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Country Report

Évaluation Nationale du Moniteur: Bolivie

Bien que la Bolivie ait adopté le pluralisme comme partie intégrante de son identité, il reste encore des marges d’inclusion et d’exclusion.

Global Centre for Pluralism

Overall Score: 5

This assessment was completed in 2021.

The Bolivian Constitution (2009) has long been applauded for its inclusionary and progressive laws, that define Bolivia as a plurinational democracy. The Constitution establishes broad-based social protections and underscores social, cultural and Indigenous rights. However, the implementation of the Constitution has not been without challenges. The Monitor report for Bolivia presents a nuanced discussion of cleavages, discrimination and exclusion focused on three dimensions of diversity: ethnic, regional and political.

Social and institutional changes emerging from the 2009 Constitution have contributed to a more pluralistic society. Recent years have seen advances in pluralism be jeopardized by the high levels of socioeconomic inequalities and a deep sense of distrust in public institutions, both of which underpinned the political polarization and social fragmentation that followed the 2019 political crisis. As the Monitor report discusses, many of these wounds remain unhealed, with perceptions of belonging and access to inclusive citizenship undermined by political affiliation.

I. Commitments

For pluralism, commitments are the most prominent way for states to declare their intent to build inclusive societies, and for non-state actors to keep states accountable. Commitments to pluralism can anchor other efforts to make society’s hardware and software more inclusive.

1. International Commitments

Average Score: 6

Bolivia has ratified all the major UN human rights treaties. Monitoring committees on the implementation of UN treaties acknowledge the positive steps taken by the national government to implement treaties. These positive steps include regulatory, legislative, institutional and financial interventions toward the fulfillment of specific commitments of the treaties. Wide-sweeping reforms undertaken by the Morales administration included the restructuring or creation of government ministries, which consistently engage with monitoring committees to periodically submit reports and respond to issues raised. The Constitution also includes measures for yearly reports by the ombudsperson and civil society organizations (CSO, also referred to as “Social Control ” in legislation) on the condition and administration of human rights in the country before the Legislative Assembly, and various coalitions of CSOs regularly participate in international treaty monitoring committees, such as the Civil Society Coalition of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Gaps between state reporting and that of independent monitoring committees also point to alarming trends in an increase in the violation of human rights over the past several years.

However, there are significant gaps between government reports and those generated by civil society and independent monitoring agencies. Whereas government reports tend to focus on the abundance of legislation or protocol, independent monitoring committee reports highlight the lack of relevant data or the evaluation of their effectiveness and lack of enforcement and implementation of laws. Gaps between state reporting and that of independent monitoring committees also point to alarming trends in an increase in the violation of human rights over the past several years.

Widespread human rights violations were committed up to and following the October–November 2019 crisis over Morales’ unconstitutional bid for re-election. In July 2021, the International Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI) published their findings of an investigation into the period leading up to and immediately following the crisis (September 1st, 2019 to December 31st, 2019) and documented human rights violations against rights guaranteed in nearly all the treaties ratified by Bolivia, such as the right to life, to free expression, health, work, personal integrity, due process and not to be discriminated against. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly called on the state to “diligently investigate, prosecute, and punish anyone responsible for the violence and serious human rights violations committed in the context of the crisis, and to ensure reparations for victims.”[ii] The 2021 GIEI report also documented that both the MAS and the interim government used the judiciary for politically motivated actions (or persecution) rather than to ensure justice for victims of human rights abuses. The increased lack of independence of the judiciary is a significant barrier to Bolivia’s international legal commitments.

2. National Commitments

Average Score: 6

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 9

Regional Dimension | Score: 5

Political Dimensions | Score: 4

Ethnic Dimensions

All the major UN human rights treaties form part of the body of constitutional law (in accordance with Articles 13 (II) and (IV), 256 and 410 (II)) and therefore take precedence over domestic legislation. The 2009 Constitution provides protections to recognize, support and/or accommodate diverse groups by enabling them to preserve their culture, express their identities and to participate fully in political, economic and socio–cultural spheres. The Constitution goes beyond recognition of Indigenous groups’ status to incorporate values and principles into the foundation of the plurinational state.

National commitments regarding rights to non-discrimination, the right to participation and gender inclusion were advanced in the framework laws that followed the passage of the Constitution. The Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination (Law No. 045 passed October 8th, 2010) establishes mechanisms and procedures for the prevention and punishment of acts of racism and all forms of discrimination within the framework of the political Constitution of the state and international human rights treaties. Important for Indigenous groups is recognition of the right to participate according to their own customary norms and procedures. This commitment is an extension of the 1994 Law of Popular Participation (Law No. 1551 passed on March 20th, 1994), which established new municipal governments along with procedures for Indigenous peoples to participate in planning and oversight of resource management.

National commitments regarding rights to non-discrimination, the right to participation and gender inclusion were advanced in the framework laws that followed the passage of the Constitution.

The Integral Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence (Law No. 348 passed on March 9th, 2013) defines and protects women from all forms of violence, also advancing mechanisms for prevention, reparations and sanctions for violence against women, establishing special courts for attending to cases of violence against women and prohibiting offenders from accessing public office, among others. Overall, the integral law offers a strong legal framework to protect the rights of groups, such as Indigenous women who disproportionately experience these multiple forms of violence through an intersectional lens. However, a main problem is the effective implementation of this law, especially given the current situation in terms of violence against women and children (as noted below in Part II. Practices).

Regional Dimension 

Part 3 of the 2009 Constitution establishes a framework for decentralization and autonomy in four different areas: departmental, provincial, municipal and IOC (Indigenous autonomy). Principles of autonomy outlined in the subsequent Framework Law for Autonomy and Decentralization (Law No. 031 passed July 19th, 2010) demonstrate a commitment to pluralism through the protection and promotion of regional identities and valorization of Indigenous culture, guarantees of gender equality and rights to participate in the elaboration of autonomy charters and public management. Existing departmental and municipal autonomy charters illustrate measures that permit frameworks for defining group identity and forms of belonging on the basis of regional differences.

The Framework Law for Participation and Social Control (Law No. 341 passed May 2nd, 2013) expressly recognizes the right to participate in environmental management and to be consulted and informed in advance about decisions that could affect the quality of the environment and the conservation of ecosystems, as well as to participate and exercise social control in the development of energy, hydrocarbons and forestry companies, institutions and communities. However, other legislation, especially those granting subsoil rights to extractive industries, restrict territorial control and contribute to intragroup tensions over access and control over resources within a given region.

Especially in areas where natural resources are located in Indigenous territories, legislation contradicts fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution and impedes collective rights such as those providing for territorial autonomy or access to natural resources. This is evident in the Framework Law for Autonomy and Decentralization (Law No. 031 passed July 19th, 2010). Many Indigenous organizations also criticize the law for including excessive bureaucratic requirements that make conversion to a formally recognized Indigenous Native Peasant Autonomy a slow and complicated process.

Political Dimension 

Since the late 1990s, there has been a steady increase in national commitments to increase the political participation of women. Among the most important legislative advances are the following: the 1997 Quota Law, the 1999 Law of Political Parties, the Law of Citizen Groups and Indigenous Peoples, the Electoral Code of 2004, the 2006 Special Law of Convocation to the Constituent Assembly, the 2010 Law of the Electoral Regime, the Law against Harassment and Political Violence against Women (Law No. 243 passed May 28th, 2012), the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination (Law No. 045, passed October 8th, 2010) and the Integral Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence (Law No. 348 passed March 9th, 2013). A key step toward increasing the political participation of women is the Plurinational Electoral Body Law (Law No. 018 passed June 16th, 2010), which established gender parity in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house), resulting in Bolivia becoming the second country with the highest percentage of women in its national assembly.

In addition, national commitments to pluralism are undermined by the lack of independence of the judiciary from the executive branch of government.

There is an abundance of contradictory legal measures that actively marginalize or exclude diverse groups. For instance, Article 10 of the 2010 Law of Jurisdictional Demarcation (Law No. 073) is highly controversial for its restriction of Indigenous peoples’ rights to exercise their own forms of justice as advanced in the Constitution’s framework for legal pluralism.[i]  In addition, the Morales administration passed a series of decree laws modifying articles of existing legislation that actively marginalized or excluded groups in opposition to the ruling party, such as requirements that Indigenous groups have legal standing (personería jurídica) as a social organization to access political representation and Indigenous autonomy. These and other documented cases demonstrate a tendency to weaponize the law as a tool for political ends, which actively marginalizes and excludes political groups who are in opposition to the ruling party.

In addition, national commitments to pluralism are undermined by the lack of independence of the judiciary from the executive branch of government. The GIEI investigation into the 2019 October–November crisis in Bolivia documented four key political factors that contribute to intergroup cleavages and group-based inequality: the lack of independence of the administration of justice, the absence guarantees of due process and due diligence in criminal matters through the instrumentalization of the justice system for political persecution, the abusive use of pretrial detention and obstacles to the right of access to truth and justice. The report noted the prevalence of these factors in the years leading up to the political crisis as well as the persistence of such practices under the current MAS administration.

