United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Bolivia, -, 30 January 1996, https://www.refworld.org/reference/annualreport/usdos/1996/en/24794 [accessed 29 February 2024]
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 notoriously corrupt and inefficient. The executive and legislative branches share these defects to some extent. Constitutional amendments to reform the political and judicial systems which were approved in August 1994 were only partially implemented by the end of 1995. The National Police have primary responsibility for internal security, although the army, navy, and air force 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. Although rich in minerals and hydrocarbons, Bolivia has an annual per capita gross domestic product of about $1,000. Principal exports are minerals, natural gas, and other raw materials; traditional agriculture dominates the domestic economy. Poverty is endemic. Many Bolivians lack such basic services as water, electricity, sewers, and primary health care. The centralized economy has long depended heavily on foreign aid. To promote development and a transition to a market economy, the Government is carrying out a program of privatization, deficit reduction, to strengthen the banking system, and encourage increased exports and foreign investment. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, legal and institutional deficiencies prevented their full protection. The Government launched several initiatives to improve this situation, but implementation was slow. The most pervasive human rights abuse continued to be prolonged incarceration of detainees due to antiquated procedures, inefficiency, and corruption in the judicial system. The Government's declaration of a state of siege in April, although permitted by the Constitution, was viewed by human rights groups and opposition politicians as a violation of human rights. Controversy continued as to whether certain actions, such as temporary detentions, taken to implement the state of siege, were unconstitutional and constituted violations of human rights. There were credible reports of abuses by police, such as petty theft and extortion. Police remained reluctant to prosecute their own colleagues for offenses, although several policemen were discharged and arrested for rape and for culpable negligence in a prisoner's death. Investigations refuted claims by coca growers that the deaths of four farm workers in separate confrontations with police were extrajudicial murders. Other problems include substandard prison conditions, violence and discrimination against women, discrimination and abuse of 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. There were allegations of extrajudicial killings. Coca growers unions alleged that five deaths of farm workers in separate confrontations with antinarcotics police in the Chapare region were extrajudicial murders. Although some of the findings were disputed, investigations conducted by the executive and legislative branches indicated that two of the deaths resulted from justified use of defensive force by police, two were caused accidentally by other protesting farm workers, and one is still undetermined. The investigation continues. On July 21, a still-unidentified peasant died from shrapnel injuries sustained on July 15 when a dynamite bomb was thrown into a police truck carrying police and arrestees during a large, violent confrontation over coca eradication in the Chapare. Police arrested several coca growers in September and charged them with having supplied and used the improvised bombs. In August a large group of armed peasants pursued an UMOPAR patrol which had arrested several coca growers and seized cocaine base, U.S. currency, and a shotgun. A second UMOPAR patrol fired warning shots, one of which--possibly a ricochet--apparently struck and killed Juan Ortiz Diaz. On August 18, UMOPAR officers shot and killed Jose Mejia Pisa after he had shot and seriously wounded an UMOPAR member. On September 2, Roman Crespo Condori died of a gunshot wound sustained during a confrontation between peasants and UMOPAR forces. An autopsy revealed that Crespo's wound resulted from a shotgun pellet, a weapon commonly used by peasants but not used by the UMOPAR. In November police shot and killed 13-year-old Janeth Veliz Vargas during confrontations between peasants and police. Both the executive branch and the Congress immediately sent investigative commissions to the Chapare in response to these incidents. The autopsies of Ortiz and Crespo were performed in the presence of nongovernmental observers. Leaders of the coca growers and some nongovernmental organizations disputed some of the findings in these cases, and the government investigations are still open; evidence available to date, however, refutes allegations that these deaths were extrajudicial killings or the results of unjustified police force. At the end of 1994, five police officials including a colonel were arrested and charged with culpable negligence in the death of a prisoner who succumbed to unnoticed internal injuries shortly after his arrest. Former dictator General Luis Garcia Meza, convicted in absentia for political murder and other crimes committed during his 1980's regime, was extradited from Brazil early in the year and began serving his sentence in a maximum security prison. The police officer accused in 1994 of murdering coca worker Felipe Perez Ortiz escaped from custody in September of that year and has not been recaptured.
