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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000

A constitutional, multiparty democracy with an elected president and bicameral legislature, Bolivia has separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, 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 1999.

The National Police have primary responsibility for internal security, but military forces can be called upon for help in critical situations. The police 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 generally 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 $1,076. The country is rich in minerals and hydrocarbons, and extensive investments in petroleum deposits in the eastern and southern parts 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, while the Government's human rights record improved somewhat, problems remain in certain areas. Legal and institutional deficiencies prevented the full protection of citizens' rights. There were several suspicious deaths of persons who had been in police custody. Unlike 1997 and 1998, there were no major clashes in the Chapare region between security forces and illegal coca growers and no killings there due to such confrontations. 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. Prison conditions are harsh and at times police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. 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 government attempts to intimidate some news media, violence and discrimination against women, trafficking in women, abuse of children, discrimination against and abuse of indigenous people, discrimination against Afro-Bolivians, and inhuman working conditions in the mining industry.


Section 1 -- Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings.

On November 11, Miguel Angel Rivero Siles, a 17-year-old prisoner accused of murder, suffered second and third degree burns over 80 to 90 percent of his body while in a solitary confinement cell at San Sebastian prison in Cochabamba. He died in a hospital on November 13. Prison authorities asserted that the fire was accidental, caused by a candle used for illumination. Rivero told the Ombudsman's office that he lit the candle, fell asleep, awoke to find the room on fire, and that the prison guards were very slow to come to his assistance. Rivero's attorney asserted that prison officials' statements were contradictory, and at year's end prison authorities, the local prosecutor, and the Ombudsman were conducting investigations of the incident. The Ombudsman's preliminary investigation determined that the fire was not accidental.

On October 23, police in Santa Cruz arrested 18-year-old Marcelo Botelho; he died the next day in a hospital. The police said that they arrested Botelho after he was caught stealing a watch, that his alleged victims had beaten him, and that they had rushed him to the hospital later that evening when they noticed that he was suffering convulsions. However, there were allegations that the police had beaten Botelho, although there were no eyewitness reports.

On October 21, Oscar Justiano, who was arrested and reportedly beaten by the FELCN in December 1998, died after being sent from the Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz to the hospital. An autopsy showed that he died from tuberculosis and other diseases, not as a result of the beating he suffered upon arrest. Nonetheless, his family and human rights advocates charged the FELCN with responsibility for his death.

On May 20, police arrested Peruvian businessman Carlos Freddy Cano Lopez for refusing to pay a disputed taxi fare. After Cano had spent several days in jail, his cell mysteriously caught fire and Cano suffered third degree burns over 50 percent of his body. On May 29, the authorities transferred Cano to a hospital in Lima, Peru, where he died on June 9. Before dying, Cano told his wife that the police had set his cell on fire. However, the police alleged that Cano set his cell on fire while burning incriminating photographs that he wished to conceal from his wife. The authorities suspended the policemen in question and their judicial case was pending at year's end.

Unlike in 1997 and 1998, there were no major clashes in the Chapare region between security forces and illegal coca growers. The Government neared completion of its investigation into the deaths in the violent incidents in the Chapare in the spring of 1998 and planned to report on it in January 2000. Out of an original list of 13 possible civilian deaths that resulted from the clashes, in only 5 cases did it appear that the deaths could have resulted from clashes between security forces and illegal coca growers. However, the Government did not complete 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.

There are reports that indigenous communities burn or bury alive alleged witches (see Section 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The case of Juan Carlos Trujillo Oroza drew renewed attention as the most prominent of the cases of those who disappeared during the 1971-78 de facto regime of President Hugo Banzer Suarez. Trujillo's mother presented the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in June. The security forces had detained Trujillo, a 21-year-old university student, on December 23, 1971, and he was never seen again after February 2, 1972. Trujillo's mother first presented his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on September 28, 1992. In 1996 the Government of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada accepted responsibility for Trujillo's arrest and disappearance and named those responsible, but did not hold them accountable. Trujillo's mother is seeking the return of her son's remains and punishment for those responsible; the Government agreed to start negotiations with her, with the goal of an amicable settlement.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and the Government generally respects this provision; however, there were a number of significant allegations of torture.

There were also credible allegations that military officers and sergeants beat and otherwise mistreated military conscripts. The Government was investigating the alleged beating by his superiors of conscript Roger Candia Vallejos in September and November.

Victor San Unzueta alleged that security forces detained him on June 6, 1998, took him to a supposed mobile military camp known as Santisima Trinidad (that apparently no longer exists), and tortured him. A human rights organization claims that there are other persons who were also tortured at this mobile camp. However, there are no eyewitness accounts or other evidence to support these allegations.

