Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the Morales government and its allies carried out reprisals against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. The Morales administration’s actions to curb criticism created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media and resulted in self-censorship of many news sources. Some media outlets reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably regarding its policies, particularly by withholding government advertising and imposing steep taxes.
Freedom of Expression: Prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, the Morales government continued to denounce press critics and independent media sources. In February 2018 Marcelo Miralles Iporre, president of the National Press Association, told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the country suffered from “censorship caused by state publicity, law, the financial asphyxiation of the media, and intolerance of those with critical points of view.” He said these factors put at risk “freedom of the press and expression, and democracy.”
On September 11, multiple news sources reported that under the Morales administration, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) threatened to sanction the Higher University of San Andres (UMSA) and a civil society group, Jubileo Foundation, for publishing what it deemed an “invalid” opinion poll that showed President Evo Morales much weaker than previously believed ahead of the October 20 general election. The TSE made technical and legal observations of the survey and used this argument to prohibit the dissemination of the opinion poll. Civil society groups and UMSA, however, argued all legal, technical, and operational requirements to conduct the national survey were followed. Despite this argument, the TSE stated the study could not be disseminated.
In a May report, UNITAS, a local organization dedicated to human rights, identified 88 violations of the freedom of expression from March 2018 to February. The violations included self-censorship, “stigmatization” of journalists, false accusations of criminal conduct against journalists, restrictions on access to public information, discrimination by the government, and censorship.
On November 14, Minister of Communication Roxana Lizarraga publicly warned “she will act according to law” against “journalists or pseudo-journalists who are committing sedition.” National journalists and the IACHR criticized Lizarraga’s statement as a threat against journalistic freedom and freedom of the press.
On December 10, under the transitional government, famed cartoonist Al Azar resigned from the local daily newspaper La Razon. Commentators described Al Azar’s resignation as “part of a systematic harassment of press freedom” due to online harassment from undisclosed origins that led to what they described as “self-censorship.” La Razon announced the cartoonist had communicated to the newspaper’s leadership that “due to the siege he had experienced in the last few weeks due to his political cartoons…he could not continue his creative work in our editorial pages.”
Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to the Inter American Press Association, prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, the Morales administration regularly attempted to disqualify the independent press by claiming it acted on behalf of the political opposition and spread “fake news” to generate social tension. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but it did not purchase advertisements in media outlets considered adversarial.
Journalists faced threats to their work. In November 2018 the National Press Association of Bolivia (ANP) expressed concern regarding reports of police surveillance of journalists’ online activity, noting such surveillance put journalists at risk and severely limited their ability to investigate and report the news freely and accurately.
Prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, media outlets alleged his government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The ANP and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves. Government entities such as the National Tax Service, National Delivery Service, Business Authority, Telecommunications and Transport Regulation and Control Authority, Gaming Control Authority, Departmental Labor Directorates, and Vice Ministry for Communication Policies, which is responsible for monitoring free advertising, carried out inspections and applied fines many observers claimed were unwarranted. The ANP expressed concern that the government attacked independent news outlets and attempted to “economically suffocate” media entities that did not cater to the government. The allocation of official advertising often excluded media that questioned the actions of government, to the extent that some media fired investigative journalists due to fear of losing official advertising.
Violence and Harassment: As of September the ANP identified 92 cases of restrictions on freedom of the press, 61 of which were perpetrated by the Morales administration or targeted media critical of the Morales government. On October 31, the ANP reported 15 direct attacks against journalists immediately following the presidential election on October 20.
There were attacks and intimidation by local populace against reporters and media perceived critical of the Morales administration. On August 19, journalists were attacked by a group of persons in Cochabamba who were angry with the “unflattering” coverage the journalists gave to the Morales administration. In response to reports that groups loyal to the Morales government outside of city centers were attacking and harassing journalists, the ANP called for rural populations to “respect the work of journalists.”
During the Morales administration, the websites of the newspapers Sol de Pando, Agencia de Noticias Fides, La Razon, and Pagina Siete, which sometimes published articles critical of the Morales administration, were rendered unavailable by cyberattacks executed by unknown actors.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, his government censored journalists, and journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs or losing access to government sources, in addition to fear of prosecution and harassment. Human rights organizations reported many reporters were dismissed for reporting on controversial topics that conflicted with the Morales administration.
There was no evidence the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content. Prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, however, government employees faced reprisal for expressing support for initiatives, ideas, and events critical of the MAS administration online and on social media. Reprisals included termination of employment.
The number of fake accounts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter continued to increase throughout the year, both in favor of and against the Morales government. Many of the accounts criticized social media posts made by opposition leaders while expressing support for content produced by the Morales administration. Morales officials openly admitted to funding “cyberwarriors” who targeted opposition leaders on social media through fake accounts.
NGOs expressed concern regarding the July 2018 Digital Citizenship Law. The law allows for the massive collection of personal data and permits public institutions–and private entities that provide public services–to share data and information on individuals. The law provides few safeguards against the misuse of data by public officials and little clarity regarding complaint mechanisms for affected persons.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, civil society groups, in particular but not limited to those critical of the government, faced harassment from Morales government officials.