3. Inclusive Citizenship

Average Score: 6

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 7

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

Political Dimension | Score: 4

Ethnic Dimension

Bolivia’s plurinational framework allows for citizens to hold multiple nationalities, with marriage to a foreigner or non-Indigenous member not constituting loss of legal standing as grounds for exclusion for dual nationality or citizenship. The Constitution also advances the right of ethnic groups to self-identify and register cultural identity and membership in an Indigenous nationality together with Bolivian citizenship on national identity (ID) cards, passports or other official documents of legal identification. The central institution charged with issuing official identity cards, the General Personal Identification Service (Servicio General de Identificación Personal, SEGIP), has taken initiatives to promote self-dentification of Indigenous nationalities on national ID cards.

Regional Dimension 

The Bolivian consular offices are in charge of managing the formalities of registration in the Civil Registry for children of Bolivians born abroad as well as fulfilling the function of Notaries of Public Faith. Both have the responsibility to process any request for the recovery of nationality. The regional dimension can play a factor in limiting access to citizenship in that groups living in more isolated rural communities do not have regular access to Civil Registries, which are located primarily in urban areas.

Political Dimension

Article 144 of the Constitution establishes reasons for the suspension of citizenship, including taking up arms and serving in the armed forces of enemies in times of war, defrauding public resources and for treason. The regulatory norm that supports provisions for citizenship was promulgated on August 24th, 2004 (via Supreme Decree 27698). The current framework of national commitments to citizenship appears less effective in light of the ruling party’s use of accusations of fraud, terrorism and the funding of terrorism (also used by the former interim government of Jeanine Áñez) following the 2019 crisis as a vehicle for the political persecution of opponents, which has been denounced by Human Rights Watch (2022), the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) (2021) and the GIEI (2021) report. In its final conclusions, the CAT report noted that legislative categories of sedition and terrorism “are based on extremely vague concepts” and urged reform to address the lack of independence and autonomy of the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

II. Practices

While commitments are important, pluralism requires sufficient political will and action to realize commitments in practice. This dimension includes three measures for assessing the extent to which practices of the state reflect a desire to build more inclusive and equal societies.

4. Policy Implementation

Average Score: 3

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 4

Regional Dimension | Score: 4 

Political Dimension | Score: 2

Policy commitments to pluralism are weakly or unevenly implemented, with significant gaps between policy and practice. While there are significant numbers of government entities dedicated to implementing policies in Bolivia, minority groups and advocates point to a range of issues from a lack of funding and oversight to obstacles accessing available services. In many cases, efforts to implement policies contribute to intergroup conflict and polarizes group identities rather than contributing to a pluralistic society.

Ethnic Dimension

Ambiguities in how groups are defined with the broad IOC category in the Constitution and in subsequent legislation can contribute to intergroup cleavages, as targeted measures for the inclusion of one group can lead to new exclusions for other groups (e.g., migrant peasant groups who gain access to land within Indigenous territories and are majority ethnic groups that exclude or marginalized minority groups). Identity and belonging in such contexts are expressed as a claim to a particular set of rights. This deepens divisions between groups who share the same language, culture and even kin, yet identify as either Indigenous-Native or campesino. The political dimension has taken on particular significance as a result of biased approaches from the MAS government towards peasant organizations that are affiliated with or directly support the party. The co-optation or favouritism under Luis Arce’s administration is a significant source of conflict that goes beyond ethnic group-based identities.

In addition, a 2020 Working Group for the 78th session of CEDAW highlighted a significant gap between progressive commitments for the protection of women’s rights and attention to central issues such as data collection, human resources and transparency. The Working Group also noted a lack of focus on vulnerable groups such as Indigenous, Afro-Bolivian and disabled women, who have little or no access to services.

Regional Dimension 

There is a lack of strong measures to protect the rights of diverse groups to participate in the realization of autonomy charters, which contributes to ongoing exclusions in terms of the right of groups to protect their identities, political participation and gender inclusion. Moreover, the Framework Law for Autonomy and Decentralization includes significant technical and bureaucratic barriers for Indigenous groups to access IOC autonomy, undermining guarantees to exercise free determination, territorial control and to preserve their cultural identities. Thirty-six Indigenous autonomies have commenced the process for accessing self-government, 21 by means of municipal conversion and 15 by territorial means. However, the process has been slow and faces significant delays, and only seven of them have already established their self-government so far. In 2019 and 2021, Indigenous marches included the modification of requirements to remove such barriers as a main demand.

There is a notable rise in the violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples and women working in defense of the environment in areas where natural resource extraction impacts local communities.

Intergroup conflicts over land in Indigenous territories is a widespread problem in Bolivia. In many Highland and Valley communities, groups are often brought into direct conflict over demarcation limits between individual and collective land. In March 2002, the Bolivian government passed Supreme Decree No. 26559 to establish procedures for addressing such conflicts through internal reconciliation. In addition, there is a notable rise in the violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples and women working in defense of the environment in areas where natural resource extraction impacts local communities, as reported by the ombudsperson in their 2016 annual report as well as by several different independent civil society organizations monitoring human rights Bolivia. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also documented the existence of “parallel” government institutions eliminating legal records and awarding illicit fiscal land titles to government-affiliated groups. Moreover, Fundación TIERRA, a Bolivian non-profit organization that investigate titling procedures, found that the government granted access to land that had previously been titled to groups politically aligned with the ruling MAS Party, leading to confusion over rightful owners to land, usurpation and conflict as well as acceleration in deforestation, especially in the Lowland departments of Santa Cruz and Beni and in the Chaco region.

Political Dimension 

Despite constitutional guarantees, many policies are designed without the consultation or participation of groups that directly impact them. For instance, as with the Autonomy Law, bureaucratic barriers have been used by the government to block opposition groups from accessing autonomy and direct representation. More recent cases of rights violations, such as those presented by members of the Qhara Qhara Nation against the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria) highlight a significant gap between theory and practice in the implementation of such policies.

Moreover, uneven implementation is also closely linked to clientelist party politics, where corporatism has contributed to intragroup conflict and group-based inequalities for those opposed to the ruling party. This tactic has been used by the MAS government on many occasions to secure clientelist party politics. The fact that the judicial system lacks independence from the executive, and thus fails in providing actual safeguards and protection against the actions of the central government, is another important factor limiting the implementation of policies that, in their design, aim to protect citizens and minorities.

5. Data Collection

Average Score: 5

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 6

Political Dimension | Score: 4

Political Dimension | Score: 4


Ethnic Dimension

The official data collection source for demographic information is the Population and Housing Census, conducted every 10 years by the National Institute of Statistics of Bolivia (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE). It was last conducted in 2012, and it is scheduled to take place again in 2022. The census does not collect data on information related to discrimination or intersectional inequality; however, some of that information can be found using the Household Survey that INE conducts annually. Also, such data is available through human rights monitoring agencies and national non-governmental research institutes dedicated to monitoring specific issues related to issues of group-based inequality. Significant attention is paid to collecting data relevant to vulnerable groups by these latter organizations. The INE does not have any database or surveys that include sexual orientation and gender identity, and even less in relation to the health, income, living conditions or others of the LGBTQ+ population.

Regional Dimension | Score: 5

The INE also conducts the Demographic and Health Survey in coordination with the Ministry of Health, the most recent of which was conducted in 2016. This survey provided updated, population-based information on health and nutrition indicators. The INE also collects data through the Program for the Improvement of Living Conditions (Programa de Mejoramiento de Condiciones de Vida, MECOVI) (as part of a World Bank initiative since 1999) and the Continuous Household Survey (Encuestas de Hogares) and Survey of Family Budgets (Encuestas de Presupuestos Familiares), which are based on both nationally and regionally representative samples. Official surveys on violence against women and child labour have also been conducted, but they lack regularity.

Political Dimension 

While Bolivia does not have a national law regulating access to information, there are several legal guarantees in the form of lower-level decree laws. For example, Supreme Decree No. 28168 (passed May 17th, 2005) establishes access to information as a human right, and Supreme Decree No. 0214 (passed July 22nd, 2009) has as a state objective of increased institutional transparency. The latter contains limits to access to information in the following cases: for secret, reserved or confidential information of the executive power related to the internal or external security of the state; in the non-existence of the requested information on record; and the lack of competency to provide the information. Multiple NGOs question the difficulty of accessing information on socio–economic, environmental and gender issues as well as the veracity and manipulation of data.

A decentralized unit of the Ministry of Education monitors the quality of education in Bolivia. The Unit for Analysis of Social and Economic Policies (Unidad de Análisis de Políticas Sociales y Económicas, UDAPE) is a decentralized public institution dedicated to analysis and research specializing in economic, social and sectoral issues. UDAPE provides technical support to the executive branch of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, dependent on the Ministry of Development Planning (MPD). Yet, civil society organizations in Bolivia note that public information in the UDAPE and the MPD is outdated and not maintained by government entities.

