Impunity in murder of Bolivian councilwoman part of pervasive problem

By Gina Baldivieso

La Paz, Mar 15 (EFE).- Aymara councilwoman Juana Quispe warned that she would be killed six months before her body was found in a La Paz ravine, a crime that has gone unpunished for a decade and is emblematic of the persistent political harassment and violence facing women in Bolivia.

“I haven’t given up, I’ve found my strength and said I’m not going to (resign). If it’s possible, kill me. I’m willing to die,” Quispe said in September 2011 in recounting the harassment she suffered after being elected councilwoman for Ancoraimes, a municipality in the La Paz Altiplano region.

The lawyer for the Quispe family, Valkhiria Lira, told Efe that impunity has reigned in the case for 10 years due to, among other reasons, the Attorney General’s Office’s refusal to conduct a thorough crime-scene investigation, perform cellphone triangulation or reconstruct the events surrounding the murder.

Quispe was 42 when she was killed, and the main suspects in her death are the then-mayor of Ancoraimes, Felix Huanca, and the then-president and vice-president of the municipal council, Pastor Cutili and Basilia Ramos, respectively.

Prior to being elected councilwoman, Quispe was already “an influential political figure in her community because of all the work she did to improve the social reality around her,” Lira said.

But her decision to run for office under a banner distinct from the ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party put her at odds with Huanca, who allegedly orchestrated a harassment and intimidation campaign to effectively prevent her from carrying out her work as councilwoman.

Quispe obtained a court order that allowed her to perform her duties, but when the situation didn’t change she then raised the stakes by filing a criminal complaint against Huanca, Cutili and Ramos for “non-compliance with protection orders,” an action that led to the first threat on her life.

A few months before her death, the councilwoman said amid tears that a mob had assaulted her in an Ancoraimes square in front of her 10-year-old son and threatened to set her on fire if she did not resign and withdraw her complaint.

On March 12, 2012, two days before a final hearing in the case, Quispe accepted an invitation to join Huanca for a rally in La Paz, followed by a lunch. She subsequently went missing until the following day, when her body was found near a stream with signs of strangulation.

After a long wait, the three former Ancoraimes officials are now facing murder charges in a case that had initially been ruled an ordinary robbery and murder.

“This wasn’t an ordinary robbery,” Lira said, noting that Quispe’s two cellphones were found at the crime scene and that the murder occurred after a series of death threats.

In addition, a witness says Huanca had confessed to being “forced to hire hit men to kill” Quispe, she added.

Although Quispe’s murder is the most extreme case, many other incidents of politically motivated harassment of women have been reported since a law was passed in 2012 to combat those crimes, the president of the Association of Female Municipal Councilors and Mayors of Bolivia (Acobol), Josefina Velasquez, told Efe.

Acobol has received 644 complaints filed by female mayors and municipal councilors since 2015, she said, adding that court orders these individuals have secured to enable them to carry out their work or receive back pay are routinely ignored.

The Acobol president also lamented that many female politicians end up withdrawing their complaints due to fear of reprisals or because they see that no progress has been made in the investigations.

The spokeswoman for Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Dina Chuquimia, also expressed frustration with the AG’s office in remarks to Efe.

She said that prosecutor’s office rejects complaints about political harassment and violence against women due to a supposed lack of “sufficient evidence,” even though the TSE files its complaints precisely because it has found enough proof to justify a criminal investigation.

In that regard, Chuquimia said none of the 185 complaints it filed with the AG’s office in 2021 were accepted.


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