Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August 2014, 11:05 GMT

2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Bolivia

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 25 February 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Bolivia, 25 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a8f1a4b4.html [accessed 21 August 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.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009

Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with a population of approximately 9.25 million. In 2005 in a free and fair process, citizens elected Evo Morales Ayma, leader of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, as president. Government efforts to bring a controversial new constitution to a national referendum, opposition demands for greater regional autonomy, and contesting demands for government funds led to a series of violent confrontations and large-scale road blockades. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were problems in some areas. The most significant human rights problems were abuses by security forces; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; attacks on the judiciary by the executive branch; threats to civil liberties, including legal rights and press freedom; use of excessive force and other abuses in internal conflicts; corruption and a lack of transparency in government; discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation; trafficking in persons; child labor; forced or coerced labor; and brutal working conditions in the mining sector.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, but an estimated 17 deaths occurred during politically related conflicts. An opposition sympathizer died of riot control gas inhalation during the May 4 autonomy referendum in Santa Cruz Department (state). On August 5, two miners died in a confrontation with police during a protest in the town of Caihuasi in Oruro Department. A violent confrontation involving progovernment campesinos (peasant farmers) and backers of the opposition-aligned Prefect (governor) Leopoldo Fernandez resulted in the deaths of 13 persons in Pando Department on September 11 and September 12, according to the prosecutor's office. On December 15, in breaking up a protest by several thousand people in the city of Patacamaya regarding government restrictions on importing used cars in a free-trade zone, police shot and killed one person. Approximately ten people were injured, including several police.

On August 5, police attempting to clear a week-long blockade on the road between Cochabamba and La Paz became involved in a conflict with up to 4,000 striking miners. The government and labor union leaders each blamed the other for the deaths of two miners who were shot and killed. An investigation into the exact cause of the deaths was ongoing at year's end.

Deaths by lynching remained a problem. While there were no official statistics for lynching deaths, the government's Special Force Against Crime (FELCC) registered 31 reported cases through September: seven cases in El Alto, five in La Paz, two in Potosi, nine in Cochabamba, one in Sucre, and seven in Santa Cruz. Local press reports in Cochabamba reported 15 lynchings. The Cochabamba ombudsman's office estimated at least 45 lynchings across the country.

In locations where lynching was common, some residents attempted to justify the practice by asserting that it was part of their tradition of "communitarian justice" and a pragmatic response to a lack of access to justice through the legal system, which was a problem. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in a June 2007 report noted that only 180 of the 327 municipalities had a judge, only 76 had a prosecutor, and only 11 had a public defender. According to a Freedom House 2008 report released during the year, a "lack of clarity" in codifying indigenous customary law "resulted in dozens of acts of 'communal justice,' including lynching, in violation of international human rights norms."

In a high profile case on November 17, a large crowd of Achacachi residents stoned and burned eleven suspected thieves, killing two and badly injuring the rest. According to local media, which published graphic pictures of the victims, police rescued the survivors after several hours of torture in a local soccer stadium. Residents refused to cooperate with an official investigation. In another case on December 4, a youth in Riberalta was beaten to death for stealing toilet paper.

In December the Supreme Court requested that Congress authorize an impeachment trial to remove immunities enjoyed by members of the Ministry of Government implicated in the November 2007 alleged killings of Gonzalo Duran Carazani, Juan Carlos Serrudo, and Jose Luis Cardozo by security forces. The killings took place during protests about Sucre's status as the country's capital. Removal of immunity is necessary before the Supreme Court may proceed with prosecution. Congress had not yet made a decision in this matter by year's end.

There were no new developments in the military or civil investigations into the September 2007 death of Osmar Flores Torres in Arani, in which police denied using lethal weapons in responding to a demonstration. Military and civilian authorities conducted separate investigations. Prosecutors strongly asserted that the military was not fully cooperating in this case, while the Defense Ministry alleged the prosecutor's office did not follow procedure in requesting information. The case remained in an 18-month investigatory phase, with the trial not slated to begin until March or April 2009.

According to the prosecutor in the case, there were no developments in the April 2007 shooting of Herman Ruiz. Ruiz was part of a group of protesters who attempted to take over a natural gas plant.

There were no developments in the 2006 case in which security force members in Carrasco National Park killed coca growers Ramber Guzman Zambrana and Celestino Ricaldis. The case remained in the preliminary investigative phase, primarily due to a lack of prosecutorial action, although there were also criticisms of the military's cooperation.

There were no developments in the 2006 shooting death of off-duty police officer Santiago Orocondo Arevillca. Civilian authorities within the Ministry of Defense did not respond to the prosecutor's request for information.

Authorities closed the investigation into the 2006 death of naval officer Wilder Rene Blanco Mendoza without bringing charges, despite allegations of corruption in the investigation and undocumented threats to the prosecutor and Blanco's family.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no confirmed reports that government officials employed them. There were a number of allegations of vigilante violence that resulted in extrajudicial abuses against persons, including specific reports of beatings and abuse by members of security forces.

The ombudsman reported that of all government institutions police were the most frequent human rights violators. The ombudsman's office received 1,183 complaints regarding the police. According to the ombudsman, although the number of complaints rose, the overall number was still "relatively low" given the "constant turmoil" in the country.

On February 26, supporters of the ruling MAS party attacked Juan Choque Apaza, an indigenous activist protesting against the government. When a large crowd of MAS supporters surrounded Congress, Choque attempted to collect signatures for a petition against President Morales. In response, the crowd beat him until he was unconscious. On March 4, according to an interview with Choque, Minister of the Government Alfredo Rada told him to stop a hunger strike or be beaten again by government supporters. Choque alleged that he continued his strike and soon thereafter, more MAS supporters found and beat him. MAS supporters beat him for conducting an antigovernment hunger strike. Choque further alleged he was attacked by government supporters in other incidents in eight of the country's nine departments, including an attack on June 13 in Santa Cruz by uniformed police officers who stole his book of petition signatures. He said complaints to the local ombudsman's office were ignored. Ombudsman representatives said they attempted to investigate Choque's claims but found them incoherent and lacking in evidence. A representative said they wrote a letter to the Ministry of Government supporting his right to go on a hunger strike.

On December 29, immediately after meeting with President Morales in La Paz, members of the militant progovernment social group Ponchos Rojos verbally assaulted Choque, took his cell phone and petition book, and threatened to attack him before police escorted Choque away. The next day municipal police forced Choque to stop collecting signatures, stating he did not have a permit to establish a petition center.

