THE RIGHT TO LIFE1
A. General Observations
1. Article 7 of the 1967 Constitution of Bolivia, currently in force, establishes the right to life, in accordance with the laws which regulate this exercise, as one of the fundamental rights.2
2. Article 26 of the Penal Code provides that the death penalty shall be applied for the crimes of patricide, murder and treason.3
3. There is an obvious contradiction between this provision and other constitutional provisions such as Article 17, which provides that “in cases of assassination, patricide or treason, the punishment of 30 years imprisonment shall be applied, without the right of pardon.” Of the two, Article 17 should prevail, on the grounds of Article 228 of the National Constitution.4
4. Even though the Commission has received no denunciations alleging actual application of the death penalty on the basis of that legal provision it wishes to point out that in its judgment, this provision is contrary not only to the Constitution but also to the spirit of the Code itself, which in Article 25 establishes correction and social rehabilitation of the criminal as the purpose of punishment.5
B. Denunciations of Violations of the Right to Life
1. In this section the Commission will refer to the denunciations of alleged violations of the right to life which it has received since the military insurrection of July 17, 1980. Those denunciations attribute the death of numerous persons to various security forces of government agents.
Among the denunciations received by the IACHR, the following can be mentioned:
2. Case 7458 – Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz
On July 23, 1980, the Commission received a denunciation that alleged the murder of Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, a leader of the Bolivian Socialist Party and its candidate for the presidency. The murder was alleged to have taken place during a search conducted by security forces on the very day of the military coup, at the headquarters of the Bolivian Workers Federation, as a meeting of the National Committee to Defend Democracy (CONADE) was being held.
In a communication dated August 25, 1980, the Commission addressed the Government of Bolivia to request whatever information it considered appropriate with respect to the matters denounced.6 Later, in a letter dated December 16, 1980, the Commission repeated its request for information, and made reference to the provisions of its Regulations.
Thus far, the Government of Bolivia has not replied to the Commission’s request for information. However, the IACHR has received documents and testimony from individuals who witnessed the incident in which Mr. Quiroga Santa Cruz died; those documents and testimony allow it to conclude that irregular conduct on the part of the Government agents occasioned his death.
The following testimony received by the Commission was prepared by a witness to the events, whose name has been omitted at the complainant’s express request.
At 9Ç10, on July 17, Radio Fides reported the military insurrection in Trinidad. It is interesting to note that at the outset many people underestimated the importance and gravity of the military insurrection. When members of the COB were contacted to call a meeting of CONADE, the Organization Secretary said that the report had already been received and that it was regarded as an isolated movement, which is why the plans were to convene a meeting for the afternoon. It was very difficult to summon the members of CONADE for an 11:00 a.m. meeting. Some wanted to wait until they had further news and repeated the same arguments always used to refute the possibility of a coup d’etat at that time. The most dangerous aspect of this coup is that it demonstrates that we are entering upon an era when it will be possible to impose repressive systems without eve the slightest ideological, social and political justification. This coup has even more sinister implications, which will have to be analyzed.
When we arrived at COB headquarters at 10:30 a.m., we encountered members of CONADE, journalists in large numbers and observers. We were fifty in all. The journalists continuously went to their respective radios to report that CONADE would meet at eleven to consider the situation. We entered Lechín’s office punctually. Before the start of the meeting, it was stressed that Dr. Victor Paz Estenssoro also should be present or, in his absence, his representative. However, this was never achieved. Present at the meeting were representatives of political parties, leaders of the Bolivian Workers Federation, of the Bolivian Rural Labor Union Federation, of the Federation of Miners, representatives of religious institutions and human rights institutions, all of whom were members of CONADE. Also present were other individuals who had not attended previous meetings.
The meeting immediately began to discuss the content of the document that would have to be drafted. Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz expressed the view that the situation was very grave and that CONADE had to act firmly and swiftly be declaring a blockade and strike in the departments where the coup had been triggered. Lechín was even more radical and said that it was likely that neither the COB nor CONADE WOULD HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO MEET AND THAT IT WAS NECESSARY TO DECREE THE BLOCKADE AND STRIKE THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY, EFFECTIVE FIFTEEN HUNDRED HOURS. This view was accepted and work began on the document.
