 (Cuba was not included in the ranking).

As of the 2009 constitution, the judges in the country’s four highest courts are elected in general elections. The Supreme Court has nine members and the Constitutional Court has seven. The first judicial election was held in 2011. However, the opposition boycotted the election which was seen as part of the politicization of the judiciary. Nearly 60 percent of the votes were declared invalid, but in January 2012, 56 newly elected judges were sworn in. About half were women, and for the first time some of the new judges belonged to the indigenous population.

The courts are inefficient, the resources small and the judges’ wages low. Influential people have therefore been able to influence the judiciary and buy themselves free from punishment, while poor people are often discriminated against. Conditions in overcrowded prisons are poor. It is estimated that two out of three detainees are not convicted of crimes but are awaiting trial.

Accusations of torture and ill-treatment have repeatedly been directed against the police and the military. These have shown great brutality against protesters and arbitrary arrests have taken place.

The official justice system is particularly weak in rural areas, where traditional justice has been applied for a long time. The Constitution from 2009 strengthened the position of customary law within the framework of indigenous rights. In 2010, a law was passed that gives the indigenous people the right to resolve disputes in accordance with the local legal tradition.

Lack of trust in police and courts often results in local residents taking the law into their own hands with lynching and murder as a result. Journalist Carlos Valverde documented some 30 such murders during 18 months 2009-2010. In 2012, the military was sent to the big cities to assist the police in the fight against the growing crime.

Legal aftermath

A series of murders and disappearances during the dictatorship 1971-1982 are still unresolved. However, one of the last dictators, Luis García Meza, was convicted of human rights violations and had to serve almost half of a 30-year prison sentence before he died in 2018, 88 years old.

Prosecutions were also brought against former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and 16 other people for, among other things, genocide in connection with the military killing of protesters in 2003 (see Modern History). Four former generals and an admiral were sentenced in 2011 to between 10 and 15 years in prison, and two former ministers received 3 years in prison. It was the first time a Bolivia civil court has convicted high-ranking human rights criminals. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada has been in exile in the US since 2003 who has refused to extradite him to Bolivia. But in 2018, the ex-president and his defense minister José Carlos Sánchez Berzain lost a civil case lawsuit in a federal court in Florida, and was ordered to pay $ 10 million in damages to relatives of victims. The verdict was immediately rescinded by another judge but can be appealed again.

Bolivia Crime Rate & Statistics

Bolivia Democracy and Rights
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