Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.
A constitutional, multiparty democracy
with an elected president and bicameral legislature, Bolivia has
separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches with an
attorney general independent of all three. The judiciary, while
independent, is corrupt and inefficient. The executive and legislative
branches share these defects to some extent. The Government continued
to implement constitutional amendments to reform the judicial
system, which were passed in 1994; the reforms were partially
completed by the end of 1998.
The National Police have primary
responsibility for internal security, but military forces can
be called upon for help in critical situations. Military forces
provided security for coca eradication work crews in the Chapare
region. A special antinarcotics force (FELCN), including the
Mobile Rural Patrol Unit (UMOPAR), is dedicated to antinarcotics
enforcement. Civilian authorities maintain effective control
over the security forces, but some members of these forces committed
human rights abuses.
Bolivia has extensive poverty, and
many citizens lack access to such basic services as potable water,
sewage, electricity and primary health care. Per capita gross
domestic product (GDP) is about $930. The country is rich in
minerals and hydrocarbons, and extensive investments in petroleum
deposits in the eastern part of the country are expected to form
a basis for strong GDP growth in the future. However, most workers
engage in traditional agriculture, and many citizens remain barely
linked to the cash economy.
The Government generally respected
the human rights of its citizens; however, legal and institutional
deficiencies prevented their full protection. Human rights groups
criticized the FELCN and the UMOPAR for alleged abuses against
coca growers and peasants in the Chapare region. As many as 13
civilians and 2 policemen were killed in confrontations in that
region early in the year. The Government acknowledged responsibility
for 5 of the 13 deaths but failed to complete investigations to
determine the exact circumstances of these deaths. There were
credible reports of abuses by police, including use of excessive
force, petty theft, extortion, and improper arrests. Investigations
of alleged official abuses were slow. The most pervasive human
rights abuse continued to be prolonged incarceration of detainees
due to antiquated procedures and inefficiency and corruption in
the judicial system. Other problems include harsh prison conditions,
government attempts to intimidate some news media, discrimination
against and abuse of women and indigenous people, abuse of children,
and inhuman working conditions in the mining industry.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity
of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial
There were no reports of politically
motivated killings. However, as many as 13 civilians were killed
in the course of law enforcement operations that encountered armed
resistance from coca growers. Although the precise causes and
circumstances of these deaths have not been determined officially,
there is no credible evidence that the security forces used force
except in self-defense. However, it also is not clear whether
or not their use of force was excessive. The Government has not
investigated fully any of these deaths.
Beginning on April 1, a series of
clashes between protesting coca growers and security forces led
to the deaths of at least 13 civilians and 2 policemen. Four
of the civilians and the two policemen died of gunshot wounds.
Two civilians died of alleged tear gas asphyxiation. Autopsies
were performed on only three of the civilian victims; the Government
stated that the bodies of the rest were withheld from security
forces and buried without autopsy, precluding definitive conclusions
regarding the causes of death.
On May 9, more fighting broke out
between government security forces and coca growers. A group
of about 250 peasant farmers attacked an eradication work crew.
Government forces claimed that they were shot at first, after
which they returned fire with tear gas and live ammunition. Three
farmers were wounded. On May 12, a topographer from DIRECO, the
Government's coca eradication agency, was beaten as he was travelling
to work. He received superficial injuries. On May 13, another
eradication work crew was attacked by a group of peasants, and
one civilian received a nonfatal bullet wound. On May 21, growers
ambushed and fired on an eradication convoy on a major highway,
killing a police officer and wounding five others. In total,
as many as 85 civilians and 60 policemen were wounded during these
and similar clashes, which lasted from April 1 to June 5.
On June 5, coca growers killed a
police officer, who was providing protection to an eradication
work crew, during an ambush. Security forces did not return fire
in this ambush or the May 21 ambush.
