Bolivian Governor: “Make Sure I Wasn’t Shot in Vain”

Ruben Costas Aguilera, Governor of the State of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was shot in the head on Tuesday the 12th of April when he pursued two thieves on a motorcycle who had mugged a woman. The shooting took place at 10:40 a.m. on the corner of Mendoza and Obispo Santistevan streets, in front of the Banco Nacional and the Espiritu Santo school and in full view of several witnesses, including two bank security guards. We reported the story as it unfolded.

The governor is expected to recover fully. The bullet grazed his left temple, leaving a 6-7 cm. gash and tearing through the top layer of his skull. It missed a major artery by a matter of millimeters. Costas had moved his head to the right just as the bullet (the second of three) entered through the front windshield. This rapid movement saved his life. The bullet exited through the back of the vehicle.

Crime rates have skyrocketed in Santa Cruz, the fastest growing city in South America, over the past five years. Many types of violent crime, previously almost unheard of in this area of Bolivia, are now related to drug trafficking, which has flourished over the same period of time. Others, such as this type of mugging, are becoming more frequent as well, as the city's population swells at record speed. Criminals seem to have no fear of the police or the legal system and are committing crimes during the day, in public places, and in full view of witnesses, or police officers themselves, as occurred in this case.

The city of Santa Cruz has argued for years that there is not enough police presence and has repeatedly requested more from the national government. Santa Cruz has just over 5600 police officers while La Paz/El Alto, which has roughly the same population, has over 10,000 officers.

The sentiment in Santa Cruz is that it took the shooting of one of the highest authorities for the government to finally take the problem seriously.

“Make sure I wasn’t shot in vain”

On Tuesday Governor Costas had a message for the public regarding his shooting, as he lay in the hospital awaiting possible surgical intervention. “Que sirva para algo".

His messages to the lieutenant governor: "Make sure this serves to make people aware about two things. There's been enough killing of women and children. These criminals and these delinquents...this should serve to make people aware on the one hand. On the other, to let these wretches know that there are still people who are willing to give our lives if necessary because we're not going to give in, we're not going to let ourselves be terrorized. That's why it's good now that people feel a little that this was not in vain. That's the message you have to transmit. Maybe right now people will say 'nothing happened' so they won't take it seriously. We risked our lives, so don't let it have been in vain."

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Apr 24, 2011
Houston police vs. Santa Cruz police
by: Steve Baker

Here are the latest facts I could find:

From the July, 2009, "Badge and Gun" - published by the Houston Police Officers' Union:

By Tom Kennedy

"A Record 51.7 Percent of HPD Officers Have College Degrees

More than one out of every two current Houston police officers has a college degree, an all-time high percentage that continues to grow.

HPD records show that 2,682 of 5,185 officers have at least an associate arts degree. This represents 51.7 percent of the total force.

Most have at least a bachelor's degree, which means an additional $280 monthly in accordance with the 1998 Meet and Confer contract negotiated by the Houston Police Officers Union."

So...Houston is to be commended for having an unusually well-educated police force. But many fine officers, even in Houston, have no college or wartime educations.

Houston is also a pretty tough town, crime-wise, with a crime rate higher than 95% of U.S. cities.

But education, in my opinion, has little to do with actually getting off your butt and doing your job, especially if that job involves protecting the public.

Apr 24, 2011
"where the law isn't actually enforced."
by: Steve Baker

To Anonymous,

1. Most police in the U.S. do not have a college education or military experience.

2. When talking about wages, you have to keep in mind relative costs of living. Also, how much or little a person makes doesn't necessarily equate to how well a person does their job. I'm always impressed by how well most Bolivians do their jobs...for less money than the police earn!

3. The American Neighborhood Watch system is no big deal, in my opinion. But Bolivia has a better system: walls, locks, and private guards literally everywhere. The reason: the police don't do their jobs!

4. I'm sure the police in Santa Cruz and elsewhere in Bolivia could use more training and equipment. But I don't see that as any reason for them not to perform their duties. Their sawed-off shotguns (illegal in the U.S.) are well-respected (by criminals), hellacious weapons. Believe me, they know how to use them and thir batons.

