Citizens protest Supreme Court decision that allows Morales to run for fourth term in 2019

Peaceful Assembly

Workers from the health sector have been on strike since 23rd November 2017 after the new Criminal Code was approved. Article 205 of the Criminal Code, according to representatives of the sector, makes them legally responsible for serious damages due to lack of experience, recklessness or negligence. The workers on strike also reject the creation of a new watchdog institution, which they say will use financial resources from the health sector and has the same functions as other similar institutions. On 20th December, there was a clash between demonstrators and police officers that ended with four people arrested and two injured. 

On 24th November, a small group of women held a protest close to the venue of the Gas Forum held in Santa Cruz, where Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was in attendance. They held a sign proclaiming that Maduro was not welcome in the country. Security detail expelled the group from the venue and confiscated the sign.

On 28th November 2017, the Supreme Court ruled against placing limits on re-election in the country’s constitution, thereby allowing current President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in the next election cycle in 2019. In 2016, 51.3 percent of Bolivians voted against the re-election of Morales in a public referendum. However, when the popular will was overridden by the November Supreme Court decision, three days of protests ensured in December 2017 that ended with at least 37 people arrested. The repression of these protests included physical aggression, confiscation of documents, confiscation of symbolic elements (such as from a group of people who protested with a coffin saying “democracy is dead”) and the arrest of one person who published a video online stating that he will remove Morales from the Presidential Palace.

Association

On 28th November 2017, Centro de Documentación e Información Bolivia (CEDIB) was notified by a bank representative that all of its accounts had been frozen in accordance with an order from the authority that oversees the financial system in the country (Autoridad del Supervisión del Sistema Financiero). The order follows a suit filed by a university -  Universidad Mayor San Simon (UMSS) - demanding 152,700 USD for breach of contract, payment owed and damages. As reported on the Monitor, in April 2017 the authorities at UMSS forced CEDIB to vacate its offices that were on the UMSS's premises. 

CEDIB reports that it received no formal notification that its bank  accounts would be frozen. In a statement, CEDIB claims that the harassment and forced relocation are in retaliation for its reports on the abuses by the government against environmental and land rights activists in the country. Recently, CEDIB was offered a space in the public university Universidad Mayor de San Andres in La Paz for its offices but have not yet made a decision regarding relocation.

On 21st November 2017, Damian Condori was sentenced to house arrest. Condori was arrested in 2015 on accusations of corruption and misappropriation of funds from the Indigenous Fund for Development. In order to be on house arrest, he must pay a fine of 200,000 bolivianos (28,000 USD). Condori claims he cannot pay that as his work as a farmer does not provide enough to cover the costs of the fine. Condori and his supporters assert that he is being held as a political prisoner because he decided to abandon the ruling party and join the campaign against the re-election of current president Evo Morales.

In an interview on 3rd December 2017, Hugo Siles, Vice Minister of Autonomies (an institution responsible for monitoring the work of CSOs in the country), said that NGOs that have not updated their statutes according to the requirements of Act 351 will face consequences. He said that those NGOs who requested precautionary measures from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights "wasted their time since there were many NGOs that made their adjustments according to this law".

Expression

On 16th September 2017, President Morales criticised four ambassadors of the European Union who visited the publication Pagina Siete in Bolivia. Pagina Siete is known for its critical stance against the government. Morales asserted that by visiting the outlet the ambassadors were supporting what he claimed to be dishonest media outlets. These comments are in addition to verbal attacks by government officials against other media outlets in Bolivia.

On a positive note, the National Press Association (ANP) of Bolivia celebrated the fact that their recommendations for changes to the Criminal Code had been approved by Congress. These recommendations aim to protect freedom of expression in the country, allowing journalists to freely express their opinions in different media without being subject to prosecution. The Association was initially concerned after a proposed change to the Criminal Code would have allowed for media professionals to be prosecuted for “malpractice”, as applies to people in the health care sector. The ANP met with congressional representatives on 10th October to advocate against the malpractice provision. Congress decided to remove the provision, given that the media sector does not influence people’s health and physical well being.