On November 26, Ombudsman Ana Maria
Romero de Campero accused army troops of terrorizing the village
of Puerto Zudanes and forcing its residents to flee. The Government
denied the charges and accused Campero of siding with coca growers.
She opened an investigation but had not completed a report by
The Government has not released the
final results of its investigations into the deaths in the serious
and violent incidents in 1997 in the Chapare region or the deaths
in the Amayapampa confrontations in December 1996. An investigation
by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found
that security forces committed excesses resulting in the deaths
of 9 civilians and 32 persons wounded in Amayapampa and that the
Government did not act to identify and punish those responsible;
the Attorney General has yet to complete a long-promised report
on these deaths. In addition, the authorities have not recaptured
the police officer accused in 1994 of murdering coca worker Felipe
Perez Ortiz; the officer escaped from custody in September of
that year. The Government's failure to complete effective investigations
and identify and punish those responsible for either civilian
or police deaths results in an atmosphere of impunity and a condition
that almost amounts to lawlessness.
The October arrest of former Chilean
dictator General Augusto Pinochet in the United Kingdom drew renewed
attention to extrajudicial killings and other abuses that occurred
during the 1971-78 de facto regime of President Hugo Banzer Suarez.
There were renewed allegations that his regime participated in
Operation Condor, a regional plan to eliminate leftists. Political
leaders and family members of victims called for new investigations,
and at year's end the House of Deputies assembled documents and
drew up a list of seven Bolivians believed to have been held,
tortured, or killed in Chile during Pinochet's rule. The Permanent
Assembly for Human Rights forwarded this material to Spanish judge
Baltasar Garzon, who was preparing the case against Pinochet.
There were no reports of politically
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman,
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Government honors the constitutional prohibition against torture. However, there were a number of significant allegations of torture--two by the police and one by coca growers. In June the body of Donaciano Parra Mejia was found in the town of Cristal Mayu. Although coca growers alleged that Parra had been tortured and killed, an autopsy concluded that Parra died of a heart attack and that apparent bruises found on his body were from exposure to the elements. On September 25, the authorities arrested two National Police officers and charged them with attempting to burn a drunken man. According to reports, the policemen apprehended the man, forced him to take his clothes off, poured alcohol on him, and set him afire. Both policemen were suspended; the Minister of Government announced that they would be subject to an internal investigation and later turned over to the civil courts and charged.
On September 23, coca growers kidnaped
three policemen in La Paz and subjected them to torture. In a
statement, the Vice Director of Police said the incident occurred
during confrontations between the police and protesting coca growers.
The kidnapers took the policemen to the Greater San Andres University,
where the coca growers stayed while in La Paz, beat them, and
burned them with boiling water. They held the three men for 5
hours in refrigeration units of the school cafeteria (the refrigerators
were not functioning at the time) and freed them later in the
Several police officers were fired
and charged for off-duty crimes including theft and rape. In
general, however, the police were not disposed to investigate
their own colleagues, and prosecutors were reluctant to prosecute
security officials for alleged offenses committed while on duty.
Neither the technical and judicial police nor prosecutors receive
human rights training. The Congress has yet to take action on
the 1995 report of its Human Rights Commission resurrecting allegations
that police officials had in past years tortured captured terrorists
and recommending that criminal proceedings be opened against a
number of named officers.
Prison conditions are harsh. Prisons
are overcrowded, and conditions can be life threatening for inmates
without money. There were 5,577 prisoners in facilities designed
to hold about one-half that number. Ability to pay can determine
cell size, visiting privileges, day-pass eligibility, and place
or even length of confinement. Cell prices range from $20 to
$5,000, paid to prior occupants or to prisoners who control cell
blocks. In the poorest parts of San Pedro prison in La Paz, for
example, inmates occupy tiny cells (3 by 4 by 6 feet) with no
ventilation, lighting, or beds. Crowding in some "low-rent"
sections obliges inmates to sleep sitting up. Children up to
6 years old may live with an incarcerated parent. The authorities
worked to remove such children from the prisons, and according
to a December report, the number had dropped from over 1,200 children
to fewer than 400. If such children have nowhere else to go,
the Government considers it more humane to support them in prison
than to leave them homeless in the streets. The standard prison
diet, according to a 1995 study, can cause anemia; the diet has
not been improved since then. There is no adequate health care
within the prisons, and it is very difficult for prisoners to
get permission for medical treatment outside. However, affluent
prisoners can obtain transfers to preferred prisons or even to
outside private institutional care for "medical" reasons.