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 on torture. However, there were widespread allegations that police used undue force in detaining labor activists under the state of siege and farm workers during antinarcotics operations. Although many clearly were politically motivated exaggerations, the similarity and volume of such allegations suggest that they had some basis in truth. However, no incriminating evidence came to light, and no security personnel were charged or tried. In an isolated case, three policemen were fired and held for trial for allegedly raping a juvenile prisoner. The Congressional Human Rights Committee issued a report in October resurrecting allegations that police officials had in past years tortured captured terrorists and recommending that criminal proceedings be opened against named officers. The report was awaiting action by the Congress at year's end. 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; an estimated 400 children do so. Authorities worked to get such children out of prisons, but many have nowhere else to go. The standard prison diet, according to a recent outside study, can cause anemia. Drugs and alcohol are readily available for those 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. There was at least one confirmed case in which a prisoner died while awaiting permission for outside emergency care. Affluent prisoners, however, can obtain transfers to preferred prisons for "medical" reasons. The Government permits visits by human rights and news media representatives. 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. Indigenous communities in areas with little or no central government presence impose corporal punishment such as whipping on members who violate traditional laws or rules, although such punishment is forbidden by the national Constitution.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Radical labor union elements carried out frequent and increasingly violent demonstrations in an effort to defeat government privatization and educational reform programs. In response, the Government declared a 90-day state of siege on April 18. In the first 3 days of the emergency, security forces arrested more than 400 persons and sent over 300 of them to temporary confinement in military bases away from urban areas. Some detainees were released on April 19, and more were freed over the following 3 weeks. By May 4, all had been released except a handful who were being investigated for possible criminal offenses. These persons, too, were freed by mid-May. Except for a shortlived curfew and a ban on politically oriented gatherings, the Government imposed no extraordinary measures. When the state of siege expired, the Government renewed it for an additional 90 days. The state of siege, approved by the Congress, was a constitutional measure. There were complaints, however, that the detentions were not confirmed by courts within 48 hours as the Constitution requires. Constitutional questions also arose from the arrest of an international group of coca advocates a few hours before the state of siege was formally proclaimed. These questions have not been resolved. 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. Government and nongovernmental estimates agree that 85 to 90 percent of all persons in custody have yet to be sentenced. 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 public defenders are overburdened. Bail exists, except in some drug cases, and is generally granted. Many persons, however, cannot afford it. Persons tried under the counternarcotics law must await Supreme Court confirmation or rejection of lower courts' verdicts--a process involving prolonged delays. The Government is addressing the problem of delay of justice by gradually implementing the 1994 constitutional reforms to streamline the judicial system. The 1994 law ending imprisonment for debt has brought the release of hundreds of prisoners who could not afford to pay their creditors, attorneys, or court costs. At mid-year, the Congress approved five new magistrates to complete the Supreme Court bench, ending a period of 18 months in which the court was not fully staffed or fully functional. The Minister of Justice introduced a draft law in the autumn congressional session that would permit pretrial release on personal recognizance, and provisional liberty for those declared innocent but awaiting review or appeal, or those already imprisoned longer than the maximum sentence for their alleged offense. The new law would also shorten the permissible time for various stages of the penal process, including preventive detention. Congress approved this law and it was promulgated February 2, 1996. The Minister of Justice proposed, and the Supreme Court approved, pardons for 130 elderly and very young prisoners as recommended by public defenders. Children age 11 to 16 can be detained indefinitely for known or suspected offenses, or for their protection, simply on the orders of a social worker. There is no judicial review. It is estimated that over 700 children were detained in this manner in juvenile centers equivalent to jails at year's end. Within the centers, convicted child criminals are not segregated from children who are confined either as suspects or due to abandonment or by reason of mental disability. Medical care and rehabilitation programs are scarce to nonexistent. The Government has acknowledged this problem but says that it does not have sufficient resources to correct it quickly. The National Agency for Minors, Women, and the Family (ONAMFA) began efforts to return 200 minors to their families in the hope that social workers might help to reintegrate them into society. In addition, ONAMFA plans to relocate juveniles who have no homes to private foster care or to other more appropriate centers. 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 magistrates, including the newly elected president of the court, face investigations and possible corruption charges. Several lower court judges, as well as some prosecutors, were the subjects of similar allegations during the year, resulting in some firings and pending legal actions. The judicial system has four levels: these are 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. Bail is usually available. 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. During this process, the accused must remain incarcerated, even if declared innocent by the initial trial court. There is no bail in narcotics cases. Authorities generally respect the constitutional guarantee 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. Investigation, trial, and appeal procedures can take so long that prisoners may serve more time than the sentence for the crime with which they are charged. 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 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, and there were no known prosecutions of UMOPAR officials. In August the Government and coca growers union representatives agreed to form a mixed commission with offices throughout the Chapare coca-growing region, where most offenses allegedly occur. These offices would accept and pursue complaints of human rights abuses committed by anyone, including police, narcotics traffickers, or coca growers. The first such office began to function in Chimore in December. The Government respects the rights of individuals to determine family size, religion, and political affiliations.