At 11:15 a.m., it was confirmed that Santa Cruz had fallen to the coup and the writers hurried to finish the document. At 11:30 Lechín read the order for a blockade and work-stoppage to the media. Some Individuals left the COB at that point. Those who remained wanted to decide where and when to meet that afternoon. Those who were not members of CONADE had to be asked to leave the room.
Before the start of the meeting, a number of journalists and a TV cameraman entered the room to film Simón Reyes as he read the document. Halfway through the reading, at 11:40 a.m., we heard gunfire from automatic weapons aimed at the COB building. We did not know what to think; we thought it was a jeep that had fired as it passed by so as to frighten those present. But then there was a burst of heavy fire which hit the room where the members of CONADE were convened and also the anteroom where other people were waiting. Everyone fell to the floor amid shattered glass and the smoking lamps of the TV equipment. A few seconds passed, and then more machine-gun fire and shooting convinced everyone present that the COB was under attack. The people began to crawl about on the floor; some were trying to find a place to hide, while others were trying to find a way to escape. The group that Marcelo was in was trying to get out by way of the rear patio. The group reached a room adjacent to this patio, but saw that the paramilitary had surrounded the building. There was at least one paramilitary behind, and perhaps more. He began to fire on the room the group was in, most of whom had gone into the next room, which had no windows and was therefore safer. There were a total of 15 people in this group. Some 10 or 12 were sitting in the small windowless room; the 4 or 5 others were in the large room. Those inside quickly consulted among themselves and concluded that they would have to surrender before the bullets them. Germán Crespo to shout: “We surrender; we are unarmed and we are giving ourselves up. We are members of the Church.” The response to this was another burst of machine-gun fire and a few more random shots. German repeated himself. One paramilitary called out “Fine. Understood. Come out of there.” No one moved. Everyone thought they would be machine-gunned when they walked out. Germán called out again: “We are with the church, we are unarmed.” The paramilitary replied: “So com out of there with your hands behind your head.” No one moved. The paramilitary were thus forced to enter the room and moved suspiciously and cautiously, as if expecting a trap. Some 6 or 7 entered one by one. Each one moved swiftly through the door, entering with is back to the wall until all of them were inside. It was the first time we were able to see them. All of them had their faces covered. They were in various types of civilian dress and appeared to be Bolivians. They were light skinned and spoke without an accent. All were carrying the same type of automatic weapons (rifles with medium-sized barrels, with clips). They began to remove us from the room; they pushed some of us to hurry us along, saying “quickly, more quickly.” I do not recall who came out first, or in the order in which we came out. Looking for a way to escape, I moved slowly. But it was impossible, and I was the third or fourth to come out. They took us as far as the stairs and we began to do down. There were 3 or 4 paramilitary in the hall between the room and the stairs. I descended slowly; others moved rapidly. They told us to go down single-file, and so I was surprised when Marcelo passed by me walking very rapidly, almost running. He had gotten by the six paramilitary in the room and the three in the hallway without being recognized. The paramilitary were firing continuously. No one knew whether they were killing others inside the building or whether they were doing it to hurry us along. At about the first floor, there were two more paramilitary. One of them, a short man, recognized Marcelo as he passed by them. Marcelo tried to disengage himself and said: “I am unnamed; I want to go down with the others.” The paramilitary said: “Bastard, you’re going to stay with us.” But Marcelo, with his hands still behind his head, made an effort and managed to shake off the paramilitary. He began to move down the staircase between the first floor and the vestibule from the staircase to the street. The short man became furious (I had stopped my descent and stood frozen, watching) and yelled: “If you don’t stop I’m going to shoot you.” Marcelo stopped immediately and turned around to face the paramilitary rather than have his back to them. He still had his hands behind his head. At the very moment, one of the paramilitary fired on Quiroga from a distance of three or four meters. Marcelo fell backwards and had evidently been shot. He was wounded on the life side. He landed on the fifth rung of the staircase. Again, the paramilitary hurried us down the stairs. As I passed Marcelo, I looked to see where he was wounded. Because of the way he fell, it seemed to me that it must have been on the left side of his chest. But since I had to move along at an almost running pace, I did not see the wound.
