Law enforcement in Bolivia

Law enforcement in Bolivia
Bolivian National Police Corps
Cuerpo de Policía Nacional
Abbreviation CdPN
Agency overview
Formed 1886
Employees 31,000
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agency Bolivia
General nature
Operational structure
Headquarters La Paz
Carabineros and Agentess 31,000
Agency executive Col. Ciro Oscar Farfán Medina, Commandant General
Stations 9 major

Bolivia has a national police force called the Cuerpo de Policía Nacional (English: National Police Corps) made of 31,000 officers that is responsible for internal security and maintaining law and order. Unlike in most Latin American countries, the Bolivian police force always has been responsible to the national government rather than to state or local officials. The 1950 Organic Law of Police and Carabiniers officially separated the police from the military. Frequently, however, the national police call upon the military for assistance in quelling riots and civil protests.[1]

The countrywide emergency number for the police, including highway patrol is 110.[2]


Historical background

Although the Marshal of Ayacucho, Antonio José de Sucre Alcalá, had organized the first Bolivian police force on June 24, 1826, the National Police (Policía Nacional) was not established officially until 1886. The Bolivian police became institutionalized on the national level in 1937 with the creation of the National Corps of Carabineers (Cuerpo Nacional de Carabineros) and its professional training school, the Police School (Escuela de Policía), later renamed the National Police Academy (Academia Nacional de Policías). The carabineers constituted a post-Chaco War merger of the Military Police, the Gendarmerie Corps (Cuerpo de Gendarmería), the paramilitary Security Police (Policía de Seguridad), and the army's Carabineer Regiment (Regimiento de Carabineros).

Bolivia's police forces had always been responsible to the national government rather than to lesser political authorities. The concept of centralized police power is established by the Constitution. The Police Law of 1886 formalized the system that remained in effect throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In 1950 the Organic Law of Police and Carabineers of Bolivia (Law No. 311) revised the police system substantially. Law No. 311 and the 1886 law provide the legal basis for the present-day police system.

Until the 1952 Revolution, the police corps was subordinate to the army and to the Ministry of National Defense. The army assumed most police functions and treated the corps as a reserve to be called on only in times of dire emergency. As a result of its active support of the 1952 Revolution, however, the national police received greater jurisdiction over police affairs and was modernized. It and the carabineers were transferred to the jurisdiction of what was then the Ministry of Interior, which concerned itself exclusively with administrative supervision. Nevertheless, the police resented being commanded by an army officer and having lower status and pay than the military.


The constitutional mission of the national police is to preserve public order, protect society through its specialized agencies, and guarantee enforcement of the laws. The police are also responsible for protecting foreign diplomatic missions. The police do not deliberate or participate in partisan politics. The Constitution stipulates that the president of the republic is the commander in chief of the police forces. In this capacity, the president—acting through the minister of interior, migration, and justice—names the director general of the National Police Corps (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional), another name for the national police. In a national emergency, the president is empowered to administer directly the activities of the police corps. In time of international war, the police forces would be subordinate to the FF.AA. commander in chief and the Ministry of National Defense for the duration of the conflict. In that event, the Constitution requires that police activities be integrated with those of the army as though the police were reserve units called to active duty for the duration of hostilities. The director general, who may be a civilian but almost invariably has been a high-ranking career police officer (usually with colonel rank), normally exercises operational control.


The police corps, with at least 31,000 personnel in the 2000s, consists of the General Administration (Administración General) section; the 5,000-member paramilitary National Guard (Guardia Nacional), still referred to as the carabiniers (Carabineros), which were reorganized in 1976; the Directorate of National Investigations (Dirección de Investigaciones Nacionales- -DIN), which cooperated with the International Police (Interpol); the Customs Police (Policía de Aduana); the Traffic Police (Policía de Tránsito); the National Highway Service (Servicio Nacional de Carreteras), which operated under the authority of the Ministry of Transport and Communications; the Fire Corps (Cuerpo de Bomberos), which was manned by police personnel; and the National Police Academy. All of these subordinate entities were separate administrative units within the director general's office. This office, which also served as national headquarters for all police and national guard activities, consisted of a command group, or Police General Command, which was established in the early 1980s, and a staff (Estado Mayor) made up of twelve numbered, conventionally established staff sections.


