Bolivia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


A favorable court ruling in April 2013 cleared the way for President Evo Morales to seek a third term in office in the 2014 general elections, drawing objections from opposition leaders who said such a move would be unconstitutional. Also during the year, independent media outlets continued to face threats and government pressure in response to their critical reporting, and new legislation restricted union organizing within worker cooperatives. In May, Morales announced that he was expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country, accusing it of conspiring against his government.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 29 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

Bolivia is a presidential republic. The president is directly elected, and presidential and legislative terms are both five years. The Plurinational Legislative Assembly consists of a 130-member Chamber of Deputies and a 36-member Senate, in which all senators and 53 deputies are elected by proportional representation, and 70 deputies are elected in individual districts. Seven seats in the Chamber of Deputies are reserved for indigenous representatives. The 2009 constitution includes a presidential runoff provision to replace the previous system, in which the legislature had decided elections when no candidate won an outright majority.

In the 2009 presidential election, Morales was reelected with 64 percent of the vote amid a record 95 percent turnout. Monitors from the European Union characterized the election as generally free and fair, but reported some misuse of state resources, a complaint echoed by opposition leaders. Some opposition members also claimed they were targeted with criminal investigations, causing them to flee the country.

Morales’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) party also dominated the 2009 legislative elections, taking 88 seats in the lower house and 26 seats in the Senate. The right-leaning Plan Progress for Bolivia–National Convergence (PPB-CN) placed second with 37 deputies and 10 senators, followed by the National Unity Front with three deputies and the Social Alliance with two. Meanwhile, the remainder of Bolivia’s nine departments approved regional autonomy statutes, joining four that had already done so in 2006. In April 2010 regional elections, MAS candidates won governorships in six of the nine departments, but opposition candidates from the left and right became mayors in 7 of the 10 principal cities.

In a controversial April 2013 ruling, the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal determined that Morales’s first term in office did not count toward the constitutionally mandated two-term limit, since it had begun before the current constitution was adopted. The ruling allows Morales to run for a third term in office in the 2014 election.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 11 / 16

Citizens have the right to organize political parties. The MAS draws support from a diverse range of social movements, unions, and civil society actors. Since the election of Morales in 2005, the country’s traditional political parties have all but collapsed, giving way to a series of new formations and short-lived opposition coalitions. Following the 2010 local and regional elections, the Movement Without Fear party—a group previously allied with the MAS and led by former La Paz mayor Juan del Granado—emerged as a centrist alternative to the ruling party. As of December 2013, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal reported that 14 political parties, one political alliance, and two citizen political organizations were legally recognized.

There are some allegations that prosecutions against members of the opposition are politically motivated. In a high-profile case, opposition senator Roger Pinto Molina sought and was granted political asylum by the Brazilian government in 2012. He faced corruption and other criminal charges after he denounced corruption in the government. Pinto spent 15 months in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz because the Morales administration refused safe passage across the Bolivian border, but he escaped to Brazil in August 2013.


C. Functioning of Government: 7 / 12

Corruption remains a problem in Bolivia, affecting a range of government entities and economic sectors, including extractive industries. Anticorruption legislation enacted in 2010 has been criticized for permitting retroactive enforcement. The government has established an Anti-Corruption Ministry, outlined policies to combat corruption, and opened investigations into official corruption cases. In 2011, legislators voted to prosecute former presidents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Jorge Quiroga for approving hydrocarbon contracts that are alleged to have contravened national interests. Three former ministers were also included in the indictment. In September 2012, the U.S. government announced that it would not extradite Sánchez de Lozada. In October 2013, the prosecutor filed corruption charges and requested house arrest for Quiroga. Separately, corruption of law enforcement bodies in connection with the illegal drug trade has been a long-standing problem. Bolivia was ranked 106 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 38 / 60 (-2)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the media are subject to some limitations in practice. Press associations have complained that the language of a 2010 antiracism law is vague and contributes to a climate of self-censorship. In particularly serious cases, the law allows publication of racist or discriminatory ideas to be punished with fines, the loss of broadcast licenses, and prison sentences of up to five years. In many instances a public apology can result in the waiver of such sanctions. In February 2011, the government created a Ministry of Communications, raising hopes that the “right to communication” established in the new constitution would be enforced. Since the ministry’s establishment, however, two successive ministers have failed to promote the passage of a law to that end, leaving in question the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression.

Most media outlets are privately owned, and radio is the leading source of information. The print sector has undergone a wave of consolidation and the closing of some newspapers. Online media are growing in importance as a source of news. Many private newspapers and television stations feature opposition rather than progovernment opinion pieces; the opposite holds true in state media. The 2011 telecommunications law aims to allocate 33 percent of all broadcast licenses to state-run media, another 33 percent to commercial broadcasters, and 17 percent each to local communities and indigenous groups.

Journalists and independent media operate in a somewhat hostile environment, and attacks continued to be reported in 2013. In May, amid clashes between supporters and detractors of the mayor of Caranavi, protesters broke into the offices of community radio station La Voz de la Mayoría, threatened a reporter, and destroyed equipment. In October, Marianela Montenegro, a journalist and owner of Canal 33 in Cochabamba, presented a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that she had received threats and been harassed by the government in response to criticism aired on her station. Also during the year, some government officials accused the newspaper Página Siete, which reports aggressively on official corruption, of serving Chilean interests in Bolivia’s territorial dispute with that country; in 2012, the paper was the subject of a government lawsuit for allegedly inciting racism through its reporting on a speech by Morales.

