9 de Julio: ¿En quién podemos confiar?
Over the past several months, I have commented on a variety of violent crimes against women in La Paz and El Alto, including rape, physical and psychological violence, and murder. The reason we likely know about these cases is because these events, unlike many others, were actually reported to police. The branch of police in charge of crime in Bolivia is called the FELCC, for Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Crimen–or roughly, the Special Force Fighting Against Crime. Readers familiar with Latin America may not be surprised to hear that Bolivians generally do not trust the police–any branch of it–because the organization is plagued by corruption, and the rich and connected rarely have to serve time for their crimes.
What may be more surprising, however, is that even in Bolivia–a country which has enjoyed democratic, albeit sometimes tumultuous, rule since 1982–citizens are still occasionally tortured during interrogations by police.
Many remember the brutal tortures, murders, and “disappearances” inflicted by Latin American military governments on their citizens during the 1960s-1980s. At that time, blossoming social movements demanding justice for indigenous people, workers, women, and other disadvantaged groups sparked a ferocious backlash by military rulers fearing that communist “subversives” would overtake the country. The United States government often supported these military measures, either indirectly or directly, with funding, training, and ideological support. Many of the most heinous Latin American military torturers attended the U.S.-based School of the Americas. Most of us, however–even those of us who regularly study Latin America–were under the impression that police and military torture is mostly, if not wholly, a thing of the past.
Which brings us to this story, published in late June by a La Paz daily, La Razón. The story centers on a woman La Razón calls “Fernanda,” who since May 2009 has been locked up in a jail in the La Paz neighborhood of Obrajes for a crime not identified in this piece. Her original offense, however, and the one that led to her torture, was her alleged involvement in the kidnapping of a young man. During the first several days of her interrogation and incarceration, Fernanda was subjected to the whole gamut of what are now considered the “normal” Latin American military torture techniques, including being beaten, insulted, and threatened while her head was covered by a black hood; shocked with electric prods; slowly suffocated, and forced to take her clothes off in front of interrogators.
At the time she was arrested, Fernanda was working as a taxi driver. One day in May 2009, Fernanda was hired by a customer for a series of rides over a period of hours. She also sold the man a number of calls from her personal cell phone, which he made while in the taxi cab. Evidently, once the man was able to pick up the ransom money owed him for a kidnapping he had helped orchestrate, he ran off. The entire time the rider was in the car, he had a gun pointed at Fernanda. Realizing that her customer was involved in a crime, Fernanda reports that she voluntarily went to police. That’s when she says her interrogation and torture began.
According to the police report, Fernanda did not present to police voluntarily, but was randomly discovered in her car at a gas station and taken in for questioning. However, the FELCC has no record of holding Fernanda for the next few days when she reports being tortured. This despite the fact that, after the incidents of torture, Fernanda was examined by a forensic doctor and by the Institute for Therapy and Investigation of the Consequences of Torture and State Violence (ITEI), both of which certified that she had been tortured.
Who to believe? Who to trust? Considering the stories you hear–some of which are in print–and the country’s history, I am inclined to trust Fernanda. But then, who do we go to when we are harassed, raped, attacked, or accidentally involved in a crime in Bolivia, if not the police? Basically, we would be wise to find our own allies–because I am not sure we can trust those that the government has chosen for us.
If you currently live in La Paz or El Alto and have been a victim of a crime, or have been victimized by police, one of your allies is CIDEM. Please contact them for more information. Si usted actualmente vive en La Paz o en Al Alto y ha sido la víctima de un crimen, o si ha sido victimizada por la policía, uno de sus aliados es CIDEM. Por favor, comuníquese con ellas para más información.