The National Police are led by a Commandant General, currently Colonel Ciro Oscar Farfán Medina, who was named in the wake of the René Sanabria affair and took office on 11 March 2011. His predecessor was General Oscar Nina who served from 24 January 2010 to this date.[3]

Regional police organization

The National Police Corps is a centralized force, organized on a territorial basis. Each Department of Bolivia has a police district subdivided into zones. Field elements of the National Police and National Guard were stationed in all sectors of the country and reported directly to the office of the director general in La Paz. Each department generally had one brigade (brigada) of carabineers, consisting of an urban and a rural force. Subordinate headquarters (also known as brigades), stationed in the capital of each of the nine departments, coordinated and supervised operations. Each brigade was divided into an urban command and a rural command. The urban command, at the departmental capital, operated the police stations and local jails and was also divided into patrol and criminal investigation sections.

Most corps personnel and units within a department were considered—regardless of their size, composition, mission, or station—to be part of the brigade in the area they served and were members of a single departmental unit. An exception was the city of La Paz, where two separate regiments of carabineers were kept under the direct control of the director general and the president. Other exceptions to the integral brigade organization were made in sections of the country where dependence on the regular departmental brigade forces was not deemed advisable or feasible. Two such areas—San Ignacio de Velasco in Santa Cruz Department and Tupiza in Potosí Department—had independent carabineer detachments in addition to the department brigades.

Certain departmental brigade personnel of the rural command were assigned to a series of frontier posts scattered at twenty-seven critical points along the borders and at river and lake ports of entry. They included Customs Police integral to the corps, as well as uniformed carabineers concerned with combating smuggling and other forms of illegal border crossing. The carabineers were also heavily involved in civic action in the more remote and less populated regions of the country. In an effort to improve its public relations, the police created the Department of Social Communication (Departamento de Comunicación Social) in the early 1980s.

Corps personnel were classified in three distinct groups: uniformed personnel (carabineers); technical and auxiliary personnel; and civilian police investigators and identification personnel. Ranks of uniformed personnel generally corresponded to those of the army. There were four general classifications—jefes (field officers), oficiales (company officers), clases (NCOs), and privates (tropas)--with a graded system of rank within each class. Uniformed personnel were promoted on the basis of annual examinations given when they attained the required time in grade, which was usually four years for all except captains and sergeants, who must spend five years in grade before becoming eligible for promotion. Classification of civilians was based on a nonmilitary two-category system composed of superiors (funcionarios superiores) and subalterns (funcionarios subalternos).

In the mid-1980s, approximately 80 percent of the National Police Corps were uniformed carabineers. The remaining 20 percent were civilian police investigators involved in crime detection, forensic science, administration, or logistics. Approximately half of the total uniformed personnel and 60 percent of the nonuniformed personnel of the police force were stationed in La Paz. The La Paz Departmental Police also had an Explosives Brigade (Brigada de Explosivos), which was subordinate to the Fire Corps. The 600-member Traffic Police administered traffic law. Only officers of this force normally carried sidearms. All motorcycle patrolmen were commissioned officers. The Feminine Police Brigade (Brigada Policial Femenina) served in an auxiliary or support capacity to the operational units. In addition to directing traffic, members of this brigade helped in police matters involving children and women.

Municipal police

All municipalities were entitled to raise local police forces to enforce local ordinances. Only La Paz, however, had established such a force, called the La Paz Municipal Police (Policía Municipal de La Paz). In the mid-1980s, this force numbered about 400 uniformed and 100 nonuniformed members, none of whom was armed. Their functions were limited to enforcing parking regulations and local bylaws. Most of the city of La Paz was under the jurisdiction of Police District No. 2, which consisted of five squadrons. Police District No. 3 was responsible for the sprawling shantytowns above the city known generally as El Alto. Police Regiment No. 4 exercised jurisdiction over the area south of La Paz.

