The Bolivian Legal System

By Mauricio Ipiña Nagel

Mauricio Ipiña Nagel is the founding partner of Ipiña Nagel Abogados in La Paz, Bolivia. He specializes in Commercial Arbitration and Corporate Law. He received his JD from Universidad Católica Boliviana (1999). He holds a General LL.M. at Tulane University School of Law (2001); there he was admitted at the Editorial Board of “The Journal of American Arbitration.” One year after, Mr. Ipiña became a regular student at the LL.M. in Dispute Resolution at University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law (2002). Mauricio also holds a JSM degree from Stanford Law School, where he focused his research on corporate dispute resolution. In 2002 he was accepted as intern at the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration in Paris, France.

Published March/April 2022

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1. Introduction

The Plurinational State of Bolivia is a country located in west-central South America. The constitutional capital is Sucre,[1] where the head office of the judicial branch is located. The executive and legislative branches of the government are in La Paz. The country was officially named the Republic of Bolivia until March 18, 2009, when it was renamed the Plurinational State of Bolivia.[2] Along with Paraguay, Bolivia is one of the two landlocked countries in South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, and Chile and Peru to the west. Its geography varies from the peaks of the Andes in the west to the eastern lowlands situated within the Amazon and the Chaco.

2. Constitutional Background

Bolivia declared its independence on August 6, 1825, through the General Assembly of Representatives of the Provinces of Upper Peru with the name “Republic of Bolívar,” in honor of Simon Bolivar, founding father and one of the liberators of the country.[3] On October 3, 1825, the official name changed to “Republic of Bolivia.”[4] The first Constitution or “Bolivarian Constitution” was approved by the Constituent Assembly on November 6, 1826.[5] As of today, the country has had 19 constitutions. These reforms, including the first constitution, were carried out in 1826, 1831, 1834, 1839, 1843, 1851, 1861, 1868, 1871, 1878, 1880, 1938, 1945, 1947, 1961, 1967, 1995, 2004, and 2009.[6] Due to their legal relevance for the country and because they are the latest reforms implemented in recent years, the constitutional reforms of 1995, 2005, and 2009 will be highlighted.

2.1. Constitutional Reform of 1995

The constitutional reform of 1995 was mainly motivated to correct the lack of legitimacy shown by both the legislative power and the judicial power.[7] In the judicial sphere, the 1995 reform brought important changes with the creation of the Judicial Council and the Constitutional Court. The first to make the administration of the judicial power more transparent, the Judicial Council became the administrative and disciplinary body of said branch, having as its attribution the exercise of disciplinary power over members, judges, and judicial officials, as well as the elaboration of the Annual Budget of the judicial branch.[8] The Constitutional Court, a totally independent body subject only to the Constitution, acts as the guarantor of constitutionality in the country.[9]

At the level of the legislative branch, for the first time, a mechanism for the election of representatives was included not based on complete lists, but rather on single-member constituencies for the election of 50% of such representatives.[10] This election methodology that sought to generate a greater bond between the voter and its territorial representative remains in force to date. Alongside the constitutional reform, norms were approved that sought to modernize the state structure to make it more efficient and competitive. In this context, several laws were passed, such as the Popular Participation Law,[11] the Administrative Decentralization Law,[12] and the Capitalization Law.[13]

Between 1994 and 2000, the process of implementation of the constitutional reforms and the approval of the other mentioned norms progressed without major difficulties. In this context, the necessary regulatory regulations were designed and approved to operationalize the practical application of the reforms. However, ten years after the reforms began, a first balance showed that neither the transformations introduced in the political sphere, nor those in the judicial sphere gave the results that were expected of them.[14] The same happened with administrative and economic reforms.[15]

In this environment of deep discredit of political, judicial, and economic institutions, Bolivia went through a generalized social crisis that culminated in the resignation of President-elect Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003.[16] As a result of these events, two years later, in early 2006 the first indigenous president, Evo Morales Ayma, was elected.

2.2. Constitutional Reform of 2004

Of this constitutional reform, the changes to the constitutional reform procedure shall be highlighted,[17] with the novelty of introducing the Constituent Assembly, which a few years later was commissioned to carry out a complete reform of the Constitution. Likewise, it is worth mentioning the introduction in the Constitution of “indigenous peoples,” who were placed on an equal footing with political parties and citizen groups.[18]

Finally, it is worth highlighting the introduction of habeas data, a constitutional mechanism that protects people against the misuse of personal information by data processors, providing the affected parties the right to access, correct, and object to the processing of their information.[19] Other modifications affected the constitutional regime of nationality, parliamentary immunity, and some aspects related to the regime or statute of the President, particularly in those cases in which he has to leave the country.