During his detention Roberto Lenin Sandoval Lopez complained that government security forces beat and threatened him while he was in detention (see section 1.d).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh. Prisons were overcrowded and in poor condition. There were 7,778 inmates (6,831 men and 947 women) in facilities designed to hold 4,700 prisoners. Government authorities effectively controlled only the outer security perimeter of each prison. Inside prison walls prisoners usually maintained control, and gangs directed criminal activity from their cells.

Violence among prisoners, and in some cases the involvement of prison officials in violence against prisoners, were problems.

Regarding the November 2007 prison escape in Sucre, in which more than 100 prisoners escaped, approximately 30 percent returned to prison. The Chuquisaca prosecutor and police continued to investigate the remaining cases and try to find the remaining escapees, but progress was slow.

Corruption was a problem among low-ranking and poorly paid guards and prison wardens. The number of persons held in detention centers remained a problem, due to a general increase in crime. A prisoner's wealth often determined cell size, visiting privileges, day-pass eligibility, and place or length of confinement. Inmates reportedly paid fees to prior cell occupants or to prisoners who controlled cellblocks. Although the law permits children up to six years old to live with an incarcerated parent, children as old as 12 lived with their parents in prisons. Approximately 1,400 children lived with a parent in prison, as an alternative to being left homeless. During school vacations the number of children in prison with parents could double. According to the municipal government, approximately 300 children and 100 women lived in La Paz's San Pedro Prison as dependents of male prisoners.

The standard prison diet was insufficient, and prisoners who could afford to do so supplemented rations by buying food.

The law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, but care was inadequate, and it was difficult for prisoners to get permission for outside medical treatment. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and prisoners reported cases of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in the jails. However, affluent prisoners could obtain transfers to preferred prisons or even to outside private institutional care for "medical" reasons. Inmates who could pay had access to drugs and alcohol, and sometimes they used children to traffic drugs inside the prisons.

There were separate prisons for women, except for Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, where men and women shared facilities. Conditions for female inmates were similar to those for men; however, overcrowding at the San Sebastian women's prison in Cochabamba was worse than in most prisons for men.

According to Ministry of Government officials, 710 convicted juveniles (16 to 21 years old) were not segregated from adult prisoners in jails, and adult inmates sometimes abused them. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners were scarce to nonexistent. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

The government generally permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, judges, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were several cases of security forces seizing and holding individuals under legally dubious circumstances.

According to press reports, on June 2, six members of a police team forced Chuquisaca opposition youth leader Roberto Lenin Sandoval Lopez into a car and took him to a prison facility in El Alto, near La Paz. Sandoval, his wife, and his daughter were injured during Sandoval's arrest. According to the human rights ombudsman, the arrest violated the constitution and was done without a court order. While the minister of government justified the action by stating Sandoval was to be charged for terrorism, sedition, and attempted murder, opposition members claimed the arrest was meant to intimidate them against running a candidate for governor of Chuquisaca Department. Police interrogated Sandoval, reportedly threatened his life, and reportedly forced him into a false confession before a judge released him on June 3 for lack of evidence.

In a separate case, between mid-September and December, government security forces confined Pando Prefect Fernandez and 36 others for their alleged roles in violence in and around the town of Porvenir in Pando Department on September 11, and for violating the subsequent state of siege. The ombudsman reported that in making arrests the police violated the constitutional rights of at least 14 people by failing to show a court order authorizing the arrests, by arriving at extraordinary hours not permitted by law, by failing to allow access to a judge within 48 hours, by forbidding outside contact during their confinement, by using in some cases cruel treatment or torture during and after their arrests, and by using excessive force against the families of those being arrested.

Two other Pando prefect employees were arrested on corruption charges and similarly flown to La Paz for incarceration pending trial, in violation of legal procedure and, according to some in the opposition, as part of a larger post-September 11 roundup of Fernandez's allies.

The prosecutor's office reported that nine Morales supporters, largely peasant farmers, were killed while marching that day to Pando's capital, Cobija. President Morales stated that Fernandez was responsible for an ambush of the marchers and their deaths and would be confined indefinitely in La Paz pending trial.

The government transported all 39 Pando detainees to La Paz to await formal charges. The Supreme Court ruled that the government's arrest of Fernandez was illegal on both jurisdictional and procedural grounds, and it set two deadlines for his transfer from the La Paz jail to a different jurisdiction. The government ignored both court orders, and on November 5 initiated a congressional investigation of two Supreme Court justices and Attorney General Mario Uribe for aiding a fugitive.

The government lifted the state of siege on November 23. On November 28, a local judge accepted the government's case, including charges of murder and terrorism against Fernandez and 20 others. The court also accepted the corruption charges against the two other Pando employees. The court released 16 detainees.

The Union of South American Nations and the human rights ombudsman released reports regarding the Pando events that generally supported the government's characterization of a "massacre" perpetrated by opposition-aligned prefect and civic committee officials. The ombudsman's report urged more investigation into the context and background of the events and criticized the government for violating legal procedures in its arrests and detentions of suspects. The ombudsman criticized the government for keeping suspects in prolonged detention without access to their families or lawyers, or his own offices. The UN was investigating the Pando events at year's end.

In a separate case, government authorities also detained and sent Porvenir's ranking police official, Mirtha Sosa Chalar, to La Paz for questioning regarding the events in Pando. Sosa stated in interviews that she was beaten and threatened with sexual assault by security forces but not charged with any crime, and then was released.

On October 13, members of the police and navy forcibly arrested Riberalta media personality Jorge Melgar Quete for disseminating an August 7 speech of Presidency Minister Juan Quintana calling for the "political" burial of Pando Prefect Fernandez. The government maintained it was a lawful arrest, but Melgar's son stated in interviews that at no time was any legal document presented or discussed. The government took Melgar to La Paz, where he was detained. In a court hearing the judge ruled the case should be tried in Riberalta, not La Paz, and placed Melgar back in a La Paz jail until he could be transported to Riberalta, where he remained at year's end. Melgar's attorney claimed the government did not have the court's permission to arrest Melgar outside of daylight hours, which requires a specific type of warrant, and that the arrest happened without the presence of the prosecutor's office, which also is required.

On September 10, the government arrested Tarija Prefecture Civic Committee leader Reynaldo Bayard for allegedly participating in destruction of gas lines. The opposition rejected the government's charges as an attempt to silence opponents without proof of the charges. Bayard remained under arrest.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security, but military forces may be called upon for help in critical situations, which occurred during the year. The national police disciplined officers by issuing 1,446 administrative sanctions through December 1. Prosecutors were sometimes reluctant to prosecute security officials for alleged offenses committed while on duty, in part because they relied on the Judicial Technical Police to investigate its own officers.

Arrest and Detention

Arrests generally were carried out openly, but there were credible reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. Some family members of suspects arrested during Pando's state of siege complained that police and prefect authorities denied arrests were made, leading families to suspect extralegal measures had been taken until days later, when the government announced the arrests.

The law requires an arrest warrant, and the police must inform the prosecutor of an arrest within eight hours. The law requires that a detainee see a judge within 24 hours (except under a declared state of siege, in which a detainee may be held for 48 hours), during which time the judge must determine the appropriateness of continued pretrial detention or release on bail and must order the detainee's release if the prosecutor fails to show sufficient grounds for arrest. Credible reports indicated that in some cases detainees were held for more than 24 hours without court approval.

More than 70 percent of detainees awaited sentencing, but the courts provided release on bail for some detainees. Judges have the authority to order preventive detention for suspects deemed a flight risk. If a suspect is not detained, a judge may order significant restrictions on the suspect's movements.

Detainees generally had prompt access to their families and were allowed access to lawyers, but approximately 70 percent could not afford legal counsel, and public defenders were scarce and overburdened.

During the year the government provided 170 police officers in-depth human rights training, and provided 850 cadets and other police officials instruction in legal procedure that featured human rights instruction as well.

Denial of justice through prolonged detention remained a problem. Although the law establishes that a case's investigatory phase cannot exceed a maximum of 18 months and that the trial phase cannot exceed three years, some suspects were held in preventive detention longer than the legal limits. If the investigatory process is not completed in 18 months, the detainee may request release by a judge; however, judicial corruption, a shortage of public defenders, inadequate case-tracking mechanisms, and complex criminal justice procedures kept some persons jailed for more than 18 months before trial.

Children from 11 to 16 years of age may be detained indefinitely in children's centers for known or suspected offenses, or for their protection, on the orders of a social worker. There is no judicial review of such orders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was widely considered corrupt and weakened by government interference. The courts have not recovered from government attempts since 2007 to pressure the judiciary, remove several of its members, and undermine its independence. A 2007 Transparency International survey reported that more than 80 percent of those surveyed considered the judicial system corrupt.

There are three levels of courts within the judicial system: trial courts, superior courts, and the Supreme Court. Superior court review is restricted to a review of the application of the law. The Supreme Court may hear appeals in general, but review is restricted to cases involving exceptional circumstances.

The Constitutional Tribunal is an independent institution and has original and appellate jurisdiction on constitutional matters. The tribunal is the country's highest authority on constitutional matters and is separate from the Supreme Court, which is the highest authority on all other legal matters.

The Constitutional Tribunal normally functions with five regular members and five alternates, but violent protests by government supporters in 2007, a 50 percent pay cut, a 2007 attempt by the legislature to impeach four members, and health concerns left the tribunal with only one member. Unable to raise a quorum of three, the tribunal functioned only sporadically, had a three-year backlog of cases, and was unable to issue effective rulings on either the series of autonomy referenda held by four prefectures in May and June or the national recall referendum held on August 10. On July 21, the tribunal attempted to suspend the national recall referendum on constitutional grounds, but ultimately the National Electoral Court (CNE) ignored this challenge. Opposition groups suggested that the executive branch failed to nominate new tribunal members to avoid critical rulings on its potentially illegal or extralegal actions.

The CNE is the final authority on all matters relating to elections and has faced challenges. It operated with only three members or fewer out of five and was attacked for being partial to the government and for having purged professional staff. However, the court issued a number of opinions that signaled its independence, including its rejection of a planned December national referendum on the proposed constitution. On December 16, after the third CNE member's term expired, leaving the CNE without a quorum, the government proposed to extend his term instead of going through the required legislative process to appoint a new CNE member. The opposition-controlled Senate narrowly defeated this effort, and on December 20 the full Congress appointed a new CNE member.

In a July 29 speech in Cochabamba, President Morales noted he had taken illegal steps to apply his reforms and only later asked his lawyers to legalize such actions.

On December 3, representatives of the judiciary publicly criticized the Morales administration for attempting to destroy the government's judicial branch. The representatives denounced the government's illegal detention of former Pando prefect Fernandez and called the proposed draft constitution authoritarian and antidemocratic. A formal statement was signed by Supreme Court justices, the chairman of the Judicial Council, the president and members of the National Agrarian Court, the chairmen and members of the district courts, and the president and members of the Association of Magistrates of Bolivia. The Morales administration responded that the judicial branch was corrupt, and the deputy minister of justice recommended that all signatories resign immediately if the proposed constitution were approved.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial for all citizens, but fair trials did not always occur. Defendants have constitutional rights to a presumption of innocence, to a speedy and public trial by jury, to remain silent, to have an attorney, to confront witnesses, to present evidence on their own behalf, to due process, to an appeal, and to confront legal charges with government prosecutors before a formal court process is initiated. In practice the rights to an attorney and to a speedy trial were not protected systematically, although the Criminal Procedures Code facilitated more efficient investigations, transparent oral trials, and credible verdicts. In 2007 Freedom House reported there were only 56 public defenders, or 0.8 defenders for each 100,000 citizens, available in only 11 of 327 municipalities.

The law provides for a system of transparent oral trials in criminal cases, requires that no pretrial detention exceed 18 months without charges, provides for a maximum period of detention of 24 months in cases in which a sentence is being appealed, and mandates a three-year maximum duration for a trial. The law provides that the prosecutor is in charge of the investigative stage of a case and must give suspects an opportunity to confront charges before a trial formally begins.

The prosecutor instructs police regarding witness statements and evidence necessary to prosecute. The prosecutor pursues misdemeanor cases (with possible sentences of less than four years) before a judge of instruction and felony cases (with possible sentences of more than four years) before sentencing courts, both of which feature a five-member panel that includes three citizens and two judges.

The law also recognizes the conflict resolution (community justice) traditions of indigenous communities, provided that the resolution does not conflict with the rights and provisions established under the constitution.