Special Police Forces

Other police forces under the Ministry of Interior, Migration, and Justice included antiriot, antinarcotics, and antiterrorist units.

Special Security Group

The Special Security Group (Grupo Especial de Seguridad—GES) was an operational, technical, and specialized unit. Its approximately 450 members were organized into motorcycle companies. They were mobilized to reestablish public order or to respond to an attack against private property. Normally, they served in the Legislative Palace; Ministry of Interior, Migration, and Justice; and other public institutions; or in the national police's National Guard and DIN.

The GES also assumed counterterrorist functions. In March 1987, French police advisers and Bolivian experts began giving a three month antiterrorism course—consisting of technical and psychological training—to 400 GES members. The purpose of the training was to form a special group for responding to hostage taking incidents. That June the Bolivian police announced officially the creation of a twenty-two-member antiterrorist command, the Multipurpose Intervention Brigade (Brigada de Intervención Polivalente—BIP), responsible for solving cases of "uncommon violence," such as kidnapping, hostage-taking, and outbreaks of subversion.

Elite Antiterrorist Force

The government of President Jaime Paz Zamora gave responsibility for anti-terrorist actions to the Special Elite Anti-terrorist Force (Fuerza Especial Antiterrorista de Elite—FEAE).

Special Antinarcotics Force

The narcotics police, with about 6,000 members, included the Special Antinarcotics Force (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico—FELCN) created in 1987, and a subordinate force, the Rural Area Police Patrol Unit (Unidad Móvil Policial para reas Rurales--Umopar). The Umopar, popularly known as The Leopards (Los Leopardos), was formed in late 1983 under a United States-funded program designed to eradicate the nation's cocaine trade and in accordance with four treaties on narcotics, signed by both countries on August 11, 1983. By early 1989, FELCN had its own intelligence service, which was charged with collecting evidence on individuals suspected of narcotics trafficking.

Tourism Police

The National Tourism Police has offices in La Paz and Cochabamba with plans to expand to Santa Cruz, providing free assistance to tourists.



  • Dirección Nacional de Identificación Personal (D.N.I.P.) - National Directorate for Personal Identification
  • Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Crimen (F.E.L.C.C.) - Special Force to Combat and Control Crime
  • Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico (F.E.L.C.N.) - Special Force to Combat and Control Narcotis Trafficking
  • Control Operativo Aduanero (C.O.A.) - Customs Operative Control
  • Dirección Nacional de Prevención e Investigación de Robo de Vehículos (DIPROVE) - National Directorate of Prevention and Investigation of Vehicle Theft
  • Unidad de Seguridad para la Asamblea Constituyente (U.S.P.A.C.) - Security Unit for the Constituent Assembly
  • Brigada De Protección a la Familia - Brigade for Family Protection
  • Oficinas de Conciliación Ciudadana - Office of Citizen Conciliation
  • Policía Forestal y Medio Ambiente (POFOMA) - Forestry Police and Environment Protection
  • Escuadrón de Seguridad - Los Pumas - Security Squadron for Los Pumos
  • Unidad de Protección de Dignatarios (USEDI) - Dignitary Protection Unit
  • Grupo Especial (DELTAI) - Special Group

Unidades de orden y seguridad/Security on Order Units

  • Distritos Policiales de Patrullaje a Pie - Districts Police foot patrol
  • Radio Patrulla 110 - Radio Patrol
  • Patrulla de Auxilio y Cooperación Ciudadana - Auxiliary Patrol and Citizen Cooperation
  • Unidad de Seguridad Ciudadana Polivalentes - Multipurpose Public Safety Unit
  • Organismo Operativo del Tránsito - Transit Operative Organization
  • Unidad Operativa de Bomberos Antofagasta - Antofagasta Fire Brigade
  • Unidad Centro de Adiestramiento de Canes - Unit Training Centre of Canes
  • Unidad Táctica de Operaciones Policiales - Police Operations and Tactical Unit
  • Policía Rural y Fronteriza - Rural and Frontier Police
  • Policía Montada - Mounted Patrol
  • Patrulla Caminera - Vehicle Patrol