Drugs and alcohol are readily available for those inmates who
Convicted juvenile prisoners are
not segregated from adult prisoners in jails. Rehabilitation
programs for juveniles or other prisoners are scarce to nonexistent.
The Government has acknowledged these problems but does not have
sufficient resources to correct them quickly.
The incidence of violence in the
Chapare coca growing region increased during 1998 as armed "self-defense
groups" opposed the eradication of illegal coca. There were
reports that coca growers unions used physical coercion and intimidation
to prevent farm workers from cooperating with the Government in
coca eradication. Indigenous groups complained that armed coca
growers continued to invade their lands by force and coerce or
bribe their members to cultivate illegal coca.
Indigenous communities in areas with
little or no central government presence impose punishment reliably
reported to include the death penalty on members who violate traditional
laws or rules, although such punishment is forbidden by the Constitution.
The Government permits prison visits
by human rights monitors and news media representatives.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention,
Arrests are carried out openly.
The law requires a valid warrant, which a court must confirm within
48 hours. However, there were credible reports that these legal
safeguards were violated in some cases.
The police temporarily arrested large
numbers of civilians in April and May in connection with confrontations
with coca growers (see Section 1.a.). All were released shortly
after arrest. On September 23, police and coca growers clashed
violently in La Paz, wounding three protesters and six police
officers. The police took six protesters into custody.
Denial of justice through prolonged
detention remains the most pervasive human rights problem. Judicial
corruption, a shortage of public defenders, inadequate case-tracking
mechanisms, and complex criminal justice procedures keep persons
incarcerated for months, or even years, before trial. The Constitution
provides for judicial determination of the legality of detention.
Prisoners are released if a judge rules detention illegal, but
the process can take months. Prisoners may see a lawyer, but
approximately 70 percent cannot afford legal counsel, and public
defenders are overburdened. Bail exists, except in some drug
cases, and is generally granted.
The Government continued to address
the problem of delay of justice by implementing the 1994 constitutional
reforms to streamline the judicial system and by taking measures
to correct other deficiencies as they come to light. Although
large numbers of prisoners continued to be released under the
Personal Recognizance Law promulgated in 1996, most prisoners
still await either trial or sentencing.
The expanding public defender program
pursues an active approach by distributing concise information
about human rights to the populace and seeking to be involved
in arrest cases at the earliest possible juncture to ensure that
human rights and due process are honored. The new program of
mobile public defenders who can reach the more remote parts of
the country has proven effective, obtaining the conditional or
provisional release (often on bail) of arrested persons in about
60 percent of the cases handled, and is being extended to additional
Children from 11 to 16 years of age
can be detained indefinitely in children's centers for known or
suspected offenses, or for their protection, simply on the orders
of a social worker. There is no judicial review.
The 1997 abduction case of Waldo
Albarracin, President of the Bolivian Permanent Assembly for Human
Rights (APDH), continued to move slowly through the judicial system.
On February 11, the Chamber of Deputies approved a report by
the Constitutional Commission and voted to have former Police
Commander Willy Arriaza and four other police officials tried
in civil court for the abduction, unlawful detention, and beating
of Albarracin. The Chamber also ruled that charges against one
of the defendants, General Hernan Cortez Vargas, should be dropped,
since it found that Cortez was forced by his superiors to sign
the order to arrest Albarracin. However, no further action was
taken in this case by year's end.