Human Rights Ombudsman Ana Maria Romero de Campero completed her investigation into the November 1998 alleged army intimidation of residents of the village of Puerto Zudanez in the Chapare. In her March 16 report, she was critical of the Government's security forces, and urged the Government to respect citizens' human rights. She presented her findings to the Attorney General, which noted that none of the perpetrators of the alleged intimidation had been identified. The military rejected the accusations of intimidation. The Ombudsman noted a marked improvement in the conduct of coca eradication work crews with respect to human rights in 1999.

In September the military signed a cooperation agreement with the Ombudsman's office, and in November the military concluded an agreement for cooperation and coordination for human rights training with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

Several police officers were fired and charged for off-duty crimes including theft and rape, and a number were dismissed for corruption. 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. Then-Police Chief General Jose Luis Medina reinstated 172 policemen who earlier had been dismissed for corruption; the authorities dismissed Medina on October 15 after less than 5 months on the job, saying that he had failed to restructure the police force. The 172 policemen then were suspended with pay pending an investigation directed by the new Police Chief, General Roberto Perez. At year's end, more than half of the suspended police officers had retired, and many others were expected to do so. It appeared that the few who remain will be able to be reinstated to their jobs.

Neither the technical and judicial police nor prosecutors normally receive human rights training. However, in June foreign human rights attorneys conducted a 2-week human rights course for 53 FELCN investigators and National Police Internal Affairs officers. 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.

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. For example, there are reports that alleged witches are burned or buried alive.

Prison conditions are harsh. Prisons are overcrowded, and conditions can be life threatening for inmates without money. According to the Director General of the Penal System in the Ministry of Government, as of June there were 8,057 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 4,959 prisoners. Fifty-six percent of all prisoners were held for narcotics crimes. 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. According to the Director General, as of March there were 665 children living with a parent in prison. 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 outside medical treatment. 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 can pay.

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.

In November prisoner Miguel Angel Rivero Siles died as the result of a fire in his prison cell; in May Carlos Freddy Cano Lopez was arrested and suffered severe burns after his cell mysteriously caught fire. He died in a hospital in June (see Section 1.a.). These were the second and third times since 1998 that prisoners had been burned in their cells. The authorities discharged the two policemen arrested for attempting to burn a drunken man in September 1998, but their judicial case still was pending at year's end. On November 29, the Ombudsman and the Ministry of Government signed an agreement that is expected to lead to closing down several prisons determined to have inhuman conditions, including the detention cell in La Paz where Cano Lopez was burned. The agreement also calls for repair of other substandard prisons, including San Sebastian prison in Cochabamba where Rivero Siles was burned.

Two other prisoners died in hospitals under circumstances that suggested neglect by prison authorities in providing medical care. In one case, the victim's family alleged that his death was related to a beating he received when arrested in 1998; in the other, human rights organizations alleged that police had beaten the victim (see Section 1.a.).

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors and news media representatives.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were some instances of arbitrary arrest and 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.

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 generally is granted.

According to a 1998 study, approximately 60 percent of those jailed are still waiting for the processing of their cases to be finished, and of those, 30 percent already had served what would have been the maximum sentence for the crime they were accused of committing.

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 isolated regions.

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. The authorities had yet to take any action regarding the four police officials accused of abducting Albarracin.

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. In March two of the five Supreme Court justices who were the subjects of corruption allegations or lawsuits were impeached, and one resigned. The Congress elected seven new Supreme Court justices in March; no new allegations of corruption were raised against that Court during the year. The judicial system has four levels: Investigative, trial, and superior courts, with the Supreme Court at the apex. Since the establishment of the Constitutional Tribunal in 1998, the Supreme Court hears only appeals, not constitutional issues.

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 higher reviews.

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.

In October the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the Judicial Council, established in 1998 to oversee the judicial process and to provide an impartial body to review the actions of judges, did not have the power to dismiss judges because of an administrative finding of malfeasance alone. Earlier in the year, the Council had investigated numerous reports of judicial corruption, which led to the resignation or dismissal of more than 20 judges in Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and La Paz. One of the dismissed judges, who allegedly accepted bribes from narcotics traffickers, protested his dismissal to the Constitutional Tribunal, which ruled that only a court finding of malfeasance, rather than a finding by an administrative body such as the Council, was cause for dismissal. The Tribunal's decision dealt a serious blow to the Judicial Council, weakening its role as a disciplinary body.

