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Executive Summary

Bolivia: Executive Summary

Despite Bolivia's exemplary commitments, the country's deeply fragmented social reality is only one of its many challenges to realizing pluralism.

Global Centre for Pluralism

Overall Score: 5

This assessment was completed in 2021.

The Bolivian Constitution (2009) has long been applauded for its inclusionary and progressive laws, that define Bolivia as a plurinational democracy. The Constitution establishes broad-based social protections and underscores social, cultural and Indigenous rights. However, the implementation of the Constitution has not been without challenges. The Monitor report for Bolivia presents a nuanced discussion of cleavages, discrimination and exclusion focused on three dimensions of diversity: ethnic, regional and political.

Social and institutional changes emerging from the 2009 Constitution have contributed to a more pluralistic society. Recent years have seen advances in pluralism be jeopardized by the high levels of socioeconomic inequalities and a deep sense of distrust in public institutions, both of which underpinned the political polarization and social fragmentation that followed the 2019 political crisis. As the Monitor report discusses, many of these wounds remain unhealed, with perceptions of belonging and access to inclusive citizenship undermined by political affiliation.

Alhen, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Legal Commitments

Bolivia has notably signed and ratified all major United Nations treaties, in addition to a number of regional treaties. Through its Constitution, which establishes a framework based on non-discrimination, right to participation and gender inclusion, Bolivia has taken important steps towards the implementation of international treaties, including incorporating them into national legislation. Despite these efforts, bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, treaty bodies, and civil society reports have pointed to a recent increase of human rights violations. Thus, while the Constitution enhances pluralism through the promotion of regional identities, the Monitor report for Bolivia raises concerns about how regional dimensions can play a role in limiting accessibility to civil registries, consequently limiting access to citizenship in isolated rural areas.

Practices and Leadership

Policy implementation in Bolivia is carried out through a number of government entities. Recurrent issues have resulted in the exclusion of minority Indigenous groups, including not consulting with all relevant groups, a lack of funding and limited attention to obstacles impacting the accessibility of services. Poor policy implementation has contributed to intergroup conflict and mistrust, as well as the polarization of minority Indigenous groups in the Lowlands. Political affiliation, or lack thereof, has increasingly become an obstacle when Bolivians seek to mobilize for change: Indigenous groups not affiliated with the ruling party Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) are discredited and questioned. Small Indigenous groups with no political affiliation become invisible and their claims go unheard.

The limited representation of minority groups in Bolivia extends beyond policy implementation. This trend is present throughout political parties, civil society, and most areas of life. One of the few exceptions are communitarian radio stations, which have strengthened representation of Indigenous and local issues in the media. As majoritarian Andino Indigenous, or Highland, symbols and traditions are predominantly used by the ruling MAS party and play a central role in Bolivian society, minority groups often feel excluded from the mainstream social and political discourse. In isolated rural areas where the government fails to respond, civil society in the form of peasant unions (sindicatos campesinos) and civic committees (comités cívicos) play an increasingly important role in addressing existing gaps.

Recent years have seen advances in pluralism be jeopardized by the high levels of socioeconomic inequalities and a deep sense of distrust in public institutions.

Group-based Inequalities, Inter-group Relations and Belonging

Bolivia scores significantly low in terms of economic and social access to justice, and intergroup trust, pointing to the many challenges to pluralism in the country. While extreme poverty affects a little over 7% of people in cities, this figure increases to 29% in rural areas. Poverty cycles are thus reproduced for the most vulnerable social groups, particularly Indigenous women in rural areas, due to unequal education, healthcare and welfare services that lack adequate infrastructure. As the judicial system is notoriously weak in Bolivia, peasant unions have taken on the work of administering justice in rural areas, utilizing traditional laws and practices over Bolivian legislation.

Poverty cycles are thus reproduced for the most vulnerable social groups, particularly Indigenous women in rural areas.