The Government does not use forced
exile as a punishment.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the judiciary is independent,
corruption and intimidation in the judicial system remain major
problems. Poor pay and working conditions help make judges and
prosecutors susceptible to bribes. Five Supreme Court justices
were the subjects of corruption allegations or lawsuits that have
not been resolved.
The judicial system has four levels:
Investigative, trial, and superior courts, with the Supreme Court
at the apex.
Police present the case of an arrested
person to a prosecutor. If the prosecutor decides to prosecute,
the case is then submitted to an investigative court, which decides
whether there is sufficient evidence to issue an indictment; if
so, the case goes to a trial court. The trial court's decision
may be appealed to superior court and, eventually, to the Supreme
Court. Cases of persons arrested under the counternarcotics law
go directly from a special prosecutor to the trial court. The
trial court's decision must be reviewed by the district superior
court, which may confirm, lower, raise, or annul the sentence,
or impose a sentence where there was none before. Both the district
prosecutor and the defense attorney may make recommendations and
comments at this stage. Superior court decisions in narcotics
cases must be reviewed by the Supreme Court, whose decision is
final. Under the Personal Recognizance Law, persons who are absolved
or found innocent in either of the two first instances may then
be granted provisional liberty while they await the mandatory
The authorities generally respect the constitutional provision of the right to a fair public trial. However, the maximum time periods permitted by law for different stages of the judicial process frequently are exceeded. Supreme Court justices admit that it is sometimes difficult to assemble the quorum needed for decisions, and consequently the Court's rulings are unduly delayed.
Defendants have the right to an attorney,
to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to appeal judicial
decisions. The authorities generally honor these rights. Although
the law provides for a defense attorney at public expense if needed,
one is not always promptly available. The highly formal and corrupt
judicial system makes it difficult for poor, illiterate persons
to have effective access to courts and legal redress.
The Government took major steps to
improve the system of justice. The President swore in the Judicial
Council, Constitutional Tribunal, and Ombudsman, the first such
institutions in the country's history. The Judicial Council was
established to act as the administrative and disciplinary body
of the justice system. The Constitutional Tribunal is to handle
all constitutional issues, and the Ombudsman is to serve as a
direct link between ordinary citizens and the judicial process.
The Judicial Council has suspended 30 judges and fined or placed
another 200 on probation because they misapplied the law or unlawfully
delayed the judicial process.
In 1997 a revised Criminal Code was adopted containing stronger provisions for the protection of life and against official corruption. A new Law on Civil Processes and Family Assistance shortened the periods allowed for various stages of civil suits and eliminated some opportunities for delaying tactics by attorneys. At year's end, Congress was debating a far-ranging revision of the Code of Criminal Procedures, which was expected to take effect in 1999.
The Government is also expanding
its urban public defenders program. There are 12 offices nationwide,
with a total of 60 employees. Plans are underway to increase
the number of defenders and legal assistants by 36. The additional
employees are expected to allow lawyers to increase the number
of cases they can handle.
There were no reports of political
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy,
Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the
sanctity of the home and the privacy of citizens. Although the
authorities generally respect these provisions, there have been
credible allegations of UMOPAR abuses involving illegal searches
and thefts of property from homes. Residents in the coca-growing
areas generally are reluctant to file and pursue formal complaints.
The Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Justice in the Chapare
region accepts and pursues complaints of human rights abuses committed
by anyone, including police, narcotics traffickers, and coca growers.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties,
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for the
fundamental right to express ideas and opinions freely by any
means of dissemination. There are, however, some limitations
on freedom of speech. The Penal Code provides that persons found
guilty of insulting, defaming, or slandering public officials
for carrying out their duties may be jailed from 1 month to 2
years. If the insults are directed against the President, Vice
President, or a Minister, the sentence may be increased by one-half.
