BIF News Briefing, December 2013 to January 2014
1. IBIS expulsion
2. Satellite Tupac Katari
3. Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples Law
4. Double Christmas Bonus
5. Human Rights Review
1. Expulsion of Danish funding agency, IBIS
On 20 December, with President Morales in China for the launch of the rocket transporting the Satellite Tupac Katari and with Alvaro Garcia Linera as acting president, Juan Ramon Quintana, Minister for the Presidency announced the decision to expel IBIS, a Danish international non-governmental organisation which has worked in Bolivia for several decades.  Since the mid-90s IBIS has prioritised work with organisations of indigenous people from both the eastern lowlands and highlands (CIDOB and CONAMAQ respectively) at national and regional level.  Quintana accused IBIS of dividing indigenous organisations and said they were distorting their role and misrepresenting their institutional mandate. He said that IBIS had indulged in a form of colonising of indigenous organisations by NGOs, and that it was guilty of political interference.  He later clarified that IBIS had declared in their reports that it had contributed to financing the TIPNIS march. It had thus sought to  encourage political organisation against the government, and that the government could not tolerate this. While he insisted that other NGOs are now under scrutiny, he pointed out that many NGOs carry out their work within their remit and mandate. Previously, Morales had spoken in broad terms on the subject of NGOs at a general meeting of the women's peasant trade union.
Quintana’s words have roused concerns in the NGO world. While IBIS expressed surprise at the decision and sought channels to clear up any misunderstandings which could have come about, Susana Eróstegui, executive secretary of the non-governmental umbrella organisation UNITAS, came out early in defence of IBIS. She said that the decision went against the work of strengthening civil society, guaranteed in the constitution. She spoke of the restriction of civil liberties in Bolivia and a lack of respect for plurality. National NGOs now have the obligation to register with the Ministry of Autonomies if they work outside a strictly local context. They have had to adjust their statutes and, according to the law, they also have to show how they fall into line with the government’s policies and development plan. International NGOs are not subject to the same restrictions.
IBIS's problems may result from the growing internal divisions that have developed within CIDOB and CONAMAQ between those closer to the government and others who have been pushing a more anti-government line. Such tensions were brought into sharp relief during the first TIPNIS march in 2011, and more recently there has been in-fighting within CONAMAQ over who represents the ‘true’ leadership. Some within CONAMAQ have threatened to hold blockades to prevent part of the Dakar rally taking place in January 2014. Similar struggles also took place within CIDOB in 2012.
Some commentators have compared the case of IBIS to that of USAID, whose expulsion was announced last May. However, the situation bears few similarities. IBIS’s involvement in the TIPNIS march is a likely factor in the expulsion, along with the conflicts within CONAMAQ, but the  decision may also be the sign of a new tendency for the government to seek to exercise greater control over the activities of aid agencies.
2. Launch of Satellite Tupac Katari
Evo Morales was in China on 20 December for the launch of Bolivia’s first satellite, Tupac Katari and people watched the event on large screens in the Plaza Murillo in La Paz and on television.  Politicians and members of the crowd reacted emotively towards what seemed a momentous event for many Bolivians.
Tupac Katari, or TKSat-1, was launched in China from the Xichang satellite launch centre in the southern province of Sichuan. The Development Bank of China funded about 85% of the costs associated with the project, including the development, building, launch and operation costs, with the balance funded by the Bolivian government. The cost of launch and placing it in orbit above the equator was said to be US$ 300 million.
Included in the agreements between the Bolivian government and the Chinese operators is training for 78 Bolivian nationals who will assist in the operation of the satellite and its services. Some of these are expected to work within Bolivian organisations to train up a new generation of technicians and scientists.  The satellite will be operated from two centres, one in La Paz and the other in La Guardia, Santa Cruz. Bolivian scientists worked with Chinese counterparts on the design of the satellite.
While it will still need to rent more specialised services from foreign satellite operators to fulfil its needs, TKSat-1 is intended to provide better telecommunications coverage – broadcasting, telephony and internet services – across Bolivia, particularly to remote and rural areas. Since the satellite’s range covers all of South America, the government hopes to sell services to other Latin American countries. Officials at the Bolivian Space Agency say that TKSat-1 will allow the development of a generation of digital capacities among children in rural areas of Bolivia, enabling them to acquire similar skills to children living in urban areas.
Walter Delgadillo, former minister for public works, has pointed out that the collaboration and funding arrangements with China constitute an important step in bilateral relations between the two countries. Critics point out that Bolivia has now become heavily indebted to China in the process of establishing the satellite. However,  Bolivia will spend £25 million a year less on satellite communications costs and will be able to reduce its reliance on foreign operators.
3. Law for the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples
In November, Bolivia’s legislature passed the Law for the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples. This extends special protection to isolated indigenous peoples, as well as others who face severe threats to their health, territory or capacity to protect their culture. There are seven indigenous cultures that are believed to include people living in isolation, unconnected to the broader society. According to a recent report by the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, as many as 21 indigenous peoples could be termed as being at high risk from ethnocide. While a handful of large indigenous groups make up half of Bolivia's population, these small groups represent less than 0.3%.
