THE PERMANENT ASSEMBLY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, THE EDUCATION SECTOR
AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
A. The Permanent Assembly for Human Rights
1. Of particular importance and interest to the IACHR are the activities being conducted in the countries by groups working for the protection and promotion of human rights. Equal consideration deserves to be given to the freedom and guarantees they are accorded to carry out their objectives, and in general, to the mutual respect between these organizations and the government authorities in correctly observing the regulations governing work such as this which is lawful and in many cases necessary to the observance of human rights.
2. It is for this reason that the Commission cannot fail to voice its concern over the accusations it has received about the harassment, threats, detentions and deportations from the country of leaders and members of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, including its President, Father Julio Tumuri.
3. The role of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia, which ahs been a peaceable one, has consisted of report what has occurred; shedding light on the people’s legitimate aspirations; its work, in the Commission’s opinion, cannot be branded as subversive nor does it merit government scorn.1
4. The Commission is confident that the Government of Bolivia will duly instruct the various government authorities to guarantee and respect the work of the Permanent Assembly and that its request will be duly examined and heeded.
B. The Education Sector
1. The Bolivian educational system, including the academic authorities, student organizations, leaders of the teaching profession and professors, has been completely reorganized by the new Government.
2. In the days following the July 17, uprising, there were a number of detentions and persecutions of individuals particularly involved with the university sector.2
3. The country’s universities were closed and until February 1981, the Commission had no information as to the government’s actual intentions about reopening them. Senior government authorities indicated that if it became necessary to keep the university closed for a year, this would be done. Decree 17530 of July 19, 1980 suspended educational activities of the Government and private service, professional institutes and all establishments answering technically and administratively to the Ministry of Education, until August 4m 1980.
On August 18, 1980. Decree 17554 was issued. It created a National Commission to reorganized the Bolivian university system and ordered dismissal of the university authorities, teachers, senior administrative authorities and student organizations.
Subsequently, by Decree 17555, a Commission to Study and Reorganize Comprehensive Education was created, while Decree 17556 formed the National University Reorganization Commission, and nominated its members, it was also given functions in the filed of higher education.
C. The Situation of the Church
1. Although this report has made reference a number of times to the position of the Catholic Church with respect to certain questions affecting the observance of human rights, it is important to make some additional observations on its role in Bolivian life, and particularly, on its conduct and posture since the July 17 military coup.
2. The Catholic Church is a very important institution in Bolivian life. Its constant concern over the spiritual and physical welfare of its citizens, particularly low-income individuals, is natural and understandable; there is full freedom of worship.
Its task in improving the social conditions of low-income Bolivians has taken the form of many specific actions, most of which have been misinterpreted by government authorities; they have branded pastoral social action as subversive, communist or contrary to the true interests of the nation and its development.
3. Under these conditions, priests, parishes and churches have suffered repression by the forces of order during the current process. After the military coup, both Catholic, Methodist and Baptist ministers were detained in various parts of the country and subjected to insults, mistreatment and threats against their lives.
A campaign was also mounted to defame the church, labeling priests as “red communists” and “extremists.” This came to particularly threatening to foreign priests, since the official media adopted an excessively critical tone with regard to non-Bolivians.
4. Chapter Three of the present report mentioned cases of priests detained, tortured and forced into exile. Information received indicates that there is still special control and supervision of the clergy.
5. Despite the systematic persecution of churches and their agents, the position of the Catholic Church, vis-à-vis these events, has been one of firmness and patriotism that is deserving of mention. The words of Archbishop Manrique in his August 6 homily are clear in this sense:
Brothers, we the bishops of La Paz and of Bolivia have already denounced a number of aspects of the violation of human rights that have occurred over the last three weeks. Our accusation is not political, it is evangelical and prophetic. God and our Country will accuse us, will judge us if we are silent or if we equivocate or are ambivalent.
6. To conclude this chapter, it would seem to be important to include some paragraphs from the Collective Pastoral Letter of the Episcopal Conference of Bolivia, which clearly states the thinking of the Catholic Church, and is a lively reflection of the events that have occurred in the country.
I. THE PASTORAL VIEW OF EVENTS
1. THE GENERAL PICTURE
Our effort to make sense of the events that are commanding our attention is not an easy task: things have occurred differently in the different areas of the country and have been interpreted in various ways according to the varied criteria of the many sectors of the population.
For many of our citizens, the events that began on July 17 last mean the frustration of a process of participation in public life and a constitutional order, which was perhaps imperfect but for which many sacrifices had been made and in which hopes had been placed.
For others, it meant the unleashing of a populist adventure, which was seen as an initial step towards a type of government they did not want.
The lack of historical perspective shown by some political parties, their fragmentation and their inability to move with the times and take new attitudes may perhaps be questionable. But there can be no denying the authenticity of the people’s hopes for free, active participation in the nation’s public life.