State-owned and private radio and
television stations operate freely. Newspapers are privately
owned, and most adopt antigovernment positions. There were credible
reports of government attempts to intimidate some news media to
provide more favorable coverage.
The Government respects academic
freedom, and the law grants public universities autonomous status.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The law provides for the rights of
peaceful assembly and association, and the authorities respect
them in practice. The Government routinely grants permits for
marches and rallies and, as a rule, the authorities try to avoid
confronting demonstrators. However, police clashed with union
and other demonstrators on some occasions. Labor, political,
and student groups carried out many demonstrations and rallies
in La Paz and other cities throughout the year, particularly during
the first quarter. The authorities intervened only when rallies
became dangerously violent or interfered substantially with normal
c. Freedom of Religion
Roman Catholicism predominates, and
the Constitution recognizes it as the official religion. However,
citizens may practice the religion of their choice. About 400
religious groups, mostly Protestant, are active. Missionary groups
must register with the Foreign Ministry as nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's); there was no indication that they were treated differently
from other NGO's. The Ministry did not disallow any registrations
by missionary groups.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the
Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on travel.
The law permits emigration and provides for the right to return.
The Government does not revoke citizenship for political reasons.
The Government cooperates with the
office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and
other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Refugees
have been accepted for resettlement. The issue of the provision
of first asylum did not arise. After the 1996 takeover of the
Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru by Tupac Amaru terrorists,
the authorities found that some MRTA activists had used Bolivia
as a safehaven and announced a more restrictive policy on accepting
Peruvian political asylees. Nonetheless, MRTA terrorists continued
to use the country as a safehaven and a place to plan activities.
There were no reports of persons
forced to return to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political
Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens
with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens
exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair
elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. Political
parties ranging from far left to moderate right function openly.
Implementing regulations for the 1994 constitutional revisions
provide for half of the congressional deputies to be elected individually
and directly, rather than from party lists. The first national
election under these regulations was held in June 1997, with attendance
by international observers. Only one instance of tampering with
ballots was detected.
No legal impediments exist to women or indigenous people voting, holding political office, or rising to political leadership. Nevertheless, the number of women and indigenous people who have prominent positions in politics remains small. Political parties acceded to demands from women that they be allocated a fair share of the candidacies in the 1997 national elections, approving a law that every third candidate on party lists must be female. There are 14 women among the 157 deputies and senators; there are also 2 female ministers in the Cabinet.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude
Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged
Violations of Human Rights
A number of human rights groups operate
without government restriction, investigating and publishing their
findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally
cooperative and responsive to their views. However, they criticize
human rights advocates for paying attention exclusively to the
negative aspects of the Government's performance. In 1997 the
Government asked the IACHR to investigate the December 1996 Amayapampa
violence and cooperated in the subsequent investigation. The
Human Rights Commission of the Congress is very active and frequently
criticizes the Government publicly.
In March Congress elected former
newspaper editor Ana Maria Romero de Campero as the first Ombudsman.
The Government has established 9 human rights offices around
the country along with 12 public defenders offices. The human
rights office in the Chapare has come under threat from coca growers
and has complained to the Government that security is not adequate
to complete its tasks.
Section 5 Discrimination Based
on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination
based on race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
origin, or economic or social condition. Nonetheless, there was
significant discrimination against women, indigenous people, and
the small black minority.
Violence against women is pervasive.
A study by the National Institute of Statistics found that 40
percent of all reported violent attacks in La Paz department in
1992-93 (the most recent statistics available) were perpetrated
against women. A total of 11,069 complaints of violence against
women were registered in La Paz during this period. The Government
estimates that there are about 100,000 incidents of violence against
women annually nationwide and that as many as 95 percent of them
go unpunished. The Congressional Committee on Women stated that
an average of 3.5 cases of rape or statutory rape were reported
each day for the first half of 1995 and estimated that twice that
many cases were not reported.