A new Code of Criminal Procedures became law in May, with the full changes to take effect in June 2001. The new code is expected to facilitate more efficient investigations, transparent oral trials, and credible verdicts. The Government has hired 49 additional staff members to bolster rural public defense, including public defenders, legal assistants, and social workers.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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 were credible allegations of UMOPAR abuses involving thefts of property. Residents in the coca-growing areas generally are reluctant to file and pursue formal complaints. In June the Government closed all of the human rights offices of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in the Chapare region due to a lack of funding. The Government plans to reopen two such offices in Chimore and Eterazama with assistance from an international donor. At year's end, final arrangements for the transfer of funds and management of this activity were still pending. These offices accept and pursue complaints of human rights abuses committed by anyone, including police, narcotics traffickers, and illegal coca growers.

During the summer, there were allegations in the press that the Government was intercepting cellular communications, tapping phone lines, and wiretapping the offices of newspapers and television stations. The allegations regarding media offices did not appear to be credible.

Section 2 -- Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the fundamental right to express ideas and opinions freely by any means of dissemination; however, there are 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. In August the authorities arrested politician and defense lawyer Otto Ritter for allegedly slandering the President, jailed him for several days, and then released him.

In September the La Paz City Council chose 40 persons to serve on the La Paz Press Tribunal, an entity provided for by the 1925 Law of Print Media, following 10 years of controversy and attempts to nullify or amend the law. The Press Tribunal is authorized to evaluate journalists' practices that are alleged to violate either the Constitution or citizens' rights. Although the principal purpose of the 1925 law is to protect press freedom from censorship, several organizations, including the Ministry of Information, asked the new Tribunal to close down two sensationalist tabloid journals. At year's end, the Tribunal had not taken any action concerning the two tabloids.

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 prohibits the importation of pornographic books, magazines, or artwork.

The Government respects academic freedom, and the law grants public universities autonomous status.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. The Government routinely grants permits for marches and rallies; however, in July the La Paz departmental government imposed a requirement for not only a permit but also a deposit in the event of damages, based on the estimated size of the demonstration. The requirement was a result of a demonstration in June that led to violent confrontations, which resulted in property damage. Human rights groups strongly opposed this new requirement as a restriction on the freedom of peaceful assembly. In September the Human Rights Ombudsman challenged the requirement as unconstitutional, and in November the policy was suspended indefinitely. In December the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that it was unconstitutional.

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. The authorities intervened only when rallies became dangerously violent or interfered substantially with normal civic activity.

The law provides for freedom of association, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. The Government requires nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) to register with the appropriate departmental government. There were complaints against the departmental government of La Paz for the revocation of civil registrations for three NGO's established by the Unification Church (see Section 2.c).

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom and religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. Roman Catholicism predominates, and the Constitution recognizes it as the official religion. Non-Catholic religious organizations, including missionary groups, must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship and receive authorization for legal religious representation. There are 262 religious groups, mostly Protestant, registered; at year's end, approximately 100 applications were pending. The only minority religions in the country that have encountered problems are Hari Krishna and the Unification Church. Hari Krishna had registered as an educational organization instead of as a religious organization. The Government sought to expel Hari Krishna from the country in the mid-1980's; however, the attempt failed when the Supreme Court declared it illegal. At year's end, Hari Krishna was in the process of applying for registration as a religious organization. In August the Unification Church complained of ongoing harassment by the Government, specifically citing the August 1998 revocation by the La Paz departmental government of three civil registrations for church-affiliated NGO's. However, the Unification Church still is registered legally with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship as a religious organization.

At year's end, the Government was finalizing new regulations regarding religious organizations, with the participation of the religious community.

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 law provides for the grant of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Human rights organizations have objected to some aspects of draft amendments to the Immigration Law that in their opinion could adversely affect asylees and refugees.

The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The Government has accepted persons for resettlement; it received over 40 refugees in 1999 and 5 in 1998. 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 and other 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.

There are no legal impediments 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. In addition, every other candidate on municipal election ballots, beginning with the second candidate, must be a woman--a development that has significantly augmented female representation at that level. There are 18 women among the 157 deputies and senators; there are no 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, several human rights NGO's complained that the Government blocked the access of human rights NGO representatives and one congressman who sought to observe the violent conflicts between illegal coca growers and security forces in the Chapare region in spring 1998. NGO's and the Ombudsman also have complained that Government security forces and government ministries have refused to cooperate when NGO's or the Ombudsman are conducting investigations. In 1998 the Government proposed a law that would have given it broad control over international NGO's, but the draft law was tabled later that year after negative reactions from the NGO's and international donors; the draft has not been proposed again. The Government criticizes human rights advocates for paying attention exclusively to the negative aspects of the Government's performance.