Multiple NGOs question the difficulty of accessing information on socio–economic, environmental and gender issues as well as the veracity and manipulation of data.

6. Claims-Making and Contestation

Average Score: 6

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 7

Claims-making and contestation from the largest Indigenous groups in Bolivia are recognized as legitimate. As they have become visible during the last three decades, their interpellation of society—and (to a lesser extent) the state—has a place and tends to be respected. However, when claims come from Indigenous groups that are not affiliated with the MAS as the nationally ruling party, even when they are factions of the largest groups, they tend to be questioned and discredited by the government and the social movements that are close to it. Contestation from smaller Indigenous peoples does not benefit from the same recognition. These smaller groups often become invisible under the larger organizations, and the claims based on their particular identities tend to go unheard. This has led to further divisions and fractures within the Indigenous organizations. Indigenous women’s particular needs often become engulfed by group-based demands and are seldom considered.

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

Diversity groups defined by the regional dimension are able to contest the state from a perspective mainly based on the demand for more autonomy and decentralization and/or also from the place of specific regional issues, such as land claims. Groups in the region are calling to move from a unitary state, with supreme authority housed in the central government to a federation, to a federalist state which would allow for more autonomy in the departments. This sentiment is strong in the Eastern region of Santa Cruz and in the mineral-rich Highland department of Potosí. These claims are strongly opposed by unitarian voices that fear a shift to a federation brings with it the risk of secession by the departments. Regional claims-making usually represents only the voice of the economic elites, while women and minority groups are clearly underrepresented in the demands.

Political Dimension | Score: 4

Most political expressions are legal in Bolivia. Political organizations across the political spectrum have access to make claims. Extreme groups are tolerated, as long as they do not become violent or incite hate, but this applies with more rigour to extreme organizations that are opposed to the national government. Polarization and the political use of the judicial system (with its lack of independence) appear to have an increasingly important role in prosecuting political opponents, affecting mainstream social organizations and their leadership, as well as civic leaders and other social groups. This was the situation under the Morales administration as well as in Áñez’s interim government and in the current Arce administration. The weak judiciary system is a structural problem in Bolivia, which implies that claims-making and contestation will shift according to the government in power. Claims-making from smaller political forces, including environmentalist, sexual diversities, women’s rights and other political expressions are usually tolerated.

Regional claims-making usually represents only the voice of the economic elites, while women and minority groups are clearly underrepresented in the demands.

There are no relevant legal restrictions in Bolivian legislation for any group making claims, but the political use of the courts and the lack of independence of the judiciary contribute to some level of obscurity to this basic principle. Self-censorship restricts participation of some groups, especially those opposed to the ruling government, including independent sectors such as NGOs and human rights organizations.


III. Leadership for Pluralism

Pluralism requires leadership from all sectors in society, including non-state actors that may adopt policies and practices that affect groups’ ability to fully participate in society. This indicator assesses four critical non-state actors.

7. Political Parties

Average Score: 5

As of the latest 2020 election, Bolivia’s contemporary party system is comprised of one large national party, the ruling MAS party, who received a little more than half of the national vote; two other parties or coalitions with parliamentary representation (Comunidad Ciudadana [Civic Community] and Creemos [“We Believe”]); and several other smaller parties with regional and local presence, which emerged in the latest subnational elections in 2021. None of these political organizations openly support exclusionary policies, as they would be against the Constitution, the electoral law and also against the September 2018 Law of Political Organizations. However, this does not mean that parties necessarily promote pluralistic values across the relevant dimensions—there internal questions about democracy within some political parties. Given the politicization of the major diversity types, all of whom focus more on some cleavages, and are thus consequently more willing to espouse policies that might have a negative effect on some of the country’s diversity types and groups. Gender-quota laws result in women occupying nearly half of the elected posts in the country, but national leadership among political parties invariably a male dominated position.

Gender-quota laws result in women occupying nearly half of the elected posts in the country, but national leadership among political parties invariably a male dominated position.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 5

Ethnic cleavages are at least partially represented in the composition of the Bolivian political party system. MAS attempts to represent most Indigenous people, particularly those from the majoritarian Highland groups, with a discourse that resorts to Indigenous symbols and also criticizes symbols that belong to the old Republic (before MAS’s so-called Democratic Revolution won the national election in 2006). Many minority groups, mainly in the cities, feel excluded and/or underrepresented from this discourse, and are more likely to feel represented by other political parties that do not base their discourse on ethnic issues. Occasionally, during moments of political tension, leaders of some political parties engage in a discourse that is openly exclusionary and confrontational, but more often than not, they try to adopt an inclusionary approach. Indigenous women seem to find even less spaces for leadership in political parties than non-Indigenous female politicians.

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

The regional diversity type is included within the Bolivian party system. Larger parties attempt to cater to a national constituency and seek to include regional identities. There is only one party with presence in all regions, MAS, which can be considered the only national party (to a lesser extent, CC, also has presence in many regions and municipalities). Some minor regional parties campaign demanding more control of the local territories vis-à-vis the national government’s constitutional power to allocate land and resources. Many new parties emerge at the local level and attempt to become national, often under the form of citizen organizations (agrupaciones ciudadanas, a way of political participation beyond political parties that is recognized by law), but only a handful of these experiences have been successful. The western Highland regions tend to have more national political leaders than the more affluent Lowland regions, which generates political tensions. But many newer political parties and leaders emerge from the Lowlands and from the Valleys. Some political parties are informally but effectively proscribed by local communities that block their attempts to campaign in some rural areas (this happens in areas where MAS has a strong territorial control), feeding exclusionary discourses and counter-practices that mainly affect opposition forces.

Political Dimension | Score: 3

The Bolivian party system has been historically weak. In recent years, when the political diversity type is considered, high levels of political polarization resulted in multiple obstacles to a pluralistic party system. Political parties, and particularly the ruling and largest national party, tend to use divisive and confrontational rhetoric, often questioning the right of members of opposing political organizations to participate. Members of political parties that oppose the government are often called enemies of the nation and are often subject to some form of investigation and prosecution from an unfair and biased judicial system. This fact has been pointed out repeatedly but gained visibility after being explicitly mentioned by the GIEI (2021) in their report on Bolivia’s 2019 political crisis.

8. News Media

A. Representation | Score: 6

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 8

With the exception of local radio and some TV stations, news media content is available almost exclusively in Spanish language (at least 7-out-of-10 Bolivians have Spanish as their main language, and the majority of those who have another language also understand and speak Spanish, according to the latest national census in 2012). Participation in media news as contributors or creators reflects the country’s ethnic diversity, yet members of smaller Indigenous groups are less likely to be represented among media creators, particularly at the national level. Approximately two thirds of all journalists and media workers are male, and almost 9 out of 10 have Spanish as their main language. However, for many Indigenous groups, especially in rural communities, there has traditionally been a prominence of radio stations featuring native-language programming representing local issues and concerns. Ongoing initiatives directed at “communitarian radio stations” throughout the country have strengthened representation in local media.

Regional Dimension | Score: 8 

There are media outlets all over the country. Large TV networks broadcast their content from the country’s three main cities, and almost all the national content is produced there. However, there are also hundreds of local and regional TV and radio stations throughout Bolivia’s nine provinces (many of them funded by the national government) that produce and broadcast their content from smaller cities and rural localities. Under current legislation, 41 stations in rural towns throughout Bolivia are designated as community radio stations according to the Telecommunications and Transportation Regulation and Fiscalization Authority (Autoridad de Regulación y Fiscalización de Telecomunicaciones, ATT): 32 community radio stations are located in La Paz, three in Chuquisaca, one in Cochabamba, four in Santa Cruz and one in Oruro. Internet-based content streaming, including the emergence of regional digital media outlets, has also become very popular and widespread, including in rural areas, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Political Dimension | Score: 3

Under current levels of political polarization, most media outlets have a clear political position either in favour of or against the national government. In turn, the government tends to fund and buy space only on those media platforms favourable to their policies, a clear tactic to put financial pressures on independent or smaller media outlets.[i] Political diversities that do not align with any of these opposing tendencies, or are concerned with other issues, are often excluded and do not find enough space in the media. In 2019, the Bolivian Press Association registered 64 attacks on journalists and 12 on media outlets in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Oruro, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. The 2021 GIEI investigation into the months leading up to and following the October­–November crisis found that political polarization exacerbated the attacks. Reports from international monitoring bodies such as Human Rights Watch (2022), World Press Freedom Index (2021), the International Federation of Journalists (2020) and Freedom House have documented similar concerns during both the Morales administration and the interim period of Áñez. Considering the heightened polarization under the Arce administration, this trend should be expected to continue and thus should be closely monitored.

Most media outlets have a clear political position either in favour of or against the national government. In turn, the government tends to fund and buy space only on those media platforms favourable to their policies.

