January 22, 2014

Human Rights in Bolivia: HRW Report on Bolivia's Record 2014

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Despite of the sympathetic school of thought on Bolivia, which usually highlights the social advances the country has experienced over the last six years (during the Morales government), there is an insistent (and very often adamant) observation critics make regarding President Morales' record in the Human Rights arena. Most prominently, the opposition has long complained about political persecution on the opposition's leadership and anyone who dares to contradict the government. However, there have been also other complains, such as the ones journalists and media outlets have expressed as to their loss of freedom of expression, journalism liberties and rough treatment from the part of the government. In similar fashion, yet to a lesser degree, some indigenous groups have criticized the manner in which the government has acted against some of these groups which did not agree with the government.



This year's Human Rights report from Human Rights Watch has been no exception. It criticizes the Morales government's actions against the press and the political opposition, inaction against past HR violations, while acknowledging the passing of legislation against women's violence.

HRW criticizes the government for not having decidedly acted upon past HR violations, i.e. the violations committed during the dictatorship period. While some other countries in the region (e.g. Chile and Argentina) have been setting world trends on that area, Bolivia, which for example was a significant part of the Operation Condor during the Banzer dictatorship, has not made significant attempts to deal with those violations on Bolivian citizens even though the intentions of creating a truth commission has been around since 2008. The only step taken in 2012 was the pecuniary payments to victims.

Another criticism relates to the alleged political persecution of the opposition. The report argues that the delay in the suits brought against many opposition leaders has been a significant factor in provoking concerns over Human Rights violations. As you know, many opposition leaders have been removed from elected office because the government has accused them of corruption (or other charges such as embezzlement, illicit enrichment, etc.). Any leader who has a pending legal action against him or her can be removed from office according to the new laws passed by the government-controlled legislature. These delays, together with the long periods of preventive arrest of the accused have violated the rights of these people to a due process. The most prominent case is the one against former Governor of Beni, Leopoldo Fernandez.

Finally, the report criticizes the manner in which the government has itself accused the media of conducting a campaign against the government. The government accuses the media of lying and publishing politically motivated distortions of reality. Morales has, in many occasions, publicly ridiculed some members of the critical press. However, since passing the law against racism and all other forms of discrimination, the government has had a tool to exercise pressure on the press. The law punishes anyone who may engage in such conduct. While the aims is noble, the room for interpretation of what racism and discrimination is, is wide and easy to manipulate. Within the last year, the government has made use of the law and has brought legal cases against some media outlets for publishing statements which the government deemed as racist and discriminating. Moreover, in the next year, the legislature will consider a law introduced by the government on the issue of transparency and access to public information. Nonetheless, that is not where the government stops. Morales has also opted for creating a nationwide government network of audio, visual and printed media which is used to publish the government's version of things. At the same time, the government has been systematically excluding (i.e. discriminating) the media outlets it doesn't like from public information, insights about the government and interviews with government officials. In addition, the government machinery has also systematically excluded critical and private media outlets from the benefits of receiving government publicity campaigns. The criteria for the distribution, by the government, of these financial resources in the form of advertisement is: a) the audience and the reach of the media, b) the democratization of advertising, c) the extent to which the media works towards national interests, d) the application of the principles not to racism and discrimination, and e) the validity and truth of the information.

The report is all too brief but interesting to read.

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