Bolivia is a democracy where credible elections have been held regularly. While mass protests and violence erupted after the disputed 2019 elections, new general elections held in 2020 and subnational elections held in 2021 were credible and fair, and stakeholders accepted the results. Nevertheless, the underlying causes of the political violence of 2019 still pose a threat to the country’s political stability. Child labor and violence against women are persistent problems, independent and investigative journalists face harassment, and the judiciary is highly politicized and hampered by corruption.
- After being held in preventive detention for over a year on numerous charges, including terrorism and sedition, former interim president Jeanine Áñez Chavez was brought to trial in June; Áñez was convicted of illegally assuming the presidency and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
- In July, President Luis Arce’s administration announced that the upcoming national census, planned for November, would be postponed until the summer of 2024, sparking violent protests and national strikes spearheaded by the opposition government of Santa Cruz Province. The violence began to decrease in November, and in December, the parliament passed a bill moving the census to March 2024, roughly three months earlier than originally announced.
- Prominent opposition leader and governor of the Santa Cruz Region Luis Camacho was arrested on charges of “terrorism” in December. Camacho remained in detention at year’s end.
- In August, the National Association of Bolivian Journalists (ANPB) declared a “state of emergency” in the Bolivian press due to the persistent harassment and intimidation of members of the media, including by government officials.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Bolivia’s president is both chief of state and head of government, and is directly elected to a five-year term. The presidential election in October 2020 took place after the results of the 2019 election were annulled. Early results of the 2019 presidential election suggested that a runoff between incumbent Evo Morales of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) and the main opposition candidate, former president Carlos Mesa of the Comunidad Ciudadana (Citizen Community) party, was likely. Soon after, election officials released an updated vote count showing Morales with an outright victory, prompting mass demonstrations. A report by an Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission criticized the tally that showed Morales with an outright victory, saying it contradicted independent counts—though the credibility of this criticism has since been disputed by some independent analysts. A 2022 report by the US Department of State supported the conclusions of the OAS report.
In November 2019, as protests, counterprotests, and accompanying violence intensified in the weeks following the October poll, Morales, vice president Álvaro García Linera, and the heads of the Senate and the lower chamber resigned, after Morales lost the support of the military and police forces. Days later, Jeanine Áñez Chavez, a senior senator and the highest-ranking official in the line of succession who had not yet resigned, was endorsed by the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (TCP) to assume the presidency on an interim basis. Áñez indicated that she would only serve until a new election could be held, though in January 2020, she announced her candidacy for president in the next election. She eventually withdrew from the race in September 2020.
An agreement between the interim government and the parliament, mediated by the United Nations, the European Union (EU), and the Roman Catholic Church, established a new election date and a new Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). The election was supposed to be held in May 2020; however, it was postponed until October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of the October 2020 poll showed a clear victory for MAS candidate Luis Arce, who won over 55 percent of the vote, precluding the need for a runoff. Voter turnout was recorded at 84 percent. Multiple independent observer missions deemed the poll credible and fair, and competing parties and civil society stakeholders accepted the results.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Plurinational Legislative Assembly (ALP) consists of a 130-member Chamber of Deputies and a 36-member Senate. Legislative terms are five years.
Due to allegations of irregularities in the 2019 general elections, the results of the vote for legislative representatives were considered invalid, and in November 2019, the ALP unanimously passed a law calling for new legislative elections to be held in October 2020. In those elections, the MAS won 75 of the 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 21 seats in the Senate. The Citizen Community party secured 39 seats in the lower house and 11 seats in the upper house, and the new We Believe (Creemos) alliance won 16 and 4 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, respectively.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The final report of the OAS on the 2019 elections claimed that the elections’ overall results were not verifiable, due to “willful manipulation” abetted by a biased TSE. After Morales’s resignation in November 2019, the parliament agreed on a transparent formula to reconstitute an independent TSE in December of that year.
In the 2020 elections, the TSE’s actions were widely considered independent and free from undue political influence. Though the day of the vote was postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic, the body nevertheless administered a safe vote with high turnout.
