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Bolivia - Corruption

Corruption continues to be a serious problem in Bolivia. Bolivians view the state as hopelessly corrupt, but are nonetheless willing again to hand it the reins and resources of an even greater sergment of the economy -- vastly expanding the opportunities for government corruption. Morales won the December 2005 election by convincing, not only the poor and the indigenous to vote for him, but also a majority of the middle-class. Sick of the corruption by the established parties and thinking it would be better to have Morales in the government than on the streets made them decide to give him the opportunity to start his ´social revolution´.

Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada was President of Bolivia from August 1993 to August 1997 and from August 2002 to October 2003. During his first term, Lozada oversaw the sale of state industries, provoking widespread domestic criticism based on allegations that these sales were corrupt and were made to companies with which he had close personal ties.

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. However, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s 2010 worldwide governance indicators, government corruption and lack of transparency remained a serious problem.

According to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, 86 percent of citizens believed the police were corrupt or extremely corrupt, and 76 percent labeled the country’s judiciary as corrupt or extremely corrupt. Transparency International ranked Bolivia 106 out of 177 countries in its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. Transparency International ranked Bolivia 118 out of 183 countries in its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Thirty percent of Bolivians surveyed by Transparency International reported paying at least one bribe in 2010.

The Ministry of Institutional Transparency and Counter Corruption, created in 2009 by Supreme Decree (#29894), is in charge of promoting policies against corruption and is empowered to investigate corruption cases at any level in any branch of government. In March 2010, the Bolivian Congress approved a "Fight Against Corruption, Illicit Enrichment, and Fortune Investigation" law (#004). This law gives the Bolivian government wide-ranging authority to investigate possible cases of corruption in the private and public sectors, including retroactively. In April 2011 the government passed a law aimed at reducing corruption in the police force. Police corruption was a significant problem, partially due to low salaries and lack of training, although no reliable statistics existed to quantify its extent.

Bribery is a criminal offense in Bolivia. Bolivia signed the UN Anticorruption Convention in December 2003 and ratified it in December 2005. Bolivia is not a signatory of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. Bolivia is also part of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Convention against Corruption and the Follow-Up Mechanism for its Implementation. There is an Ombudsman appointedby Congress and charged with protecting human rights and guarding against government abuse. According to International Transparency's poll of Bolivian citizens, the most corrupt institutions in Bolivia are the judiciary, political parties, public officials, and the National Bolivian Police.

During the year 2011 Pando Governor Flores Roberts was accused of corruption for creating front companies. Former employee Claudia Silvana Salas reported the front companies to the police and was subsequently arrested after being charged by the Flores Roberts family for extortion. At year’s end Salas was in detention, and her family reported receiving anonymous threats.

The law requires public officials to report potential personal and financial conflicts of interest. Likewise, public officials must declare their assets. Cases involving allegations of corruption against the president and vice president require congressional approval before prosecutors may initiate legal proceedings. The Ministry of Anticorruption and Transparency and the Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for combating corruption.

The Government of Bolivia Anti-Corruption Law of 2010 applied to all public officials retroactively with no statute of limitations. However, the law does not specifically refer to narcotics-related corruption. The new law was used in 2011 by government prosecutors to bring corruption charges and to indict some judges for dismissing charges in counter-narcotics [CN] and other criminal cases.

As a matter of policy, the Bolivian government does not encourage or facilitate illegal activity associated with drug trafficking. Nevertheless, there were arrests of corrupt senior CN officials, both inside and outside Bolivia, for facilitating drug shipments. For example, Rene Sanabria, who was then head of the Information and Intelligence Generating Center (CIGEIN) and former Bolivian Police Commander pled guilty to U.S. Federal cocaine trafficking charges in June 2011. CIGEIN, a CN intelligence organization under the Ministry of Government, was disbanded after Sanabria's arrest. In 2010, the FELCN Director General launched an initiative to deter corruption that included polygraph exams for all of its CN officers.