3. New Constitution of 2009

Bolivian former President Evo Morales (2006–2019), took office in early 2006, promising a democratic revolution to give more political power to the country’s indigenous majority, principally through the reform of the National Constitution.[20] As part of this process, which came in the midst of violent turmoil and protest, a National Referendum approved, after a long and contentious road, a new National Constitution. The Referendum to ratify the changes made by the Constitutuency Assembly took place on January 25, 2009, and the Constitution was approved by 61.43% of the voters.[21] Bolivia’s 2009 Constitution is the 19th constitutional text in the republican history of the country.[22] It was approved on January 25, 2009, and entered into force on February 7 of the same year.[23]

The new Constitution is divided into five parts. Each part is divided into titles and chapters. Some chapters also are divided into sections. All together the Constitution comprises 411 articles.

  • First Part: Fundamental bases of the State, Rights, Duties, and Guarantees.[24]
  • Second Part: Functional Structure and Organization of the State.[25]
  • Third Part: Territorial Structure and Organization of the State.[26]
  • Fourth Part: Economic Structure and Organization of the State.[27]
  • Fifth Part: Normative Hierarchy and Constitutional Reform.[28]

3.1. Main Features

The Constitution establishes a new constitutional state of law, which, in addition to the recognition of individual rights, also bets on a social model of rights, articulated around the constitutional concept of “good living.”[29] Likewise, it incorporates cultural rights into the group of fundamental rights of the Constitution.[30] The Constitution is Bolivia’s supreme law of the land. Article 1 of the Constitution states that Bolivia is constituted as a Social Unitary Government of Communitarian Plurinational Law, free, independent, sovereign, democratic, intercultural, decentralized, and with regional and indigenous autonomies. Article 1 also states that Bolivia is founded on political, economic, legal, cultural, and linguistic pluralism.

The government system is established under Article 11, which states that Bolivia acquires a democratic, participative, representative, and communitarian form of government, with equal rights for men and women. There are five levels of government: the national level, the state level, the regional level, the indigenous level, and the municipal level.[31] The authorities of each government level, that is, national, departmental, and municipal are elected by vote.

Spanish, along with the following native and indigenous languages are official: Aymara, Araona, Baure, Bésiro, Canichana, Cavineño, Cavubaba, Chácobo, Chimán, Ese Ejja, Guaraní, Guarasu’we, Guarayu, Itonama, Leco, Machajuvaj-Kallawaya, Machineri, Maropa, Mojeño-Trinitario, Mojeño Ignaciano, Moré, Mosetén, Movina, Pacawara, Puquina, Quechua, Sirionó, Tacana, Tapiete, Toromona, Uruchipaya, Weenhayek, Yaminawa, Yuki, Yuracaré, and Zamuco.[32] According to Article 5-II, the national and state governments must use at least two official languages: one of them must be Spanish, and the other shall be decided taking into account the use, convenience, circumstances, needs, and preferences of the population within the territory.

The constitution states that Sucre is Bolivia’s capital.[33] La Paz is not pointed out in the text. Nevertheless, and because the “Burned Building” (Executive Branch Headquarters) and the Congress sit in La Paz, it becomes the de facto administrative capital; whereas Sucre happens to be the official and constitutional capital and the site of the judicial branch.

3.2. Specific Constitutional Provisions

Fundamental Rights: The Bolivian Constitution includes a list of fundamental rights that the public authorities and individuals undertake to protect and enforce, incorporating equal rights to men and women and providing sanctions against gender violence.[34] This list of fundamental rights seek mainly to guarantee, among others, the preservation and protection of life, health, food, and intercultural education without discrimination. Likewise, the Constitution recognizes that everyone has the right to physical, psychological, and sexual integrity and that no one may be tortured, nor will anyone suffer cruel, inhuman, degrading, or humiliating treatment. The Constitution also guarantees that access to water, sewer systems, electricity, domiciliary gas, postal service, and telecommunications as basic utilities, which shall be provided by the State and in some cases by private entities.[35]

Economy: The constitution incorporates the recognition of fundamental “social” and “economic” rights, in this context, a social, economic, and communitarian model is established, composed of government organizations, private and social cooperatives, that also guarantees private initiative.[36] It also establishes that one of the tasks of the government organizations is to administer natural resources, which are directly and indivisibly held by the Bolivian people and according to the collective interest, along with those basic utilities, which the constitution establishes as human rights.[37] Concerning private investment, national investment is favored over foreign.[38]

Religion: Unlike former constitutions,[39] the Catholic religion loses its official character. Freedom of religion is established, along with the independence of the State from the Catholic Church. Article 4 of the Constitution establishes that the State respects and guarantees freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, according to their view of the world and that the State is independent of religion.[40]

Indigenous Recognition: Chapter Four (Rights of the Nations and Rural Native Indigenous Peoples) of Title II (Fundamental Rights and Guarantees) of the First Part of the Constitution, recognizes the “specific fundamental” rights of native peasant nations and indigenous peoples. It should be noted that the Constitution gives them a particularly relevant character because they constitute a mechanism for the recovery of minorities that have historically been invisible as political subjects.[41]

