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Bolivia: Incidence of Crime
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Crime and Punishment > Incidence of Crime


In the late 1980s, data on the incidence of crime in Bolivia either were not publicly available or were fragmentary. Until drug trafficking became pervasive in the 1980s, crime had not been exceptionally high and indeed was minimal. Petty thievery ranked high on the list of most common crimes. Also reported with considerable frequency were personal assaults, disorderly conduct, rape, and child neglect. Young men seemed to be involved in thievery more than in other forms of crime, whereas older men were more frequently arrested for acts of violence against other persons. The incidence of crime tended to be highest during holidays and festivals, when excessive drinking is common.

Although crime statistics were unavailable, newspaper editorials and reports indicated growing concern with a surge of violence and crime in the 1980s that included kidnapping, rapes of children, unsolved murders, and assaults with sophisticated lethal weapons against vehicles traveling on public roads. In November 1988, a high-ranking police official discussed police concern about the high crime rate in La Paz, especially those crimes in which undocumented minors and foreigners were involved. A wave of kidnappings was affecting Santa Cruz in the late 1980s. Victims included an agro-industrial businessman -- a nephew of the Bolivian vice president -- kidnapped in October 1987 and released a week later in exchange for a ransom payment of US$10,000; the son of the Bolivian State Petroleum Enterprise (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos -- YPFB) president, held for a ransom of US$160,000; and an industrialist, released after payment of a US$100,000 ransom. There were no reports of political killings or politically motivated disappearances in Bolivia in 1988.

In mid-1989 the scholarly literature on Bolivia's armed forces and other aspects of the country's national security remained limited. Revolution and Reaction, the well-researched book by James M. Malloy and Eduardo A. Gamarra, gives in-depth analysis of military authoritarianism during the 1964-82 period. General surveys of Bolivia that provide some historical or political analysis of the military and security forces include Robert J. Alexander's Bolivia: Past, Present, and Future of Its Politics, James Dunkerley's Rebellion in the Veins, Herbert S. Klein's Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society, and Malloy's Bolivia: The Uncompleted Revolution. English-language studies focusing more on military institutions include Charles D. Corbett's The Latin American Military as a Sociopolitical Force and Adrian J. English's Armed Forces of Latin America. Relevant books by Bolivian authors include Guillermo Bedregal Gutiérrez's Los militaries en Bolivia, Guillermo Lora's Causas de la inestabilidad política y de la crisis de las FF.AA., José Vargas Valenzuela's Tradición naval del pueblo de Bolivia, and former General Gary Prado Salmon's Poder y fuerzas armadas, 1949-1982. Useful historical background is also found in Maria Luise Wagner's dissertation, "Reformism in the Bolivian Military." Another dissertation on the military is James Dunkerley's "The Politics of the Bolivian Army."

Kevin Healy's "Coca, the State, and the Peasantry in Bolivia, 1982-1988" and "The Boom Within the Crisis" provide well-informed analyses of Bolivia's cocaine industry, particularly its rural impact. Useful information on narcotics issues is also contained in the United States General Accounting Office's Drug Control and the United States Congress's On-Site Staff Examination of Narcotics Control Efforts in Bolivia. An informative Bolivian account of Bolivia's struggle against narcotics trafficking is La Lucha Boliviana contra la agresión del narcotráfico by Guillermo Bedregal Gutiérrez and Ruddy Viscarra Pando. Some of the more revealing books published in Bolivia on narcotics issues include La veta blanca by René Bascopé Aspiazu; Bolivia: Coca, cocaína, subdesarrollo y poder político by Amado Canelas Orellana and Juan Carlos Canelas Zannier; and Narcotráfico y política, produced by Instituto de Estudios Políticos para América Latina y Africa.

Information on the Bolivian criminal justice and penal systems can be found in Fernando B. Aguirre's "The Legal System of Bolivia" in Kenneth Robert Redden's Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia; Bolivia's Código penal; the Constitution of Bolivia in Gilbert H. Flanz, et. al; Constitutions of the Countires of the World; and Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, a report submitted annually to the United States Congress by the Department of State. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1989

Last Updated: December 1989

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bolivia was first published in 1989. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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