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, therefore, no legal or institutional barriers to freedom of speech and press. State-owned and private radio and television stations operated freely. Newspapers are privately owned; most adopt antigovernment positions. Some reporters were arrested at union offices when the state of siege was declared, and others were slightly injured in the violent demonstrations that preceded it. Although news media portrayed these incidents as targeted official interference with press freedom, they evidently were the accidental result of the journalists being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those who were arrested in the union raids were released quickly once their media credentials were established. Injuries suffered by reporters in demonstrations were few and less severe than those suffered by some police and demonstrators in the same encounters. 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. They aimed to paralyze the Government's education reform plan, which reduced the block revenue grants to universities and subjects teachers to academic quality controls by the Government and the community.
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, authorities try to avoid confronting demonstrators. Labor, political, and student groups carried out many demonstrations and rallies, often dangerously violent, in La Paz and other cities in the first quarter of the year. The prohibition of politically oriented gatherings pursuant to the state of siege was a constitutional measure. Despite this general prohibition, however, authorities approved many public demonstrations including a labor federation march to celebrate May day.
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 guarantees the right to return. The Government does not revoke citizenship for political reasons. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Some refugees were accepted for resettlement. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status.
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. The "popular participation law" passed in April 1994 gave local communities greater influence in government decisionmaking and control of more discretionary revenues. Its impact was greatest in rural areas which formerly had few or no financial resources and no voice in the way central government funds were spent. The Government conducted a nationwide campaign to register new voters, particularly those heretofore hampered by a lack of vital documentation. 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, but with notable exceptions such as Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas, an Aymara.
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. 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.
Violence against women is pervasive. A study by the National Institute of Statistics covering the July 1992-June 1993 period found that 40 percent of all reported violent attacks in La Paz department were perpetrated against women. Ninety-five percent of the attackers were male; in 71 percent of the cases the attacker was closely related to the victim. Of these domestic violence complaints, 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 currently 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 reported 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 for the protection of women. In 1994 the Congress adopted as national law the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women. In December Congress passed the Law on Domestic Violence making rape a public crime. The Law was promulgated by year's end. Comprehensive legal services offices continued to be established to help and support women. The first 15 such offices handled about 1,500 cases per month. Special family protection police units, staffed by 30 female officers, began operating in La Paz in January and responded to an average of 20 complaints per day in their first months. A shortage of female officers has slowed their expansion. Other steps in the program include revisions to school curricula and educating health care providers about the appropriate manner of dealing with female patients. Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime in the Penal Code. Individuals prosecuted for harassment must be tried under other penal provisions. A former Commander of the Navy, for example, accused of sexually harassing the wives of subordinates, was tried in a military court for abuse of authority and unethical official conduct. He was eventually acquitted. Two officials of a major city are under investigation for alleged sexual harassment of a colleague. There are no statistics on the incidence of sexual harassment, but the problem is generally acknowledged to exist widely in a 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 to work at home or on the economy. Although not effectively enforced, the national labor law is over protective in some aspects, limiting women to a workday 1 hour shorter than that of men and prohibiting them from working at night.