Bolivian Prison system

Prisons in Bolivia are guarded by police officers rather than a civilian force as in many western countries. Funding for the prison system is low and as a result the police only patrol the perimeter of the prisons; internal security is generally managed by the inmates. In most large Bolivian prisons the inmates elect 'delegados' or heads of departments, for example education, discipline, workshops, etc. to maintain order. Due to the lack of funding, inmates have to buy or rent their cell space and pay for meals; hence the majority of prisoners have to undertake some form of work once inside. In the department of Cochabamba, an organisation called Ayni Ruway provides a means for the prisoners to earn a living by providing services like carpentry and metal workshops, along with educational classes and computer training. In the mens' prisons, inmates are permitted to live there with their wives and children, who are allowed to leave the prison during the day to attend school or work. As a result of this and the lack of funding, many prisons are acutely overcrowded. In the Cochabamba department, the only purpose-built prison is El Abra, the maximum security prison; the other main prisons in town are generally housed in converted old warehouses and are often inadequate.

Recruitment and Training

The police force was an unpopular career because of poor pay, conditions, and prestige and thus did not attract high-quality personnel. But officers and higher civilian employees, who generally were drawn from the small urban middle class, were of relatively higher quality. Many officer personnel came from the army. Officers were commissioned by graduation from the National Police Academy, by transfer from the army, by direct political appointment for demonstrated ability, or by outright patronage. Civilians were nearly always political appointees. Although specialized education was not a prerequisite for a civilian's appointment, some degree of qualification was usually present and facilitated on-the-job training. Enlisted personnel received most of their training on the job during the first four months after enlistment.

The academic year of the police education system began in February. The Young Men's Basic Police School (Escuela Básica Policial de Varones—EBPV), which had 120 students in 1983, provided a one-year training course at the operational level for subalterns of the national police.

The National Police Academy offered a four-year course for officers. In the early 1980s, the academy's curriculum included criminal law, penal and civil investigation, criminology, ballistics, laboratory science, narcotics, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, order and security of persons and installations, martial arts, and human and public relations. The academy also offered a specialized course patterned on the counterinsurgency course of the United States Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The police academy additionally offered a program of foreign training for officers. Selected personnel were sent to training courses either in the United States or in neighboring countries, particularly Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru. On completing their courses abroad, these trainees returned to Bolivia for duty, to lecture at the academy, or to organize and conduct unit-level courses throughout the corps.

In the past, admissions requirements for the academy gave greater importance to political reliability and unquestioned loyalty to the government than to education. By the early 1980s, applicants had to undergo medical, physical, and mental examinations, as well as tests of their general knowledge. Cadets accepted to attend the academy were not subject to the age limitations for enlisted military service. Matriculation exempted them automatically from their military obligations. The normal student body ranged from 480 to 500 cadets divided into four courses. In 1983 the academy had very few women cadets, and the incorporation of women into police ranks was at an experimental stage. On graduation, which required passing an examination, cadets received a bachelor of humanities certificate, a saber to symbolize officer rank, and a commission as second lieutenant in the carabineers. Those graduates who were drawn from brigades then returned to their units to organize local classes.

The Higher Police School (Escuela Superior de Policías—ESP) was created in February 1969 for officers in the ranks of lieutenant colonel and above. The ESP prepared higher officers to manage the command departments, operational units, and training institutes. In 1983 the ESP's student body consisted of fifty-seven higher officers.

Threats to Internal Security

Narcotics trafficking

By the late 1980s, Bolivians had become increasingly aware of the serious threat to their society posed by drug traffickers. One Bolivian editorial identified several dimensions of that threat: the existence of hundreds of clandestine airstrips in eastern Bolivia; flights of unidentified aircraft in Bolivian airspace; the presence of armed criminal groups; the disappearance of, and trafficking in, Bolivian passports; the intervention of officials of foreign governments in Bolivia's affairs; the acceptance of foreign troops on Bolivian territory; corruption within the national security agencies and courts of justice; the growing control of mass media by narcotics traffickers; the spread of drug abuse among Bolivian youth; and the increased links between traffickers and guerrilla groups.