The Constitution creates a new indigenous judicial system, at the same level of ordinary and environmental justice.[42] The introduction of the Indigenous Jurisdiction allows communities to resolve existing disputes within their own justice system, as long as no constitutional rights or guarantees are violated. The Constitution also recognizes the right to autonomous and indigenous self-government, along with the official recognition of territorial organizations and institutions. It vests indigenous communities with exclusive property rights to the forest resources of their territories.[43]

Natural Resources: Article 349 of the Constitution states that natural resources are the property of and under the direct, indivisible, and inalienable dominion of Bolivians and that it will be the Government’s duty to administer these in the collective interest. Concerning hydrocarbons, Article 359 of the Constitution states that hydrocarbons, in any form or state, are the inalienable and imprescriptible property of Bolivians. The government exercises property rights over all hydrocarbon production in the country and only is authorized to carry out its marketing. The total income generated by the sale of hydrocarbons will be the property of the State.

Autonomy and Territorial Organization: Article 269 of the new Constitution recognizes four levels of governmental administration: national, departmental (State), municipal, and indigenous. The new autonomy involves, in addition, direct election of representatives and the right to administer natural resources.

Land and Large Estate Administration: The Constitution prohibits the property of large areas of land, and, according to the results obtained in the 2009 Referendum, one same owner is not allowed to possess more than five thousand hectares of land.[44] Accordingly, Article 398 of the Constitution states the following:

“Large estates (latifundio) and double title are prohibited because they are contrary to the collective interest and development of the country. Latifundio is understood to mean the non-productive holding of land; the land that does not fulfill a socialeconomic function; the exploitation of land that applies a system of servitude, quasi-slavery and slavery in labor relations; or the property that surpasses the maximum surface area established in the law. In no case may the maximum surface exceed five thousand hectares.”

Elections: The constitution establishes in Article 168 that the President and Vice-President have a five-year term in office.[45] These office-holders can be re-elected continuously only once. The previous Constitution allowed re-election but only after one presidential term.[46] The new constitution also introduces the second-round mechanism in case no candidate obtains a majority (over 50% of the votes, or over 40% with a 10% difference over the second nearest candidate).[47] This second vote must be carried out within 60 days. This new mechanism replaced the previous one, which established that newly elected members of Congress had to decide the winning candidate.[48]

The Constitution allows the revocation of office by referendum for any public office holder placed under question.[49] The Constitution also includes the requirement of a popular referendum to approve certain significant issues, which are established in article 257.[50] Bolivians become eligible to vote when they reach the age of 18.[51]

Maritime Claim: Article 267-I of the Constitution declares that Bolivia does not waive its undeniable right over the territory that gives access to the Pacific Ocean and its maritime territory, which was lost to Chile in 1879 during the Pacific War.[52] From this year to date, the parties involved in this conflict have signed agreements and carried out intense negotiations to facilitate Bolivia’s access to the Pacific Ocean.[53] However, Bolivia remains one of the two countries in South America without access to the sea.

According to Article 267-II of the Constitution, the effective resolution to the maritime disagreement through pacific means and the use of the sovereignty on this territory constitutes permanent objectives of Bolivia. In light of this, during President Evo Morales’ third term, the Plurinational State of Bolivia presented a Maritime claim against the Republic of Chile before the International Court of Justice based in The Hague, Netherlands. On October 1, 2018, the aforementioned Court issued the final ruling by which the Republic of Chile is exempted from the obligation to negotiate with the Plurinational State of Bolivia sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.[54]

Coca Leaves Regime: An important change in the new Constitution is the introduction of a section dedicated to coca leaf.[55] Accordingly, Article 384 states:

“The State protects the original and ancestral coca leaf as a cultural patrimony, a renewable natural resource of Bolivia’s biodiversity, and as a factor of social unity. In its natural state it is not a narcotic. The revaluation, production, sale and industrialization of coca shall be governed by law.”

4. The Branches of the Government

The Bolivian state is divided into four branches: executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral. Bolivia is organized through the separation and independence of these branches.

Executive Branch: The head of the executive branch is the President (Chief of State), together with the Vice-President and the Ministers (Secretaries). The Presidential Cabinet (Ministers) is appointed directly by the President.[56] The President and Vice-President are elected through vote for a five-year term. Both can be re-elected consecutively only once.[57]

Legislative Branch: The legislative branch (Plurinational Legislative Assembly) comprises two chambers: The Chamber of Representatives and the Chamber of Senators; the Legislative Branch has the power and role to approve and issue laws.[58] The Chamber of Representatives has 130 members,[59] and the Chamber of Senators consists of a total of 36 members (4 representatives for each Department).[60] The Plurinational Legislative Assembly is presided over by the Vice-President.[61]

Judicial Branch: The judicial branch is composed of the Supreme Court (highest instance of ordinary jurisdiction), the District and Lower Courts, and the Judiciary Council. Justice is dispensed in three jurisdictions: ordinary, environmental, and indigenous. Judicial Review is administered by the Constitutional Court.[62] The Supreme Court continues to be the highest tribunal of the Judicial Branch. In order to give unity to the judicial branch, all have their headquarters in the city of Sucre.