As I came out to the street, I saw that the paramilitary had blocked off the sidewalk. They had cleared the street from the COB as far as the Plaza del Estudiante, a distance of some 40 to 50 meters. They made us turn to the right and we began to walk down the sidewalk in the direction of three white ambulances that were waiting at a distance of some 40 meters from the COB, apparently so that one would notice the operation from the COB. We passed some two or three paramilitary who were lined up along the sidewalk. One of them approached the first ambulance, opened the door and yelled: “Inside.” Germán Crespo was the first in the line. He was some five meters from the ambulance when the paramilitary became nervous when a large number of pedestrians on the opposite sidewalk began to cross the street and approach us to get a better view of what was happening. Someone yelled: “We are from CONADE.” The paramilitary began to fire into the air to disperse the people, ignoring us momentarily. At that very moment, some of the prisoners were walking past the Avenida Building, the entrance to which was sealed by an iron gate. But there was one small door that was not completely shut. Taking advantage of the paramilitary’s momentary distraction, four of us managed to slip through the door and escape.
The Bolivian authorities did not allow an autopsy to be conducted on the body of Marcelo Quiroga. Catavi Gualberto Vega, a leader of the miners, also died in that same operation. The IACHR expects a serious investigation into the events, so that those responsible may be punished. The information that the Government provided in its note of November 17, 1980, does not offer any evidence to refute the substance of the denunciation.
The IACHR considered this case at its 53rd session. It adopted a resolution wherein it points out to the Bolivian Government that in the light of the facts compiled, the irregular circumstances under which Mr. Marcelo Quiroga died constituted a very serious violation of fundamental rights. The Commission also recommended that a thorough and impartial investigation be ordered to determine the authorship of the acts denounced and that those responsible be punished. It requested the Government to report within 90 days on the measures adopted to put these recommendations into practice.
Since that time period has elapsed without any reply from the Government, the Commission has decided to publish the resolution in its Annual Report to the General Assembly.
3. Case 8481: The Town of Caracoles
On August 22, 1980, the following denunciation was received with regard to the events that occurred in the town of Caracoles.
The MAX TOLEDO regiment from Viacha, part of the “TARA PACA” regiment and the “CAMACHO DE ORURO” regiment attacked CARACOLES with canons, mortar, tanks and warplanes. The miners defended themselves with rocks, sticks and a number of dynamite charges. By Monday afternoon, most of the miners had been killed. The survivors had fled either to the hills or to homes in “Villa Carmen.” The armed forces followed them and killed some of the men in their homes. Others they took prisoner and tortured. Many were bayoneted. They also killed the wounded. In the town square, they put a stick of dynamite into the mouth of one of the miners and blew him to bits.
They sacked the houses and loaded the trucks with televisions, sewing machines, stereo systems, thermoses, beds, money, and merchandise from the shops. They also sacked the Manaco y Zamora agency, the general store, etc.
They tied the children up with cables and forced them to eat dirt. They made them lie down on top of broken glass and then forced the mothers to walk on them. Then the soldiers walked over the.
The soldiers were like savage beasts because they were drugged and did not hesitate to rape the women and young girls, even the little girls.
They slaughtered sheep, chickens, pigs, etc., and loaded them on board the trucks.
By dawn Tuesday, August 5, they had loaded the dead bodies and the wounded on three trucks, and headed in the direction of La Paz. By Friday they were still taking away prisoners, bound with wire.
The women were not allowed to gather their dead to give them a Christian burial and were told: “There are no orders.” On Friday they gave the order to find those who had died, but they found only shirts, pants, sweaters, jugs, shoes, etc., covered with blood. The bodies had disappeared. Some were thrown in a ditch behind the cemetery and identification was not permitted. There are roughly 900 missing. No one knows whether they are alive or dead.
