Family members of inmates are keeping vigil outside Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with signs demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones, after an explosion of violence at the facility left at least 30 dead Aug. 24. Authorities have still not released the names of the dead and wounded in the conflagration that began as a fight between rival gangs. Most of the victims burned to death after inmates blew up two propane tanks and fashioned others into improvised flamethrowers. Some prisoners jumped from the roof to escape the flames. Among those killed was an 18-month-old infant, one of some 250 children living in the prison with their incarcerated parents. Inmates at two other Bolivian prisons—San Pedro in La Paz, and San Sebatián in Cochabamba—have declared their own "state of emergency" in solidarity with the Palmasola prisoners, and to demand a solution to the grave problems in the country's penal institutions.
On June 5, the Governing Counil of Ayllus of Cochabamba, a coordinating body of traditional indigenous authorities, met in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to denounce what they charged are plans by Vice President Álvaro García Linera to open the country's protected areas to oil and mineral interests. The statement said the government is preparing "new incentives for companies to begin intense exploration in oil areas that are superimposed on the national parks and on our ancestral territories and titled TCOs," or Original Communal Lands.
In a ceremony at Los Tajibos hotel and convention center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's President Evo Morales on Jan. 11 promulgated Law 337 on Support of Food Production and Forest Restitution, part of his plan to boost food production under the Patriotic Agenda 2025 program, building towards the bicentennial of the country's independence. The law establishes a "special regime" forgiving owners of predios (private collective land-holdings) who engaged in illegal deforestation between July 1996 and the end of 2011. The measure applies only to private lands cleared without permission of the National Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Innovation (INIAF), and not to lands illegally cleared in forest reserves or other protected areas. Normally, landowners who clear their lands without authorization face a fine and are obliged to reforest the areas, a penalty known as "reversal." The decree chiefly concerns the eastern lowland region of the country in the Amazon Basin, known as Oriente.
Total area planted with coca in Bolivia dropped by up to 13% last year, according to separate reports by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Bolivia stepped up efforts to eradicate unauthorized coca plantings, and reported an increase in seizures of cocaine and cocaine base—even as the Evo Morales government expanded areas where coca can be grown legally. "It's fascinating to look at a country that kicked out the United States ambassador and the DEA, and the expectation on the part of the United States is that drug war efforts would fall apart," Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, told the New York Times. Instead, she said, Bolivia's approach is "showing results."
Félix Becerra, a leader of the Aymara indigenous organization CONAMAQ, has called upon Bolivia's judicial authorities to widen the investigation of the current corruption scandal to include Presidency Minister Juan Ramón Quintana, Government Minister Carlos Romero and UN Ambassador Sacha Llorenti. Noting longstanding CONAMAQ claims that the Evo Morales government is setting up state-controlled "parallel" organizations to divide the indigenous movement, Becerra implied that the same cabinet figures who have pursued this strategy could be involved in the scandal. "We have seen that Ramón Quintana, Carlos Romero and Sacha Llorenti have always been preparing to armar paralelos, and these maximum authorities should be investigated to see if they are implicated in acts of corruption," he said. A total of 10 officials have been detained in the case so far, although none at the cabinet level. (Erbol, Dec. 21; ANF, Dec. 17)