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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Bolivia 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Bolivia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions in the country.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in La Paz does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Bolivia-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Bolivia. Most reported criminal incidents involve non-confrontational property crimes that occur in major cities, particularly in markets and commercial districts. Tourists and visitors routinely report pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of jewelry/cell phones. This modus operandi has also been successful at the airports in La Paz and Santa Cruz. Thieves typically operate in groups of two or more. Usually, one or two members of the group will create a distraction, and others will surreptitiously steal from the victim. Stay alert for pickpockets when in crowds and aboard public transportation, and be conscious of distractions created to target you.

Violent crimes (e.g. assaults, robberies) against foreigners are statistically low, but do occur. In the event of a robbery, comply with the demands of the aggressors while attempting to observe identifying characteristics of the perpetrators.

Thefts from vehicles are a pervasive problem. Unattended vehicles are often robbed of computer modules, spare tires, stereos, headrests, and other valuables. Theft of the vehicle's operating computer and sound system is a common crime. Use a car alarm. If you purchase a car radio, look for a model you can remove. Such crimes occur in residential areas and business and shopping districts.

Residential burglary has affected U.S. citizen residents. Thefts of unsecured bicycles, gardening tools, and lawn furniture are fairly common. Thefts from inside the home by household staff, workers, and other visitors are not uncommon.

U.S. citizens have fallen victim to fraud related to their credit/debit cards. Skimming, the theft of credit card information during an otherwise legitimate transaction, can occur in restaurants or bars where the server takes the card out of the owner’s view. Pay for items in cash when possible and use credit cards only at larger establishments (e.g. hotels). To avoid skimming, take the credit/debit card to the register yourself, and never let the card out of your sight. Also, be sure to monitor your bank account or credit card statement frequently. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

The frequency and level of sophistication associated with computer crime is relatively low.

Other Areas of Concern

Due to regular civil unrest and the use of roadblocks by protesting segments of the population, as well as the destructive power of the rainy season on unimproved roads, check on the road conditions and status before departing on overland trips. Those visiting the Chapare and Yungas regions should monitor local news and media before traveling.

Stay particularly alert for crime in La Paz near the San Francisco church, El Alto market, markets on Sagarnaga Street and in the Sopocachi area, and in municipal bus stations/terminals. Due to increased pickpocketing and mugging during the evening, do not walk through the Prado after dark.

Santa Cruz suffers from higher levels of criminal activity.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Outside the major cities, road conditions are hazardous. Many roads are not paved, while others are topped with gravel/dirt. Unpaved roads can be quite hazardous during the rainy season (December-March) when rockslides and road/bridge washouts are common. Many winding stretches lack sufficient lighting, guard rails, traffic signs, or designated traffic lanes. Mountainous areas pose even greater challenges, with weather conditions varying from snow to heavy rain storms, and narrow, unpaved roads frequently blocked by rock/mudslides.

The North Yungas road (from La Paz toward Coroico and Caranavi) has earned the dubious designation of "The World’s Most Dangerous Road," and has become a hub for thrill-seeking mountain cyclists. Weekly media reports describe accidents along the road, usually involving buses and multiple fatalities. As an alternative, use Carretera Cotapata – Santa Barbara, also referred to as the Carretera nueva a Coroico.

Many of the roads north of La Paz that pass through Guanay, Mapiri, Consata, Apolo, and Sorata are extremely dangerous due to landslides and narrow roadways traversing sheer cliffs. Compounding this, as these roads are lightly traveled, motorists involved in accidents or encountering mechanical problems often find themselves miles from the nearest village, with little hope of immediate assistance.

Fast moving streams/rivers cross many roads in Beni province. Rivers, many with no bridges, frequently cross the road between La Paz and San Borja. Some of these crossings have barges propelled by a pull rope and pulley system. Travel along less-traveled routes is dangerous due to poor roadways, reckless drivers, and poorly-maintained buses/trucks.

The general disregard for traffic laws makes driving particularly dangerous. Pedestrians, with a general inattentiveness to traffic, pose a hazard to drivers. Accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycle/moped drivers are common in both urban and rural areas. Added dangers are the lack of formal training for most drivers, lack of lights on vehicles, and drunk/overly tired drivers, including commercial bus drivers. Most roads are rarely patrolled by police and have many isolated stretches between villages. Consequently, traffic accidents and vehicle breakdowns are particularly hazardous. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Intra-departmental public transportation is poor, except along the more frequently traveled routes where roads are upgraded and maintained (e.g. La Paz-Cochabamba, Cochabamba-Santa Cruz, and La Paz-Oruro). Bus service along these routes is generally safe, although accidents occur, often with fatalities. Urban bus transportation is risky for foreigners, with frequently reported incidents of theft and robbery.

Avoid hailing taxis off the street when possible, and never use taxis that are not clearly marked with the name of an established taxi company.