The military justice system generally was susceptible to senior-level influence and tended to avoid rulings that would embarrass the military. When a military member is accused of a crime related to his military service, the commander of the affected unit assigns an officer to conduct an inquiry and prepare a report. The results are forwarded to a judicial advisor, usually at the division level, who then recommends a finding of innocence or guilt. For major infractions the case is forwarded to a military court, except that military personnel are supposed to be tried in civilian courts for human rights violations.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were allegations of political prisoners or detainees, including detentions resulting from the September 11 conflict in Pando Department (see section 1.d.).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. The law provides for criminal remedies for human rights violations, and at the conclusion of a criminal trial, the complainant can initiate a civil trial to seek damages. Administratively, the ombudsman for human rights can issue resolutions on specific human rights cases, which the government may enforce.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press. Although the government generally respected these rights, it maintained an antagonistic relationship with the press. Several NGOs charged President Morales and government officials with making disparaging statements regarding the press, condoning violence against journalists and media outlets, politicizing state-produced media content, and promulgating laws designed to restrict independent media. The media claimed the government also illegally restricted journalists' access to the detained persons from Pando and their relatives following the September 11 conflict.

The number of media outlets, including printed press, television, and radio, was extensive, and airing of various viewpoints, many expressing opposition to the government, continued. Radio and television stations generally operated freely. However, there were many reports that journalists attempting to film or report events, particularly those involving social movements, were threatened or injured by private individuals or nongovernmental groups. Progovernment groups generally attacked private media outlets and their reporters, while antigovernment groups focused their attacks on government-controlled media. The National Press Association registered 245 cases of aggression against reporters and other media workers during the twelve months preceding October.

In a March 30 report, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) asserted that freedoms of press and expression were "severely threatened." IAPA noted that President Morales called the press his "main enemy" and accused media outlets of lying, conspiring with national oligarchies, and "being sold" to hostile foreign governments. The IAPA report cited a letter from the Superintendent of Telecommunications, which warned of fines or bans from broadcasting for any media outlet caught transmitting propaganda or information that "although true, may harm or frighten the population." The report charged that the government had warned independent community radio stations that their licenses would be renewed only if they transmitted the news channel of the state, Radio Patria Nueva.

Several NGOs expressed concern about the transformation of the state media channel into a "proselytizing force" for the Morales administration. In its Press Freedom Index, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported a 'dramatic' deterioration in press freedom in the country, specifically citing the continued politicization of the media. On July 23, RSF released a letter noting its strong concern regarding the government's appointment of five ministers to head the National Corporation for Bolivian Television for its potential to transform state media into a solely pro-government medium. On October 7, the IAPA criticized the government for increasingly frequent verbal attacks against independent media and cited government efforts to transform state-run media into a proselytizing force.

Critics of the government claimed that the Morales administration used its large advertising budget to control private media outlets and impose self-censorship on media content. They also asserted that the government arbitrarily conducted financial audits of journalists and media owners.

Immediately after the September 11 conflict in Pando, members of the private media complained that the government flew a group of journalists to Pando the night of September 13, but only reporters from the government's news service and a sympathetic private radio reporter were allowed to stay. The government allegedly returned the others to La Paz the same night on grounds that the government could not guarantee their security.

At a rally in Cochabamba on August 23, President Morales called the press "dirty," accused them of selling their services to corrupt opposition officials, and in a speech four days later, referred to media owners as "liars."

Violence against journalists continued. Several NGOs not formally sponsored by government or opposition groups charged the government with condoning or encouraging attacks and intimidation of opposition media. RSF documented at least 21 journalists who were beaten severely, kidnapped, or in one case, almost lynched. The group also recorded eight instances in which television or radio stations were bombed, set on fire, or otherwise attacked. One journalist, Carlos Quispe Quispe, was killed in an attack by government supporters in La Paz Department on March 29. Most attacks on journalists were politically motivated; they were carried out by both government and opposition supporters. In one case, Army Lieutenant Jorge Nava was arrested in connection with the June 21 bombing of the Unitel television station in Tarija. The opposition charged the government with involvement in the bombing, contending that the lieutenant was assigned to the presidential palace and was using cash, explosives, and weapons provided by the government. The opposition also alleged Venezuelan influence, citing a car-rental contract arranged by the Venezuelan Embassy for the vehicle used in the attack. On November 7, Nava was released on bail pending further investigation.

The government issued an arrest warrant in June for Adolfo Cerrudo for attacks on private media journalists generally, a specific threat of rape against a journalist from leading daily La Razon, and a death threat toward another journalist. Several private media outlets had complained to authorities that Cerrudo had been attacking journalists as early as January. Authorities placed Cerrudo under house arrest and ordered him to stay away from reporters and media outlets and to check in periodically with police. In violation of the order restricting him from contact with the media, Cerrudo attacked journalists on October 29 outside of San Pedro prison, and the police did not intervene. The government did order house arrest for Cerrudo again in mid-November; however, police appeared unable to locate him. The opposition characterized Cerrudo as receiving favorable treatment from authorities due to ties with the ruling MAS party and senior government officials. The MAS denied links with Cerrudo, although he was linked with the radical pro-Morales Popular Civic Committee of La Paz.

On December 1, a bomb exploded at the door of newspaper El Potosi, twisting the metal door off its hinges. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, and the government began an investigation that was pending at year's end.

At a public event on December 10, President Morales asked a journalist to approach the podium, produce proof for a recently written story implicating Morales in a contraband case, called the journalist a liar, and told him to leave. A cross-section of mainstream media condemned the president's actions as intimidating, an abuse of power, and an attack on freedom of the press. The next day President Morales stated that 90 percent of journalists "had no dignity" and said he "did not need the media to report" about his administration. He subsequently restricted some press conferences to government media and foreign press only.

On December 18, unknown actors exploded dynamite at a radio station owned by MAS dissident Senator Guido Guardia. Guardia accused the ministers of the presidency and of government of arranging the attack. A similar explosion occurred at Guardia's apartment in La Paz in October 2007. Police were investigating both cases, although according to Guardia they waited two months to take his testimony regarding the first attack. Government officials did not comment on the attack or on accusations by MAS Congressman Gustavo Torrico, who accused Guardia of orchestrating the attacks himself for political benefit.

At year's end the government was investigating 10 cases of attacks on the media, with one suspect in custody.