The term "voluntary isolation" describes groups of indigenous peoples who have either never had contact with those outside their culture or who actively refuse any such contact, sometimes by force. In the case of the Araona, the Esse Ejja, the Yuki, the Pacahuara, the Ayoreo and the Yuracaré, only a limited number of families have chosen to live in isolation. As in many countries, most Bolivians who fit this description have had highly traumatic encounters with outsiders, including experiences of enslavement, kidnapping of their children, massacres, and devastating epidemics from diseases previously unknown to them. There were unwanted incursions by missionary expeditions up to the 1980s and more recently by those seeking to exploit raw materials. In 2008 loggers murdered at least two Pacahuaras.
The right to live in voluntary isolation is recognised by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (incorporated into Bolivian law in 2007). The Inter-American Court on Human Rights has ordered Peru and Ecuador to take precautionary measures to safeguard the areas where uncontacted groups live from outside threats. The Toromona people in the Madidi National Park have been protected since 15 August, 2006. In 2011, a summit convened by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) urged the government to create similar zones for the Ayoreo, Pacahuara, and T'simane people. Most of these zones are threatened not just by the activities of outside individuals but by exploration activities in oil and gas concessions that overlap with their territories.
The law creates a new government agency charged with protecting indigenous peoples whose "physical and cultural survival is extremely threatened". Its main task is to develop and implement protection strategies, including exclusion zones, emergency health services and disease monitoring, environmental restoration, and cultural revitalization initiatives. Under the terms of the law, those exploiting natural resources are expected to follow these rules.
4. Double Aguinaldo: Private business on board, but some will struggle to pay
On 20 December, the Bolivian government issued a decree that brought into force the double bonus, or doble aguinaldo, a payment equivalent to one month’s salary to all salaried workers. This is in addition to the bonus, equivalent to one months' salary, to employees each Christmas. The Supreme Decree 1802 states that the double payment this Christmas is intended to reflect the fact that economic growth is above 4.5%. The doble aguinaldo is to be paid each year for as long as growth remains above that point. In 2013 Bolivia expects to register growth of 6.5%, slowing to 5.7% in 2014.
Christmas bonus payments equivalent to one months' salary are common in Latin America. Critics have suggested that the doble aguinaldo is a political tool that Evo Morales is using to buy votes in the run-up to the 2014 national elections. Bolivia has around 400,000 state employees on an average monthly salary of $500.
The decree also requires private enterprises to pay their employees the double bonus, leading to criticism that doing so would push up inflation and make them less competitive. Daniel Sánchez, the president of the Confederation of Private Business of Bolivia (CEPB), met with Labour Minister Daniel Santalla and Finance Minister Luis Arce to negotiate the terms of the payment. As a result, a memorandum of understanding was signed giving private businesses extra time, until 28 February, to pay the bonus to their employees. State employees meanwhile were to have received payment by 31 December.
Several municipalities have said that they will have trouble meeting the requirement, despite the decree stating that, where this is the case, the Treasury will transfer the necessary funding. Meanwhile, smaller businesses, non-governmental organisations and the Catholic Church in Bolivia have said that they will find it next to impossible to fund the double bonus.
Less has been made of the fact that some 70% of Bolivia's urban and rural workforce are in informal employment, meaning that the vast majority of individuals will not receive any bonus. Pensioners were quick to take to the streets to protest against their not receiving the doble aguinaldo, though they managed to negotiate a 3% increase in their pensions from 2014 over and above inflation.
5. Human rights review
Bolivia's record on human rights came up for review by the United Nations' Human Rights Council during its October session. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bolivia submits a report on its performance every five years. The Council looked at that report and submissions from numerous human rights organisations in drafting a series of recommendations. The UN committee pointed on the one hand to ambitious new legislative protections whilst on the other to inadequate practical implementation of national and international norms.
The Bolivian government has passed new laws to guarantee rights and combat discrimination, including norms against racism and other forms of discrimination (2010), violence against women (2013), and gendered political harassment (2012). While some commissions on racism are operating, the regulations to protect women from violence are still pending. A law on consultation with indigenous communities is also pending. The Council criticised Bolivia for failing to respect the right to free, prior, and informed consent on projects and laws that affect indigenous peoples and their territories.
The Council’s strongest criticisms refer to Bolivia's overwhelmed criminal justice system. Investigations and prosecutions are slow, while prisons are overcrowded to 230% of their capacity. Four out of five people in Bolivia's jails are awaiting trial, and the Council suggested that alternatives like house arrest and location monitors could see many of them released. It said that those who remain should have the right to be housed separately from convicted criminals. A government amnesty plan is underway, but progress remains slow. Delays in prosecution are also creating a situation of impunity for those responsible for racist attacks perpetrated in 2008, the murder of two women counsellors in 2012, and police repression at Chaparina and Mallku Khota, among others. The Council also urged further action to combat lynchings, as well as corporal punishment carried out in the family and traditional spheres of the justice system.
The Bolivian armed forces and police were singled out in a number of observations.  A series of revelations of brutal treatment of conscripts and of beatings of prisoners have generated controversy, but there have been few successful prosecutions.  The Council also urged opening military records from the dictatorship era (between the mid 1960s and early 1980s), and the creation of an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors.
Finally, the UN Council urged expanded protection of rights on several fronts.  It argues that the current obligation for women seeking a legal abortion (in cases of rape, incest, and medical necessity) to get a judge's backing contributes to maternal mortality and should be eliminated. It also urged new action to free hundreds of Guaraní families still trapped in servitude, and to criminalise violence against sexual minorities and transgender people.
Bolivia Information Forum, 6-9 Manor Gardens,