Bolivia's Constitution and Human Rights: A Conversation with Dr. Hector Arce Zaconeta
By Cameron Combs
November 27, 2012
When it comes to writing constitutions,
Bolivia has some experience. Its most recent, passed by popular vote in 2009,
is the country’s seventeenth. Yet proponents of the new framework – which gained international attention for its
sweeping declarations regarding natural resources and indigenous communities –
contend that this time around, Bolivians finally did it right.
It was in this spirit that Dr. Héctor
Arce Zaconeta, former president of the Chamber of Deputies and current
president of its Constitutional Commission, visited the Dialogue on November 28.
Elaborating on institutional safeguards for human rights, Arce highlighted key elements
that differentiated the new Bolivian constitution from its predecessors.
Specifically, he touched upon the formal recognition of a “plurinational”
country where myriad indigenous communities represent over 60 percent of the
population. He also addressed the greater authority granted to subnational
governments and the robust economic role granted to the state in strategic
sectors and natural resource extraction. Arce also noted that over 100 articles
of the constitution deal directly with protecting human rights and that
Bolivian law now recognizes the supremacy of international accords.
Yet Arce noted that translating these
statutes into actual human rights protections is another matter. Like a knife
equally capable of robbing someone or performing surgery, all depends on how
authorities apply the law. Opponents agree on this point and have
raised serious concerns over the country’s treatment of dissent.
Critics point to several instances of
alleged human rights abuses, such as the forceful police tactics used against
protestors of a proposed highway and the detentions of individuals for
political reasons or without charge. Two such cases involve American Jacob
Ostreicher who, after being jailed on accusations of money laundering, has stood
without formal charge for 18 months and Roger Pinto, an opposition senator, who
has been granted asylum in Brazil yet cannot leave the embassy in La Paz due to
Arce also took the opportunity to
clarify the controversy surrounding the term limits on President Evo Morales,
who entered office in 2006. Previously, Bolivian presidents were restricted to
one five-year term. Yet the 2009 Constitution allows for reelection for an
additional five-year mandate for a maximum ten-year continuous period. The
adoption of this new framework essentially “reset” Morales’ tenure, and will
ultimately allow him thirteen uninterrupted years in power if reelected in 2015.