B. Prominence of Pluralistic Actors | Score: 6

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 7

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

Political Dimension | Score: 4

In both ethnic and regional terms, most media actors tend to have inclusive discourses, though they are usually centred on the majority groups and ignore the smaller Indigenous groups and communities living in rural areas. The government owns and manages multiple media outlets, including private ones. Moreover, some private media outlets are linked to regional elites and political leaders. In political terms, most media actors fall into one of the Manichean categories defined by the opposing political forces. While some journalists attempt to have a broader set of content and focus on diverse issues, they tend to face financial difficulties, which leads to self-censorship and having to take sides within political debates, leaving little space for a wider and thoroughly pluralistic media. Political polarization makes it difficult to have media actors that espouse pluralism. Most media outlets and workers are conditioned to produce content by the sources who buy advertising space or airtime, and they tend to have a position either for or against the national government, resulting in biased information being broadcast to the public.

In addition, “fake news” and misinformation have been an ongoing and acute political issue in Bolivia since the troubled 2019 elections. These phenomena have continued to negatively impact Bolivian society in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people increasingly turned to online platforms for information following lockdowns. The online environment was seen to be increasingly vulnerable to a surge of manipulation through fake news and misinformation for political purposes, especially given the current political polarization. Both MAS and the interim administration had their own strategies and actors: MAS supporters, known as “digital warriors,” have been feeding online efforts; and the interim government hired a Washington-based lobbying firm accused of operating online fake news campaigns.

9. Civil Society

Average Score: 5

Civil society in Bolivia is vibrant and rich. Data from most comparative surveys (e.g., the World Values Surveys (WVS), Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP)) show unusually high levels of participation in different groups and civil associations, particularly among the popular and Indigenous sectors. Grassroots organizations are very common across the country, particularly unions, sports, neighbourhood and church-based organizations. At the same time, interpersonal trust indicators are unusually low for Bolivia compared to other countries, suggesting the existence of complex forms of social capital that combine both high levels of associationism and low levels of interpersonal trust. Civil society polarization tends to depend on political leadership and does not seem to be as much of a determinant as that in the political sphere. NGOs and other private actors have played an important role in the empowerment of local Indigenous organizations and in their gaining visibility at the national level.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 7

Indigenous and campesino (peasant) organizations actively exist in most rural areas in Bolivia, and they are organized in hierarchical structures from the local to the national level. In some areas, affiliation with these local organizations is not voluntary but a necessary condition for living and accessing resources in that area. Social organizations act as governing and representative bodies for Indigenous peoples, Indigenous nations or peasant worker’s unions (sindicato campesino) among serving other functions such as representing the families living in a particular territory in rural areas, and/or organized through neighbourhood associations and unions according to economic activity in urban areas. In large migrant cities such as El Alto, in particular, merchant unions and neighbourhood associations play a significant role in organizing informal sectors.

Indigenous and campesino (peasant) organizations actively exist in most rural areas in Bolivia, and they are organized in hierarchical structures from the local to the national level.

Indigenous organizations are confederated under the nationally visible CONAMAQ in the Highlands and CIDOB in the Lowlands, while peasant unions form the powerful Unified Trade Union Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia (Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, CSUTCB) at the national level with the Bartolina Sisas (referencing the 18th century Aymara woman who led several uprisings against Spanish rule) a parallel organization for peasant women. The Trade Union Confederation of Intercultural Communities of Bolivia (Confederación Sindical de Comunidades Interculturales de Bolivia), more commonly referred to as the Interculturales, is an organization with significant membership of peasant coca-growers’ unions closely affiliated with the MAS government that also formed part of the Unity Pact. Other key organizations include the National Coordinator for Change (Coordinadora Nacional por el Cambio) and the Bolivian Workers’ Confederation (Central Obrera Bolivia, COB), which represent various conglomerates of organizations formed at the regional and local levels.

All these organizations have increasingly shown divisions related to their political relationship with the ruling MAS administration. This is particularly the case not only for Indigenous groups that demand more autonomy from the political party but also with others who demand a more organic relationship with decision-makers in government.

Regional Dimension | Score: 6

The regional diversity type is visible in different organizations that claim to represent regional interests, and they are mostly present in urban areas. Civic committees (comités cívicos) are the most typical form of civil society organization around regional cleavages, and they appear in all regions demanding autonomy. Female and minority groups participation in these organizations tends to be irrelevant, as the organizations represent the dominant elites, although in some cases, female civic committees are formed. Recently, several more inclusive regional actors have appeared in some cities, attempting to contest regional representation in more inclusive ways, but they are still marginal. The National Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Comité Nacional por la Defensa de la Democracia), an organization that emerged during the era of the military dictatorship in the 1970s, also plays a relevant role in many regions of the country, especially following the 2019 elections and in opposition to the MAS government.

Political Dimension | Score: 3

Political polarization limits the possibilities of pluralism in the political dimension. Civil society in Bolivia has become more polarized as a result of growing political polarization throughout the country. Social divisions have also been provoked by the MAS government which politically interferes in the social organizations’ internal decisions. In other cases, policies that directly benefit some groups, such as awarding titles to members of the Interculturales in Lowland Indigenous territories, have contributed significantly to inter-ethnic conflicts among these competing factions.

Civil society in Bolivia has become more polarized as a result of growing political polarization throughout the country.

Different rights-oriented organizations and NGOs have traditionally played an important role in promoting the political rights of women, and several work promoting the political agendas of LGTBQ+ rights, environmental protection and other politically relevant issues. However, NGOs in Bolivia faced significant pressure under the Morales administration for taking a critical stance against the administration’s policies, including threats to revoke their legal status or to block funding.

10. Private Sector

Average Score: 5

As in other developing countries, Bolivia’s private sector can be divided into formal and informal. Formal business pay taxes, must comply with legislation that protects workers’ rights and quality standards, and are part of corporate representation institutions (such as, Private Business-Owners Federation (Confederación de Empresarios Privados de Bolivia)) and national commercial registries (Registro de Comercio). Informal businesses are run independently by their owners and operators, with very little intervention from the government. Private informal jobs outnumber formal jobs by roughly four-to-one, and the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have widened the gap. While the exact percentage of the role of informal sectors is difficult to obtain, the sector’s size and impact cannot be underestimated. Some researchers estimate that the informal sector could be nearly 70­–80 percent of Bolivia’s economy.

While informal businesses were initially understood as economic activities for poorer individuals who could not access the official requisites of the formal sector, their current composition includes both small and larger entrepreneurships (there are many examples of prosperous business that are informal). Bureaucratic hurdles and corruption are responsible for Bolivia’s ranking very low in comparative charts, such as the Ease of Doing Business ranking from the World Bank 2020 (Bolivia ranked 150th out of 190 countries), which partially explains the informal economy’s large size, which is also affected by cultural values among society. The formal vs. informal distinction within the private sector is relevant for the discussion of diversity and pluralism in Bolivia as these forms of economic activity are not distributed evenly among diversity types.

Ethnic Dimension | SCORE: 6

Larger formal private companies are more likely to be run by non-Indigenous male individuals, who also publicly represent these companies’ interests. Informal business, both small and large, tend to be owned and represented by Indigenous individuals, mostly male, which is particularly noticeable among the Aymara Indigenous group. This reflects an entrepreneurial class among many Aymara who operate economic enterprises—both informal and formal businesses, such as quinoa or organic producers—through established familiar or culturally-established networks, particularly in El Alto and La Paz.[i] These distinctions seem to be present among the workforce too, though more flexibly and with more female participation.

Informal business, both small and large, tend to be owned and represented by Indigenous individuals, mostly male, which is particularly noticeable among the Aymara Indigenous group.

Regional Dimension | Score: 5

The informal private sector is omnipresent in Bolivia. Yet, in many rural areas and in areas where poor and Indigenous individuals are the majority, it is very likely to be the only form of economic activity and employment. Large private and formal companies are mostly based in larger cities, particularly in Santa Cruz, and their workforce tends to be more male than female. The formal private sector has different networks and organizations, and they play a particularly relevant role in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s main economic hub. A new and mostly informal bourgeoisie is thriving in the Andean region, particularly in La Paz and Oruro. In some cases, economic mobility is connected to contraband activities on a large scale (i.e., in the illicit trafficking of lucrative goods ranging from cars to electronics and access or control of inputs to profit from mining or agriculture). For example, in the Highland Department of Oruro, the rise in demand for quinoa on the global market contributed to the emergence of a new influential sector of tractor owners (tractoristas) among other class hierarchies within groups connected to agriculture in the region.[i] Intergroup inequalities exist between those who are able to exploit capital and the labour of poorer or more marginalized groups.

Political Dimension | Score: 6

Political tensions are also present in the formal vs. informal private sector in Bolivia. Formal private organizations have shown themselves to be closer to opposition parties, while the national government supports and implements public policies that are often favourable to the informal private sector (among other things, the national government has made few visible efforts to widen the formal sector by formalizing informal business). Little dialogue has taken place between the government and the private sector, which is often sidelined in the discussion of economic plans and development priorities (COB, the national workers’ organization, is a close ally to the national government, and it often participates in determining economic policies). However, these divisions are not always clear, and diversity can be found across political differences.