Terrorism Threat

There is minimal risk from terrorism in La Paz.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from political violence in La Paz. Demonstrations, road blocks, protests, and other forms of civil unrest are common, especially in La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba. Student, labor union, and indigenous groups often use protests and strikes to obtain promises of increased government spending on social benefits and infrastructure. While disruptive, especially to transportation, violence is usually limited and localized. Protestors occasionally burn tires, throw Molotov cocktails, engage in destruction of property, and detonate dynamite during demonstrations, but fatalities have been rare. Travelers are normally only affected indirectly by having to contend with traffic disturbances and transportation stoppages.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

In 2016, Bolivia experienced its worst draught in recent history. The water shortage led to demonstrations and implementation of severe water rationing measures in the Zona Sur district of La Paz, the location of many hotels and restaurants. Though the situation improved with arrival of the rainy season, the potential remains for water shortages during the dry season (April-November).        

Earthquakes are a concern. Data gathered by the San Calixto Observatory in La Paz shows there have been 13 reported incidents of significant seismic activity since 1994; the last significant earthquake was in November 2011, when a 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit San Ignacio de Moxos.

Low lying areas in Beni, Pando, Tarija, Potosi, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba experience annual flooding, especially during the rainy season (December-March).

In light of these environmental conditions, travelers and residents should maintain an emergency supply of food/water and establish an emergency plan.

Privacy Concerns

Very strict privacy laws govern the release of personal information; however, widespread corruption and poor record keeping present vulnerabilities to privacy.

Personal Identity Concerns

Bolivia has one of the highest domestic violence rates against women in South America. A very high percentage of women have experienced intimate partner violence.

The Bolivian constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events.

Few buildings and streets are accessible by wheelchair. Sidewalks and ramps are often in disrepair. Most public transportation vehicles are ill-adapted.

Drug-related Crimes

Bolivia is a producer of coca leaf, and a source/transit country for cocaine, for shipment to markets in Latin America and Europe. The major agricultural areas of coca leaf cultivation are the Chapare and Yungas regions. Government coca eradication efforts can result in violent reactions by producers. U.S. citizens should contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy prior to traveling to the Chapare and Yungas regions. Although there is concern about the growing presence of narco-trafficking groups, Bolivia has experienced little narco-violence.

Penalties for possession of illegal drugs are very strict; offenders receive lengthy prison sentences if convicted. Those accused of drug offenses are often imprisoned two years or more before trial and sentencing.

Police Response

The police have limited resources, particularly outside major cities. In many cases, officers assigned to smaller villages/towns do not have a vehicle to respond to traffic accidents or criminal activity. Even when resources are available, response is extremely slow by U.S. standards. Cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. Prison conditions are extremely primitive by U.S. standards.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If you are arrested, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary international law, you may request that the authorities alert the U.S. Embassy. Outside of major cities, awareness of international protocols is uneven. If you feel that you are a victim of police corruption, bribery, or harassment, contact American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy for assistance. The Consular Section maintains a list of attorneys in Bolivia.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizens may contact the Consular section at the U.S. Embassy for assistance with police matters. The police emergency telephone number is 110, but response time can be lengthy.

If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, the investigating officer may require you to accompany them to the police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. If you require a police report for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will apply.

Police/Security Agencies

The police are divided into two major branches:

·         Special Force to Fight Drug Trafficking (FELCN), which focuses on narco-trafficking and related crimes

·         Special Force to Fight Crime (FELCC), which focuses on crimes not associated with narco-trafficking (kidnapping, robbery)

Smaller units exist, with jurisdictions in more specialized areas (e.g. traffic police) or local commands responsible for community policing duties.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care in large cities is adequate for most purposes, but of varying quality. Medical facilities, even in La Paz, are not adequate to handle serious medical conditions. There is no reliable ambulance service.

Prescription and over-the-counter medications are widely available. However, many pharmacies only stock generic brands.

Much of Bolivia is 10,000 feet above sea level and higher. Consult your healthcare provider for recommendations concerning medication and high altitude tips.

Water treatment methods do not meet U.S. standards. Avoid consuming unfiltered tap water.

Sanitize all produce, and ensure all meat products are completely cooked, due to higher risks of salmonella or other contaminants.

The blood supply and regulation of doctors and medical services do not meet U.S. standards in many areas. Undergoing elective cosmetic procedures in Bolivia presents significant risks.

The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria; Dengue; Rabies; Yellow fever; Chikungunya; and Zika.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For information on medical providers, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

Consult with your medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that the policy applies overseas, and that it will cover emergency expenses (including medical evacuation). U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the U.S., unless you purchase supplemental coverage. Medicare/Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the U.S. Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas. Find useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, on the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Bolivia.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no OSAC Country Council in La Paz. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Informatio

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

2780 Avenida Arce, La Paz

Monday-Thursday: 0800 – 1730; Friday: 0800 - 1200

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard (including after-hours calls): (591) (2) 216-8000

Website: http://bo.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens are encouraged to register their travel with the Department of State through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). U.S. citizens with questions or concerns about their travel or who need assistance can contact American Citizens Services.

Additional Resource: Bolivia Country Information Sheet



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