The Judicial Branch also includes the Real Estate Registration Office and public notaries, as well as supervising judges and civil servants of the judicial branch. The reforms to the 1995 Constitution have introduced substantial modifications in the way authorities are elected to the judicial branch.[63]

4.1. Judiciary

Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is the highest ordinary and administrative Court of Justice. Its head office is in Sucre. It is composed of 12 Justices. The requirements for being a Justice of the Supreme Court are established in article 182 of the Constitution.[64] Justices are elected by public vote and they perform their functions for a six-year term.

Constitutional Court: Although independent in its rulings since it is only bound by the articles of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court is part of the Judicial Branch. Its head office is in Sucre. Its national jurisdiction guarantees that all the acts, resolutions, and decisions of the government, are subject to the Constitution. The Constitutional Court is composed of nine magistrates; at least two of them must come from the indigenous justice system. The Magistrates of the Constitutional Court are elected by public vote for a six-year term.

Judiciary Council: The Judiciary Council was created as the administrative and disciplinary agency of the Judicial Branch. It assumed the duties that formerly and traditionally pertained to the Supreme Court. Article 195 establishes the attributions of the Judiciary Council, which can be classified as follows:

  • Economic and financial affairs
  • Human resources affairs
  • Infrastructural affairs
  • Disciplinary affairs
  • Regulatory affairs

Environmental Justice: Environmental justice is administered by the Environmental Court, in accordance with the constitutional principle of jurisdictional unity. It is independent in the exercise of its functions and is protected by the Constitution. It has jurisdiction over and is competent for the resolution of conflicts relating to possession of the rural property, and conflicts related to environmental issues, forestry, right to use and take advantage of renewable natural resources, water, and biodiversity.[65]

The Court has jurisdiction and is competent throughout the country. Environmental Court judges function in one or several provinces of their judicial district. Ordinary justice is not entitled to review, modify, or annul its decisions. Environmental Court judges (7) and District Court judges are chosen by the members of the Supreme Court, from lists given by the Judiciary Council.

5. Specific Areas of Bolivian Law

5.1. Criminal Law

The first Bolivian Penal Code came into force in 1834, to which around parcial modifications were introduced over the years. It was not until 1973 that a comprehensive reform was undertaken.[66] This reform was enacted on August 6, 1973, jointly with the Code of Criminal Procedure.[67]

Over the years, the 1973 reform became obsolete and needed urgent modifications. Therefore, in recent years, partial reforms have been made through Law No. 1768 (March 10, 1997) and Law No. 004 (March 31, 2010).[68] The main objectives of these reforms were to strengthen the rule of law, protect individual guarantees, reinforce legal and citizen security, and fight against corruption, incorporating new criminal categories to fight impunity, money laundering, drug trafficking, civil service corruption, and criminal organizations.[69] However, despite these reforms, the penal system in Bolivia suffers serious observations due to its lack of transparency and independence from the political power to this day. An example of these observations is a report that was recently prepared at the request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Due to the acts of violence that took place in Bolivia in the midst of a political and social crisis unleashed during the elections of October 20, 2019,[70] the IACHR carried out an observation visit to Bolivia between November 22 and 25, 2019. As a result of this visit, the IACHR issued a series of preliminary observations highlighting the possible existence of human rights violations, which had to be investigated independently and autonomously, suggesting therefore the creation of the International Group of Independent Experts to carry out this task.[71]

With the agreement and acceptance of the Bolivian Government, this Group of Independent Experts carried out its analysis and research work since November 23, 2020. After fulfilling all the tasks entrusted to it, the Group of Independent Experts in their final report highlighted substantive observations regarding the operation of criminal justice in Bolivia. In particular, four elements were primarily observed: (1) the lack of independence of the administration of justice, (2) the absence of guarantees of due process and due diligence in criminal matters through the instrumentalization of the justice system for political persecution, (3) the abusive use of preventive detention, and (4) obstacles to the right of access to truth and justice.[72]

Regarding these four elements, the report notes that the State needs to implement profound reforms in its justice system in order to guarantee that the judiciary and the public ministry are not used for political purposes by the government, due process guarantees are respected, and preventive detention is used exceptionally, only as a last resort in criminal proceedings.[73]

5.2. Civil Law

In Bolivia, as in the laws that derive from the Roman legal system, civil law is the branch of private law that regulates legal relationships between individuals or private persons, whether individual or collective.[74] Civil law is regulated by the Civil Code,[75] described as “the qualification or grouping of civil law in a code, in a systematic or organized manner.[76] The Bolivian Civil Code is known as the Banzer code, as it was approved in 1976 during the de facto Government of General Hugo Banzer Suárez. The Bolivian Civil Code is modeled on three legislations: the Italian, French, and Spanish.[77]