The law provides that persons found guilty of insulting, defaming, or slandering public officials for carrying out their duties may be jailed from one month to two years. Insults directed against the president, vice president, or a minister increase the sentence by half. Journalists accused of violating the constitution or citizens' rights are referred to the 40-person Press Tribunal, an independent body authorized to evaluate journalists' practices, although cases rarely came before the tribunal.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2007 there were 198,000 Internet subscribers and 2 Internet users per 100 inhabitants.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the authorities generally respected this right in practice. While the law requires a permit for most demonstrations, security forces rarely enforced the law, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits, frequently blockading major thoroughfares and highways. Enforcement of permit requirements at times appeared politically motivated. For example, police permitted progovernment protesters to surround and blockade Congress in late February, and did not intervene when the crowd assaulted opposition legislators and at least one counter-protester, but in March police used tear gas to force a small, peaceful animal rights group, Animales SOS, that had been protesting in the same plaza, to disband. Animales SOS had been protesting the actions of militant progovernment social group Ponchos Rojos, which publicly decapitated two dogs as a warning to opposition leaders.

While most demonstrations were peaceful, occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, and dynamite. Security forces frequently (police and on occasion the military) were called upon to break up protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities (mainly natural gas supply lines and federal offices).

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. Roman Catholicism was predominant, and the constitution recognizes it as the official religion. However, some government officials criticized the Catholic Church as being too political and threatened to revoke part or all of its tax-exempt status. In early November President Morales called the Catholic Church an "instrument of domination that brings injustice and inequality."

On November 30, church leader Cardinal Terrazas publicly discussed his concern that under new government policies the country could be overrun by narcotraffickers. On December 4, in what many news reports labeled a direct response, the government proposed that the Catholic Church begin paying taxes for its "lucrative" activities. The government also repeated demands that the cardinal and the Catholic Church should cease making political statements.

On October 23, in its annual report to the Vatican, NGO Helping the Church in Need stated the country was one of 60 countries where religious persecution occurred.

Non-Catholic religious organizations, including missionary groups, must register with the Office of the Director of Religion in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive authorization for legal religious representation. There were hundreds of recognized religious groups on the registry. The ministry is not allowed to deny registration based on an organization's articles of faith, but the process can be time-consuming and expensive, leading some groups to forgo registration and operate informally without certain tax and customs benefits.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuse or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. There was a small Jewish community.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. However, throughout the year both progovernment and opposition protesters prevented movement within the country by blockading major highways, as did trade and industry groups.

In July and August, opposition leaders several times barred President Morales from entering cities they controlled in the eastern part of the country, known as the media luna (half-moon). According to press reports, in August and September, as many as 35 politically motivated blockades occurred in the media luna, including the cordoning off of the borders with Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. In response, on September 8, CONALCAM (National Coordination for Change), a group politically aligned with President Morales, declared its intention to close all roads into and out of Santa Cruz. Nearly 20,000 rural workers, many armed, effectively blocked vehicular transportation for seven days, causing significant economic losses and shortages of water, gas, and basic foodstuffs.

Several hundred thousand citizens lacked basic identity documents, which prevented them from obtaining international travel documents and accessing other government services. The government cooperated with the Pastoral de Movilidad Humana, which is the local representative of the UNHCR, and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

The law prohibits the forced exile of citizens, and the government did not employ the practice.

Protection of Refugees

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. However, a June 2007 IACHR report noted three problems in the refugee and asylum system: lack of due process; difficulties in obtaining identification documents; and inadequate protection against the return of refugees to countries where there was reason to believe they feared persecution. In February the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of persons requesting asylum increased by 200 percent in 2007.

In January the government established a refugee department to record and process all cases. Although cases were being processed, there were several complaints that the length of time needed to receive recognition of refugee status, in some cases up to six or seven months, exceeded the one-month period stipulated in the law.

The UNHCR reported that the recognized refugee population in the country was more than 600 persons and steadily increasing. The government completed processing and agreed to provide refugee protection in 30 pending cases, with 35 older cases still under review. There were 24 new applications during the year.

On October 17, the attorney general's office formally indicted former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and former defense minister Sanchez Berzain on criminal charges in connection with the deaths of up to 60 persons in October 2003. In November the government submitted a request for Sanchez de Lozada's extradition from the country to which he fled.

In May the Supreme Court voted to refuse Peru's extradition request regarding the case of Walter Chavez, wanted in Peru on charges of being a terrorist leader in the 1980s with the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru.

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. However, many citizens of voting age lacked the identity documents necessary to vote, although the electoral court reported 377,000 new voters since 2006. The government also pursued a controversial identification card effort, with Venezuelan assistance, with the stated goal of improving citizens' access to identification documents. Opposition groups charged the registration process was partisan and designed to increase voter rolls primarily for MAS party supporters. Before the August 10 recall referendum, CNE President Jose Luis Exeni stated he believed the voter rolls were "98 percent trustworthy." After the referendum district electoral courts, press articles, and opposition leaders called for an audit of the voter rolls to investigate allegations of irregularities. The Organization of American States voiced concerns about voter fraud, stating it had observed voting irregularities at 5 percent of the sites and the absence of secret balloting at 9 percent of the sites, but confirmed the results of the referendum.

A broad spectrum of political parties and citizens' groups functioned openly. Elections for national offices and municipal governments are scheduled every five years.

Elections and Political Participation

In May and June, Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, and Tarija Departments held autonomy referenda, which the federal government refused to recognize and the international community declined to monitor. All four referenda passed easily but were marked by high abstention rates. In an August 10 nationwide recall referendum encompassing the offices of the president, vice president, and eight of nine prefects, President Morales and four of six opposition-aligned prefects retained their positions, most with large majorities of the vote.

In late February MAS party supporters surrounded the Congress to prevent entry by the opposition and dissident MAS congressmen seeking to vote on contentious legislation. The action disenfranchised more than a third of the congressional representatives and the citizens they represented. On October 20, President Morales led tens of thousands of progovernment supporters in a march to surround the legislative building. The marchers threatened to trap members of Congress inside the building indefinitely until they approved significant changes to the proposed new constitution. Members of Congress avoided the blockade and threats to expel opposition members from the building by reaching an agreement to make more than 100 changes to the draft text. While some opposition leaders publicly praised the changes as an improvement, others called the process illegal and stated the changes were made under duress. Many leaders from across the political spectrum stated the only legal way to make amendments was through the Constituent Assembly process.