The Government continued to implement
programs to protect women. During the 1997-98 legislative year,
the Government, the legislature, and several civil society organizations
debated the issue of sexual harassment, which yielded a 1997 draft
Law Against Sexual Harassment. While the bill continues to be
considered in the Chamber of Deputies, the debate engendered is
expected to ensure action during the next ordinary session of
Congress. The Penal Code does not define sexual harassment as
a crime; authorities must try persons accused of harassment under
other penal provisions. There are no statistics on the incidence
of sexual harassment, but the problem is generally acknowledged
to exist widely in the male-oriented society.
In 1995 the Government promulgated the Law on Domestic and Family Violence, which makes rape a public crime and broadens the definition of family member abuse. Public agencies state that reported incidents of abuse have increased markedly as a result of the new law, as citizens become more aware of the problem and of the availability of help. In December the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill to provide benefits and protection for domestic workers, including specific protection from physical, psychological, and sexual aggression.
Legal services offices devoted to
family and women's rights operate throughout the country. Family
protection police units, staffed by specially trained officers,
including women, are also active.
A medical security program inaugurated
in July 1996 provides free medical care to women of reproductive
age and to children under the age of 5, based on economic need.
There were reports of trafficking
in women for purposes of prostitution. A union leader asserted
that employment agencies lure rural indigenous women to cities
with promises of employment as domestic servants but then force
them to work without salaries to repay transport and other fees
and sometimes turn them over to houses of prostitution.
Women generally do not enjoy a social
status equal to that of men. Many women do not know their legal
rights. Traditional prejudices and social conditions remain obstacles
to advancement. Women generally earn less than men for equal
work. Young girls often leave school early to work at home or
in the economy. According to a recent study by the Secretary
of Education, four out of five illiterate Bolivians are female.
Although not effectively enforced, the national labor law is
overprotective in some aspects, limiting women to a workday 1
hour shorter than that of men and prohibiting them from working
The Government is aware of the precarious
situation of children and the need to provide legal and institutional
infrastructure for their protection. Seven Defender of Children
and Adolescents offices were opened in La Paz to help protect
children's rights and interests. However, the Government has
not given the poor situation of children sufficient political
priority to ensure that it will be corrected quickly and effectively.
Although the law requires all children
to complete at least 5 years of primary school, this requirement
is poorly enforced, particularly in rural areas. Statistics from
the Ministry of Planning's Education Reform Team show that in
rural areas, only 0.7 percent of girls and 1.4 percent of boys
finish high school; in urban areas, 26 percent of girls and 31
percent of boys do so. The 1994 Education Reform Act sought to
improve the situation of children; even optimistic observers,
however, noted that it would take years for it to have an impact.
Prolonged teachers' strikes often result in lengthy school closures,
limiting children's access to education.
The National Institute of Statistics
calculated in 1995 that 47 percent of children in La Paz were
chronically undernourished, and that 10 percent of the children
migrating from rural areas showed evidence of acute malnutrition.
Many children, particularly from
rural areas, lack the birth certificates and identity documents
they need to secure social benefits and protection. There are
credible allegations that as many as 200 juveniles, for instance,
are incarcerated as adults in the San Pedro jail for lack of reliable
civil documents proving their ages. The Minors' Code promulgated
in 1992 has proven inadequate; a new Minors' Code introduced in
the Congress in 1997 had not been passed by year's end.
According to a 1995 report by the
director of the National Institute of Child Development, 96,000
children have mental disabilities, 37,000 have physical disabilities,
4,000 have hearing impairments, and 2,500 have visual impairments.
Because of scarce resources, only about 6,000 of these children
have access to specialized help.
Government surveys suggest that about
1 million children (or about 1 child in 3) suffer physical or
psychological abuse--13 percent of them at school, where corporal
punishment and verbal abuse are common, and 87 percent at home.