The Bolivian Civil Code is divided into books, parts, titles, chapters, sections, subsections, and articles. It is comprised by the following five books:

  • Book I regulates personal rights and status. It governs the capacity, domicile, and the beginning and end of an individual’s personality. Likewise, it also regulates collective persons, in particular associations and foundations.
  • Book II regulates goods and property. It regulates movable and immovable property, possession, usufruct, use and habitation, and easements.
  • Book III regulates civil obligations and contracts. It is divided into two parts. While the first part regulates the purposes of obligations, extinction, transmission, and certain types of obligations, such as pecuniary, alternative and with substitute provision and joint or with multiple subjects, the second part regulates contracts in general and contracts in particular as sources of obligations. Likewise, the second part regulates the obligations by unilateral promise, illicit enrichment, undue payment, businesses management, and illicit acts.
  • Book IV regulates successions, inheritance, classes of succession, and inheritance division. It governs the provisions common to successions in general, legal succession, testamentary succession and the division of the inheritance.
  • Book V regulates the practice, protection, and extinction of rights. It regulates evidence in general, the patrimonial guarantee of rights, the jurisdictional protection of rights and possession, time, prescription and expiration, and public records.

5.3. Commercial Law

Commercial activities in Bolivia are primarily regulated by the Commercial Code.[78] This code, approved in 1977, covers substantive and procedural law, the concept of the businessman, commercial and non-commercial acts and operations, mixed-commercial acts, business asociations, and commercial goods.

Until the adoption of the new Commercial Code, commercial matters were regulated for about a century and a half by the Commercial Code of 1834, an almost complete reproduction of the Spanish Commercial Code of 1829.[79] Before the promulgation of the aforementioned Commercial Code of 1834, commercial activities in Bolivia were subject to the regulations of the Bilbao Ordinances (particularly those of 1737 that merge maritime law with land law) and the certificate of the Consulate of Buenos Aires (established on June 2, 1794).[80]

The Commercial Code is divided into four books, as follows:

  • The First Book treats businessmen and their obligations, the Registry of Commerce, and business asociations in general.
  • The Second Book regulates commercial goods and the sale of securities. It regulates the different types of securities titles, such as the letter of exchange, promissory notes, the check, vouchers or debentures, the securities market, the stock market, and other intermediaries.
  • The Third Book relates to contracts, obligations, and insurance contracts in general and commercial contracts in particular. It is also concerned with transport contracts, maritime insurance, deposits in warehouses, and bank operations.
  • The Fourth Book relates to special procedures, mediation and arbitration,[81] antitrust law, and bankruptcy.

5.4. Family Law

On November 19, 2014, Law No. 603, better known as the Family and Family Process Code, was enacted.[82] This new regulation replaced the old Family Code, which was approved by Decree-Law No. 10426 on August 23, 1972, and raised to law through Law No. 996 on April 4, 1988. Regulations concerning family relations are codified independently from civil law. These regulations treat the creation and structure of the family group, seek to strengthen the family and protect it from disintegration. The Family Code has a preliminary title, which regulates the legal structure of the family, family relationships, family assistance and inheritance. The first book regulates marriage; the second book regulates family proceedings.

The Family and Family Process Code regulates the family rights and relationships, which includes the duties and obligations of the family members based on principles and values, such as respect, solidarity, protection, family unity, gender equity, equal opportunities, and common welfare.[83] Some aspects to be highlighted by the new rule are the Right of Affiliation, which provides that the mother or father has the obligation to register their children. It is not mandatory to use both surnames, the infant can carry only one. It is also not mandatory, as in the past, to place the paternal last name before the maternal one, this is now indistinct.[84] On the other hand, emancipation (which is the release of the minor from the parental authority of their parents or guardianship) is given from the age of 16.[85]

The new law suppresses the reference to religious marriage, noting that a free or de facto union will produce the same effects as a civil marriage, both in personal and patrimonial matters.[86] The law also raises the age to eighteen (18) years to form a civil marriage or a free or de facto union, the exception being sixteen (16) years with approval of the person exercising parental authority.[87] As guiding principles in Bolivian family law, the legislation places marriage, family relations, and maternity under the protection of the state. It imposes equality of rights and duties of a conjugal family and declares that all children, without distinction of origin (marital or extramarital), have equal rights and duties regarding their parents.

Bolivian Legal System has the following as its principal sources: laws, jurisprudence, doctrine, and custom. Of these, law and jurisprudence prevail as the principal ones; the other two mentioned are secondary sources. Law as one of the main sources of the Bolivian Legal System refers to the norms and regulations created by public authority, which are mandatory in nature and whose fulfillment is susceptible of imposition by coercive means. Jurisprudence is the collection of sentences and concurring resolutions mainly issued by the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

Custom is defined as the permanent daily repetition of acts and forms of conduct, which arise in social usage and are transmitted from generation to generation.[88] It creates what is denominated as customary law.[89] Doctrine is the body of information concerning some legal questions, organized in systematic form by jurists and legal scholars.[90]

6.1. Laws

The Official Gazette of Bolivia: The Official Gazette of Bolivia was created by law on December 17, 1956, as the official editorial organ of the state. It is in charge of the publication of laws, supreme decrees, supreme resolutions, and other public legal documents. A subscription is required to consult the web page.