For years, Bolivian politics were characterized by MAS efforts to abolish presidential term limits. In 2017, MAS lawmakers overturned the articles in the constitution setting presidential term limits by consulting the TCP, a body the lawmakers themselves had appointed, despite voters rejecting this measure by referendum in 2016. In June 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found that term limits do not violate rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens have the right to organize political parties. MAS has dominated politics since 2005, drawing support from social movements, trade unions, and civil society actors. Morales’s attempts to achieve a reelection bid were a core issue in the rancorous 2019 campaign period. The most prominent opposition party, Comunidad Ciudadana, attracted individuals who opposed his persistent efforts to extend his term.
In January 2020, Luis Fernando Camacho—the regional leader from Santa Cruz who led the mass protests against Morales in 2019—founded the Creemos alliance. Creemos quickly became the leading party in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s richest region, where Camacho was elected governor in 2021.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||2.002 4.004|
There are no formal institutional barriers that prevent opposition parties from participating in elections. Between 2005 and 2019, however, the overwhelming dominance of MAS, aided by its use of public resources to back its campaigns, made it difficult for opposition parties to gain power through elections. MAS candidates achieved sweeping victories in the local elections held in March 2021, but lost the mayoral races in Bolivia’s largest cities, and in most gubernatorial races.
Following the 2019 presidential election, the OAS observer mission claimed that the results of the vote were manipulated by the TSE to prevent a runoff between Morales and Mesa, the second-place candidate. However, in 2020, independent researchers found that methodological errors significantly affected the OAS’s results; when the errors were corrected, the researchers found no evidence of electoral fraud. Elections held in 2020 were generally considered to be free and fair.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
People are generally free to make political decisions without undue influence from the military, foreign powers, or other influential groups. Although several violent confrontations occurred between supporters of competing parties in the run-up to the 2020 election, leaders of all parties called for their supporters to allow everyone to campaign freely and peacefully in each region. The levels of violence that preceded and followed the 2019 elections have decreased in severity since 2020.
However, tensions remained high into 2022, and violence between MAS supporters and supporters of the regionalist movement in Santa Cruz escalated after the Arce administration announced that a national census, originally planned for November 2022, would be postponed until 2024, purportedly due to administrative challenges. Due to the growing population of the Santa Cruz region, the census results are expected to trigger the reapportionment of government resources and parliamentary seats away from traditional MAS strongholds to Santa Cruz. By delaying the national census, opposition leaders say that the Arce administration has attempted to give unfair financial and parliamentary advantages to MAS. In November 2022, following several weeks of violent protests, the government agreed to hold the census in March 2024, roughly three months earlier than officials had originally announced.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Adult citizens enjoy universal and equal suffrage.
The constitution recognizes 36 Indigenous nationalities within a plurinational state, and formalizes political autonomy in Indigenous territories. Indigenous groups are well represented in government, and seven seats are reserved for Indigenous peoples in the Chamber of Deputies. However, the interests of Indigenous groups are often overlooked by politicians.
Formally, Bolivia has progressive legislation that guarantees equal political representation for women and seeks to protect them from political violence. While women are well represented in politics, holding 46 percent of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and nearly 56 percent of those in the Senate, sexism and patriarchal attitudes undermine their work, particularly at local levels.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Elected officials are free to set and implement government policy without undue interference from nonstate actors. However, opposition members charge that the MAS majority in the legislature has opened the space for strong executive influence on legislative processes, closing the possibility of debating policy at the legislative level. In September 2022, following a months-long electoral process, the MAS majority in the parliament secured the election of their preferred candidate for ombudsman after calling an impromptu vote while several opposition legislators were absent, sparking further criticism from the opposition about MAS legislators’ use of their parliamentary majority.
