July 14, 2005

Justicia Comunitaria: A Worrisome Trend

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A worrisome trend developing (perhaps just being discovered) in Bolivia is that of the Communal Justice or Justicia Comunitaria. But what is it that we or I mean with communal justice? Well, a quick search for the definition resulted in zero outcomes. No definition. What I mean with communal justice is that a community decides to take justice on its own hands, i.e. it judges, sentences and carries out the sentece given to an alleged criminal (as someone who brakes the law) on its own. This is carried out without the intervention of the justice system.

More specifically and clearly, one can observe the very definiton of communal justice on the real life examples that several Bolivian communities present us with. For example, in recent weeks a 34 and 20 year old men were hanged and then burned by the people living in the community of Arbieto, Cochabamba. The two men were caught braking the law and immediately the population executed them, without waiting for the police to arrive. In another case in Pucara, Cochabamba, three people were also caught by the people from the community, sprayed gas and then lit up. Had not the police arrived soon, the three would be dead by now. One of them is seriously burned.

Aparently, in Cochabamba alone, there have been seven murders by communal justice in the last seven months. In the last six months, police has attended 21 cases of lynchings (a.k.a. communal justice). But this is not happening in Cochabamba alone. La Paz and Santa Cruz have also their own examples to cite. However, the small communities far away from the urban centers are the most succeptible to make use of this form of "justice".

This might be a signaling that Bolivian justice is far from reaching every corner of the country and in the process, protect every Bolivian citizens' rights. One reason justice is not reaching everybody in the country is because small communities in the country side do usually have a local police. Communities in the Altiplano have to wait for police to arrive from La Paz. These communities feel isolated and very often vulnerable to local criminals. Another problem might be corruption. Time and time again there are reports in the newspapers of police officers involved in crimes themselves. Also, there is a need to revamp the penal code. Just the other day I was reading about a taxi driver who, in complicity with police officers, robbed tourists. This man was cought by the police and released after two days. This happens routinely.

The lack of respect for the law and the human rights for the individuals in these small communities is alarming. The level of corruption within the justice organizations is also alarming. The need for reform of the penal code is necessary. However, as long as Bolivia keeps going through this power struggle it has been going through, as long these radical groups in El Alto keep blocking roads and as long the political elite doesn't get it toghether, justice will be hard to come by.