Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy. In 2006 a Constituent Assembly of elected delegates began drafting a new constitution. An inability to reach agreement between the ruling Movement Toward Socialism party and opposition parties led to severe and occasionally deadly clashes between their respective supporters. A national referendum on the draft constitution was planned for 2008. The government generally maintained effective control of the security forces and respected the human rights of its citizens. Human rights problems included: killings and other abuses by security forces; societal violence and vigilantism, including lynchings; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; threats to civil liberties, including the right to a fair and public trial; erosion of press freedom; corruption and lack of government transparency; discrimination based on gender and ethnicity; trafficking in persons; child labor; and brutal working conditions in the mining sector.
The U.S. government's human rights and democracy strategy focuses on promoting political and social stability by strengthening democratic institutions through increased transparency and more effective governance. In developing strategy priorities, embassy officials consult with government institutions, NGOs, labor unions, and other organizations, and work closely with these groups to encourage reforms and discuss problems related to human rights and democracy. U.S. priorities include ensuring that government security forces respect human rights; this is accomplished by conducting training and by encouraging cooperation among law enforcement agencies during investigations and prosecutions of alleged human rights violations. U.S. officials work closely with the Organization of American States and other regional partners to promote peaceful and democratic solutions to the country's complex political challenges, including the content of a proposed new constitution, and devolution of authority to departmental governments.
The U.S. government collaborates with the executive, judicial, and legislative branches at the national level, regional and municipal governments, and other key democratic institutions to improve effectiveness, transparency, and access to justice. The United States uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related initiatives to advance strategy objectives.
To support democratic political processes, U.S. officials routinely highlight the importance of democracy and human rights during senior-level visits and in discussions with the government, members of civil society, and the press. The United States views civil society and the media as key facilitators of democracy promotion. Responding to journalist and media organization concerns about government antipress rhetoric, the United States regularly organizes workshops and conferences about journalistic ethics and the role of the media in a democracy. These seminars generate substantial debate on practicing responsible and ethical journalism in a difficult political environment. The United States also works with civil society organizations and the media to increase citizen participation in democratic processes, train future leaders, improve local government, strengthen the judicial system, and promote respect for the rule of law.
A U.S. government-supported, Web-accessible database of Bolivian jurisprudence, which has already received over 28 million site visits, provides the legal community and civil society with a transparent and speedy means to review court decisions. A U.S. government-financed case tracking system enables prosecutors and police to manage more effectively caseloads and attend to citizen complaints. U.S. officials work with a network of more than 100 local NGOs to strengthen civil society advocacy and oversight of the justice system reform process and promote public awareness of citizen rights and responsibilities under the law, and the importance of the justice reform process. The network sponsors public discussions on proposals to harmonize community justice practices with the formal justice system, a key topic of national debate. The U.S. government continues to fund a government tracking system in Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz, Oruro, and Potosi to increase transparency and public spending efficiency.
To address civil society concerns about improving access to justice, the United States funds several programs that work with the judiciary to improve efficiency and foster cooperation among government institutions. One program with the Ministry of Justice provides legal services for the poor through 10 integrated justice centers in El Alto, La Paz, the coca-growing regions of the Chapare and Yungas, and Santa Cruz. These centers, which have resolved 60,000 cases since 2004, provide citizens with access to mediation and other justice services and establish a positive government presence in areas where respect for rule of law is fragile.
The U.S. government focuses considerable attention on empowerment of indigenous communities and women. In six departments, U.S. programs promote dialogue and teach conflict resolution skills to indigenous leaders and other members of civil society regarding transparency, land tenure, democratic leadership, and citizen rights and responsibilities. Three U.S. programs send poor and indigenous university and high school students to colleges in Massachusetts and Arizona to study American society and democracy. The U.S. government also sponsors awareness-raising seminars regarding the prevalence of violence against women and children, using speakers from the legislature, the public prosecutor, officials from the police family protection brigade, and civil society. Working with the regional caucuses, the United States provides training to all members of the National Congress, with an emphasis on female legislators.
U.S. officials routinely underscore the importance of human rights by raising the issue in U.S. security assistance programs that train the country's police and military personnel on topics such as internationally accepted principles of nonlethal crowd control and criminal investigation. The United States provides technical assistance and financial support to three police trafficking in persons units operating in La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba.