Country Listing

Bolivia Table of Contents


Impact of Narcotics Trafficking

In the late 1980s, there continued to be concern about an overburdened and allegedly corrupt judicial system. According to the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988 and Bolivian press reports, judges were implicated in drug-related corruption. Narcotics traffickers routinely tried to bribe judicial and other officials in exchange for releasing suspected smugglers, returning captured drugs, and purging incriminating files. In 1988 the Senate's Constitution and Justice Committee ordered the suspension of thirteen judges of the La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz superior district courts of justice for wrongdoing in drug-trafficking cases. The Supreme Court of Justice insisted, however, on its prerogative to try the judges first. After doing so, it ordered the suspension of several of the accused judges and continued to investigate others.

Relatively few prosecutions or forfeitures of traffickers' assets took place. A lack of judicial investigatory power hampered the investigation of the bank accounts and the origin of wealth of people suspected of trafficking in drugs. Although thirteen of the "big bosses" reportedly had been identified by early 1988, arrests of drug kingpins were infrequently reported because of lack of evidence.

In ruling on the 1986 Huanchaca case involving the slaying of a leading Bolivian scientist, his pilot, and a guide, the Third Criminal Court of Santa Cruz returned a guilty verdict in April 1988 against ten Brazilians and a Colombian, in addition to a Bolivian thought to be dead. The court, however, dismissed charges against five other Bolivian suspects, including several well-known drug traffickers. The freeing of two of the suspects by the Santa Cruz judges prompted the Supreme Court of Justice to demand the resignations of the entire Santa Cruz judiciary because of its leniency toward drug traffickers. Four Santa Cruz judges were dismissed because of irregularities in the Huanchaca case, which in early 1989 remained at an impasse, under advisement in the Supreme Court of Justice.

Under the 1988 Antinarcotics Law, the Judicial Police must report antinarcotics operations to the closest Special Antinarcotics Force district within forty-eight hours. The law also called for the creation of three-judge Special NarcoticsControl Courts or tribunals (Juzgados Especiales de Narcotráfico) with broad responsibilities. In early 1989, the Supreme Court of Justice began appointing judges and lawyers to serve on the new tribunals, two of which began functioning as tribunals of first instance in narcotics-related cases, with jurisdiction for the judicial districts of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Beni. A total of thirteen Special Narcotics-Control Courts were supposed to be operating by mid-1989, with two in each of the districts of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Beni, and only one responsible for the five remaining departments. Their judges, adjunct prosecutors, and support staff were to receive higher salaries than other judicial officials. However, the Paz Zamora government reportedly planned to disband these courts.

Data as of December 1989