An unwanted by-product of Bolivia's cocaine industry was the importation of Colombian-style drug violence. In the late 1980s, Colombia's Medellín Cartel reportedly wielded considerable power in Bolivia, setting prices for coca paste and cocaine and terrorizing the drug underworld with hired assassins. Furthermore, drug barons, organized into families, had established their own fiefdoms in Cochabamba, Beni, and Santa Cruz departments, using bribes and assassinations to destroy local authority.

In September 1986, three members of a Bolivian scientific team were slain in the Huanchaca National Park in Santa Cruz Department shortly after their aircraft landed beside a clandestine coca-paste factory. The murders led to the discovery of the country's largest cocaine-processing installation, as well as evidence of an extensive international drug-trafficking organization consisting mostly of Colombians and Brazilians. President Paz Estenssoro fired the Bolivian police commander and deputy commander as a result of their alleged involvement. In a related action, suspected traffickers in Santa Cruz murdered an opposition deputy who was a member of the congressional commission that investigated the Huanchaca case.

In the late 1980s, there were several incidents of narcoterrorism against the United States presence, the judiciary, and antidrug agents. For example, the so-called Alejo Calatayu terrorist command claimed responsibility for a May 1987 bomb attack against the Cochabamba home of a DEA agent. The Supreme Court of Justice, seated in Sucre, requested and received military police protection in mid-1986. The Explosives Brigade successfully removed a live briefcase-bomb from the Senate library in August 1987. The so-called Santa Cruz Cartel, allegedly linked to the Medellín Cartel in Colombia, claimed responsibility for the machine-gun murders of two members of the Special Antinarcotics Force in Santa Cruz in March 1988. Bolivians were also concerned about the increasing brazenness of Bolivia's drug traffickers, as demonstrated in August 1988 by a low-power dynamite attack on Secretary of State George P. Shultz's car caravan as it headed up to La Paz's Kennedy International Airport. The so-called Simón Bolívar Group and the Pablo Zárate Willka National Indigenous Force (Fuerza Indigenista Pablo Zárate Willka—FIPZW) claimed responsibility.

Narcotics corruption

Drug-related corruption reportedly began to take a firm hold within Bolivia's military and security services under General Banzer's rule (1971–78). The García Meza regime (1980–81), however, was one of Bolivia's most flagrant examples of narcotics corruption. García Meza's so-called cocaine coup was itself generally believed to have been financed by the cocaine "mafia," which bribed certain military officers. García Meza reportedly ruled with an "inner cabinet" of leading civilians and military officers involved in the cocaine trade. Two of his ministers—Colonel Ariel Coca and Colonel Luis Arce Gómez—were well-known "godfathers" of the industry. By 1982 approximately 4,500 prosecutions were under way in connection with the embezzlement of state funds by civil servants, said to amount to a total of US$100 million.

In early 1986, Congress charged García Meza and fifty-five of his former colleagues with sedition, armed uprising, treason, genocide, murder, torture, fraud against the state, drug trafficking, crimes against the Constitution, and other crimes. In April 1986, however, the Supreme Court of Justice suspended the first hearing in García Meza's murder trial, after his defense demanded the removal of three judges whom it charged had participated in García Meza's military government. The Supreme Court of Justice subsequently voted to remove its president and two other justices from the trial. After García Meza escaped from custody (he had been living under house arrest in Sucre) and reportedly fled the country in early 1989, the Supreme Court of Justice vowed to try him and two accomplices in absentia. Governmental and military/police corruption under the Paz Estenssoro government (1985–89) was less flagrant than in the 1980-82 period of military rule. Nevertheless, it reportedly remained widespread.

In December 1988, Bolivia's foreign minister asserted that narcotics traffickers were attempting to corrupt the political process. Bolivians were outraged, for example, by secretly taped "narcovideos" made in 1985 by Roberto Suárez Gómez (known as the "King of Cocaine" in Bolivia until the mid-1980s) and aired on national television in May 1988. The tapes, provided by a former naval captain cashiered for alleged corruption, showed two prominent politicians from Banzer's Nationalist Democratic Action (Acción Democrática Nacionalista—ADN) and military figures fraternizing with Suárez.

