Bolivia's firing of seven state prosecutors and a recent UN report lambasting corruption in the justice system highlights an institutional weakness that is increasing Bolivia's vulnerability to transnational organized crime.
The seven prosecutors were removed from their posts after eight district attorney offices in La Paz department were investigated by the Attorney General's Office for irregularities, reported La Razon.
Among those who lost their jobs was Patricia Santos, the head prosecutor for the district of La Paz, the seat of the country's government.
The investigation found there were hundreds of complaints of irregularities -- including corruption and poor treatment of clients -- concerning state prosecutors. Bolivia's Attorney General said that more firings may follow in the coming weeks.
This clean-up in La Paz follows a highly critical report (pdf) recently released by the United Nations Human Rights Office, which described widespread corruption in Bolivia's justice system and said that reforms implemented in 2011 had done little to improve things. While presenting the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bolivia Denis Racicot called 2014 "perhaps the worst" year in recent memory for Bolivia's justice system, reported EFE.
Bolivia's judicial reforms allowed the country to elect judges for the first time in history in 2011, but spurred criticism that this would politicize the judiciary, rather than make it more efficient. In January, President Evo Morales said he hoped to hold a referendum on judicial reform, adding, "justice has become worse in Bolivia."
InSight Crime Analysis
A corrupt judiciary is among several institutional weaknesses that could further enable organized crime networks to gain a stronger foothold in Bolivia. Last year, criminal defense attorneys in the city of Santa Cruz told InSight Crime that prosecutors and judges can be bought off with payments of between $20,000 to $50,000.
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The removal of the seven prosecutors in La Paz nevertheless comes as a positive sign that Bolivia is continuing efforts to clean up its judiciary. Shortly after President Morales announced plans for his referendum, the head of Bolivia's anti-corruption ministry identified dozens of prosecutors and judges who were under investigation for accepting bribes from alleged drug traffickers.