In 2011, the Bolivian National Police (BNP) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for internal investigations absorbed FELCN's independent OPR. The OPR investigates all cases and may sanction law enforcement for minor infractions. The BP’s Disciplinary Tribunal is responsible for reviewing cases and determining punishment, if appropriate, for police officers involved in misconduct and other integrity-related violations. Cases involving violation of Bolivian law are referred to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution.

Drug-related corruption reportedly began to take a firm hold within Bolivia's military and security services under General Banzer's rule (1971-78). The García Meza regime (1980-81), however, was one of Bolivia's most flagrant examples of narcotics corruption. García Meza's so-called cocaine coup was itself generally believed to have been financed by the cocaine "mafia," which bribed certain military officers. García Meza reportedly ruled with an "inner cabinet" of leading civilians and military officers involved in the cocaine trade. Two of his ministers-- Colonel Ariel Coca and Colonel Luis Arce Gómez--were well-known "godfathers" of the industry. By 1982 approximately 4,500 prosecutions were under way in connection with the embezzlement of state funds by civil servants, said to amount to a total of US$100 million.

In early 1986, Congress charged García Meza and fifty-five of his former colleagues with sedition, armed uprising, treason, genocide, murder, torture, fraud against the state, drug trafficking, crimes against the Constitution, and other crimes. In April 1986, however, the Supreme Court of Justice suspended the first hearing in García Meza's murder trial, after his defense demanded the removal of three judges whom it charged had participated in García Meza's military government. The Supreme Court of Justice subsequently voted to remove its president and two other justices from the trial. After García Meza escaped from custody (he had been living under house arrest in Sucre) and reportedly fled the country in early 1989, the Supreme Court of Justice vowed to try him and two accomplices in absentia. Governmental and military/police corruption under the Paz Estenssoro government (1985-89) was less flagrant than in the 1980-82 period of military rule. Nevertheless, it reportedly remained widespread.

In December 1988, Bolivia's foreign minister asserted that narcotics traffickers were attempting to corrupt the political process. Bolivians were outraged, for example, by secretly taped "narcovideos" made in 1985 by Roberto Suárez Gómez (known as the "King of Cocaine" in Bolivia until the mid-1980s) and aired on national television in May 1988. The tapes, provided by a former naval captain cashiered for alleged corruption, showed two prominent politicians from Banzer's Nationalist Democratic Action (Acción Democrática Nacionalista--ADN) and military figures fraternizing with Suárez.

The Umopar in particular had earned a reputation for corruption, especially in the Chapare region. In 1987, according to Department of State and congressional staff, drug traffickers were offering Umopar officers and town officials in the Chapare region amounts ranging from US$15,000 to US$25,000 for seventytwo hours of "protection" in order to allow aircraft to load and take off from clandestine airstrips. In February 1988, the deputy minister of national defense announced that about 90 percent of Umopar members, including twelve middle- and high-ranking officers, had been dismissed for alleged links to drug trafficking. The La Paz newspaper Presencia reported in March 1988 that Umopar chiefs, including the prosecutors, were working with narcotics traffickers by returning to them the large drug finds and turning only the small ones in to the authorities. Observers considered Umopar forces in Santa Cruz to be more honest and dedicated.

In October 1988, the undersecretary of the Social Defense Secretariat reiterated that drug traffickers had obtained the protection of important sectors of influence in Bolivia, including some military members and ordinary judges. He cited the example of Cochabamba's Seventh Division commander and four of his top officers, who were discharged dishonorably after they were found to be protecting a clandestine Chapare airstrip used by drug smugglers. The ministry official also announced that the navy was protecting drug-trafficking activities in the Puerto Villarroel area of the Chapare. For that reason, the United States suspended assistance to the navy temporarily in late 1988 until its commander was replaced. In December 1989, Bolivia's antidrug police captured no less a drug trafficker than Arce Gómez, who was subsequently extradited to the United States.

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Page last modified: 29-04-2015 19:32:48 ZULU