5. Computers have nothing to do with police patrolling neighborhoods! Police officers don't necessarily need vehicles. Most American cites have lots of officers on "foot patrol" and so do many cities around the world.

6. As to police stations, you say, "...if there are any, are rarely more than an empty room with a few paltry desks and chairs." Haven't you noticed the huge modern police barracks on the Second Ring?

7. Another problem with the Santa Cruz police is that most of them are from the colonizing power, La Paz, not from Santa Cruz. They are not local people. Maybe that's why they don't seem to want to protect the local people. One thing Governor Costas is now seeking are more local police and local control, not distant colonial control, of the police.

8. I find this comment of your to be an insult to the Boliviasn people: "You also cannot compare the people themselves. In the US and other countries citizens are still pretty good at regulating themselves. They follow the laws." The only reason, I feel, that Bolivia "works" is that the people are basically sweeter, better, and more law-abiding than big city Americans. If they weren't, considering that there is no effective police presence anywhere, the place would be like 1800's Dodge City on a drunken cowboy Saturday night. Think about it.

9. You also say: "In large US cities like Houston or Philadelphia, laws that exist are actually enforced. Fines are actually enforced and paid for. Courts are more rigorous...Its so much easier to break laws in countries where the law isn't actually enforced." EXACTLY MY POINT!

The people of Santa Cruz are mostly and basically very good people. The criminal laws of Bolivia exist. The problem is that the police and the courts essentially do no exist, and I think it's time for the Bolivian people to stand up and say so. It is time for the police to actually do their jobs! There are no excuses not to!

Apr 24, 2011
Not the same police quality
by: Anonymous

The difference between police in the US and police in Bolivia is that US police are required to have either a college education or a military background or both. At least they are in Houston where the minimum to qualify is 60 college credits to be accepted to the Houston Police Academy.

You also have to take into account applicability of law. In large US cities like Houston or Philadelphia, laws that exist are actually enforced. Fines are actually enforced and paid for. Courts are more rigorous and the entire system is more fluent and formal, not to mention computerized.

You cannot compare Bolivian to US police. US police are fully equipped with the latest training and technology. The government provides law enforcement with the absolutely best equipment available, high-tech computers in cars, top-notch police stations, etc. Police officers earn a decent living. In Bolivia the standard wage for a police officer is under $200 a month, police stations, if there are any, are rarely more than an empty room with a few paltry desks and chairs. Computers are almost unheard of, most are still carrying weapons from WWII. Most officers don't have a vehicle, some are lucky to have a motorcycle.

The US has an incredibly extensive Neighborhood Watch system, Safehouse system, and Citizen Police system, such as the one in Houston where citizens are actually trained for 12 weeks at the Houston Police Academy. They receive very thorough training and they patrol their neighborhoods with radio equipment issued by the Houston police who coordinate with them to make arrests when they call in a crime in progress.

You also cannot compare the people themselves. In the US and other countries citizens are still pretty good at regulating themselves. They follow the laws. Its so much easier to break laws in countries where the law isn't actually enforced.

You can't make comparisons between the US and Bolivia. They don't even come close.

Apr 15, 2011
Santa Cruz Police
by: Steve Baker

So...Santa Cruz has 5600 police officers, while La Paz has 10,000. More colonialism.

Houston has 2.5 million people and about 5400 police officers. Philadelphia has 1.5 million people and about 6600 police officers. Santa Cruz is alleged to have as many as 2 million people at this moment.

So...the 5600 police officers of Santa Cruz should be enough, I would think. EXCEPT...where are they? I know a few man government offices (inexplicably) like Immigration, etc., but in three years in Santa Cruz, constantly on the go, I could count on two hands the number of times I've seen police officers actually patrolling the streets. Where are they? Hunkered down in their big buildings playing cards and chit-chatting. Yet no one complains. El Deber doesn't seem to notice. Why don't people demand that the police get off their butts and actually get out in the streets and fight crime? Just their presence would suffice. The good people of Santa Cruz should blockade the police barracks until their grievances are heard and the police actually do the job they get paid for.

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