Despite the Andino-centric tradition playing a central role in Bolivian society, a long and stable Indigenous government has still resulted in a high sense of belonging. In comparison to nearly two decades ago, most Indigenous Bolivians tend to have a stronger feeling of belonging to the national community. Per the Global Centre for Pluralism’s Pluralism Perception Survey of 2021, this high sense of belonging also includes women, political groups and regional identity. However, accentuated regionalisms and historic differences between Indigenous communities account for a deep sense of mistrust between Indigenous groups. The political polarization that followed the 2019 political crisis has only served to deepen this mistrust.

Monitor Takeaways

Approaches to pluralism in Bolivia are unique, given that the country adopted pluralism as part of its identity when it became the Plurinational State of Bolivia in 2009. Regardless, a one-size-fits-all approach to indigeneity adopted by the MAS party has increasingly demonstrated the margins of inclusion and exclusion in Bolivia. The Monitor report for Bolivia showcases how exclusion is intersectional, and how unequal citizenship can emerge at the intersection of regional and ethnic backgrounds. In addition to unequal citizenship, political affiliation has a significant impact on individuals’ experience accessing social services and democratic institutions. Thus, a comprehensive and holistic approach to pluralism is necessary to ensure intergroup trust and a strong sense of inclusion and acceptance.

Despite the current, longstanding government making significant advances for Indigenous people, the Monitor highlights a stark reality of disadvantages. Indigenous groups are disproportionately impacted by social and economic inequalities, over their non-Indigenous counterparts, showcasing how racial hierarchies continue to operate in Bolivia. As Indigenous people are overrepresented in the informal sector, they are simultaneously more vulnerable to unmonitored forms of abuse in their workplace. Additionally, as the regional dimension of the Monitor discusses, many Indigenous groups are located in hard-to-reach rural areas, where social services are harder to access. These social services include child-care centers, foster homes, and safe housing for gender-based violence victims, disproportionately impacting Indigenous women and reinforcing cycles of poverty, violence and discrimination.

In a similar vein, the Monitor report underscores a lack of solidarity and trust amongst minority Indigenous groups, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, and across political parties in Bolivia. Indicators of low inter-group trust raise important questions about Indigenous groups’ ability to mobilize, seek justice, and make unified claims to the current government. Likewise, the polarized political environment has potentially impacted inter-group trust, given that political affiliation often plays a more important role than ethnic background in terms of mobilization. Despite exemplary commitments to pluralism on paper, the Monitor reveals that there are still many challenges to pluralism in practice due to the deeply fragmented social reality of Bolivia.

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The Monitor’s recommendations echo what experts, activists and stakeholders have long called for in Bolivia and provide several pathways to pluralism for the country.

  • Reforming the judiciary system to guarantee its full independence from other branches of government, in accordance with international standards, can help strengthen policy implementation, the safeguarding of Bolivians’ human rights and prevent the misuse of the justice system for political purposes.
  • Improving bureaucratic or technical processes for Indigenous groups to access IOC autonomy can support the preservation of Indigenous rights of free determination, territorial control and of their cultural identities.
  • The promotion of pluralism in the media sector can help foster environments of mutual dialogue and respect. In doing so, this can results in an increased national awareness of social cleavages and horizontal inequalities further driving conflict.
  • Equal amounts of attention and investment should be focused on the quality as well infrastructure of social, education, healthcare and welfare services across Bolivia. This can help address cumulative sources of exclusion, disadvantages and factors impacting poverty cycles that tend to fall upon rural, Indigenous and female individuals.
  • Develop empirical studies into the use and relevance of different Indigenous languages on the part of most vulnerable minority groups, to promote the recuperation of non-dominant languages and for consideration of translation into official documents and policies for more inclusive language practices on the part of public institutions.


Associated Documents

Bolivia Monitor Report

Although Bolivia adopted pluralism as part of its identity, margins of inclusion and exclusion still remain prevalent.

Bolivia: References

To access more information that went behind the development of the Bolivia report, you can access the references below.

Bolivia: Country Profile

While Bolivia promotes respect for diversity, Indigenous groups still face the stark reality of inequality and disparities.