Historically, powerful social movements have been able to exert pressure on the ALP to prevent the adoption of policies seen as detrimental to their interests. In late 2022, unionized and cooperative miners demanded that the government repeal a decree issued in August 2022, which states that the “resources” of public and majority state-owned companies would be transferred “to the General Treasury of the Nation (TGN) to finance investment projects and/or programs of social interest.” In October, following months of protests and talks with mining representatives, the government agreed to repeal certain articles of the decree.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Anticorruption laws are poorly enforced, and corruption affects a range of government entities and economic sectors, including law enforcement bodies and extractive industries. Public procurement processes are frequently compromised by bribery.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Bolivia has no law guaranteeing access to public information. Elected officials by law must make asset declarations, but these are unavailable to the public.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, in practice, journalists encounter harassment in connection with critical or investigative reporting. Media outlets critical of the government faced harassment from administration officials during the Morales and Áñez presidencies. Similar harassment has continued under the Arce administration, which has characterized journalists as liars and independent media outlets as partisan actors.
During 2022, members of the press faced attacks and harassment, including from protesters while reporting on demonstrations and from government officials, who denied journalists access to official information, particularly in relation to corruption scandals. In August, the National Association of Bolivian Journalists (ANPB) declared a “state of emergency” in the Bolivian press due to the “intimidation” and “judicial and political persecution” of the media.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld in practice. The 2009 constitution ended the Roman Catholic Church’s official status, and created a secular state.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is legally guaranteed and upheld in practice.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Private discussion is robust and generally free from interference or surveillance.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Bolivian law protects the right to peaceful assembly. However, many past protests have been marred by clashes between demonstrators and police, as well as physical confrontations between protesters and counterprotesters.
Widespread protests during the 2019 elections were characterized by high levels of violence among protesters, counterprotesters, and security forces. A report issued in August 2021 by the Interdisciplinary Group of Experts (GIEI), commissioned through an agreement between the IACHR and the Bolivian government, found that during the protests that led to Morales’s resignation, his administration facilitated the transport of its supporters and provided them with materials and weapons to use against the opposition, causing grave human rights violations. The IACHR and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) further investigated police use of excessive force during the 2019 postelectoral unrest, reporting that the police forces had committed serious human rights violations.
Large protests against the Arce government’s decision to delay the national census until 2024 were held in October and November 2022 in the Santa Cruz region, led by opposition leader Luis Camacho. The protests featured occasional violent clashes between police and protesters, but were called off when opposition groups and the Arce administration reached a consensus on a new census date. Violent protests in Santa Cruz resumed in December, following Camacho’s arrest on charges of terrorism for his role in the 2019 protests against Morales.
Other protests during the year included demonstrations by coca growers from Yungas, who accused the government of attempting to weaken their organization in favor of coca growers from the Chapare region, who are allied with the ruling party. These protests were met with high levels of repression by security forces, and according to the OHCHR, demonstrators were subjected to violence and “excessive use of force” by the police.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate but are subject to some legal restrictions. In 2016, the TCP dismissed a petition arguing that two statutes in the country’s NGO laws gave the government license to dissolve NGOs. Government officials from all political affiliations have at times smeared rights groups as political conspirators.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Labor and peasant unions are an active force wielding significant political influence.
The country’s official labor code is inconsistent with Bolivian law; for example, it prohibits public sector unions, yet many public sector workers are able to legally unionize. A National Labor Court hears cases of antiunion discrimination, but tends to hand down verdicts slowly, and penalties for antiunion discrimination are not consistently applied.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Bolivia stands as the sole country that appoints justices via popular elections. However, judges on the Supreme Court (TSJ), the TCP, and other entities are first nominated through a two-thirds vote in the legislature. For years, this allowed MAS to dominate the candidate selection process, producing a lenient judiciary. The popular election of judges has politicized and factionalized appointments, creating further opportunities for corruption. In October 2022, the head of the Council of Magistrates, the body in charge of regulating the judiciary, resigned after acknowledging that he had collaborated with legislators from the ruling party to confirm the nomination of several judges. In addition to its politicization, the judiciary remains overburdened.
