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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Bolivia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Bolivia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa214.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

BOLIVIA

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. Implementation of the 1994 constitutional amendments to reform the political and judicial systems continued and was partially completed by the end of 1997.

The National Police have primary responsibility for internal security, but military forces can be called upon for help in critical situations. A special antinarcotics force (FELCN), including the Mobile Rural Patrol Unit (UMOPAR), is dedicated to antinarcotics enforcement. Civilian authorities maintain effective control of 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. Most workers engage in traditional agriculture, however, and many citizens will 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. 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. There were credible reports of abuses by police, including use of excessive force, petty theft, extortion, and improper arrests. Human rights groups criticized the FELCN and the UMOPAR for alleged abuses against coca growers and peasants in the Chapare region. An investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that security forces committed excesses resulting in the deaths of nine civilians in December 1996 and that the Government did not act to identify and punish those responsible. Investigations of alleged official abuses were slow. Other problems include harsh prison conditions, 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 Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings. However, 14 civilians were killed in the course of law enforcement operations that encountered armed resistance. The precise causes and circumstances of these deaths have not been officially determined, but it appeared that some resulted from the use of excessive force by authorities. Four police officers were killed by gunfire and one by beating in these operations.

In December 1996, police and military forces were ordered to the Amayapampa area in Potosi department to dislodge miners who had seized a privately owned mine in a dispute with the mine's management. The miners had disarmed police units that tried earlier to recapture another mine seized from the same management. In the Amayapampa confrontations, nine civilians and one police officer were killed. The Government requested an investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In its July report, the IACHR found that on December 19, 1996, four civilians were killed when police with riot gear and military troops with rifles fought civilians armed with rocks and dynamite. On December 20, 1996, a police colonel was killed by rifle fire from ambush; 27 other security officials and a civilian doctor were wounded. There were no civilian casualties in this encounter. Later that day, two civilians were killed when security forces using rifles occupied a village barricaded by civilians armed with rocks and dynamite. On December 21, a civilian nurse helping the insurgent miners bled to death from an untreated bullet wound in the leg. Four other civilians and three soldiers were wounded in the December 21 attack. The circumstances of the two additional confirmed civilian deaths have not been clarified. The IACHR concluded that some of the civilians killed were not active in the conflict.

Military authorities who took control of the area did not permit some autopsies, ballistics tests, or other normal investigative measures, although the Ministry of Justice requested them. The IACHR found that the Government was responsible for the undisciplined actions of its security forces, although they exceeded their orders, and that the Government was also responsible for not fully investigating the violent events and punishing those who caused the civilian and official casualties. After the inauguration of the new Government on August 6, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General ordered a complete investigation of the Amayapampa incidents, which was still under way at year?s end.

Violence increased in the Chapare region as the Government intensified its efforts to eradicate illegal coca in the first months of the year. Beginning on April 17, a series of clashes between coca growers and eradication forces led to the deaths of five civilians and one policeman. Three of the five civilians and the policeman died of gunshot wounds. Justice Ministry human rights investigators found that the fourth civilian death, which had initially been attributed to gunfire, was caused by falling from a roof. The fifth civilian death, that of an infant allegedly overcome by tear gas fumes, occurred after human rights personnel took the child to a hospital. He was suffering from a severe infection, undernourishment, and dehydration. Family members withheld the bodies of the infant and the fourth adult civilian casualty from the authorities and buried them without an autopsy. In the course of the April encounters, 15 civilians and 3 police officers were wounded by gunfire. Another 27 civilians and 3 police officers suffered injuries unrelated to gunfire. An office of DIRECO, the coca eradication agency, and vehicles were burned, and three police officials were briefly taken hostage.

Police and DIRECO employees were ambushed on May 7 when returning to their bases. One policeman was killed and four other police and DIRECO personnel were wounded by gunfire. Despite extensive searches and claims to the contrary by coca growers, no evidence of civilian casualties was found. In August a policeman died from internal injuries caused by a blunt object, presumably a sling-fired stone, in the May 7 confrontation.

One policeman was killed and another wounded by gunfire in an ambush on July 2. One coca grower was wounded by shotgun pellets. Medical examination proved these to be lead pellets, not the rubber pellets used by police, indicating that he was, in fact, shot by his fellow coca growers. The police arrested eight coca growers in connection with this incident, but the case was not resolved.

The police temporarily arrested large numbers of civilians in connection with these confrontations but none were prosecuted. There were credible allegations that police used undue force in making some arrests. There were also credible complaints that UMOPAR members often did not wear name tags on their uniforms as required, making it impossible to identify individuals who allegedly committed abuses.

Final results of investigations of these events, the two law enforcement-related deaths reported in 1996, and the five deaths in the Chapare in 1995, have not been released. No action is known to have been taken against any officials involved. The police officer accused in 1994 of murdering coca worker Felipe Perez Ortiz, who escaped from custody in September of that year, has not been recaptured. The Government's failure to complete effective investigations and identify and punish those responsible for either civilian or police deaths within a reasonable time creates an atmosphere of impunity and a condition that almost amounts to lawlessness.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Government honors the constitutional prohibition against torture. However, there were reports that police used undue force in detaining coca workers during antinarcotics operations. Although many such allegations clearly were politically motivated exaggerations, the similarity and volume of such claims suggest that they had some basis in truth. For example, during incidents in April, May, and July, police used excessive force in making some arrests (see Section 1.a.). However, no security personnel were charged or tried. In January police arbitrarily arrested and beat an official of a human rights organization (see Section 1.d.).