Likewise, while the radicalization of some groups, principally in ideological terms, is questionable, there can be no approving the violence used to interrupt a constitutional progress in which such groups were minority of little weight.
During these last few weeks, we have learned with deep regret of the violent death of citizens, imprisonment and physical and psychological torture, raids and theft, destruction of radio stations and other property, the persecution of and threats against innocent people, massive lay-offs of workers, the denial of safe conducts to persons in asylum in diplomatic missions, confinements, deportations and other abuses.
Numerous priests, monks and nuns were detained, some of them tortured, although subsequently released, and almost all submitted to humiliating treatment. Some thirty convents were attacked, many sacked and a good number of priests and nuns had to go into hiding because of the threats against them.
Some of the Church’s communications media have been silenced or intimidated by threats from the authorities. The warnings they received from some senior officials amount to censure. A number of journalists were detained and one was tortured.
The existence of a “military zone” throughout the country is subjecting the people to continual tension and intimidation because of a lack of guarantees.
The lack of complete lists of detainees, persons exiled or in asylum put their families through unjust and unnecessary anguish.
The dismissal of may public employees, without administrative due process, puts very many families in difficult situations, leaving them without the social benefits established in the General Labour Law.
The use of the State communications media, particularly radio and TV, to give obviously biased news, exclusively in the official version, keeps the country uninformed.
This lack of complete, exact information has spawned abroad an exaggerated news campaign that prejudices Bolivia’s image and is hindering our goal of having the truth be told.
The media are also being used to defame upright citizens, but they have no means of defending themselves or bringing action against those responsible for the crime.
The use of irregular armed groups who cannot be controlled by legal means has stamped this phase of our history with a lack of confidence in those who have allowed these individuals to terrorize citizens with impunity.
If these and other events that we are unable to detail here are to be condemned in and of themselves, even more serious is the absence of legal recourse against such violations. The effective suspension of constitutional guarantees, the denaturing to the organizations that mediate the individual and the State leave the citizen without defense in the face of any violation of his rights.
The events described above can be proven by written documentations.
2. THE SITUATION OF THE CHURCH
From the very first moment of the process we are summarizing here, repressive measures were taken on the Church’s people and property, such as detention, torture, violence, attacks and silencing.
Acts such as those mentioned took place particularly in La Paz, in the Altiplano and the mining area, and in the north of the country, but only exceptionally elsewhere.
Many of the priests, monks and nuns who were detained were subsequently released, but some of them still have hanging over them an order to leave the country, although no grounds for such decisions can be proven.
The release of a number of the detained priests does not mean, however, that they have a guarantee to practice their ministry without any risk, since some authorities have said that they are not in a position to prevent groups of the “faithful” from opposing the preaching and pastoral action of those priests or other pastoral agents.
False statements or accusations by people with an interest in weakening the church are unfortunately immediately believed by some authorities, who proceed against those who have been falsely accused far beyond what is called for under the law.
It is therefore necessary to establish the legal terms of the relationship between the Church and the government authorities by virtue of which the Government will guarantee, as is its duty, the required freedom for the preaching of the gospel in its entirety, and also offer the same guarantees for social and educational pastoral work.
The letter to the Episcopal Conference from the President of the Military Government Junta, sent through his Minister of Information on September 5, states:
“I should like to reiterate to the Church hierarchy at this time that it is the Government’s form intention to continue traditional relations with the Catholic Church in a framework of mutual understanding; to his end, the Government will facilitate its work throughout the national territory in its pastoral and evangelical mission. We have the hope that these guarantees will be observed throughout the country on a continuing basis.”
These guarantees for priests, monks, nuns, preachers and other pastoral agents must extend to the Church’s communications media. We wish veiled threats being made up until now by some authorities to cease.
But we insist very particularly that we cannot accept having authorities outside the Church attempt to dictate to our preachers and priests the terms in which they must preach the gospel, although it is desirable that all pastoral agents pay particular attention to the proper way of presenting their teaching; but it can never redefine nor distort the clear, inevitable truth of Jesus’ message.
We should point out very clearly here that as soon as the ecclesiastical hierarchy receive the first news of the sad events mentioned above, it moved to calm emotions quickly, to put an end to violent action, establish a humanitarian dialogue and preserve as far as possible the respect for human rights.
In some cases, the ministry’s conduct in denouncing the violations of human dignity was misinterpreted and even distorted in the mass communications media. The priests who raise their voices were seeking justice and reconciliation between brothers, and never approved violence or rebellion.
We hope that the efforts the Church is making to establish a dialogue will never again be misunderstood or distorted as has happened too often in the past.
It must be pointed out that the ecclesiastical authorities did not publicize their activities on a number of occasions because of the confidentiality required in certain situations, and even as a form of protecting people who were still in detention or being threatened.
However, some positive although limited actions can be cited, such as the creation of an office to investigate and care for, as far as possible, political prisoners and their families. Although no legal aid has been given them for the moment, some, although not all, have received material and moral assistance.