Attached are the names of some of the missing, the wounded, the dead and the imprisoned:
Olimpia de Sánchez
2. Three women bled to death as a result of the rapes.
Andrés Villca (12 years old) went mad
Agustín Chile (a minor)
5. PRISONERS (seen at the General Staff headquarters)
6. PRISONERS (placed on board an airplane bound for “Puerto Rico, Pando”)
Ladiuldo Vargas (a student in his fourth year of secondary school)
Through a communication dated August 29, 1980, the Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of the denunciation to the Government of Bolivia, with the request that it provide such information as it deemed appropriate.
The Bolivian Government has not sent the Commission any reply, despite the fact that the Commission repeated its request for information in a note dated December 16, 1980.7
The Commission has found it difficult to establish precisely how the events denounced occurred or just how extensive they were. This is made even more difficult if the Government fails to report or provide the appropriate details to enable the Commission to make an objective assessment of what, in fact, happened.
The information that the Commission has been able to compile indicates that on July 17, the townspeople of Caracoles, miners for the most part, declared a strike to protest the military coup and decided to prevent the armed forces from entering the town.
Sources indicate that the townspeople had mined the access roads into the town and were found to be in possession of a number of arms. The Church made efforts to get the miners to return to work. It would appear that these were the circumstances surrounding the military operation that led to the death and arrest of a considerable number of persons.8
According to one account received by the Commission, the events occurred as follows:
It was Sunday, August 4, when 13 trucks and 2 tanks of the Camacho Huachacala and Bolivar regiments entered the town of Caracoles. We had been on strike since the 17th, following instructions received from CONADE. We were told that we would have to keep up the resistance until August 6 and we were prepared for that. A number short-range weapons, dynamite and car batteries were collected and the access roads were mined. On Friday, we had had a meeting and we were awaiting instructions, but coordination was lacking. At that assembly, it was decided to switch from a defensive to offensive approach.
A COB leader and three leaders from the Union Federation of Bolivian Miners (FSTMB) were with us, but there was not communication with the outside. Nevertheless, contact was established with the Yungas and other rural zones. The farm workers came to Caracoles. There were 1,200 to 1,500. Each one remained three days and then left to bring food. In the final days, we had nothing to eat and the general stores were practically without supplies. What food we had was what the farm women brought us. They stood guard alongside us, and participated in the combat groups, the cells and the assemblies. They were our contact with Caranavi, Cañadon, Antequera and Zongo.
On Sunday, we caught sight of the troops and prepared the resistance. One woman informed and told them that the road was mined; so, they came on foot. A lieutenant was killed in combat and a number of soldiers were wounded in that first counter. The lieutenant had a brother (a lieutenant colonel at El Alto) and when he learned that his brother had died, he arrived with 19 trucks, mortar and more tanks. By Monday, the miners had no more ammunition and it was a slaughter. The fighting was first in Sayacilla and Tacuni. The civilian population hid inside the hospital. At 5:30 a.m. an ambulance picked up the lieutenant. Meanwhile, miners from San Vicente and from the “Argentina” mine arrived. But by Tuesday, they had already won and we had to flee. The town now looks like a cemetery of 1,500 workers. There were 400 left. Many have either died, are being held prisoner or have escaped. All that is heard is the crying of children and women.
4. Case 7739 – Leaders of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR)
Through various sources of information, but especially a number of communications received on January 23, 1980, the Commission has learned of the deaths of eight of the principal leaders of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR) on January 15, during a meeting of that political group’s national leaders.
In a communication dated February 19, 1981, the Commission forwarded this denunciation to the Government, with a request for the corresponding information. The pertinent parts of that communication read as follows:
According to reports received, on the afternoon of January 15, 1981, a group of paramilitary elements and regular soldiers, acting jointly on instructions from the Ministry of the Interior, searched a house in La Paz where a meeting was being held attended by leaders of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR), a radical nationalist party which had won 6 seats in the 1979 Congressional elections.
There were around 15 individuals present at the meeting, among them representatives of the Bolivian Workers Federation. According to reports, soldiers surrounded the building and, despite the fact that there was no resistance, nine individuals were murdered. Allegations have been made to the effect that some of the victims were tortured before being killed. Later, at a press conference, the Minister of the Interior reported that nine guerillas and one policeman had died in an armed confrontation.
It is believed that the following individuals died:
ARTEMIO CAMARGO: A leader of the Union Federation of Bolivian Workers (FSTMB). He worked at the Siglo XX mine.