About 20 percent of these children suffer abuse severe enough
to result in bruises, scars, or burns. Although laws provide
safeguards against children working, they are not effectively
enforced, and about 216,000 children work, usually to help provide
for family subsistence, in uncontrolled and sometimes unhealthy
conditions (see Section 6.d.).
The old practice of "criadito"
service still persists in some parts of the country. Criaditos
are indigenous children of both sexes, usually 10 to 12 years
old, whom their parents indenture to middle- and upper-class families
to perform household work in exchange for education, clothing,
room, and board. There are no controls over the benefits to,
or treatment of, such children, who may become virtual slaves
for the years of their indenture.
People With Disabilities
In 1997 the Government promulgated
regulations to implement the 1995 Law on Disabilities. The regulations
require wheelchair access to all public and private buildings;
duty free import of orthopedic devices; a 50 percent reduction
in public transportation fares; and expanded teaching of sign
language and Braille. A National Committee for Incapacitated
Persons was established to oversee the law's enforcement, conduct
studies, and channel and supervise programs and donations for
the disabled. The new electoral law made arrangements for blind
voters. In general, however, there are no special services or
infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities. A lack
of adequate resources impedes full implementation of the new law.
Social attitudes keep many disabled persons at home from an early
age, limiting their integration into society.
Discrimination against, and abuses
of, indigenous people continued. The indigenous majority generally
remains at the low end of the socioeconomic scale, facing severe
disadvantages in health, life expectancy, education, income, literacy,
and employment. More than one-half of all citizens speak indigenous
dialects as their first language, and many speak no Spanish at
all. Lack of education, inefficient farming and mining methods,
indigenous cultural practices, and societal biases keep the indigenous
people poor. They continued to be exploited in the workplace.
Some rural indigenous workers are kept in a state of virtual
slavery by employers who charge them more for room and board than
they earn. Although the 1996 Agrarian Reform Law extended the
protection of the national labor law to all paid agricultural
workers, including indigenous workers, the problem persists for
lack of effective enforcement.
The Agrarian Reform Law provides
for indigenous communities to have legal title to their communal
lands and for individual farmers to have title to the land they
work. The Government and indigenous leaders jointly developed
provisions of this law. Government authorities presented communal
land titles to seven indigenous groups in 1997.
Indigenous people complain that their
territories are not legally defined and protected, and that outsiders
exploit their resources. Specific offenders allegedly are coca
growers and timber pirates. Indigenous groups have taken advantage
of the Popular Participation Law to form municipalities that offer
them greater opportunities for self-determination.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers may form and join organizations
of their choosing. The Labor Code requires prior government authorization
to establish a union, permits only one union per enterprise, and
allows the Government to dissolve unions; however, the Government
has not enforced these provisions in recent years. While the
code denies civil servants the right to organize and bans strikes
in public services, including banks and public markets, nearly
all civilian government workers are unionized. Workers are not
penalized for union activities. In theory, the Bolivian Labor
Federation (COB) represents virtually the entire work force; however,
only about one-half of workers in the formal economy actually
belong to labor unions. Some members of the informal economy
also participate in labor or trade organizations.
Workers in the private sector frequently
exercise the right to strike. Solidarity strikes are illegal,
but the Government has neither prosecuted those responsible nor
imposed penalties. Significant strikes centered around annual
negotiations over salaries and benefits for public employees.
However, their real targets were the Government's economic and
social reform programs. Most strikes were conducted and led by
the militant Trotskyite element of the Urban Teachers Union, which
protested the Government's education reform plan. The most contentious
issue was a merit-based salary system. Radical elements of the
union clashed with the police in demonstrations around the country,
and some injuries and arrests resulted. One teacher was seriously
wounded during the protests. Other disturbances occurred in the
Chapare region, where the coca growers unions opposed government
eradication efforts. Dissension within the COB held disruptive
public demonstrations to their lowest level in recent years.