The Umopar in particular had earned a reputation for corruption, especially in the Chapare region. In 1987, according to Department of State and congressional staff, drug traffickers were offering Umopar officers and town officials in the Chapare region amounts ranging from US$15,000 to US$25,000 for seventytwo hours of "protection" in order to allow aircraft to load and take off from clandestine airstrips. In February 1988, the deputy minister of national defense announced that about 90 percent of Umopar members, including twelve middle- and high-ranking officers, had been dismissed for alleged links to drug trafficking. The La Paz newspaper Presencia reported in March 1988 that Umopar chiefs, including the prosecutors, were working with narcotics traffickers by returning to them the large drug finds and turning only the small ones in to the authorities. Observers considered Umopar forces in Santa Cruz to be more honest and dedicated.

In October 1988, the undersecretary of the Social Defense Secretariat reiterated that drug traffickers had obtained the protection of important sectors of influence in Bolivia, including some military members and ordinary judges. He cited the example of Cochabamba's Seventh Division commander and four of his top officers, who were discharged dishonorably after they were found to be protecting a clandestine Chapare airstrip used by drug smugglers. The ministry official also announced that the navy was protecting drug-trafficking activities in the Puerto Villarroel area of the Chapare. For that reason, the United States suspended assistance to the navy temporarily in late 1988 until its commander was replaced. In December 1989, Bolivia's antidrug police captured no less a drug trafficker than Arce Gómez, who was subsequently extradited to the United States.

Subversive groups

As of 1989, Bolivia had not been confronted with a significant subversive threat since the Cuban-supported guerrilla campaign led by "Che" Guevara in 1966-67. Other guerrilla bands, such as those operating in the area near Teoponte in the Yungas in 1969-70, were even shorter lived. A small group tried to set up a guerrilla unit in the Luribay Valley south of La Paz in 1983, but seven of its members were captured.

Several international terrorist meetings were reported to have been held in Bolivia in the 1980s, including three in 1985 and 1986 that were attended by terrorist representatives from other South American countries. Two meetings between Bolivian left-wing extremists and representatives of other South American terrorist organizations allegedly were held in Cobija, Pando Department, and in La Paz in 1985. According to the deputy minister of interior, migration, and justice, representatives of terrorist organizations from eight countries held another meeting in Santa Cruz in February 1986.

In early 1987, Peru's Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) began to concern Bolivian civilian and military authorities after they learned that its strategic plan called for expanding terrorist actions into Bolivia and Ecuador. Various press reports in 1987 and 1988 suggested that Sendero Luminoso guerrillas were using Bolivian territory, especially La Paz, to obtain medical assistance, medicine, food, weapons, and other supplies to support their revolutionary activities in Peru.

A total of six international terrorist incidents took place in Bolivia in 1988, compared with three in 1987. A previously unknown group called the Revolutionary Labor Movement (Movimiento Obrero Revolucionario—MOR) claimed responsibility for assassinating the Peruvian military attaché in La Paz in December 1988, an act that the Bolivian police commander attributed to Sendero Luminoso. A number of politically oriented terrorist incidents took place in the months leading up to the May 1989 elections. A terrorist group called the Zarate Willka Armed Forces of Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Zárate Willka—FALZW), presumably another name for the FIPZW, took responsibility for a bombing in December 1988 that caused much damage to the offices of the president of the Chamber of Deputies and for machine gunning to death two young Mormon missionaries from Utah in a La Paz barrio in May 1989. Pre-election terrorism by unknown perpetrators in March 1989 included bombings at various political party offices in the La Paz area that caused considerable property damage and a bomb attempt at the United States embassy.

Historical secret police organizations

  • Servicio Especial de Seguridad (SES) (Special Security Service)

See also


  1. ^ Text used in this cited section originally came from: Bolivia (Jan 2006) profile from the Library of Congress Country Studies project.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Cambian a Comandante de la Policía y dan plazo de 90 días para erradicar corrupción". Los Tiempos. 2011-03-11. Retrieved 2011-03-18. 

External links