While the law requires a permit for most demonstrations, the government rarely enforced the provisions, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, firecrackers, and dynamite. Security forces at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities. The number of protests sharply increased after the October 20 presidential and legislative election, which was marred by fraud and manipulation.
On October 31, the MAS-supporting organization Ponchos Rojos attacked doctors protesting outside the Hospital Obrero in La Paz with rocks and bats. According to a National Insurance Fund report, 15 persons were injured in the skirmish. That evening, following the La Paz anti-Morales rally, mostly young protesters attempted to enter Plaza Murillo, La Paz’s main government square home to the Legislative Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and former presidential palace, where they confronted thousands of MAS-supporting miners. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Following Morales’ resignation on November 10, Morales opponents filled the streets of La Paz in jubilation, with some groups ransacking and vandalizing houses of MAS-affiliated individuals. As the evening went on, however, MAS supporters took to the streets of La Paz and responded with their own vandalizing and looting. According to human rights activists and media reports, the homes of six persons whom MAS supporters identified as prominently aligned with the opposition were burned.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not consistently respect this right. Prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, NGOs continued to be targets of government officials, including then president Morales, then vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera, and Morales government ministers, if they operated in a manner perceived as adversarial to the government. Some NGOs alleged government registration mechanisms were purposefully stringent in order to deter an active civil society.
Following both the country’s first-ever presidential primaries on January 27 and the presidential elections on October 20, some government officials reported that on the day following the elections their superiors demanded they present evidence to show they voted for the Evo-Alvaro ticket. Evidence they were asked to present included photographs of their ballot showing they voted for Evo Morales, the address of the polling place where they allegedly voted, and a certificate of the TSE that proved they had voted.
On April 16, media outlets reported Colonel David Flores was discharged from the police force for appearing in uniform in a short video released in 2018 that defended the 21F movement, which opposed Morales’ candidacy for president and rejected the Constitutional Court’s 2017 ruling that effectively invalidated the constitution’s presidential term limits.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote. A number of politicians opposed to the Morales administration with legal cases against them were prohibited from leaving the country and were required to turn in their passports.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On March 17, police and immigration officials detained 14 Venezuelan migrants (three women and 11 men) from a migrant shelter in La Paz for having participated in a peaceful demonstration against human rights violations in Venezuela on March 15. According to migrant advocates and media reports, the officers took the migrants to the immigration office and accused them of “conspiracy” and “political activities in exchange for money.” On that same day, five of the migrants were deported; the remaining nine, who had requested asylum, were released. Five of the remaining migrants subsequently fled to Peru due to fear of further abuse. According to Amnesty International, those released feared more repression and arbitrary deportation.
Prior to the resignation of then president Morales on November 10, the Morales administration did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. On December 13, under the transitional government, Foreign Minister Karen Longaric announced the country would provide refugee status to Venezuelan migrants. She explained the majority of Venezuelans were in Bolivia under an irregular status or with temporary permits due to the Morales administration’s regulations. With the financial backing of UNHCR, she announced the status of Venezuelans in the country would be changed to refugee status and future Venezuelan migrants would be admitted as refugees.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons. Despite these provisions, as of October the Morales administration had not given Venezuelan migrants asylum or refugee status. According to human rights and migrant advocates, no humanitarian visas were given to Venezuelan migrants from January to November. On December 13, the transitional government announced it would begin granting refugee status to Venezuelan migrants.
Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications.
Durable Solutions: By law refugees have a path to naturalization, and the government assumes 90 percent of the fees associated with this process. The Morales government did not recognize Venezuelans as refugees or acknowledge the refugee crisis. As a result, as of November no Venezuelans had been granted access to the benefits of this process.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Recent Elections: On January 27, the country held its first-ever presidential primary elections. In September 2018 the Legislative Assembly passed the Law of Political Organizations with provisions that included implementation of the primaries for the 2019 election cycle, despite the very limited time to prepare for the new election process. The primaries were thus widely seen by media and civil society as a political tactic by the MAS to legitimize Morales’ unconstitutional bid for another presidential term. The MAS and eight opposition parties participated, with each presenting only one ticket for a presidential and vice-presidential candidate. Each ticket needed to receive only one valid vote to qualify for the October presidential election, making the primary elections more symbolic than politically competitive. Voting was not mandatory (unlike in the general elections), and only registered party members could participate. Reported results from the TSE revealed that approximately 36 percent of registered MAS voters participated, with approximately one-tenth of those casting either a blank or spoiled ballot, both of which are traditional means to demonstrate a protest vote.
On October 20, the country held presidential elections. Protests immediately began following President Evo Morales’ alleged first-round victory. On the night of the election, the TSE stopped the preliminary vote count without an official explanation, causing widespread suspicion of its manipulation. When the count was restarted a day later, it showed a larger gap between Morales and former president Carlos Mesa, the nearest runner-up, which the OAS observation mission called “inexplicable.” The TSE formally declared Morales the victor on October 25, announcing he had barely exceeded the 10-point margin over Mesa, needed to avoid a second-round runoff.