Women held only 24 percent of public offices despite a law that requires every third candidate appearing on a political party's slate to be female. Female politicians reported that political parties frequently adhered to the quota in submitting their candidate lists but subsequently pressured women to withdraw their candidacy prior to the election.

Every second candidate on municipal election ballots must be a woman, a requirement that increased female representation to approximately 30 percent of municipal council positions. There were 23 women among Congress's 157 deputies and senators and three female ministers in the 18-member cabinet. The number of indigenous members of Congress was estimated at 17 percent. President Morales considered himself indigenous. One of the nine departmental prefects, Sabina Cuellar, was an indigenous woman.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank's worldwide governance indicators, government corruption was a serious problem. The government-prepared National Corruption Index reported in 2007 that 13 of every 100 public service transactions involved the payment of a bribe, costing the country approximately 905 million bolivianos ($130 million) annually. The index noted that corruption disproportionately affected lower-income persons and it rated the national police, customs, and justice system the most corrupt government institutions. According to Transparency International's International Corruption Perceptions Index released during the year, the country received a score of three on a scale of one to ten, indicating "rampant corruption."

On December 4, former chief of customs Cesar Lopez accused Presidency Minister Quintana and Pando interim Prefect Rafael Bandeira of illegally permitting 33 trucks containing contraband merchandise to cross the border into Brazil. Quintana first denied his involvement, then admitted to meeting with the owners of the merchandise, but only to seek a solution to problems related to customs controls at the border. Quintana also announced charges would be brought against Lopez for his statements and for alleged corruption. A congressional investigation was ongoing at year's end.

Cases involving allegations of corruption against public officials require congressional approval before prosecutors can initiate legal proceedings.

A patchwork of laws requires public officials to report potential personal and financial conflicts of interest.

There was no information available on laws providing access to government information or on whether the government provided such access in practice.

4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views; however, NGOs and the human rights ombudsman complained that government security forces and ministries occasionally refused to cooperate with their investigations.

The human rights ombudsman is a position with a five-year term established in the constitution. Congress chooses the ombudsman via a required two-thirds majority vote. The ombudsman is charged with providing oversight of the defense and promotion of human rights, specifically to defend citizens against government abuses. The ombudsman operated without party influence and with adequate resources from the government and foreign NGOs. On December 18, the ombudsman ended his term. A new ombudsman was expected to assume office in 2009. The ombudsman issues annual reports, and the government usually accepts his recommendations. After the conflict in Pando in September, the government limited access to detainees, which the ombudsman denounced.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, language, sexual orientation, or social status, there was significant discrimination against women, indigenous people, and the small black minority. Persons with HIV/AIDS, indigenous people, peasant farmers, and homosexuals, in this order, experienced the most discrimination.

Women

Rape was a serious and underreported problem. The law defines two types of criminal cases. In private criminal matters, the victim brings the case against the defendant; in public criminal matters, a state prosecutor files criminal charges. The Code of Criminal Procedures makes rape a public crime. The law criminalizes statutory rape, with prison terms of 15 to 20 years for the rape of a child under the age of 14. In cases involving consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years of age, the penalty is two to six years' imprisonment. Forcible rape of an adult is punishable by sentences ranging from four to 10 years' imprisonment. Sexual crimes against minors automatically are considered public crimes. Spousal rape is not a crime.

Violence against women was also a pervasive and underreported problem. According to the NGO Center for the Information and Development of Women (CIDEM), 70 percent of women suffered some form of abuse. CIDEM noted that the statistics "did not reflect the full magnitude of the problem of violence against women" and that "a great number of women" did not report the aggression they faced on a daily basis.

Family laws prohibiting mental, physical, and sexual violence provide for fines or up to four days in jail, unless the case becomes a public crime subject to the penal code; however, these laws were enforced irregularly. The government took few meaningful or concrete steps to combat domestic violence. From January through November, the police Family Protection Brigade handled 3,592 cases, compared with approximately 8,954 in 2006. However, the police brigade lacked financial support, structural support, and personnel to follow up and pursue all reported cases. Most cases of domestic violence went unreported.

Prostitution is legal for adults age 18 and older, and there were reports of trafficking in women for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor.

The law considers sexual harassment a civil crime. There were no statistics on the incidence of sexual harassment, but it generally was acknowledged to be widespread.

Legal services offices devoted to family and women's rights operated throughout the country. The Maternal and Infant Health Insurance Program provided health services to women of reproductive age and to children under age five.

Women were entitled to the same legal rights as men; however, many women were unaware of their legal rights. Women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. Traditional prejudices and social conditions remained obstacles to advancement. In rural areas traditional practices restricting land inheritance for women remained a problem. The minimum wage law treats men and women equally; however, women generally earned less than men for equal work. Women sometimes complained that employers were reluctant to hire them because of the additional costs (mainly maternal) in a woman's benefits package. The gender gap in hiring appeared widest in the higher education brackets. Most women in urban areas worked in the informal economy and the services and trade sectors, including domestic service and microbusiness, whereas in rural areas the majority of economically active women worked in agriculture. Young girls often left school early to work at home or in the informal economy.

Leading women's rights groups included the Campesinas de Bolivia Bartolina Sisa, CIDEM, and Coordinadora de Mujer, a national NGO network. International groups with presence in the country included Red Latinoamericana de Mujeres Transformando la Economia, Red Mujeres y Economía Bolivia, AMUPEI, and CLADEM. Relevant institutional groups included Union de Mujeres Parlamentarias, Asociacion de Concejalas de Bolivia, and the Foro Politico de Mujeres. Unions included the Asociacion de Mujeres Periodistas, Asociacion de Juezas, and Magistradas de Bolivia.

Children

The government's commitment to children's rights and welfare was insufficient to improve conditions appreciably.

Corporal punishment and verbal abuse were common in schools. Children from 11 to 16 years of age may be detained indefinitely in children's centers for suspected offenses or for their own protection on the orders of a social worker. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated that approximately 9,200 children lived in institutions where their basic rights were not respected. There also were many children living on the streets of major cities. UNICEF estimated that more than 3,700 children and adolescents lived on the streets in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Tarija, and Sucre.

Child prostitution was a problem, particularly in urban areas and in the Chapare region. There were reports of children trafficked for forced labor to neighboring countries. According to Pastoral de Movilidad Humana, the local representative of the UNHCR, each month between nine and 11 children in the southern part of the country disappeared and were presumed victims of trafficking. Several NGOs had active programs to combat child prostitution.

There were 260 Defender of Children and Adolescents offices to protect children's rights and interests nationwide. The government's plan to combat child labor included a public information campaign against child prostitution and raids on brothels.

Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons and specifically criminalizes trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution. However, there were credible reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

The country was a source for men, women, and children trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation to Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Spain, and the United States. Faced with extreme poverty, many citizens became economic migrants, and some were victimized by traffickers as they moved from rural areas to cities and then abroad. Women and children, particularly from indigenous ethnic groups in the Altiplano region, were at greater risk of being trafficked. Children were trafficked within the country to work in prostitution, mines, domestic servitude, and agriculture, particularly on sugarcane and Brazil nut plantations. Weak controls along its extensive borders made the country an easy transit point for illegal migrants, some of whom may have been trafficked. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also remained a problem.

While there were reports that some adolescents were sold into forced labor, it appeared that most victims initially were willing economic migrants who later were trafficked by being duped or coerced into conditions of forced labor. The Bolivian Embassy in Buenos Aires stated that it received at least one claim per day of a Bolivian citizen, including children, being exploited in Argentina.

The law criminalizes trafficking and provides for a prison term of four years, which may be increased to 12 years when the victim is less than 14 years of age. The government investigated approximately 192 cases of trafficking in persons; while there were some arrests, only a handful of cases received formal sentences and the majority of people arrested remained in detention.

The Ministry of Justice, via an interinstitutional committee, has responsibility for combating trafficking. The Ministry of Government, including the National Police and the Immigration Service, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Labor, and Sustainable Development, as well as prefectures and municipalities, has secondary responsibility. The human rights ombudsman nonetheless noted that the government had little presence at the borders to control trafficking, and that unauthorized entities and agents issued permission documents for minors to travel abroad.

Some government officials reportedly took bribes to facilitate smuggling and the illegal movement of persons; however, the government did not condone or facilitate trafficking. In 2006 the government opened an investigation of 18 public employees, including four members of Congress, suspected of involvement in human trafficking. However, the government discouraged the investigation from reaching a conclusion and the case was moribund.

The municipal Defender of Children and Adolescents offices, sometimes in cooperation with NGOs, managed scattered assistance programs for victims. La Paz Department and the La Paz city government each operated a shelter for abused and exploited children.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the NGOs Save the Children and Pro-Adolescente conducted public awareness campaigns on trafficking of children.

See also the State Department's 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and identifies the rights and benefits afforded them. There was no official discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. However, societal discrimination kept many persons with disabilities at home from an early age, limiting their integration into society. The Law on Disabilities requires 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.

On July 25, Santa Cruz police used tear gas and physical force to disperse a group of persons with disabilities protesting at the entrance to the Palmasola oil refinery. Four protesters were hospitalized and a deaf-mute pregnant woman was sent into early labor. Some tried to escape the tear gas in wheelchairs, while police dragged others out of the gassed area. A government vice minister claimed police intervened after protesters used firecrackers in an "irresponsible manner in a dangerous area."

The National Committee for Handicapped Persons was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The human rights ombudsman has reported that approximately 70 percent of the population considered racism a problem. There was societal and systemic discrimination against the small black minority, which generally remained at the low end of the socioeconomic scale and faced severe disadvantages in health, life expectancy, education, income, literacy, and employment. The majority of the estimated 35,000 Afro-Bolivians lived in the Yungas region of La Paz Department.

Indigenous People

In the 2001 census, approximately 62 percent of the population over 15 years of age identified themselves as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara groups. The IACHR reported that 70 percent of these indigenous people lived in poverty or extreme poverty, with little access to education or to minimal services to support human health, such as clean drinking water and sanitation systems.

Indigenous lands are not demarcated fully, and land reform remained a central political issue. Historically, a majority of indigenous people shared lands collectively under the "ayllu" system, a system that was not legally recognized during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands have not been resolved. Indigenous people protested the government's failure to provide them with title to all of their claimed territories; they also objected to outside exploitation of their resources. Indigenous peasants illegally occupied several private properties, often with the backing of the Landless Movement.

Indigenous groups used the Popular Participation Law to form municipalities that offered them greater opportunities for self-determination. Several political parties, citizens' groups, and NGOs actively promoted the rights of indigenous people, although progress was minimal. Indigenous people continued to be underrepresented in government and politics, and indigenous groups bore a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas. The government tried to improve the situation with the delivery of pensions to the elderly and funding for youth to attend school.

Discrimination against indigenous groups was extensive. On May 24, large opposition gangs, encouraged by local civic leaders from Sucre, captured and humiliated a progovernment group of approximately two dozen indigenous workers and leaders, who journeyed to Sucre to ensure President Morales could enter the city. A mob took the group prisoner, beat several of them, and forced many of the men to take off their shirts and march several miles to the central plaza, where they were forced to kneel and shout antigovernment slogans.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

According to a study by the Employment Bureau of La Paz Department, at least five people in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz were killed in 2007 due to their sexual orientation. According to the ombudsman's office the situation did not change significantly during the year. The study showed approximately 80 percent of homosexuals were discriminated against in the workforce, 70 percent in the educational system, and 60 percent in health centers.

The human rights ombudsman reported that persons with HIV/AIDS faced the most discrimination in the country.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

While the law allows workers to form and join trade unions, in practice this right was limited due to inefficient labor courts and inadequate government regulation. Approximately 25 percent of workers in the formal economy, which employed an estimated 30 percent of all workers, belonged to unions.

Workers may form a union in any private company of 20 or more employees; however, the minimum requirement of 20 workers proved a heavy restriction, as an estimated 70 percent of enterprises had fewer than 20 employees.

Public-sector workers also have the right to form unions. The law requires prior government authorization to establish a union and confirm its elected leadership, permits only one union per enterprise, and allows the government to dissolve unions by administrative fiat.

The central government had close ties with certain umbrella labor organizations such as the Central Workers Union of Bolivia (COB) and the Confederation of Farm Workers (CSUTCB). The government exerted pressure on some of these organizations' national leadership and local chapters and funded parallel chapters in areas where the government had less influence. As one example, after having disagreements with the leadership of the CSUTCB, the MAS funded a parallel organization in many departments. Although the COB officially recognized the first CSUTCB leadership, the MAS heavily funded the alternative group, and many media outlets ceased to refer to the first CSUTCB group or its leadership. The MAS-sponsored organization also took over CSUTCB office space in some cases, leading to clashes with the "original" CSUTCB.