The National Congress (Senate and Representatives): Similar to the previous case, the National Congress, through its web page, offers a search motor for laws from 1979 to 2007.

Vice Presidency: The web page of the Vice Presidency of the Plurinational State of Bolivia contains a database with laws from 1960 up to the most recently promulgated laws. A compendium of laws from 1825 to 2009 includes a complete collection of all Bolivia’s laws promulgated from 1825 until 2009. It was first created in 2007 on the initiative of the Bolivian Vice Presidency under the auspices of the foundation for support to the parliament and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The Bolivian Legislative Information System “SILEG” is a database that contains legislation approved since the foundation of the Republic. SILEG is the result of approximately 25 years of work. It represents the gathering, compilation, organizing, and classification of laws and texts, offering more than 100,000 legal documents since the foundation of the Republic up to our days. An annual subscription to SILEG is required.

Derechoteca is a software developing private company that informs Bolivian citizens of their rights and legal duties. Derechoteca has created the “Free Access to Legislative Information” project website, where 18,000 legal documents can be found. This information is updated semiannually at no cost.

6.2. Constitution and Codes

6.3. Jurisprudence

Tribunal Supremo de Justicia is the official website of the Bolivian judicial branch. The website of the Supreme Court includes a search engine that allows access to the decisions issued by the court regarding civil, criminal, and social matters. Furthermore, it also includes a database of decisions issued by the superior district courts. Its search engine also allows access to pending cases of the district courts and the Supreme Court.

Constitutional Court: The website of the Constitutional Court is systematized with the aim to resolve the problem of locating mandatory precedents in the different branches of law. This systematization of jurisprudence is called the “Tree of Jurisprudence,” a useful tool that organizes the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court. It contains the different disciplines of law as issued by the court. The court claims that this systematization is a rapid and reliable instrument to consult legal precedents issued by them.

6.4. Additional Sources

[1] Article 6-I of the Constitution designates Sucre as the capital of the country.

[2] It is worth noting that since the last constitutional reform of 2009, Bolivia officially adopted the name “Plurinational State of Boliva.” However, the new constitution does not include this official name in its text. Decree No. 48 dated March 18, 2009, established that the name “Plurinational State of Bolivia” must be used in all public and private acts, as well as in international diplomatic relations, and official correspondence at the national and international level.

[3] José de Mesa, Teresa Gisbert and Carlos D. Mesa Gisbert, Historia de Bolivia, Editorial Gisbert, La Paz, 1999 at 333.

[4] This change was made at the suggestion of the Potosí representative Manuel Martín de Santa Cruz, on the grounds that “if from Rómulo, Roma, from Bolívar, Bolivia.” Reference from the newspaper “Correo del Sur” in which it is mentioned that this reference was corroborated by the historian Josep María Barnadas. See

[5] Idem Historia de Bolivia at 334.

[6] All these constitutions are fully transcribed at “Las Constituciones Políticas de Bolivia,” Tribunal Constitucional Plurinacional – Unidad de Investigación, Sucre, Bolivia, 2018. Available in Spanish version at

[7] Carlos Bohrt Irahola, Reingeniería Constitucional en Bolivia, Tomo I, Ed. Garza Azul, La Paz, Bolivia, 2004 at xvii.

[8] Article 123 of the 1995 Constitution states the responsibilities of the Judicial Council.

[9] In article 120 of the 1995 Constitution, there is a detail of the atributions with which the Constitutional Court was created. To date, this body is still in force in Bolivia according to article 196 of the current Constitution.

[10] Article 60 of the 1995 Constitution established that in each Department (State), half of the Representatives should be elected in single-member constituencies, and the other half in multi-member constituencies, from lists headed by candidates for President, Vice President and Senators. Likewise, the aforementioned article 60 provided that single-member districts should have geographic continuity, affinity and territorial harmony, not transcend the limits of each Department (State) and be based on population criteria.

[11] This Law, entered into force on April 20, 1994, recognized, promoted, and consolidated the process of Popular Participation, articulating the indigenous, peasant, and urban communities in the legal, political, and economic life of Bolivia. See the full text at

[12] This Law, promulgated on July 28, 1995, established the organizational structure of the Executive Branch at the Departmental (State) level within the administrative decentralization regime, created the departmental economic and financial resources regime and strengthed the efficiency and effectiveness of the Public Administration. See the full text at

[13] This Law, entered into force on March 21, 1994, sought to privatize state companies under a model of joint administration and participation with the State. See the full text at

[14] See Bohrt supra at xviii.