IV. Group-based Inequalities

Around the world, inequalities and exclusions strongly correlate with markers of group difference. In this section the Monitor assesses the breadth of inequalities, their durability and the overall difference in treatment between groups.

11. Political

Average Score: 6

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 7

Most diversity groups along the ethnic dimension are able to fully participate in national and subnational politics. With compulsory voting relatively well enforced, there are no major legal obstacles for plural participation. Voter turnout in the 2020 national election was high (88 percent of registered voters). In terms of representation, both national and regional legislative assemblies currently have a diverse composition, with members from many different ethnic groups elected for office. Women represent more than half of the 2020 elected national assembly and also have relevant presence in subnational legislative bodies (elected in 2021). However, due to their small size relative to other groups, some minority Indigenous groups, particularly those from the Lowlands, do not have a visible presence in national politics. Because of this, they tend to rely on informal forms of participation, such as marches and demonstrations, despite the plurinational definition of the Bolivian government entrenched in the 2009 Constitution.

Due to their small size relative to other groups, some minority Indigenous groups, particularly those from the Lowlands, do not have a visible presence in national politics.

At the same time, while the state recognizes 36 Indigenous languages as official languages, most government documents are not translated into any of them, potentially hindering Indigenous participation using the ancestral language of each community, especially for minority ethnic groups. Multiple ethno-linguistic groups may belong to the same Indigenous nation and make claims based on Indigenous sovereignty. Other groups, such as Afro-Bolivians or Interculturales, may also claim certain rights to the protection of identities as well as participation as part of the same broad IOC category.

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

The 2009 Constitution defines political representation from all regions in the National Assembly. This representation is effectively reflected in the composition of the national legislative body. Because of its compulsory nature, voter turnout is high and does not vary substantially across departments. While Bolivian elections tend to be fair and clean, the failed 2019 national election (which was subsequently declared null) reportedly had a number of problems that actually obscured electoral participation. Such problems tend to be more frequent in rural and Indigenous communities where voting is not always individually decided, and elections are not competitive. This is reflective of the plural nature of Bolivia’s democratic system where communitarian or direct forms of democracy are implemented among social organizations to decide candidates ahead of representative democratic procedures. A much criticized electoral rule advanced in the Electoral System Law (Law No. 026, passed June 30th, 2010) favors voters from rural areas and small departments, who can elect representatives with less votes than citizens from urban and larger departments. Subnational elections were successfully held in March 2021 in all nine departments and 353 municipalities, with compulsory voting and a high voter turnout. Also, most municipalities have a high number of female elected officials in accordance with the national gender quota law for equal participation.

Political Dimension | Score: 4

The existence of a large and dominant political party results in some groups facing challenges in participating in politics. At the national level, and in the areas where the MAS political party is dominant, organizations affiliated with the MAS tend to enjoy a privileged position at the expense of others. The weak independence of other state institutions and the judiciary play a role in reinforcing group-based inequalities within the political dimension. In areas where other political forces are dominant, such as with MAS opposition parties in Santa Cruz, a similar power structure is reproduced at the regional level. This means that smaller and emerging political forces, concerned with issues that are not part of the polarized national agenda (including environmentalist, feminist and other organizations), are often excluded and do not have opportunities to consolidate as alternatives for representation and participation. Party politics are usually male-controlled, with little participation from women.

12. Economic

Average Score: 2.5

As in other Latin American countries, Bolivia is a highly unequal society. While inequality has decreased during the past two decades, it is still high (the Gini coefficient was .45 in 2020). Inequality overlaps with ethnic and regional differences. Gender, ethnicity and region (urban vs. rural) act as cumulative factors that accentuate and widen economic inequality gaps.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 1

Levels of economic inequality between ethnic groups in Bolivia are very high. Indigenous individuals and communities tend to have a much lower socio–economic level than their white and mestizo counterparts. While many Indigenous families have had recent success in economic terms, which is evident in the growth of cities like El Alto (a prosperous Indigenous-majority slum-city), on average they are worse than non-Indigenous Bolivians. Indigenous women are also likely to be poorer than their male counterparts. Official data from the National Statistics Bureau (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) show that extreme poverty affects 24 percent of Indigenous individuals in the country and only 11 percent of non-Indigenous individuals, and poverty figures are at least 2 percentage points higher for women than for men. It is also likely that there are differences among Indigenous groups, and that members of smaller minority Indigenous peoples have lower average socio–economic levels than members of larger groups, but data disaggregated at this level are not available.

While many Indigenous families have had recent success in economic terms, which is evident in the growth of cities like El Alto, on average they are worse than non-Indigenous Bolivians.

Regional Dimension | Score: 1

Economic inequality between regions in Bolivia is very high, particularly when urban and rural areas are compared. Extreme poverty affects 29 percent of individuals in rural areas and a little over 7 percent of people in the cities (figures for moderate poverty are 55 percent and 32 percent, respectively). However, urban and rural areas also have large differences within each group – Gini coefficients of .41 for the cities and .49 for the rural areas. As the economic powerhouse of the country, the Eastern Department of Santa Cruz concentrates a good part of the wealth of the country, followed by the other two departments in the economic and political axis of the country, La Paz and Cochabamba. Other departments have smaller economies.

Political Dimension | Score: 5

Economic inequalities between political groups in Bolivia are not as well known as those in the regional and ethnic diversity types. Poorer individuals tend to support the MAS party more frequently, while better-off individuals tend to be closer to the opposition. But this is far from constant. Economic inequality also plays an important role in the political dimension in light of clientelist practices of awarding resources to groups who favour the ruling party while withholding or blocking funding from those who oppose the government. The lack of funding for Indigenous organizations that have been divided such as CONAMAQ or CIDOB or those who seek to organize autonomously as Indigenous nations, such as the Qhara Qhara, has been detrimental to groups’ ability to organize and participate in decision-making processes.

13. Social

Average Score: 3.5

Education, health care and protection and welfare services show high levels of inequality, in part as a consequence of institutional design and competencies at the government level. Education policies in Bolivia are decided and managed by the central government. Health care services are defined by the central government but administered by the subnational governments. Welfare and social protection services are mainly the responsibility of the subnational governments. Policies specifically aimed at reducing the gaps on services and welfare through cash transfer programs, such as “Juancito Pinto” Bonus (Bono “Juancito Pinto”) or “Juana Azurduy” Bonus (Bono Juana Azurduy), have been implemented recently with some success, but high levels of inequality persist particularly between urban and rural areas. These inequalities have proven very difficult to overcome and reproduce disadvantages and poverty for the most vulnerable social groups and define a cumulative exclusion and disadvantage process that falls upon rural, Indigenous and female individuals. The pandemic might have exacerbated the situation (see the regional dimension narrative below).

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 4

There are fairly high levels of inequality in social goods and services between ethnic groups in Bolivia. Educational achievement is typically lower for Indigenous individuals in Bolivia, as are indicators for health coverage and for social protection services (CEPAL 2005). Among children of educational age, enrollment in education does not seem to be the problem itself, while the quality of education seems to have large differences between groups. Health coverage for Indigenous women in reproductive age is significantly lower than coverage for white and mestizo Bolivian women. However, official information is not always disaggregated in a way that allows for comparisons between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, and particularly between different ethnic groups.

Regional Dimension | Score: 1 

Differences at the regional dimension are a major source of inequalities in the provision of social and welfare services in Bolivia. Very high levels of social inequality persist, particularly between urban and rural areas but also between more developed vs. poorer regions in Bolivia. Public health care services are very relevant for a country in which less than a third of the population have access to health insurance, and public health funding depends on the resources available at the subnational level. A 2018 study by the Center for Studies of Labor and Agrarian Development (Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario) reported that the national budget in Bolivia for health services was one of the lowest in the region, making up only 6.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The more recent increase to 10 percent investment under the Arce administration in January 2021—when accounting for the collapse of the health care system and pressures brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—suggests that health remains a low priority on the government’s agenda.

Very high levels of social inequality persist, particularly between urban and rural areas but also between more developed vs. poorer regions in Bolivia.

Rural areas have been historically disadvantaged in terms of social investment. A result of this is that, for instance, child mortality rates in rural areas were almost twice that registered in urban areas, and the differences between the richest and poorest departments were almost four times (though this has not been reported as disaggregated data for more than a decade). Education has received large investments during the last decades, but funding initiatives have concentrated on infrastructure and have missed the substantive problems of educational quality. Social protection services are almost inexistent in rural areas where municipalities can’t afford (or don’t prioritize) childcare centres, foster home programs, safe housing for gender violence victims and other social protection projects. Women in rural areas, and particularly Indigenous women, tend to have even lower levels of access to these services. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened existing inequality gaps.

Political Dimension | Score: 6

Political differences are not a major source of inequalities in the provision of social services in Bolivia, following national commitments to ensure the participation of civil society organizations in the Annual Operational Plan (Plan Operativo Anual) since the mid-1990s. However, during the last couple of decades, investment on education and health care has been skewed towards areas and communities that vote for the governing party. Disinformation campaigns around the inability of Indigenous autonomies to access basic social services resources have thwarted local efforts in multiple cases and reflect a similar tendency. The MAS was the only party to present candidacies in all 336 municipal contests. It was unopposed in 28 municipalities, and it faced only a single opponent in 65 more municipalities. Hence, its presence especially in rural areas is uncontested. Despite this, internal disagreements and disputes weakened the party within some of its historical bases of support.

14. Cultural

Average Score: 5.5

The cultural field has been hotly contested in Bolivia during the last couple of decades. The new Constitution approved in 2009 defines the country as plurinational and intercultural, and relevant social and institutional changes have emerged from this decision. This has, with little doubt, contributed to a more pluralistic society. However, this dispute has been politicized and some of the achievements and persisting challenges have been obscured by this process.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 6

Cultural expressions from Indigenous groups have gained recognition since the approval of the new Constitution. Symbols from these communities have been included as national emblems and have been used as part of the official symbolic representation of the Bolivian state, especially from the Highland region, such as the Wiphala that represents various Indigenous nations as well as their sense of belonging in Plurinational Bolivia. Cultural symbols from Lowland Indigenous groups, such as the Patujú flag, were not initially included as part of the Morales government’s so-called Democratic Cultural Revolution and have been appropriated by regional elite groups in opposition to the MAS for their own political agenda. In sum, this recognition has been more effective for symbols and expressions from Indigenous peoples from the Highlands, leaving out cultural manifestations from groups in the Lowlands.

Perhaps less enthusiastically, society has also become more receptive to Indigenous symbols and cultural manifestations, accepting at least some expressions as valuable and legitimate. However, a considerable source of tension in the 2019 political crisis stemmed from the public burning of the Wiphala in protest of Morales’ unconstitutional bid for re-election. Multiple flag burning incidents were recorded on video and circulated widely on social media and included connotations of racism, which led to a series of marches from El Alto demanding respect for the flag.

Regional Dimension | Score: 6

Cultural practices that result from regional particularities are usually respected and recognized by both the state and most of society. However, they are not valued as prominent as those recognized among dominant ethnic diversity types in the Highland region or other predominant Lowland groups, such as the Guaraní. Despite the general respect, demands for recognition and acceptance of cultural practices from some regions in the country are sometimes treated and dismissed as “separatist,” undermining their legitimacy.

Demands for recognition and acceptance of cultural practices from some regions in the country are sometimes treated and dismissed as “separatist.”

Political Dimension | Score: 5

Culture has been politicized in contemporary Bolivia. Many individuals tend to disregard cultural expressions from their political adversaries, contesting their authenticity and value. The national government has played an integral role in this process, supporting a particular side in the dispute under the banner of “cultural revolution” that is part of the MAS’s political agenda. For example, the government has spent lavishly on a revolution museum in Morales’s hometown, but it has not implemented a cultural plan aimed at effectively supporting artists or cultural developers. It is important to note that, while international analysts tended to report on the 2019 marches in defense of the Wiphala as a show of support for Morales, many participants (as well as Indigenous leaders in other parts of the country) were highly critical of the MAS for appropriating their symbol. These groups insist their flag is not representative of any political party but rather symbolizes Indigenous national sovereignty and culture.

15. Access to Justice

Average Score: 2.5

Guaranteeing access to independent and fair justice is one of the main challenges currently faced by the Bolivian institutional system. Most individuals share a sense of deep distrust towards a judicial system that has been consistently used as a political weapon and that is underfunded, understaffed and corrupt. The ombudsman also plays a partisan role and is co-opted by the MAS government.[i] For this reason, the ombudsman’s office is usually unable to defend individuals and communities’ rights against the state. While this is a problem that affects all Bolivians by jeopardizing the legal system that guarantees a pluralistic society via the rule of law, it affects more members of the political groups that are opposed to the national government.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 4

The Bolivian justice system has been historically biased against members of all groups who have comparatively less power to represent and defend themselves. Indigenous, poor and uneducated people and women have usually had to face a system that punishes them for being different and does not focus on effectively protecting their rights.[i] While the 2009 Constitution recognizes the full validity of an Indigenous justice system, with equal range to the national judicial system, this has not been properly implemented by the MAS government. Indigenous justice has been relegated to a secondary role dealing with minor legal conflicts within Indigenous communities, which is evident in the imposition of jurisdictional hierarchies with the passage of the 2010 Jurisdictional Demarcation law.

Regional Dimension | Score: 3

The Bolivian justice system has a very weak presence in the country’s rural areas. The police, prosecutors and the judiciary are confined to the cities and towns, and their presence in rural areas is sporadic and infrequent. Peasant unions are the main form for justice administration, with traditional authorities in Indigenous communities also taking a relevant role. They base their justice administration on traditional laws and practices (usos y costumbres) and not on the complete Bolivian justice codes and laws that guarantee liberal individual rights (including, of course, gender equality). As a result of this, many individuals in rural areas are in fact subject to a different set of laws than those recognized in the formal codes of the judicial system that are in line with the Constitution. In capital cities, regional courts and district attorneys are just an extension of the judicial system facing the same structural problems (under resourced, understaffed, co-opted and corrupted, among other challenges).

Political Dimension | Score: 1

Bolivia’s justice system is highly politicized. As judicial institutions are weak, co-opted and lacks independence from the executive, the government often uses these institutions for prosecuting political opponents under the façade of common crimes. Under a novel but unsuccessful approach, Bolivia’s high judges are elected by popular vote, but candidates are selected by the legislature, which has been fully controlled by the executive during the last terms, producing judicial authorities that lack political independence. While it is clear that this weakness was accentuated during the MAS administration, the political use of the justice system predates their administration and can be considered as the “normal” relationship between the executive and the judicial branches of power in Bolivia (e.g., the transition government between the end of 2019 and 2020 used the same subordination strategy towards the judicial system, prosecuting and incarcerating political opponents under questionable evidence).

As judicial institutions are weak, co-opted and lacks independence from the executive, the government often uses these institutions for prosecuting political opponents under the façade of common crimes.


V. Intergroup Relations and Belonging

In order for pluralism to flourish, there needs to be consensus between groups and individuals that everyone deserves dignity and belong in society.

16. Intergroup Violence

Average Score: 5

Bolivia is, in general, a peaceful society. Actual violence resulting from ethnic or regional differences is uncommon, and Bolivians tend to resolve their conflicts in a peaceful way. However, episodic violence, particularly related to political differences, is not unheard of, and under the current polarized situation, it has been increasing in frequency since 2019. While political differences are the main factor than can lead to violence, it is often confused with ethnic and regional differences, with which political grievances overlap. Most Bolivians reject violence against other people or politically motivated violence, as the WVS data suggest. The role of the national government is not neutral, promoting and inciting loyal organizations to engage in demonstrations that can turn violent, as in the case of the 2019 political crisis and its aftermath, and with the Arce administration. Clashes are increasingly common between civilian organized shock groups (grupos de choque) in favour and against the government, which now play a significant role in Bolivian politics and social conflict.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 6

Bolivia’s history of inter-ethnic relations shows cyclical moments of tension than can turn violent. These tensions have largely remained active since the 2019 political crisis, continuing with a number of reported incidents of intergroup violence. According to the Global Centre for Pluralism’s (the Centre) Pluralism Perceptions Survey, a little over one fifth of Bolivia’s population feel that they have been the victim of a violent act of discrimination, with a figure that seems to be slightly higher for Indigenous individuals compared to non-Indigenous persons.[i] About one third of those who say that they have been victims of discrimination identify ethnic issues as the basis for their victimization. In 2010, the Bolivian government passed the Law Against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination, which had a positive effect on curbing public hate speech. Despite this, racism and discrimination (and possibly violence) based on ethnic differences is still a problem in Bolivian society, as described in the 2021 GIEI report

Regional Dimension | Score: 7 

Regional differences infrequently lead to violence. Discrimination against internal migrants from different areas is likely to happen more frequently (about one third of Bolivians feel that they have been victims of non-violent discrimination, according to the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey), but this discrimination rarely escalates into actual physical violence. Some episodes of violence based on regional cleavages have to do with urban vs. rural tensions, which are also enmeshed with political cleavages and have become more common under moments of high political tension. Clashes between groups from urban and rural areas took place during the 2019 political crisis with tragic results. It is important to clarify that the source of conflict was not only regional in nature but also political differences and tensions dividing MAS supporters (often groups residing in or migrating from rural areas) and opposition groups (mainly residing in urban areas) (see GIEI 2021).

Discrimination against internal migrants from different areas is likely to happen more frequently, but this discrimination rarely escalates into actual physical violence.

Political Dimension | Score:  3

Political differences and tensions are currently the main source of violence between groups in Bolivia. Tensions escalated by the political elites result in violent confrontation between citizen groups on the streets. This happened in the 2019 political crisis but also after height of the political crisis, in 2020, and again during the political protests in 2021.

These tensions continue and have not been overcome. Sometimes state resources are channeled into conflict by governments at different levels, favouring their own support groups, turning the Bolivian state into a political actor with an active role in promoting and directing intergroup violence. In some cases, armed groups have been formed with the aim of direct confrontation and to stoke fear and are actively supported by political forces from both sides of the political spectrum. Approximately one third of those who claim that they have been victims of some form of discrimination in the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey identify their political affiliation as the cause for their discrimination.

17. Intergroup Trust

Average Score: 2.5

Interpersonal trust is very low in Bolivia. In fact, figures from the WVS suggest that the average trust of other people is, in Bolivia, among the lowest in the world. Bolivians consistently show very low levels of trust in all available comparative survey studies and that happens beyond particular cleavages (trust is low when other people, in general, are considered, even within the same group). Trust levels are low not only towards members of other groups but also among members of the same community or even family (as the results for both internal and external trust in the WVS show). Distrust is accentuated when people from other ethnic, regional and (especially) political groups are considered, and it is also present when people from different countries or different religions are taken into account. As a male-dominated society, it is likely that women receive, on average, less trust than their male counterparts across all diversity types; however, there is no empirical evidence to assess the magnitude of this hypothetical difference.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 3

When the ethnic diversity type is considered, there is a fairly low level of trust amongst members of different ethnic groups in Bolivia. General interpersonal trust levels are low, and this fact is accentuated when members of a different ethnic group are considered. Indigenous individuals tend to distrust non-Indigenous people and vice versa, but there is also distrust between members of different Indigenous communities. Historic differences between Indigenous communities are, in part, responsible for this.

Indigenous individuals tend to distrust non-Indigenous people and vice versa, but there is also distrust between members of different Indigenous communities.

Regional Dimension | Score: 3

Trust between people from different regions in Bolivia is generally low. This might be exacerbated by increasing proposals on federalism and heightened regionalism due to the political context. One of the markers that can be related to regional differences in Bolivia and that might produce distrust is accent while speaking Spanish language (i.e., the most salient marker for identifying individuals from another region). Members from isolated communities will likely show lower levels of trust towards people of a different origin, at least initially.

Political Dimension | Score: 1

Under the current high levels of political polarization, there is a very low level of trust among members of different political groups in Bolivia. The deeply contested narrative of what happened in 2019 (i.e., a coup d’état vs. electoral fraud) promoted, in part, by the national government, has produced a climate of deep distrust among members of different political groups that can explode into spontaneous violence. The electoral fraud vs. coup d’état narrative has remained the top issue in Bolivian politics, with increased polarization and confrontational speeches during Arce’s first year in power. This was followed by entrenched positions from civic and other opposition groups, particularly in Santa Cruz and Potosí, with incidents in the national legislature as well as between MAS supporters and opposition groups in some regions. In late 2021, the opposition sought to mobilize protests against the Arce administration that were focused on a series of laws designed to facilitate bank disclosure, that was perceived by many to violate individual privacy and property rights. The protests resulted in renewed violent clashes between MAS supporters and civic opposition groups in some departments. Intergroup mistrust and high levels of polarization continue today.

18. Trust in Institutions

Average Score: 5

Trust in political institutions in Bolivia showed a sharp increase that peaked right after the approval of the 2009 Constitution, as data from most relevant comparative surveys show (e.g., LatinoBarometer and LAPOP concur on this). This period also coincides with the economic boom resulting from the export of commodities that benefited most Latin American countries. After that, trust in most public institutions declined sharply, reaching historically low levels at the end of the 2010s in relation to the political crisis, clientelism and co-optation, as well as the lack of independence of many institutions, including the state of the judiciary. The main variable that determines trust in public institutions is political affiliation. Independent of other factors, members and sympathizers of the MAS Party are more likely to declare that they trust public institutions more than individuals who feel closer to the opposition political parties. This means that, at least at some point, trust and legitimacy of democratic institutions depends on political affiliation more than on other diversity types. Historically, trust in institutions such as the police, media, courts and electoral tribunals has been low in Bolivia—a situation which was exacerbated by the 2019 political crisis.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 5

There are some differences in trust in political institutions that can be explained by the ethnic diversity type in Bolivia. Indigenous individuals tend to trust public institutions more than non-Indigenous citizens, but that is highly contingent on the MAS Party controlling the executive. Grievances made public by some Indigenous groups, particularly from the Lowlands who have repeatedly protested against the national government, suggest that there are important differences in institutional trust that depend on the specific Indigenous group that cannot be noted by most survey data because of the size of the specific Indigenous communities. It is also important to note that differences in institutional trust can be related more to political issues than to ethnic identities.

Regional Dimension | SCORE: 7

Regional differences account for only a small part of the variation in institutional trust in Bolivia. Individuals from the rural areas tend to be more supportive of institutions and to trust them more than people from the city. However, much of the effect disappears when statistical controls for political affiliation or educational level are taken into account. And despite the fact that regions tend to show pertinent differences in electoral preferences, they do not reflect stable differences in institutional trust across departments or larger regions in the country.

Political Dimension | Score:  3

The main source of variation in institutional trust is political affiliation. Over the last decade and a half, patterns of institutional trust for supporters and critics of the MAS Party have moved in opposite directions, with government supporters gaining average trust, while trust among opposition groups steadily declining. On average, women tend to feel less represented by political parties than men, and they tend to trust public institutions less than men do. Trust in all public institutions measured in the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey are higher for MAS supporters compared to supporters of other parties. This is particularly significant when courts are considered, which is consistent with the political use of the judicial system. This could be attributed to a correlation between political affiliation and the perception of relative political influence to pressure court decisions in favour of group interests (e.g., land titles for MAS-affiliated agrarian or coca-growers’ unions).

On average, women tend to feel less represented by political parties than men, and they tend to trust public institutions less than men do.

The inclusion of the political variable in the statistical models results in other factors (including ethnicity, region and socio–economic levels) becoming significantly less irrelevant.

19. Inclusion and Acceptance

Average Score: 6

In general, Bolivian society tends to value cultural diversity positively. The Bolivian Constitution explicitly recognizes many cultures actively interacting, and this recognition reflects a positive feeling towards diversity. In fact, when asked about the most definitive feature of Bolivian society, many individuals point to cultural diversity. Cultural expressions from different ethnic groups and from all regions are embraced and celebrated, and usually produce a sense of pride among Bolivians. Dances and music from different Indigenous groups, as well as from different regions in the country, are showcased as key Bolivian export products, and the festivities in which they take place are important attractors of national tourism. However, growing political differences are likely to have begun eroding this common sense of pride about cultural diversity. Women are, on average, more likely to feel like victims of discrimination, which negatively affects their full inclusion and acceptance.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 6

When the ethnic diversity type is considered, many groups in Bolivia feel included and accepted. Inclusion policies were a priority for the MAS government, particularly during Morales’s first term (2006–10). Members of Indigenous communities have a stronger feel of acceptance than non-Indigenous Bolivians, and this sense is growing too, as the data from the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey confirm. Non-Indigenous Bolivians also tend to feel that their sense of belonging to the country has increased, but there are proportionally many more who believe that their feeling of attachment has been decreasing. But Indigenous individuals are also more likely to feel discriminated against, and women also tend to feel discriminated more frequently than men. According to a 2014 Perception Survey on Women’s Exclusion and Discrimination, all women in Bolivia feel discriminated against in terms of inclusion and acceptance, with Indigenous women continuing to be most affected across multiple dimensions such as access to health, education, economic opportunities and equitable employment.

Growing political differences are likely to have begun eroding this common sense of pride about cultural diversity.

It is important to take into account that members of quantitatively smaller Indigenous groups from the Lowlands have had a contentious relationship with the Bolivian state and felt discriminated against by the MAS government during the last several years, and this might be resulting in a weaker sense of acceptance and inclusion than other Indigenous individuals (and national surveys are usually unable to capture feelings of these relatively small-size communities).

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

Most regional groups in Bolivia tend to feel included and accepted. The country has an “Andino-centric” tradition, by which the Andean region of the country has a dominant position over the rest of the country, with its cultures, traditions and symbols having a central role in Bolivian society. Also, MAS has favoured (and receives more support) in the Highland region and other areas in the Valleys. The economic emergence of Santa Cruz in the eastern Lowlands has somehow balanced this historical inequality. Still, the country is very much influenced by La Paz and its regional culture. When asked whether their sense of Bolivia has changed during the last few years by the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey, no relevant differences can be found between individuals from different regions in the country. Again, women from more marginal regions are likely to feel less included than their male counterparts.

Political Dimension | Score: 5

At least some of the political groups in Bolivia are included and accepted. While political groups do not have a particular culture or traditions, the legitimacy of certain political ideologies can be questioned and thus excluded. This happens in Bolivia to political proposals that are not part of the mainstream political discourses, which are sometimes dismissed as anti-national. While this can be considered part of the political debate itself, these criticisms have become increasingly aggressive and have questioned the legitimacy of some political actors, especially since the 2019 political crisis.

20. Shared Ownership of Society

Average Score: 7

Most groups feel that they belong in Bolivian society, resulting in fairly high feelings of a shared ownership of society. The 2009 Constitution and a long, stable Indigenous and popular government throughout most of the last two decades has resulted in an increase of the average sense of belonging to the national community. Bolivians are now, on average, significantly prouder of being Bolivians than at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The change is more visible among previously excluded Indigenous and poorer individuals. Despite the fact that Bolivia is a male-dominated society, the sense of belonging among women is not statistically weaker than among men, as data from the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey of 2021 show. Heightened social conflicts during the 2019 political crisis had a negative impact on intergroup relations, as groups from different ethnic, regional and political backgrounds came into conflict. Nonetheless, group-based cleavages illustrate that state-society relations evolve over time as different groups contest ideas around participation and sharing power.

Ethnic Dimension | Score: 8

Indigenous Bolivians tend to have a stronger feeling of belonging to the national community, and this represents a change when compared to less than two decades ago, when their sense of belonging was significantly lower than that of non-Indigenous Bolivians. Indigenous individuals also tend to feel happier about being Bolivian than their non-Indigenous counterparts, according to the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey. However, beyond the average for the aggregate Indigenous category, it is likely that relevant differences exist particularly with Lowland Indigenous groups, mainly due to the political context and economic or development policies and perceptions of belonging.

Indigenous Bolivians tend to have a stronger feeling of belonging to the national community, and this represents a change when compared to less than two decades ago.

Regional Dimension | Score: 7

Regional identities in Bolivia do not compete with national identity. Analysis of the WVS data suggests that there is a positive correlation between particular regional identities and the larger Bolivian identity, which suggests that national and regional identity tend to mutually reinforce each other. Individuals from different regions in the country do not show relevant differences among them in their sense of belonging to the national political community, and when the Centre’s Pluralism Perceptions Survey data are considered, specific regional identities do not have any effect on national identity. This is despite new or renewed discourses on federalism and the current political context of heightened polarization.

Political Dimension | Score: 7

Despite the fact that the political field in Bolivia is bitterly contested and deeply polarized, there is no evidence that this results in a weaker sense of belonging in the national political community of any relevant group. However, there are some increasingly loud voices questioning the legitimacy of some actors, which negatively affects their engagement with the public sphere. Many younger Bolivians feel they are wary of political participation in political parties. Yet, while some of them even feel that politics is a corrupt or negative activity, there is a strong interest in politics and youth organizations range across all political divisions. For instance, during the 2019 political crisis, this was evident among youth participation in civic committee youth groups and in the formation of groups such as “Generation Evo” within the MAS Party. Other young activists who opposed MAS and the re-election of Morales, but who did not want to be associated with other opposition parties, formed their own organizations. This was most evident with the formation of the Indigenous opposition party Jallalla, which challenged MAS dominance in the La Paz department in the 2021 subnational elections. The electoral victory of Jallalla candidate Eva Copa as mayor of El Alto was significant in that the campaign relied on the active participation of young Aymara women, who continue to play an important role in the promotion and implementation of party initiatives.


The Monitor report’s recommendations align with and reinforce what experts, activists and stakeholders have called for in Bolivia and provide several pathways to pluralism for the country.


  • The current lack of independence of the judiciary system in Bolivia is severely impacting the implementation of policies meant to safeguard the rights of citizens and minoritized groups, and instead, reinforces group inequalities. The Monitor report underscores the need to thoroughly review and reform the judiciary system to guarantee its full independence from other branches of government, in accordance with international standards. This should include measures to prevent the government from interfering in the work of the judiciary or from misusing the justice system for political purposes, including the arbitrary persecution of the political opposition. Finally, such reform must ensure that judges, prosecutors and the ombudsman are able to act independently without the fear of reprisals or removal from office.
  • Given widespread distrust of institutions in Bolivia, conflict-sensitive engagement could be served by visibility of work undertaken among members from diverse sectors of civil societies and other relevant stakeholders (rather than national institutions) across multiple participatory and public events.
  • Information about human rights violations, discrimination and intersectional inequality should be vastly improved. Data about violence against women and child labour is irregularly collected, and there is limited transparency and access to up-to-date data related to socio-economic, environmental and gender issues. Bolivia can work with human rights monitoring agencies and national NGOs dedicated to monitoring these issues to improve their data collection capabilities.

Implementation Practices

  • The improvement of bureaucratic and technical processes for Indigenous groups to access IOC autonomy is urgent. As such, the Framework Law for Autonomy and Decentralization should be reviewed to remove the significant barriers that undermine Indigenous groups’ rights to free determination, territorial control, preservation of their cultural identities and access to their natural resources.
  • Contradictory legislation, such as the Law of Jurisdictional Demarcation (Law No. 073), restricts Indigenous peoples’ rights to exercise their own forms of justice, although the 2009 Constitution recognizes the full validity of this system. Reforming this law and properly implementing the Constitution to enable the implementation of Indigenous justice systems is necessary for safeguarding Indigenous rights. Currently, Indigenous justice has been relegated to a secondary role dealing with minor legal conflicts within Indigenous communities, indicating an imposition of jurisdictional hierarchies.
  • Efforts to address structural weaknesses in implementation and policy commitments could benefit from the incorporation of already existing concrete mechanisms and procedures designed and implemented by marginalized groups working to fill “implementation gaps” (such as agreements for protocol for coordination and cooperation between Indigenous Native Peasant judicial authorities and the national police headed by the Qhara Qhara Nation and other Indigenous authorities marginalized by and making active demands of the MAS government).


  • The legislation that governs news media and information outlets must be updated to meet international standards for the protection of journalists’ rights and physical safety, freedom from censorship and rights to free expression and opinion. Journalists and media outlets are conditioned to self-censure their content to showcase support for the government in exchange for increased funding. This results in biased content that is vulnerable to disinformation and fake news, limiting the media’s ability to hold the state actors accountable to citizens.
  • Focus on leadership for pluralism in the media is crucial to deconstruct and critically analyze harmful and misleading narratives that misconstrue or appropriate racism or other social issues for political ends. Intellectuals, academics and journalists have a significant influence on shaping public opinion and political outcomes in Bolivia and can positively influence the societal framing of historical narratives as part of a comprehensive peacebuilding strategy.
  • Promotion of pluralism in the media could be complemented by developing media and communications protocols to foster an environment of mutual dialogue and respect and to monitor and raise national awareness of social cleavages and horizontal inequalities driving conflict.
  • The universal and consistent provision of social, education, healthcare and welfare services across Bolivia, with special consideration to hard-to-reach and remote areas, should be ensured. The Monitor report underscores how investments in education have focussed on infrastructure, rather than the overall quality of education in rural areas. Equal amounts of attention must be provided to access to quality education to address the cumulative exclusion, disadvantages and reinforcements of poverty cycles that tends to fall upon rural, Indigenous and female individuals. Likewise, improvement of healthcare services must remove the political bias within healthcare funding. Accountability measures must be considered to ensure that healthcare funding is not diverted only to communities that vote and/or support the governing party.

Intergroup Trust and Belonging

  • Alternative approaches focused on engaging and addressing diverse societal views and perspectives outside of institutional or publicized spaces could have a significantly greater impact towards promoting pluralism.
  • Intercultural dialogue through nationally promoted cinema or literature events or a series of screenings/publications that can offer a 3600 perspective on diverse experiences, perspectives and interpretations may highlight and thus serve to bridge significant ethnic, regional, and political divides that undermine pluralism.
  • Given the rich and abundant contributions of Bolivian cinema and literature as an internationally recognized field (as well as widespread interest and engagement among widespread sectors of Bolivian society), focus on areas associated with the humanities may be more fruitful for promoting pluralism than in those more directly connected to the political arena.
  • Develop empirical studies into the use and relevance of different Indigenous languages on the part of most vulnerable minority groups, to promote the recuperation of non-dominant languages and for consideration of translation into official documents and policies for more inclusive language practices on the part of public institutions.

Documents supplémentaires

Résumé exécutif: Bolivie

Bien que la Bolivie ait adopté le pluralisme comme partie intégrante de son identité, il reste encore des marges d’inclusion et d’exclusion.

Références: Bolivia

Pour plus d'informations sur l'élaboration du rapport sur le Sri Lanka, vous pouvez consulter les références ci-dessous.

Profil du Pays: Bolivie

Bien que la Bolivie promu le pluralisme, les autochtones ont toujours confrontés à la dure réalité des inégalités et des disparités.