Unions are not free from influence
by political parties. The COB itself is a political organization
directed by Marxist ideologues. Its stated aim is to overthrow
the Government's neoliberal economic program, and it gives little
attention to serious collective bargaining. Most parties have
labor committees that attempt to influence union activity and
also have party activists inside the unions.
The law allows unions to join international
labor organizations. The COB became an affiliate of the Communist,
formerly Soviet-dominated, World Federation of Trade Unions in
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain
Workers may organize and bargain
collectively. Collective bargaining, or voluntary direct negotiations
between employers and workers without the participation of the
government, is limited but growing. The Labor Code was written
in a period in which the COB, which purports to represent all
worker groups and interests, had quasi-governmental status and
the exclusive authority to negotiate with state-owned enterprises.
The practice was for the COB and the Government to negotiate
a global agreement on salaries, minimum wages, and other work
conditions each year. With the privatization of most of these
enterprises, the COB's relevancy has diminished markedly, and
the practice of direct employee-management negotiations in individual
enterprises is expanding.
The law prohibits discrimination
against union members and organizers. Complaints go to the National
Labor Court, which can take a year or more to rule. The court
has ruled in favor of discharged workers in some cases and successfully
required their reinstatement. However, union leaders say problems
are often moot by the time the court rules.
Labor law and practice in the seven
special duty-free zones are the same as in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory
The law prohibits forced or compulsory
labor, including forced and bonded labor by children. However,
the practices of child apprenticeship and agricultural servitude
by indigenous workers (see Section 5) constitute violations, as
do some individual cases of household workers effectively held
captive by their employers.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices
and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of persons
under 18 years of age in dangerous, unhealthy, or immoral work.
The Labor Code is ambiguous on conditions of employment for minors
from 14 to 17 years of age and permits apprenticeship for those
12 to 14 years old. This practice, sometimes tantamount to bondage
(see Section 6.c.), has been criticized by the International Labor
Organization. The extreme poverty of many families dictates the
involuntary employment of their children for motives of survival.
Responsibility for enforcing child
labor provisions resides in the Labor Ministry, but it generally
does not enforce them throughout the country. Although the law
requires all children to complete at least 5 years of primary
school, this requirement is poorly enforced, particularly in rural
areas. Urban children sell goods, shine shoes, and assist transport
operators. Rural children often work with parents from an early
age. Children are not generally employed in factories or formal
businesses but, when employed, often work the same hours as adults.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In conformity with the law, the minimum
wage is subject to annual renegotiation and was increased in April
by 7.5 percent to approximately $54 (300 Bolivianos) per month,
plus bonuses and fringe benefits. The Congress approved a further
10 percent increase on December 18, which was to take effect in
1999. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of
living for a worker and family, and most workers earn more. Although
the minimum wage falls below prevailing wages in most jobs, certain
benefit calculations are pegged to it. The minimum wage does
not cover about 20 percent of urban workers--vendors and shoe
polishers, for example--nor does it cover farmers, some 30 percent
of the working population.
Only one-half of the urban labor
force enjoys an 8-hour workday and a workweek of 5 or 5½
days, because the maximum workweek of 44 hours is not enforced.
The Labor Ministry's Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility
for protection of workers' health and safety, but relevant standards
are poorly enforced. Working conditions in the mining sector
are particularly bad. Although the State Mining Corporation has
an office responsible for safety, many mines, often old and using
antiquated equipment, are dangerous and unhealthy. In some mines
operated as cooperatives, miners earn less than $3 per 12-hour
day. They work without helmets, boots, or respirators in mines
where toxic gases abound; they buy their own supplies, including
dynamite, have no scheduled rest periods, and must survive underground
from 24 to 72 hours continuously with little water or food. There
are no special provisions in law defining when workers may remove
themselves from dangerous situations. Unless the work contract
covers this area, any worker who refuses to work based on the
individual's judgment of excessively dangerous conditions may
[end of document]
to 1998 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.