[15] Idem supra.

[16] “Bolivian Leader Resigns and His Vice President Steps In,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 2003, Section A, Page 5. Available at

[17] Articles 230–232 of Title II of the Fourth Part of the Constitution of 2004.

[18] Article 223 of the 2004 Constitution.

[19] Article 23 of the 2004 Constitution states that habeas data guarantees that any person who believes to be unduly or illegally prevented from knowing, objecting or obtaining the elimination or rectification of the data registered by any physical, electronic magnetic means in files of public or private data that affect their fundamental right of privacy may file the claim before the Superior Court of the District or before any Judge.

[20] For a brief biography of Evo Morales with relevant background on how he got into power, visit

[21] Final Report, National Constituent Referendum dated January 25, 2009, Electoral Observation Mission of the European Union, Page 37. Available at

[22] English version of the 2009 Bolivian Constitution available at

[23] President Evo Morales promulgated it after the approval of the National Referendum. Additional details available at

[24] From Article 1 to Article 144.

[25] From Article 145 to Article 268.

[26] From Article 269 to Article 305.

[27] From Article 306 to Article 409.

[28] From Article 410 to Article 411.

[29] J. Alberto del Real Alcalá, Analysis of fundamental rights and multinationality in the Bolivian Constitution of 2009, Anuario de Derecho Constitucional Latinoamericano, Año XX¡, Bogotá, 2015. Available at

[30] Idem supra.

[31] Article 269 of the Constitution.

[32] Article 5-I of the Constitution.

[33] Article 6-I of the Constitution.

[34] Part I, Title II, Second Chapter, articles 15 to 20 of the Constitution.

[35] Article 20 of the Constitution.

[36] Article 308 of the Constitution.

[37] Article 349 of the Constitution.

[38] Article 320 of the Constitution.

[39] The Constitutions of 1967, 1995 and 2004 maintained the same text, all in Article 3, which established that “the State recognizes and supports the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion. It guarantees the public exercise of all other worship. Relations with the Catholic Church shall be governed by concordats and agreements between the Bolivian State and the Holy See.”

[40] Article 86 of the Constitution estates that “Freedom of thought, faith and religious education, as well as the spirituality of the nations and the rural native indigenous peoples, shall be recognized and guaranteed in the educational centers. Mutual respect and coexistence among persons of diverse religions shall be promoted, without dogmatic imposition. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of religious choice with respect to the acceptance and permanence of students in these centers..”

[41] The Constitution recognizes to native peasant nations and indigenous peoples, among others, the “right to exist freely” (art. 30.II.1); the “right to their cultural identity, religious beliefs, spiritualities, practices and customs, and to their own worldview” (art. 30.II.2); the “right to have the cultural identity of each of its members, if it so wishes, be registered together with the Bolivian citizens in their identity card, passport or other legally valid identification documents” (art. 30.II .3); the “right to self-determination and territoriality” (art. 30.II.4); the “right for its institutions to be part of the general structure of the State” (art. 30.II.5); the “right to collective titling of lands and territories” (art. 30.II.6); the “right to an intercultural, intercultural and multilingual education throughout the educational system” (art. 30.II.12); the “right to be consulted through appropriate procedures” (art. 30.II.15); and the “right to exercise their political, legal, and economic systems according to their worldview” (art. 30.II.14).

[42] Articles 190 to 192 of the Constitution.

[43] Article 2 of the Constitution. According to this article, the reason for the recognition for the right to autonomous and indigenous self-government stems from the pre-colonial existence of the peasant native indigenous nations and peoples and their ancestral dominion over their territories.

[44] Final Report, National Constituent Referendum dated January 25, 2009, Electoral Observation Mission of the European Union, Page 37. Available at

[45] In 2015, during his third term, former President Evo Morales called for a new Referendum to modify Art. 168 of the Constitution, with the purpose of allowing indefinite re-election for the President, the Vice President and other high positions. Until then, and according to the recently approved Constitution, those positions could only be held for up to two terms. The referendum was held on February 21, 2016, with the voters having rejected the proposed reform. President Morales himself admitted the loss in the referendum on terms limits (additional details available at Despite the results from the Referendum, former President Evo Morales managed to be authorized by a decision issued by the Constitutional Court to run for the fourth consecutive time for Presidency in 2019. Although the electoral process for the election of President, Vice President, Senators and Representatives was carried out in October 2019, through violent turmoil and popular protests the population rejected the results of the national election, which is why President Evo Morales submitted his resignation in November 2019 (additional details available at

[46] Article 87 of the 2004 Constitution stated that the non-extendable term of the President was five years, and that he could be reelected only once after at least one constitutional term has elapsed.

[47] Article 166 of the Constitution.