APDH President Albarracin and his family have received anonymous threats in relation to the legal case against his alleged police abductors (see Section 1.d.). The APDH's branch office in Santa Cruz also received anonymous threats related to its investigations involving the security forces; unknown parties broke into its office and destroyed its computer.

The Human Rights Ombudsman conducted numerous investigations and in August presented a comprehensive report to Congress that was critical of the Government. The House of Representatives Human Rights Committee also presented its annual report in August, which criticized the Government.

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 Afro-Bolivian minority.


Violence against women is pervasive. According to the National Police's Department of Statistics and Planning, in 1998 57 percent of reported assaults were perpetrated against women. According to a 1997-98 study conducted by the Pan American Health Organization and the Ministry of Health and Social Foresight among women in three municipalities representative of the country's three major cultural and geographic zones, 62 percent of women reported experiencing some kind of domestic violence or abuse at least once in their lifetime. Twenty-one percent had suffered psychological abuse, 28 percent had suffered non-life threatening physical violence, and 13 percent had suffered life-threatening violence. Rape is also a serious problem that is highly underreported.

On October 29, President Banzer signed into law the Law to Protect Victims of Crimes Against Sexual Freedom, first proposed in 1997 as a draft law against sexual harassment. The new Code of Criminal Procedures (see Section 1.e.) for the first time considers sexual harassment a civil crime, also resulting in greater protection under the law. 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. A proposed law to provide benefits and protection for domestic workers, including specific protection from physical, psychological, and sexual aggression still was pending in the Congress at year's end.

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.

Prostitution is legal, and there were reports of trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution (see Section 6.f.).

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 1997 study by the Ministry of Education, four out of five illiterate citizens 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 at night.


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 1997 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.

On October 27, President Banzer signed into law a new Code for Boys, Girls, and Adolescents, which codifies many obligations the country assumed by ratifying the U.N. Convention on Rights of the Child. It also regulates adoptions and tightens protection against exploitative child labor and violence against children. However, resource constraints are expected to impede full implementation of this law.

Although the law requires all children to complete at least 5 years of primary school, this requirement is poorly enforced, particularly in rural areas. The Ministry of Education and the World Bank calculated in 1997 that 26 percent of children graduated from high school. Prolonged teachers' strikes often result in lengthy school closures, limiting children's access to education.

The National Institute of Statistics calculated in 1998 that 24 percent of children under 3 years old were chronically undernourished. Malnutrition levels were highest on the Altiplano in general and in the department of Potosi in particular. A December UNICEF report on infant mortality indicated that 85 of every 1,000 children die before they reach 5 years of age.

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.

Corporal punishment and verbal abuse are common in school, and physical and psychological abuse in the home is also a serious problem. The rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl led to calls for the reimposition of the death penalty for such crimes. Although laws provide safeguards against children working, they are not enforced effectively. According to a May study commissioned by the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 369,385 children between the ages of 7 and 14 work (23 percent of that age group), 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.

Indigenous People

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, which essentially excludes them from most of the formal economy. 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.

Indigenous people complain that their territories are not legally defined and protected, and that outsiders exploit their resources. Specific offenders allegedly are illegal 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There is ongoing societal discrimination against the small Afro-Bolivian minority.

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.

The Government completed drafting legislation for a new labor law designed to modernize the antiquated Labor Code and to make it conform with ILO conventions that the country already has ratified. However, prior to submitting the draft law to Congress, the Government planned to undertake a national dialog to gain support for labor law modernization.

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, including reform of teacher training institutions, a merit-based salary system, and decentralization designed to give municipalities greater control over education. Teachers' strikes shut down public schools for almost the entire month of February (the beginning of the school year).

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 1988.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

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 due to a massive backlog of cases. 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.

In December the Labor Ministry inaugurated a telephone hot line for citizen inquiries about labor issues.

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 Labor

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. In addition, women were trafficked for the purpose of prostitution (see Sections 5 and 6.f.).

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 ILO. The extreme poverty of many families dictates the involuntary employment of their children for motives of survival. After an ILO-sponsored conference in May on the country's child labor problems, a new National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor and the Protection of the Working Minor was formed. The Government also signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO, pledging more attention to child labor, a 5-year plan to combat it, and adoption of policies against its most dangerous forms.

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 generally are not 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 January by 10 percent to approximately $56 (330 Bolivianos) per month, plus bonuses and fringe benefits. 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 members of the informal sector, who constitute the majority of the urban work force, 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 the 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 face dismissal.

f. Trafficking in Persons

There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons, although aspects of the problem are covered in other laws and in the Constitution. There were reports of domestic trafficking in women for the purpose 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. There were no reports of trafficking in persons to or from the country.

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