The Government is aware of the precarious situation of children and the need to provide legal and institutional infrastructures for their protection. However, the Government has not given the situation sufficient political priority to ensure that it will be met quickly and effectively. Government surveys suggest that about 1 million children (that is, 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 all children suffer abuse severe enough to result in bruises, scars, or burns. The Government announced in August that a national network had been created to prevent and treat child abuse. The network comprises seven subsystems: legal, education, communication, family, community, information, and health. In April the Government approved a United Nations-supported program of night school for working children and adolescents. The Government's child protective agency, ONAMFA, announced implementation of a multidisciplinary approach to treating families with mistreated children, beginning in October. All of these initiatives will depend on the continuing availability of resources to be fully effective. Although laws provide safeguards against children working, they are not effectively enforced, and many children (about 216,000 according to the National Institute of Statistics) work, usually for family subsistence, in uncontrolled and sometimes unhealthy conditions (see Section 6.d.). 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 National Institute of Statistics calculated 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 society's benefits and protections. There were credible allegations that as many as 200 juveniles, for instance, were incarcerated as adults in the San Pedro jail for want of reliable civil documents proving their ages. The 1994 Education Reform Act sought to better the situation of children; even optimistic observers, however, noted it will take years for it to have an impact. The Minor's Code promulgated in 1992 has proven inadequate, and the Government is working with interested NGO's on a revised Code to be considered in the 1995-96 congressional session. A revised labor law now in preparation would give the Government a stronger juridical framework in which to deal effectively with child labor. The old practice of "criadito" service still persists in some parts of Bolivia. Criaditos are indigenous children of both sexes, usually 10 to 12 years old, whom their parents indenture to middle- and upper-class families to perform household work in exchange for education, clothing, room, and board. There are no controls over the benefits to, or treatment of, such children, who may become virtual slaves for the years of their indenture.
People With Disabilities
In December the Congress passed a law on disabilities drafted by the Senate Commission on Social Development and interested NGO's. The law guarantees equal employment and social rights to the disabled, provides incentives to employers, and requires national and local governmental agencies to strengthen or create units charged with responsibility 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. Social attitudes have kept many disabled persons at home from an early age, limiting their integration into society. According to 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 400 of these children were treated in government facilities.
Discrimination against, and abuses of, indigenous people continued. The Indian 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. The Government prepared a decree to make rural agricultural workers subject to the labor law to afford them better protection. Indigenous peoples 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 will offer them greater opportunities for self-determination. By the end of the year, they had established six municipalities. In August the Government formed a "National Committee for the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples" to plan, evaluate, coordinate and publicize programs to increase self-determination, and to set goals and objectives. At the end of 1994, the first 100 children graduated from a pilot program of bilingual education in Aymara, Quechua, or Guarani and Spanish. The President has stated his firm commitment to teaching all children in both their native language and Spanish. A lack of personnel qualified to teach in the indigenous languages inhibits the expansion of this program.
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 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 the workers in the formal economy actually belong to labor unions. Some members of the informal economy also participate in labor organizations. Workers in the private sector frequently exercise the right to strike. Solidarity strikes are illegal, but the Government has not 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 major disturbances occurred in the Chapare region where the coca growers unions opposed government eradication efforts. Strikers and demonstrators marched, set up roadblocks, and used improvised weapons including dynamite bombs against police and property. Normal activity in major cities was frequently paralyzed by rioting unionists until the Government imposed a state of siege in April. Unions are not free from influence by political parties. Most parties have labor committees that try to influence union activity, causing fierce political battles within unions. Most also have party activists in 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. In practice, collective bargaining, defined as voluntary direct negotiations between unions and employers without participation of the Government, is limited. Consultations between government representatives and labor leaders are common, but there are no collective bargaining agreements as defined above. In state industries, the union issues a list of demands and the Government concedes some points. Private employers often use public sector settlements as guidelines for their own adjustments, and some private employers exceed the Government settlements. The Government, conscious of International Monetary Fund guidelines, rarely grants wage increases exceeding inflation. 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. However, the practice of criadito service and agricultural servitude by indigenous workers (see Section 5) constitute violations as do some individual cases of household workers effectively imprisoned by their employers.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
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 age 14 to 17, and permits apprenticeship for those 12 to 14 years old. This practice has been criticized by the International Labor Organization, and the Government is preparing legislation reforming this and other provisions of the Labor Code. 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, the requirement is poorly enforced particularly in rural areas. Urban children hawk 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 adjusted in May to approximately $42 (200 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 fringe benefits 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 cooperative mines, 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.
In this section
U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Bolivia
Discrimination based on race, nationality, ethnicity
Economic, social and cultural rights
Freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment
Freedom of assembly and association
Freedom of expression
Freedom of movement
Freedom of religion
Freedom of speech
Human rights and fundamental freedoms
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)
Social group discrimination
Trafficking in persons
This 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.