It is therefore necessary to request that as evidence of an opening in the current crisis, the Church be allowed to obtain lists of all detainees, exiles, persons in internal exile and, if applicable, the dead or disappeared. Humanity toward the family members demands that this information be given.
It is also essential that the Church be given the necessary facilities so that those who have suffered and continue to suffer the weight of the present political circumstances can come to the Church to demand their rights through legal channels.
The attempt to set Bolivian-born priests against those born outside the country warrants a special chapter. Continue support for such confrontation could not be considered favorable to the normal understanding between the Church and the authorities.
The Church is universal by its very essence, because Christ’s redemption is for all, without distinction as to nationality. And the work of the vicars of Christ is done by brothers and servants of all nations.
We beg everyone to adopt an attitude of communion, rejecting attempts to divide the Church with arguments that seek to appropriate legitimate national sentiments for purposes of schism (p. 10).
1. The Permanent assembly has continued its work. In December 1980. it wrote a letter to General Luis García Meza, President of the Military Government Junta. City. Excellency: We are writing to you to bring the following facts to your attention: The Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) has received much evidence of the tragedies that once again have afflicted many families in our country as a result of the political events of the last few months. A government spokesman told the press that he estimated there were some 2,500 political prisoners (Presencia 29-8-80). In many cases, those detentions have been aggravated by torture and other brutality, to the extreme where reprisals had been taken against the families of persons sought or detained, including the taking of minors as hostages until the family member appears. In numerous cases, agents of the Ministry of the Interior have stolen personal belongings during raids on private houses, leaving the affected families even more deprived. While the number of prisoners has declined recently, detentions do continue, and some individuals have disappeared; despite evidence that they were detained by agents of the Ministry of the Interior, this Secretariat of State refused to indicate their whereabouts or to turn over their remains to their families. As if it were not enough to have suffered jail for professing ideas about the social order that are contrary to those held by the military currently governing the country, the punishment is prolonged and worsened with exile or internal exile. There are thousands of detainees that have been sent into exile, put into internal exile or forced to appear each day before the authorities to sign a register. Not only are these punishments contrary to the law, they have been inflicted without trial, and without a statement of the crime that hose affected by such arbitrary measures are alleged to have committed. The penalties of jail and internal exile, as well as exile, for those who have had to seek refuge abroad to flee from the severe repression awaiting them, have created tragic and painful family situations, ranging from physical separation to the precarious economic situation in which many families are currently living, because they have lost the wage-earner that supporter them. On top of this are the traumatic psychological consequences of exile on children, as shown by studies by experts in this field. The APDH, recalling the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human rights of the United Nations, chiefly in its Articles 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, and 21. Recalling that the Political Constitution of the State and Constitutional Laws in effect must govern coexistence in our society. Appealing to the Christian principles that are so deep-rooted amongst our people, and so often recalled by the bishops and dramatically emphasized by Pope John Paul II, particularly during his visits to Latin America. Desirous of giving credence to the statements by some spokesmen for the present Military Government Junta that human rights would be respected, despite the fact that other spokesmen for the same Junta profess an “anti-Christian creed” that “does not recognize amnesty” (Presencia, September 17, 1980), request the authorities: to decree UNRESTRICTED ANMESTY FOR ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS, PERSONS EXILED, PERSONS IN INTERNAL EXILE AND REFUGEES, and thus demonstrate their observance of internationally recognized rules governing the life of organized societies, and to allow so many families suffering the pain of separation and exile from the beloved land to celebrate Christmas in their homes and take up their normal lives, which have been violently interrupted in past months. Only a measure such as the one we are seeking can create the conditions that are necessary for Bolivia to return to normal socio-economic and political life, which the country so much needs in order to begin the long road that will take us towards the society we all want for the future, but which will not be unless it is the work of the entire people. Convinced that our petition will be heard by Your Excellency, accept, our deepest respects.
2. some of the persons involved in the education sector subjected to alleged violations of human rights are: Dr. José Decker, president of the Supreme Court of Cochabamba and Professor of Law at the Universad Mayor de San Andrés, detained on July 24 in the Miraflores Barracks in la Paz; Dr. José Trigo Andina, President of the National Confederation of University Professionals, Rector of the University of San Simón, detained; Alfonso Landivar, leader of the Teachers Union at the Higher Teacher Training College, detained; currently released; Jorge Soria Ardaya, professor of Sociology at the University of San Andrés, wounded and detained on January 15, 1981 in La Paz, exiled; Elias Raphael Flores, sociologist at the University of La Paz, detained in September 1981 in Miraflores, then transferred to the DOP; currently disappeared; Ramiro Hernán Velasco Arce, professor of Economics at the Catholic University at San Andrés, died on January 15m 1981; and Luis Suárez Guzmán, professor of the Universities of San Andrés, the Catholic University and Military Institutes, died on January 15, 1981.