JOSE REYES CARVAJAL: 41, a former policeman who had been elected Deputy by the City of La Paz, on the Popular Democratic Union ticket in the 1980 elections.
JOSE LUIS SUAREZ GUZMAN: University professor.
ARIEL MENACHO: Approximately 35 years of age and a MIR organizer in Oruro.
Ricardo Navarro mogro: Approximately 30 and a university professor
GONZALO BARON: Student leader.
RAMIRO VEALSCO AVILES: Approximately 35 years of age.
Even though the Commission repeated its request for information in a note dated April 13, 1981, thus far the Government of Bolivia has not provided the corresponding information on the case in question. The foregoing notwithstanding, the Commission has received information from other sources in its effort to establish what in fact happened.
On the afternoon of January 6, 1981, the Minister of the Interior, through the Department of Mass Communications, issued a communiqué that read as follows:
Yesterday at 6:00 p.m., state security forces intervened in a meeting of subversive criminals, being held at a house at Abdón Saavedra and Harrington Streets. Once the building was surrounded, those attending the meeting resisted, which led to fighting that lasted 20 minutes. In the clash, nine individuals died and four were wounded. The dead identified thus far are: Ramiro Hernán Belasco Arce, José Luis Enrique Suárez Guzmán, Freddy Marquez, René angel Contreras Loza, Rodrigo Arce Gómez, José Alejandro Reyes Carvajal, Mario Luis Paredes Llanos and Arcil Menacho. From the state security forces, agent Juan Rodríguez Luna was killed, while 4 other members were wounded. The operation in the building in question uncovered considerable amounts of dynamite, weapons and Cuban-manufactured grenades. A number of individuals have been arrested. A considerable volume of documents and pamphlets has been confiscated. A brief examination established that groups of foreigners were being trained to eliminate members of the Armed Forces, civilians, among them industrialists businessmen, intellectuals, workers, political leaders and union leaders; the plan was to hold government agencies and Armed Forces responsible for the murders. The Ministry of the Interior, Migration and Justice advises the public that once it has evaluated the existing evidence, it will arrest other subversive members, accomplices and abettors. La Paz, January 16, 1981
The reports indicate that the public was stunned at the above-mentioned communiqué, because of the prominence of the individuals killed. It also gave little credence to the communiqué even through the MIR and the UDP were, at that time, obviously among the opposition political forces. The two organizations had repeatedly denounced any form of terrorism and proclaimed their dedication and devotion to democracy.
One of the documents received by the Commission states the following:9
Saturday, January 17 – The Archbishop of La Paz, Monsignor Jorge Manrique, used the word “insufficient” to describe the information provided by the Ministry of the Interior in connection with the deaths of eight MIR leaders. The Archbishop. Who has been particularly vocal in denouncing human rights violations, was hesitant to lend full credence to the Government version to the effect that the deaths had come about as a result of a clash between security agents and the dead political leaders, and asked the Government to clarify the facts immediately.
For his part, the Secretary General of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Alejandro Mestre, announced that the Church would use its good offices vis-à-vis the Government so that the bodies of the MIR leaders might be returned to their families and receive a Christian burial. This attitude on the part of the Church was seen in La Paz as an expression of a widespread feeling of consternation in response to the death of the MIR leaders under seemingly dubious circumstances which had again cast in doubt, in the eyes of both the nation and the world, the methods that the military government employs to control an opposition that seem to become more vigorous and open with each day that passes.
Hernán Siles Zuazo and Jaime Paz Zamora, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the GUN, respectively, issued a lengthy statement fro the capital of Peru, Lima. They denounced the “savage murder” of the nine MIR leaders and at the same time gave a new different account of the events that occurred in La Paz on Thursday, the 15th, and a more complete list of the political figures killed by Government security agents.
