Monday, June 9, 2014

Follow-up to the Bolivian strike of sergeants and NCOs in April

The recent strike of approximately 10,000 low ranking soldiers has been called the worst crisis in the Bolivian Armed Forces since the 1952 Military Academy (Colegio Militar), which formed the officer corps was closed down.  The majority of the low ranking personnel comes from the indigenous Aymara or Quechua peoples (approximately 55% of Bolivia’s population), who have complained for a long time about the racial discrimination prevalent in the barracks.  The Military Academy was reinstituted years later with new rules, but never ceased to be an elitist institution and reportedly instigated 70 or 80 coups d’état against democratically elected governments in Bolivia.

Of the 715 low ranking personnel expelled from the Armed Forces during the conflict, charged with “sedition, mutiny, contempt, carrying out political action and attacks against the dignity and honor of the Armed Forces,” by May 20th, 632 had been reincorporated.  The protesters requested the reincorporation of the members of the military who had organized the “decolonization” protest and a dialogue with the High Command.  After initially rejecting the proposal, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Admiral Víctor Baldivieso, announced that practically 99% of the protesters would be reincorporated and that in parallel conversations would be held with them on the reform of the Organic Law on the Armed Forces. The High Command established two “working tables” to deal with the protesters demands: one, on the reincorporation and the second on the changes to the Organic Law.

On May 15th, the High Command announced that the five leaders of the April protests would be arrested.  Johnny Félix Gil Leniz, the former head of ASCINALSS, was arrested on May 16th when he presented himself before the Court of Army Personnel for the summary proceedings convoked against him.  The High Command affirmed that the leaders of the mobilizations would be subjected to summary proceedings, administered by the Courts of Personnel of the three branches of the Armed Forces (Air Force, Navy and Army).  These courts would determine if the accused would be sent to a Military Tribunal or not, depending on their degree of guilt.

Judge Margot Pérez, the investigative criminal judge of the summary proceedings, rejected the habeas corpus (acción de libertad) presented by Johnny Gil’s lawyer, ordered him to be held in preventive detention and ordered that Gil’s lawyer be expelled from the Armed Forces.  Gil had been charged with acts of sedition” in the Armed Forces, and Judge Pérez’s action recognized the competence of military jurisdiction in the case.  Earlier, in April, Gil had been sanctioned with obligatory retirement from the military for having led the five protest marches.  The Armed Forces spokesperson, in an interesting contradiction, stated that Gil was being tried under military law since he is an active member of the Army, and for that reason the case will continue in the military courts.  As a result of this judicial finding, Gil’s arrest was transformed into preventive detention.

On May 31, however, the Departmental Court of Justice (Tribunal Departamental de Justicia) granted the habeas corpus (accion de libertad) presented by Johnny Gil’s lawyer to Judge Fernando Rivadeneira.  Judge Rivadeneira explained that he ordered Gil’s release because of the irregularities involved in his detention on May 16th.  He was not permitted to defend himself and he was directly sent to prison. His constitutional rights were violated.  Despite the order for Johnny Gil’s release, the military has refused to release him.  Judge Rivadeneira stated that if the resolution ordering his release is not obeyed, Gil should take the matter to the Prosecutor.

Other NCOs who participated in the protests and returned to their units were sanctioned with summary proceedings, three to seven days of arrest and change of assignment, sending them to border posts which caused the separation of families and the expenses of maintaining two households, as wives and children stayed home to permit the children to stay in school.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that the Bolivian Army is continuing to hold Johnny Gil, despite the civilian court's order directing his release. See


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