September 15, 2004

Corruption in Bolivia: part I

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With this post, I want to start a new series of articles covering corruption cases in Bolivia. The titles will start always with the word “corruption” and “Bolivia” so they will be able to be found with a search of this site using the Google search field located at the top of the screen.

As I have already argued before, I think, corruption in Bolivia is one of the “dark forces” preventing it from moving ahead. This time I look at the alleged corruption within the Bolivian National Police Force (Policia Boliviana Nacional or PBN).

According to reports on the Bolivian press (La Razon, El Diario, Los Tiempos, El Deber), the PBN is in the deepest internal turmoil its ever been. Last week, and this week, report after report have been surfacing alleging corruption and inaptitude within the institution headed by the commander, General Jairo Sanabria, which prompted him to leave office. These reports and accounts implicate Sanabria in a series of charges from association with smugglers to covering up and trying to influence justice in favor of his alleged accomplices.

Sanabria is facing serious accusations which accumulate over the last year. A detailed account of the charges include not having activated on time Congress’ security system the day the mine worker Eustaquio Picachuri immolated himself in the lobby. On April 19 he was accused of covering up corruption charges against the president of Musepol, Freddy Zabala. On April 20, lower rank officers accused Sanabria of having distributed over priced lots to police officers. The surcharge was supposed to be for him. On June 24 Sanabria awarded a medal of honor to an administrative worker. The worker was a member of a gang in El Alto. And, among the most serious accusations are: On July 20, district attorney Rodolfo Gutierrez, implicated Sanabria with a gang which posed as inspectors to extort money or goods from smugglers operating on the road connecting Oruro with La Paz. Most of the implicated were police officers. And finally, on September 13, Juan Alcazar (director of the Technical Judicial Police in Oruro) accused Sanabria of being linked with a smuggling ring because he ordered the relief of investigators in a case where five police officers stand accused of receiving illegal money to let smuggler vehicles pass without due inspection.

This latest accusation had a tragic outcome. Alcazar not only repeated the alleged accusations against Sanabria on live TV but also identified a collaborator in the name of Lt. Col. Farid Rojas. After a talk with the high commanders of the police force, Rojas committed suicide. This deepened the suspicions against Sanabria.

This is but the latest case of corruption in a long institutional history of corrupt commanders of the PBN. Prior examples can be cited. Ivan Narvaez Rocha, who was in charge of PBN between 1998 and 1999, is being investigated and accused in the courts for embezzlement. During his 1999 to 2000 appointment as police commander, Jose Luis Medina, stands accused of illegally trying to influence an investigation of embezzlement and fraud. Allegedly police officers who bought lots of land in a PBN sponsored scheme, paid money to get lots assigned to them when they did not have to. General Walter Osinaga, who served as commander in 2001, was accused of having links to the gang of Lt. Col. Blas Valencia. In 2001 this gang stole pay roll money from Prosegur and in the process shot and killed an employee. Osinaga was also accused of nepotism and corruption having had irregular dealings with his son. Allegedly, he assigned phantom goods and money to his son. General Walter Carrasco, who served in 2002, was accused of illegally purchasing equipment for the PBN. And, General Edgar Pardo, who served in 2003, resigned his post amidst accusations of corruption and his inability to manage a mutiny.

Today there is a new commander in chief. Col. David Aramayo Araoz was designated by President Mesa to be the new Chief of Police. His task is overwhelming. He not only has to deal with the turmoil currently afflicting the institution but he also has to rebuild the reputation and self-respect of the police force. Good luck to him!