Excerpts from the statement are as follows: “On Thursday, January 15 of this year, paramilitary elements and security forces of the dictatorship resorted to lawless violence to burst into a home where MIR’s National Resistance Directorate (DNR) was meeting. The Board was discharging its function in the resistance in a responsible and reasonable manner, at a time when the Bolivian people had been battered by the recent economic measures. After being brutally tortured, the following were murdered: …” The report goes on to say the following:
Refuting Friday’s official version, the statement adds the following: “The usurper regime has put forward its own false account of the death of the MIR leaders, and in so doing has added slander to its crime by portraying the victims as ‘subversive criminals (…). Terrorists armed with bombs, with macabre plans to murder Bolivian army officers, and who finally fell in an armed confrontation with security agents.’ This grotesque version–the statement continues–can never be accepted by the Bolivian people or by democratic peoples and governments. This is a murder virtually unprecedented in the long and complex history of our country.”
That same week the newspaper reported the following:
Sunday, January 18 – The Military Junta turned over the bodies of the eight opposition leaders who were killed by state security agents during a political meeting in a La Paz neighborhood. A communiqué released today by the Office of the Press Secretary emphasized that “It was decided to turn over the bodies of the dead to their respective families.” The communiqué added that the security agencies will conduct an exhaustive investigation into the events of Thursday the 15th, when eight MIR leaders died as a result of search and seizure operation. It would appear that this announcement was intended as a reply to the misgivings expressed by the Church and other sectors of the public, which had expressed doubt with respect to the veracity of the official version, which spoke of armed resistance and a confrontation.
The bodies of the MIR leaders Ramiro Hernán Velasco and Luis Suárez Guzmán, were buried yesterday, Saturday. The obituary that appeared in the evening newspaper PRESENCIA, stated that Luis Suárez was the son of the General Hugo Suárez Guzmán. The same newspaper also published an obituary for Lic. Ricardo Navarro Mogro, who was described as “a noble and honorable Bolivian citizen.” The Ministry of the Interior did not list Navarro Mogro among the eight opposition leaders killed last Thursday by government security forces. Reportedly, the burial was attended by many relatives and friends.
Later, on January 20, the Military Junta announced in the newspapers “Hoy” and “El Diario,” that the Intelligence Services had discovered and destroyed a vast subversive plan of international scope, aimed at inciting armed insurrection and a takeover in the country.
In an apparent effort to give some response to the requests from Archbishop Manrique, the Military Government blamed the plan on the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR). The Government published a list of 50 MIR leaders it said the organizers and leaders of the subversive group.
Leaders of the political group that had won the 1980 elections, the Popular Democratic Union, of which MIR is part, reaffirmed that the members of MIR were brutally murdered and that the Military Junta lied about the facts in communiqués that alluded to clashed and subversive plans.10
In February 1981, the Ministry of the Interior stated that the dead individuals had been associated with drug trafficking. In response to the accusation, relatives of the victims published an open letter on February 15 in which they emphatically denied the accusation. Reports received by the Commission indicate that the relatives were under surveillance by the security agencies.
The IACHR took up this case at its 53rd session. It adopted a resolution wherein it points out to the Bolivian Government that the irregular circumstances under which these leaders died constituted a very serious violation of fundamental rights. The commission also recommended that a thorough and impartial investigation be ordered to determine the authorship of the acts denounced and that those responsible be punished. It requested the Government to report within 90 days on the measures adopted to put these recommendations into practice.
Since that time period has elapsed without any reply from the Government, it does not know whether the case has been investigated or whether those responsible have been punished.11
5. Further, the Commission is troubled by the reports it has managed to obtain, in that they blame paramilitary forces, acting on instructions from and in the charge of the Ministry of the Interior, for events that have seriously affected the right to life.12
6. It is further alleged that these groups act with total impunity in conducting arrests, searches and interrogations of victims. In incidents such as those that occurred on July 17 and January 15, it would seem that such impunity is the result of a decision on the part of high-ranking government officials to persecute any group of persons, political or union organization that could constitute opposition, albeit peaceful, to the purposes of the Military Junta.
7. Even though it is difficult to establish the number of persons whose right to life has been violated and those responsible for said violation, the evidence the Commission has at hand enables it to conclude that the security forces and paramilitary groups, acting in an irregular fashion, have caused violations of this fundamental right.