The use of the judiciary to prosecute opposition leaders was a common practice during the Morales administration and continued under interim president Áñez’s government, which pressured prosecutors to pursue criminal cases against hundreds of individuals associated with the Morales administration. An arrest warrant for Morales, issued in December 2019, was annulled following the MAS victory in the October 2020 elections. In October 2020, the outgoing legislature approved the indictment of 11 ministers from the interim government, and recommended that interim president Áñez be prosecuted for her role in worsening the election-related violence in 2019. Áñez was arrested on multiple charges in March 2021, including conspiracy, sedition, and terrorism; she remained in preventive detention until June 2022, when she was brought to trial. Áñez was convicted of illegally assuming the presidency in 2019 and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Arce administration has also accused several opposition leaders elected in the March 2021 local elections, including Camacho, of terrorism, conspiracy, and sedition. New charges were brought against Camacho and other civic leaders following antigovernment protests in Santa Cruz in late 2022, including charges of sedition, conspiracy, and terrorism. Camacho was arrested in December on terrorism charges and remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.
The August 2021 GIEI report on the 2019 political crisis found that a lack of independence, transparency, and objectivity in the exercise of criminal prosecutions—often used against political opponents—constitutes a structural and endemic problem of the Bolivian judiciary.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Many people have difficulty accessing the justice system because they lack resources to travel to courts and other relevant offices. In criminal matters, people accused of committing crimes can go years before they have a formal trial; interim president Áñez, who was arrested in March 2021, remained in preventive detention for more than a year before her June 2022 trial. Police are poorly paid and receive inadequate training, and corruption within the police force remains a problem.
In September 2022, a preliminary IACHR report revealed that in 2009, while Morales was president, Bolivian security forces detained, tortured, and extrajudicially executed at least three people who allegedly belonged to a terrorist cell that was supporting a separatist movement in the region of Santa Cruz. Others accused of involvement in the movement were illegally held in preventive detention for up to ten years. The 2022 report found the Bolivian government responsible for the human rights abuses stemming from this incident.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Morales supporters and opponents fought violently in several cities following the 2019 elections and Morales’s resignation. Both sympathizers and detractors of Morales had access to explosives, including dynamite, homemade rocket launchers, and Molotov cocktails, and used them against each other and the security forces. The houses of journalists and activists from both sides were burnt, as were a number of public buses in La Paz. A political dialogue backed by the EU, the United Nations, and the Episcopal Conference, among others, allowed the violence to decrease before reaching the point of civil war or insurgency.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The 2010 antiracism law contains measures to combat discrimination and impose criminal penalties for discriminatory acts. However, racism and associated discrimination is common in the country, especially against Indigenous groups.
Bolivia has laws in place that prohibit discrimination against LGBT+ people. However, these laws are rarely enforced, and LGBT+ people experience widespread societal discrimination.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
There are no formal limits on people’s ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education, but choices can be limited by socioeconomic difficulties. Roads are occasionally blockaded as part of protest actions, impeding free movement.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Women enjoy the same formal rights to property ownership as men, but discrimination is common, leading to disparities in property ownership and access to resources.
The rights of Indigenous people to prior consultation in cases of natural resource extraction and land development are not fully upheld by law or in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution reserves marriage as a bond between a man and a woman, and makes no provision for same-sex civil unions. However, in July 2020, the Second Constitutional Chamber of the La Paz Department Tribunal overturned a decision of the civil registry office denying a same-sex couple registration of their civil union, which was later officially approved.
Gender-based violence is a serious problem, and laws criminalizing violence against women are not well enforced. A new law increasing the criminal penalties for those convicted of rape, infanticide, and femicide was enacted in July 2022. Bolivia registered more than 90 femicides in 2022. Many women lack access to birth control and reproductive health care.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Bolivia is a source country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for forced labor and prostitution, and the country faced international criticism over permissive legislation regarding child labor in 2018, when the country changed the minimum working age to 14 years old.
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Global Freedom Score66 100 partly free