Roberto Ortiz writes in PanAm Post:
Don’t Be Fooled by Bolivia’s Latest Judicial “Reform”
Referendum a Smokescreen for Evo Morales’ Indefinite-Power Scheme
In October 2011, Bolivia, for the first time in its history, elected judicial officials. But there was a catch: those who ran were selected by the government, with all notions of meritocracy left by the wayside. Bolivians were given only one option in the elections, which proved to a be sideshow, rather than an event that could provide meaningful change.
Today, three and a half years later, the inefficiency of the new judicial system has cost the average citizen dearly. Corruption and extortion are endemic to the judiciary: a symptom of its complete subservience to the executive.
By preselecting judges, the government made it clear that it was barely concerned with improving justice in Bolivia. Instead, the aim was to provide a veneer of democracy, and improve its ability to remove judges it disliked, as well as prosecute those who seek to gain a crumb of power, teaching them that they have no business entering politics.
President Evo Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera now say that the time has come for change, promising to usher in a structure that is efficient, transparent, and functions perfectly. Morales has admitted it: “As of today,” he recently told reporters, “there has been no change, rather, according to the data we have, justice in Bolivia has worsened.”
On January 6, Morales announced that one of the first actions in his new term would be to hold a nationwide referendum, for the country to decide for itself what form the justice system should take. In addition, he mentioned that there should be a further amendment to the constitution, which was already tampered with once in 2009.
The vice president was quick to give his own opinions on the matter as well, stating that that “there will be modifications to the greater part of the staff that was charged with maintaining the standards of justice, and the first step is reestablishing meritocracy as a fundamental element in the selection of judicial authorities.”
Their fine words might, at first glance, seem like an honest attempt to improve the Bolivian justice system. Yet, looking at the broader picture, we see a recent history of many magistrates accusing the government of illegal behavior, resulting in unfair trials and violations of rights against judges themselves. Clearly, the government wants a wholesale shake-up to remove its opponents from the ranks of the judiciary.
Many suspect that Morales has designs on running for a third term in 2020, extending his period in office from 2006 until 2025. But to do so will require another amendment to the constitution, which he did in 2008 before securing a second term. It is likely that further judicial reforms would provide cover to new constitutional changes designed to keep him in power well into the third decade of the 21st century.
The planned reforms are unlikely to change much. The referendum and its consequences will be stage-managed by the state. And the only skill the new crop of judges will need is being able to hold their tongue in the face of fresh attacks on Bolivia’s democracy.
Translated by Thalia C. Siqueiros. Edited by Laurie Blair.