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Bolivia's judiciary under the spotlight following death of jailed indigenous leader

Thursday, April 21st 2022 - 09:21 UTC
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Aramayo spent 7 years in jail without a sentence for crimes that entail a maximum penalty of 5 years' imprisonment. Aramayo spent 7 years in jail without a sentence for crimes that entail a maximum penalty of 5 years' imprisonment.

Human Rights Watch has described Bolivia as one of the grossest examples of lack of judiciary independence following the death in jail of Marco Antonio Aramayo, a former administrator of a national indigenous fund.

Aramayo passed away Tuesday morning after two cardiac arrests. He had been held at the San Pedro prison for seven years. Although he suffered from high blood pressure, he was transferred from one city to another to attend hearings in the 256 cases in which he was on trial for embezzlement. In the last few months, he was infected three times with Covid-19.

“Bolivia is one of the grossest examples of the lack of judiciary independence in the region,” wrote on her Twitter account Tamara Taraciuk, HRW's Director for The Americas, citing the absence of a due process against Aramayo.

Taraciuk echoed a posting from her colleague César Muñoz, who on Tuesday said he was saddened by Aramayo's death. Muñoz mentioned “serious allegations of violation of due process and inadequate medical care in prison. But who is going to investigate them? Once again the ravages of the lack of an independent justice system are evident.”

Aramayo, who stemmed from an indigenous background, was the only suspect under investigation in such a large number of cases, although he did not sign or authorize the contracts of the alleged malfeasances. Nevertheless, he was arrested and harassed, while no charges were pressed against the members of the board of directors of the Indigenous Fund, and Chairwoman Nemesia Achacollo is only listed in one of the cases.

The millionaire embezzlement of the Indigenous Fund (Fondioc) was about to fall into oblivion when Aramayo died at the Cotahuma Municipal Hospital in La Paz, where he arrived over the weekend in critical condition and after suffering a “multi-organ” failure due to high blood pressure, according to the medical report. He was 54 years old.

He had spent 7 years when the crimes for which he was investigated carried a maximum penalty of up to 5 years in jail.

“There have been little over 256 cases during seven years in which the truth was never found and that story has dissipated,” said Aramayo's lawyer Héctor Castellón.

He added that the Indigenous Fund scandal is a thing of the past for most Bolivians, “when in reality, that scam has been one of the biggest ever perpetrated” in the country.

The 2015 case was one of the biggest corruption scandals in the administration of Evo Morales, with large sums of money diverted to some 1,100 private accounts of social and union leaders of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), some of whom hold public offices to this day, such as Felipa Huanca of the Bartolina Sisa Women's Federation, who was on Fondioc's board of directors and since 2021, after graduating as a sociologist, heads the Bolivian consulate in Puno, Peru.

Former Unidad Demócrata (UD) Deputy Rafael 'Tata' Quispe filed a criminal complaint against Huanca. Quispe was sentenced to two years in prison for political harassment against Huanca.

“They went on a rampage against Aramayo until his death. He was the main witness in the case. Seven years of impunity have passed and there is no trial against the people who embezzled and there are those responsible. These are the consequences of having said that the main defendant was Nemesia Achacollo,” who was Minister of Rural Development, Quispe said.

He also claimed the strategy of the Morales administration was “to delay the case until everyone forgets.”

The investigations in 2018 included then-Economy Minister and current President Luis Arce Catacora and other cabinet members but yielded no results.

The Indigenous Fund was created from the Hydrocarbons Law to finance productive development projects in indigenous and peasant communities, based on the resources generated with the oil income.

Aramayo had requested the intervention of the General State Comptroller's Office in 157 projects in which irregularities had been spotted.

Nemesia Achacollo is under house arrest since 2017, but she has been seen at MAS political rallies.

“The judges who endorsed all these processes are still waiting for the Prosecutor's Office to present a formal accusation,” Quispe explained.

“In this matter, there is much to investigate by the Council of the Judiciary and the Prosecutor's Office for delay of justice. It is lacerating that a person can be seven years in preventive detention without an enforceable sentence, even worse that he has not been able to have the defense conditions to have or exercise freedom with house arrest,” Deputy Justice Minister César Siles admitted this week.

Former Fondioc Director Elvira Parra is still in jail, while several dissident MAS leaders who were also prosecuted remain free.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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  • imoyaro

    That's what happens when you cross the coke dealer...

    Apr 25th, 2022 - 05:20 am 0
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