C. Information received by the IACHR concerning Presumed Disappearances
1. A particular source of concern to the Commission are certain reports it has received to the effect that in the days subsequent to the military coup and because of the fact that in the days subsequent to the military coup and because of the fact that the paramilitary groups and officials acted with total impunity, there were cases where individuals were arrested and then disappeared.
2. The Commission is unable to establish how many people have disappeared since July 17. However, some of the cases, such as those involved in the denunciation on the town of Caracoles and others such as that of Elías Raphael Flores, Renato Ticona, Raúl Coronel Soto, and José Luis Martínez,13 indicate that the operation conducted has in fact ended in a number of disappearances.
3. The very fact that arrests are not reported immediately, that those arrested are taken to unofficial places or centers14 and that military or paramilitary groups conduct those operations and interrogations, allows one to presume that the Government is responsible, despite the fact that the Commission has been informed that thus far the practice of effecting the disappearance of the enemies of the regime is not one of the explicit policies of Bolivia’s highest-ranking officials.
1. Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights states the following: 1. Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
2. Article 7 of the Constitution – Every person has the following fundamental rights, in accordance with the laws which regulate their exercise: to life, …
3. Article 4 paragraph 2, 3 and 4 of the American Convention states the following: 2) In the countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court in accordance with a law establishing such punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crimes to which it does not presently apply. 3) The death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that have abolished it. 4) In no case shall capital punishment be inflicted for political offenses or related common crime.
4. Article 228 – The constitution of the State is the supreme law of the national juridical system. The courts, judges and authorities shall apply it with preference over the laws, and the laws with preference over any other resolutions.
5. From statements made by then Minister of the Interior, Colonel Luis Arce on October 17, 1980, published in various communications media, the IACHR learned that the military Government of Bolivia planned to issue a drastic Security Law in November, which would include capital punishment among the penalties. On November 13, 1980, the Secretary General of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Alejandro Mestre, addressed a letter to General Luis García Meza, in which the Catholic church filed serious objections to the announced new Security Law and pointed out that the laws and the 1967 Constitution were sufficient to maintain internal order and guarantee peace among the citizenry. Then, on November 19, General García announced that the new state Security Law would not be enacted, but that that would not prevent the approval of supplementary measures to maintain order, peace and tranquility.
6. Even though the Government of Bolivia has not replied to this individual denunciation, in a note it sent to the Commission in November 1980, it reported that Mr. Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz had died on July 17, 1980, while resisting a police action.
7. In the note sent to the Commission on November 14, 1980, to which the Commission made earlier reference, the Government stated the following: “In the town of Caracoles, 4 civilians, one Army officer and one soldier died as a result of disturbances.”
8. According to the information the Commission has available, the mining areas were the main pockets of resistance to the military government of General García Meza. As a consequence, the new government ordered strict military surveillance in these zones Deaths under irregular circumstances, arrests and various beatings have been denounced; these constitute attacks on the life of the inhabitants in these sectors, especially in Uncia, Huanuni, Catavi, Siglo XX and Miraflores.
Union leaders in Catavi and Siglo XX wanted to establish some dialogue with the military authorities, but were unsuccessful.
9. “Bolivia Semanal,” Publisher: PADI (Quito, Ecuador) January 12-18, 1981. The news sources used by this weekly paper are public in nature and its news comes from international press agencies and from Bolivian and Latin American newspapers.
10. Testimony given states that when the operation began, José Reyes, one of the murdered leaders was gunned down when he went outside to speak with the group conducting the operation.
11. On February 5, the Permanent Episcopal Council signed a document that bears the signature of Cardinal Clemente Maurer and 16 bishops; the document demands that the Government clarify the events of January 15, denounces the continued use of physical and psychological torture against political prisoners, and requests that those responsible be punished.
12. Reports received by the Commission indicate that rural labor leader Florencio Gabriel died on June 3, 1981, as a result of mistreatment received during the course of his three arrests.
13. In the case of José Luis Martínez, the IACHR has received reports on his arrest, which occurred at his place of residence on December 12, 1980; his arrest has not yet been acknowledge, even though there are unofficial reports to the effect that he is in the town of Uyuni in a secret detention center.
14. The IACHR, among others, has information on the existence of detention camps in the town of Puerto Cavinas and Puerto Rico.