Several police officers were fired and charged for off-duty crimes including theft and rape. In general, however, police and prosecutors were reluctant to prosecute security officials for offenses committed while on duty. 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. 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 La Paz' San Pedro prison, 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; more than 1,200 children do so, according to a February government report. The authorities worked to get such children out of prisons, but many have nowhere else to go, and the Government considers it more humane to support them in prison than 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. Drugs and alcohol are readily available for those inmates who can pay. There is no adequate health care within the prisons, and it is very difficult for prisoners to get permission for medical treatment outside. Affluent prisoners, however, can obtain transfers to preferred prisons or even to outside private institutional care for "medical" reasons.

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 Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors and news media representatives. A high-level delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons and talked with all inmates accused of terrorism, in connection with the Tupac Amaru (MRTA) terrorist takeover of the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru.

The incidence of violence in the Chapare coca-growing region increased over 1996, as some growers formed armed "self-defense groups" to oppose the eradication of illegal coca. There were credible reports that coca growers unions used physical coercion and intimidation to prevent farm workers from cooperating with the Government in coca eradication. In February a large group of protesters destroyed a DIRECO office and kidnaped an employee; security forces found and freed him after 24 hours. 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.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

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.

On January 25, plainclothes police agents seized Waldo Albarracin, President of the Bolivian Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) on a public bus and held him for several hours before delivering him to a police station. Police then took him immediately to a medical clinic to investigate his complaint that he had been beaten while in illegal custody. The first examining physician reported that there were no signs of physical injury. However, a second clinic, to which Albarracin was taken at the insistence of Ministry of Justice human rights officials, found ample evidence that Albarracin had been physically mistreated.

The Government said first that Albarracin had been legally arrested on several charges including sedition and insurrection because, according to a newspaper report, he had suggested that the police colonel killed in the Amayapampa violence might have been shot by his own men. The complaint against Albarracin was filed by a senior police officer. Albarracin alleged that the newspaper had misquoted him and that the police had acted arbitrarily based only on an unconfirmed account. The acting District Prosecutor for La Paz denied that her office had issued any arrest warrant for Albarracin. The Technical Judicial Police, to whom Albarracin was delivered by the arresting agents, denied that they had any documentation to support his arrest.

The Commander of the National Police was replaced quickly after the discrepancies in the official story became public. Two police intelligence agents were identified as Albarracin's abductors. The Constitution Commission of the Chamber of Deputies assumed jurisdiction over the investigation, which by law supersedes any police investigative authority. The Commission became deadlocked because some members wanted the abducting agents to be tried by regular criminal courts while others believed that they should only receive administrative discipline. The Commission was not able to issue a report before the Congress recessed for the June 1 national elections. The new Congress did not deal with the matter, and the police agents remained unpunished at year?s end.

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 release 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 Government does not use forced exile as a punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent, but 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 are the subject 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 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. The authorities suspended 6 judges and fined or placed on probation 15 others because they misapplied the law or unlawfully delayed the judicial process.

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. The long-awaited bills to establish the Judicial Council, the Constitutional Court, the national Ombudsman, and to revise the Code of Criminal Procedures were submitted to the Congress in August. Congress passed laws creating the Ombudsman and the Judicial Council, and the President promulgated them in December.

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.

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, and government authorities generally respect these provisions. There were credible allegations of UMOPAR abuses involving illegal searches and thefts of property from homes. However, 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 accepts and pursues complaints of human rights abuses committed by anyone, including police, narcotics traffickers, and coca growers.

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. 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.

Newspapers are privately owned, and most adopt antigovernment positions. State-owned and private radio and television stations operate freely. There were credible allegations that security forces interfered with broadcasts by a Catholic Church-owned radio station in the Amayapampa area during the December 1996 disturbances there.

The Government respects academic freedom, and the law grants public universities autonomous status. Some Marxist groups of teachers and students sought to deny academic freedom and to impose their political agenda on the education process. Radical elements of the teachers? union temporarily prevented the administration of tests to qualify teachers for promotions, a new requirement of the Education Reform Law, but the tests eventually were given.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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 civic activity.

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 U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Some refugees were accepted for resettlement. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. After the 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.

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 on June 1, 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 12 women among the 157 deputies and senators. The Justice Minister is a woman.

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. The Government asked the IACHR to investigate the December 1996 Amayapampa violence and cooperated in the subsequent investigation (see Section 1.a.). The Human Rights Commission of the Congress is very active and frequently criticizes the Government publicly.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based upon 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.

Women

Violence against women is pervasive. Of domestic violence complaints studied in 1992-93, 52 percent involved physical mistreatment and 48 percent involved psychological abuse. 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 a program to protect women. In December 1995, the Government promulgated the Law on Domestic 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 presidential decree issued in October provided for equal rights for women and committed the Government to end gender-based discrimination.

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.

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.

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 on the economy. A recent study by the Secretary of Education revealed that 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 at night.

Children

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.

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.

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 was introduced in the Congress in March but was not 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

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. Lack of education, inefficient farming and mining methods, indigenous cultural practices, inability to speak Spanish, 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 May.

Indigenous people complain that their territories are not legally defined and protected, and that their resources are exploited by outsiders. 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. 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 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 two most recent governments drafted new labor codes but did not submit them to the legislature, largely because of COB opposition.

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 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.

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 provisions about employment of children. 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 by 7.5 percent to approximately $45.50 (240 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 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 half the urban labor force enjoys an 8-hour workday and a workweek of 5 or 5-1/2 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 and 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 face dismissal.

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