In 2012, the Constitutional Tribunal struck down Article 162 of the penal code, which made it a crime to criticize a government official in the exercise of his or her office. The decision brought Bolivia into accordance on this issue with three international conventions ratified by the government: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. The 2009 constitution ended the Roman Catholic Church’s official status and created a secular state. The government does not restrict academic freedom.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12 (-1)

Bolivian law provides for the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, though protests sometimes turn violent. The Morales government has been highly critical of nongovernmental organizations, especially those that supported 2011 indigenous protests that resulted in a police crackdown.

The right to form labor unions is guaranteed by the constitution. Labor and peasant unions are an active force in society and have significant political influence. In April 2013, Bolivia ratified the International Labour Organization’s 2011 Domestic Workers Convention. Also that month, a new law established regulations for workers’ cooperatives—nonprofit organizations created on a voluntary basis by autonomous workers who simultaneously own the organizations. Among other provisions, the measure prevents members of cooperatives dedicated to production, services, and public services from joining a union in that cooperative. Critics have pointed out that this rule violates the right to association.


F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16 (-1)

The judicial system has faced ongoing systemic challenges in recent years. Judicial elections were held in 2011 to remedy a crisis in the judicial branch, which had been rocked by resignations, charges of corruption, and a backlog of cases. The elections were marred by procedural problems and voter discontent. Candidates for the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and other entities were nominated through a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which allowed the MAS to dominate the selection process. Election officials ruled that candidates were not permitted to campaign openly, and that information about the candidates would be disseminated through official channels. In results that were interpreted as a defeat for the government, voters cast null ballots in numbers that exceeded the overall valid vote. Nevertheless, 56 new high court judges took office in January 2012, and Bolivia became the first country in Latin America to swear in elected judges to its highest tribunals. The Constitutional Tribunal’s contentious 2013 decision to allow Morales to seek a third presidential term was interpreted as a sign of political bias among the new justices.

The country’s courts continue to face a daunting caseload. Prosecutorial independence is viewed as weak, and enforcement at times focuses on opposition members and sympathizers, with former presidents and many opposition politicians facing charges ranging from graft to treason.

Bolivian prisons are overcrowded, and conditions for prisoners are extremely poor. In October 2013, the minister of justice reported to the UN Human Rights Committee that about 20 percent of inmates had been sentenced, while the remaining 80 percent were in pretrial detention. Trial dates are frequently postponed. A 1988 law passed at the urging of the United States that substantially lengthened prison sentences for drug-related crimes has contributed to prison overcrowding, as has an increase in urban crime rates. In response to overcrowding, the government approved a pardon in 2012, but found that the results were not satisfactory. A new pardon issued in September 2013, set to last for a year, authorized a number of categories of prisoners, including women with children, to apply for release.

While the 2009 constitution and jurisdictional law recognize indigenous customary law regarding conflict resolution, reform efforts have not fully resolved questions pertaining to the jurisdiction and proper application of indigenous customary law. This lack of clarity has allowed some perpetrators of vigilante crimes, including lynching, to misrepresent their actions as a form of indigenous justice. A February 2012 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that lynchings had substantially decreased over the previous two years, though violent extrajudicial punishment remains a problem in many parts of Bolivia.

Bolivia is the world’s third-largest producer of the coca leaf, after Colombia and Peru. By law, 12,000 hectares of land are designated for the legal cultivation of the crop, although a study on local coca consumption released in November 2013 and partially financed by the European Union suggests that the limit of legal cultivation should be 14,705 hectares. In an August report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) estimated that another 25,300 hectares were used for unregulated coca production destined for the illegal cocaine trade during 2012, representing a 7 percent decrease from the previous year. UNDOC attributed the decrease to the Morales government’s policies of control and eradication.

The 2009 constitution recognizes 36 indigenous nationalities, declares Bolivia a “plurinational” state—changing the official name of the country from the Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia—and formalizes local political and judicial control within indigenous territories. In general, racism is rife in the country, especially against indigenous groups. Indigenous people from the country’s Andean west who move to Santa Cruz de la Sierra and some other areas in the eastern lowlands for economic reasons are subject to considerable discrimination and occasional violence, some of which involves organized armed gangs. The 2010 antiracism law contains measures to combat discrimination and imposes criminal penalties for discriminatory acts. In 2011, police violently dispersed a protest by indigenous groups opposed to a planned highway through their territory; a criminal investigation into police abuses was ongoing at the end of 2013. The government announced in April that it would postpone the highway project until the end of 2015 and focus on eliminating extreme poverty in the affected region, known as the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS).


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 9 / 16

While the law protects freedom of movement, protesters often block highways and city streets, disrupting internal travel.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, but it reserves marriage only for opposite-sex couples, and there is no provision for same-sex civil unions. Women enjoy the same formal rights to property ownership as men, but discrimination is pervasive, leading to disparities in property ownership and access to resources. Women’s political representation has increased in recent years. Ballot-alternation requirements resulted in women winning 44 percent of the seats in the Senate in 2009, but only 28 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Gender-parity election rules were also applied to the 2011 judicial elections, resulting in gender parity in elected judges. Violence against women is pervasive, and the justice system is ineffective at safeguarding women’s broader legal rights. A law adopted in March 2013 increased the penalties for rape and domestic abuse, among other provisions targeting violence against women. More than half of Bolivian women are believed to suffer domestic violence at some point during their lives.

Child labor and forced labor are ongoing problems. Child labor in cooperatively run mines and in agriculture is common, and a 2012 study by the United Nations reported instances of forced child labor in mining, agriculture, and the drug trade. Forced labor has also been reported on agricultural estates in the Chaco region. In 2012, authorities achieved their first forced-labor conviction. Human trafficking continues to be a problem in Bolivia. The government enacted an antitrafficking law in 2012, but the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report found that implementation was lacking, placing the country on its Tier 2 Watch List.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology