This article first appeared on Los Tiempos on December 3, 2021.
Bolivia closed the year 2021 marked by at least 10 corruption cases, most of them without significant investigative advances.
Undoubtedly, the most relevant cases were the ghost items in Santa Cruz, the arrest of the former Minister of Rural Development and Lands Edwin Characayo for bribery, and the case of money laundering for the sale of tear gas in the administration of the former Minister of Government Arturo Murillo.
But these were not the only relevant cases. At the time, the complaints against the former Minister of Education Adrián Quelca for exam trafficking to favor his relatives in high positions, the disappearance of files in the Council of the Magistracy, and complaints about irregularities in the awarding of housing of the State Housing Agency (AeVivienda) of Chuquisaca were also on the agenda.
In addition, the process against officials of the Authority of Forests and Lands (ABT) of Santa Cruz for alleged irregular designation of concessions for timber trafficking, the case of alleged diversion of campaign advertising funds in the previous administration of the Santa Cruz Government, the cases of phantom items in the National Health Fund (CNS) and phantom scholarships in the Autonomous University Gabriel René Moreno (Uagrm).
There were also cases of corruption in Cochabamba, such as irregularities in the issuance of sanction tickets and paperwork in the Cochabamba City Hall, the “disappearance” of 500 thousand bolivianos in the Independencia City Hall, and other cases in Quillacollo, Tiquipaya, and the high valley.
Corruption not only affected the political sphere but also soccer. A case of attempted bribery in professional soccer and an alleged rigging of draws for matches of second division clubs became known.
Legislators and politicians expressed the opinion that the Bolivian justice system is inefficient and biased.
Former minister Edwin Characayo was arrested on April 14 in a police operation, in the middle of La Paz, when he was about to receive 20 thousand dollars as a bribe for the titling of land in San Ramón, in Santa Cruz.
The former General Director of Rural Development, Híper García, was implicated in the case. Both were arrested and are in preventive detention.
On November 12, Adrián Quelca resigned from his post as Minister of Education, involved in allegations of exam trafficking to favor his close friends from the Communist Party to gain access to managerial positions.
The former director of Higher Education Agustín Tarifa was also accused and sent to preventive detention in September.
The Vice Minister of Higher Education, Aurea Balderrama, denounced the case to the Prosecutor’s Office.
Quelca was charged with breach of duty.
Another controversial case occurred outside the country. Arturo Murillo, former Minister of Government in the transitory administration of Jeanine Áñez, was arrested in the USA in May, accused of participating in a money-laundering scheme in the purchase of tear gas.
According to the US Justice, members of a company gave money to Murillo for the award of the purchase of tear gas, tear gas pellets, and rubber bullets made in Bolivia in 2019.
Murillo is detained in the US, as well as five other people. The former minister pleaded not guilty and will go to trial, while the others involved admitted their guilt.
At the end of 2021, the alleged case of phantom items in the Santa Cruz City Hall came to public light. According to the data, officials of the administration of Percy Fernández and Angélica Sosa, between 2011 and 2018, created 800 items to collect their salaries without anyone executing those works. The money was deposited in private accounts and documentation of people who were captured under the promise of payments of 300 bolivianos was used.
The former head of Human Resources Antonio Parada, his brother Guillermo, the former director of Human Resources Julio César Herbas, and the former official Javier Cedeño were charged. Former mayors Sosa and Fernández are also under investigation.
ALLEGATIONS ALSO IN SOCCER TOURNAMENTS
Among the curiosities of 2021 were the allegations of match-fixing in the draw for the Promotion Tournament.
There was also audio of a player revealing that the Always Ready club was giving “incentives” to Real Santa Cruz players to beat The Strongest on the last date and thus have the way to win the title. In the end, Juan Rivero, the player involved, apologized and said that he was misunderstood.
Bolivia is in penultimate place, out of 15 Latin American countries, after falling in its Ability to Combat Corruption (CCC) in 2020-2021, according to a study conducted by Americas Society/ Council of the Americas and Control Risks, published in June 2021.
THEY SEE THAT JUSTICE DOES NOT ACT EQUALLY FOR ALL
For opposition sectors and civic leaders, Justice is biased, inefficient, and corrupt.
The vice-president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, Fernando Larach, pointed out last week that it is striking that the processes in which personalities of that region are involved are being carried out with agility, such as the case of the phantom item; while the corruption cases of the 14 years of MAS government are not being investigated.
The president of the Civic Committee of Tarija, Adrián Ávila, declared that Justice responds to MAS and is not credible, because there is a lot of interference from the Executive.
For the deputy of Comunidad Ciudadana (CC) Alberto Astorga, if the Bolivian justice were impartial, several ex-officials and the ex-president Evo Morales himself would be “in jail”.
The deputy of the same alliance José Ormachea asserted that in the case of phantom items and other processes the MAS protects its allies and manipulates Justice.
MAS congressman Héctor Arce affirmed that Justice does not respond to the government and that not all those accused of corruption or other crimes may allege political or judicial persecution.
Criticism of the justice system was shared by the Interdisciplinary Group of International Experts (GIEI) of the OAS, which, in its report on the events of 2019, reported that there are serious shortcomings in the activities of the justice bodies linked to the lack of independence of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary. In addition, a violation of due legal process and due diligence in the investigation, the naturalization of preventive detention as an ordinary measure, and deficiencies in the investigative activity were observed.
Israel Quino, an analyst in political and legal issues, stated in Fides that Justice must act with objectivity and impartiality so that all those involved are judged, beyond their militancy or political or economic profile.