[48] Article 90 of the 2004 Constitution stated that if in the general elections none of the candidates for President and Vice President obtained the absolute majority of valid votes, Congress would elect by an absolute majority of valid votes, in oral and nominal voting, between the two candidates that obtained the highest number of valid votes. In the event of a tie, the voting would be repeated for two consecutive times. If the tie persisted, the candidates who have achieved a simple majority of valid votes in the general election would be proclaimed President and Vice President.

[49] According to Article 240, any person who holds an elected office may be revoked from his mandate, except in the Judicial Branch. The revocation of the mandate may be requested when at least half of the mandate period has elapsed. The revocation of the mandate may not take place during the last year in office. The call for referendum will proceed by citizen initiative, at the request of at least 15% of voters that elected the servant or public servant. Produced the revocation of mandate, the affected authority will immediately cease in office, providing his substitution according to law.

[50] International treaties that involve any of the following matters shall require prior approval by binding popular referendum: 1. Questions of borders. 2. Monetary integration. 3. Structural economic integration. 4. Grant of institutional authority to international or supra-national organisms, in the context of processes of integration.

[51] Article 144 states that all Bolivians exercise their citizenship as of 18 years of age, whatever their level of education, occupation or income. Within the exercise of citizenship the right to elect authorities by vote is included.

[52] See supra J. de Mesa at 437.

[53] For a detailed description of the negotiations developed between the parties over the years, see “Return to the Sea with Sovereignty,” by Adalberto Violand Balcazar, Edit. Garza Azul, La Paz, Bolivia, 2004.

[54] The full and final Judgment of the case “Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile),” Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2018, p. 507 is available at

[55] The political origins of former President Evo Morales as union leader comes from Chapare, an area that heavily produces coca leaves. Evo Morales throughout his presidency and to date remains President of the Chapare coca federations. For additional details see supra

[56] Article 172-22 of the Constitution.

[57] Article 166-II of the Constitution.

[58] Article 145 of the Constitution.

[59] Article 146-I of the Constitution.

[60] Article 148-I of the Constitution.

[61] Article 153-I of the Constitution.

[62] The Constitutional Court assures the supremacy of the Constitution, exercises constitutional control, and safeguards respect for and enforcement of constitutional rights and guarantees. As criteria to be applied in its interpretive role, the Constitutional Court gives preference to the intent of the constituent assembly as well as the literal tenor of the constitutional text (Article 196 of the Constitution).

[63] According to Article 198 of the Constitution, the Judges of the Constitutional Court shall be elected by vote, pursuant to the procedure, mechanism and formalities used for the election of the members of the Supreme Court.

[64] Members of the Supreme Court must meet the following requirements: satisfy the general requisites established for public servants; be 30 years of age; have a law degree; have honestly and ethically performed judicial functions, practiced as a lawyer or have been a university professor for eight years; and not have been sanctioned with dismissal by the Judicial Council.

[65] Article 189 of the Constitution.

[66] It should be noted that in 1962, under the government of Víctor Paz Estenssoro, a Drafting and Reviewing Commission was established for the main substantive and procedural regulations, including the criminal ones.

[67] For a complete analysis of the criminal reform in Bolivia, see “Panorama of the Reform of the Criminal Justice System in Bolivia” by Alvaro Gálvez Murcientes and Paulino Verástegui Palao, available at

[68] Idem, supra at p. 121.

[69] Articles 7, 132, 185, 185 of Law No. 1768.

[70] For a detailed description of the social events that took place in Bolivia in 2019, see “La caída de Evo Morales, la reacción mestiza y el ascenso de la gente bien al poder” de Lorgio Orellana Ayllón, available at

[71] Page 12 of the Group’s Final Report. The Report (Spanish version) can be found at

[72] Page 256 of the GIEI Report.

[73] Idem at 107.

[74] For a detailed description of Private Law and Civil Law, particularly in the Bolivian legal system, see Código Civil, Carlos Morales Guillén, Volumes I & II, La Paz, Bolivia, 2004.

[75] Bolivian Civil Code (Spanish version) available at

[76] Idem. at 6.

[77] Idem. at XVII.

[78] Bolivian Commercial Code (Spanish version) available at

[79] Código de Comercio, Carlos Morales Guillén, Tomo I, Editorial Gisbert y Cia. S.A., La Paz, Bolivia, 1999 at XII.

[80] Idem.

[81] Currently, commercial arbitration in Bolivia is regulated by independent norms of the Commercial Code, in particular Law No. 708 on Conciliation and Arbitration of June 25, 2015.

[82] The full text of Law No. 603 (Spanish version) is available atódigo%20de%20las%20Familias%20y%20del%20Proceso%20Familiar.pdf.

[83] Article 1 of Law No. 603.

[84] Article 13 of Law No. 603.

[85] Article 105 of Law No. 603.

[86] Article 137 of Law No. 603.

[87] Idem.

[88] Marcial Antonio Rubio Correa, El Sistema Jurídico (Introducción al Derecho), Duodécima Edición, Fondo Editorial Ponticia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2020, at 311.

[89] Idem.

[90] Idem at 342.