Protests continued after the October 25 victory announcement amid allegations of fraud and became more disruptive with road closures across the country, an estimated 36 persons killed, and more than 800 injured as a result of the civil unrest. Protests were predominant in the city of Santa Cruz, the traditional center of opposition to Morales, but also in other areas such as Sucre, Potosi, Tarija, and La Paz.
On October 29, the Morales government announced an agreement with the OAS on an official binding audit of the electoral process. Although leading opposition candidate Carlos Mesa had originally endorsed the idea, he subsequently joined the ranks of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and other civil society groups calling for an outright annulment of the elections.
On November 8, the central police command in Cochabamba announced it would no longer accept orders to suppress protesters. Police units throughout the country followed suit in the ensuing 36 hours.
Early in the morning of November 10, the OAS audit team released its initial report, in which the OAS team recommended that “the first round of elections held October 20 must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again,” and that “a new composition of the electoral body” should be established. The report highlighted many irregularities on election day and in the postelection period, such as “a clear manipulation” of the preliminary vote count, tally sheets physically altered by MAS officials, and manipulation of the electoral systems. It also concluded it was “statistically unlikely” Morales had obtained the necessary 10 percent difference needed to preclude a runoff election. Following the release of the preliminary OAS report, numerous MAS government officials resigned, including six ministers, multiple MAS governors, several MAS senators and mayors, and the vice foreign minister. By mid-day the Bolivian Workers’ Confederation, the largest trade union federation in the country and stalwart ally of then president Morales, publicly encouraged him to resign “to pacify the country.” Thereafter the then chief of the armed forces, General Williams Kaliman, and the then chief of police, Vladimir Yuri Calderon, issued separate statements declaring security forces would “stand with the people” and recommended that Morales resign. President Morales announced his resignation late in the afternoon on November 10 in a press conference from Chimore, Cochabamba. One day later, on the evening of November 11, Morales tweeted he was en route to Mexico, thanked that country for granting him asylum, and vowed to return to Bolivia.
In view of the resignations of Morales, the then vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera, the president of the Senate Adriana Salvatierra, the first vice president of the Senate Ruben Medinacelli, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies Victor Borda, the Senate affirmed then second vice president of the Senate Jeanine Anez as transitional president on November 12. The Constitutional Tribunal affirmed the constitutionality of the presidential succession through a public statement on the same day.
Previously, in 2016, the government had held a referendum to allow then president Morales to seek a fourth term in office. Citizens voted the measure down in a process that international observers deemed mostly fair and free. In 2017 the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal struck down the constitution’s ban on term limits, in a controversial ruling that declared term limits violate an article of the American Convention on Human Rights that provides for a right to political participation. In December 2018 the TSE approved Morales’ petition to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.
Political Parties and Political Participation: There were credible reports the MAS party required government officials to profess party loyalty to the government or register formally as party members to obtain/retain employment or access to other government services. On February 25, media reported the MAS was requiring government officials affiliated with the party to donate 10 percent of their salary to the presidential campaign. The law prohibits and sanctions the requirement of contributions to a political campaign and states political organizations “may not manage, accept, or receive, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, any type of contributions, donations, subsidies, or support that have been proven from persons who had been forced to make the contribution by their superiors or employers, whether in public or private entities.” Media also reported that civil servants anonymously said they were obligated by their MAS-related supervisors to attend MAS rallies in support of then president Morales.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law mandates gender parity in the candidate selection process at national, regional, and municipal legislative level.
While women had a substantial amount of representation on the legislative level, with 85 of 175 legislative seats, they remained significantly underrepresented in executive positions. Candidates for mayor, governor, vice president, and president were not chosen from party lists, and the majority of executive political positions remained male dominated.
Women participating in politics faced violence and harassment. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen of Bolivia, 59 percent of councilwomen polled had suffered some type of violence or political harassment in their municipality, and 39 percent did not complete their term due to the severity of the threats and hostility they received. Research conducted by the University of San Andres and published on April 17 indicated that 75 percent of women legislators had been victims of harassment and political violence. According to the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen, from January to June 2018, there were 70 reported cases of political harassment against female politicians.
On November 6, Patricia Arce, a MAS-affiliated mayor of Vinto, a small town in the central part of the country, was assaulted by a crowd of men. The men specifically targeted Arce because of her political position and previous affiliation with then president Morales. The men beat Arce until she became unconscious. Once she regained consciousness, the men removed her shoes and forced her to walk barefoot over glass and stones for several miles through the town as a “walk of shame.” During the walk, individuals tore at her clothing, groped her body and breasts, forcefully cut off her hair–at one point cutting off pieces of her scalp–and doused her with red paint, gasoline, and urine. The crowd recorded the incident on social media and ordered her to resign and speak critically of then president Morales. Several hours after the attack began, unidentified men retrieved Arce from the crowd and took her to police, who helped her find medical care. She was forced to go into hiding for her safety for several weeks after the attack.
The 2018 Law of Political Organizations provides political organizations with the authority to punish political harassment. By law each political party must have a member whose duty is to promote parity and follow up on complaints of harassment and political violence with appropriate sanctions.