The law provides most workers with the right to strike but requires unions to seek prior government mediation; the law requires the same of employers before they initiate a lockout.

Public service employees, including those in banks and public markets, are prohibited from striking; despite this, workers in the public sector (including teachers, transportation workers, and health care workers) frequently went on strike and were not penalized for such strike activities. Solidarity strikes are illegal, but the government neither prosecuted nor imposed penalties in such cases.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides workers the right to organize and bargain collectively; however, collective bargaining, or voluntary direct negotiations between employers and workers without the participation of the government, was limited. Most collective bargaining agreements were restricted to wages.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of employees illegally fired for engaging in union activity. The National Labor Court handles complaints of antiunion discrimination, but it can take a year or more to rule due to a significant backlog of cases. The court ruled in favor of discharged workers in some cases and successfully required their reinstatement. However, union leaders stated that problems often were moot by the time the court ruled.

There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the seven special duty-free zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, the practices of child apprenticeship and agricultural servitude by indigenous workers continued, as did some alleged individual cases of household workers effectively held captive by their employers.

In June the IACHR reported that the indigenous Guarani continued to live "in a state of bondage analogous to slavery" in the Chaco region and that the problem had worsened since the commission's last visit in 2006. In many cases Guarani families worked land owned by landlords in exchange for housing and food but were not paid the minimum wage. As a result they incurred large debts to their landlords and were not permitted to leave the property without satisfying their debt. Many of these families lived in very poor conditions, without water, electricity, medical care, or schools. The IACHR recognized that involuntary servitude had ended at some large estates, but in some cases freedom from servitude meant expulsion without compensation. In some cases in the Alto Parapeti region, the government bought land to give to Guarani who had been expelled from haciendas.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated in 2005 that more than 7,000 Guarani lived in this situation. The IACHR reported the Guarani workers were subject to "punishments such as being lashed with whips or having their crops burned and their animals killed."

However, the abusive treatment of the Chaco Guarani was not uniform, and the political opposition charged the government with using abuses against some Guarani as a pretext to break up private ranches where no abuses were occurring. The issue divided the Guarani community, where some laborers sided with their employers against government action.

There were victims of forced labor, mostly indigenous, harvesting Brazil nuts in Beni Department. The work was seasonal, lasting approximately three months per year. During that time landlords sold basic foodstuffs to workers at inflated prices; workers subsequently incurred large debts and were not permitted to leave the property until the debts were satisfied. Similar conditions existed in the sugar industry in Santa Cruz Department.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Child labor remained a serious problem. The law prohibits all paid work by children under the age of 14; however, in practice the Ministry of Labor generally did not enforce child labor laws, including those pertaining to the minimum age and maximum hours for child workers, school completion requirements, and health and safety conditions for children in the workplace. The law prohibits a range of dangerous, immoral, and unhealthy work for minors under the age of 18. Labor law permits apprenticeship for 12- to 14-year-olds under various formal but poorly enforced restrictions, which have been criticized by the ILO and were considered by some to be tantamount to bondage.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor provisions but did not enforce them throughout the country. According to UNICEF, 118,000 children between the ages of seven and 13 (or eight percent of that population) and 206,000 children between the ages of 14 and 17 (or 28 percent of that population) worked. Although the law prohibits persons under 18 years of age from work in the sugarcane fields, approximately 10,000 rural migrant children (7,000 of whom were under the age of 14) worked in this activity. There was also evidence of exploitation of indigenous children in the regions of the Chaco, Beni, and Santa Cruz, and in cities across the country wherever people were migrating in from the countryside. Urban children sold goods, shined shoes, and assisted transport operators. Rural children often worked with parents from an early age, generally in subsistence agriculture. Children generally were not employed in factories or formal businesses but, when employed, often worked the same hours as adults. Children also worked in mines and other dangerous occupations in the informal sector. Narcotics traffickers used children to transport drugs. Child prostitution remained a problem. According to an April report by the human rights ombudsman, 3,000 children lived in the streets, many of whom were exploited sexually. The report stated that more than 100,000 children worked eight to 12 hours a day. The IOM estimated that 2,000 girls worked, or were forced to work, as prostitutes.

The traditional practice of "criadito" service persisted in some parts of the country. Criaditos are indigenous children of both sexes, usually 10- to 12-year-olds, whom their parents indenture to middle- and upper-class families to perform household work in exchange for education, clothing, room, and board. Such work is illegal, and there were no controls over the benefits to, or treatment of, such children.

The government devoted minimal resources to investigating child labor cases, but NGOs and international organizations such as UNICEF supplemented the government's efforts.

The government continued its efforts to eliminate child labor in its worst forms, working with NGOs to discourage the use of child labor in the mining and sugar sectors by participating in internationally funded programs to provide educational alternatives to children who otherwise would work in mines or sugarcane fields. Nonetheless, in 2007, according to the human rights ombudsman, 3,800 children worked in mining.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

During the year the government raised the minimum monthly wage to 577 bolivianos ($82) for the public and private sectors, from 525 bolivianos ($75) in 2007. The minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Most private-sector workers earned more than the minimum wage. While the minimum wage fell below prevailing wages in most jobs, certain benefit calculations were pegged to it. Many independent workers were part of the informal economy, and did not receive the minimum wage.

Labor laws establish a maximum workweek of 48 hours, limit women to a workday one hour shorter than that of men, prohibit women from working at night, mandate rest periods, and require premium pay for work above a standard workweek. In practice the government did not effectively enforce these laws.

The Ministry of Labor's Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility for protection of workers' health and safety, but relevant standards were enforced poorly. There were fewer than 30 inspectors throughout the entire country. While the government did not maintain official statistics, there were reports that workers died due to unsafe conditions, particularly in the mining and construction sectors. A national tripartite committee of business, labor, and government representatives was responsible for monitoring and improving occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Labor maintained an office for worker inquiries, complaints, and reports of unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions.

Working conditions in cooperative-operated mines remained poor. Miners continued to work with no scheduled rest for long periods in dangerous, unhealthy conditions and earned relatively little for their efforts; some earned less than 21 bolivianos ($3) per 12-hour day. Conditions have changed little in the past decades, as independent miners' cooperatives lacked the financial and technical resources needed to improve mine infrastructure. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without fear of losing their jobs.

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