Don't be a Victim of Crime in Bolivia


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Avoid becoming a victim of crime. Tourists and foreigners living here tend to stand out like a sore thumb and are sometimes targets of crime and petty theft.

Keeping a low profile, ensuring your behavior is not outrageous, and respecting local customs and laws, are all ways one can keep out of trouble when visiting Bolivia, or when living here as a foreign resident. And keep in mind, whatever your country of origin, you are also an ambassador for your country and should conduct yourself accordingly.

The problem is, tourists tend to attract a lot of attention by the way they dress and by simply carrying valuables in plain sight. Just being a tourist implies you have money enough for leisure, and in a country where 60% of the population lives in poverty, temptation can be great.

Hey, I’m no exception. I’ve stood out all my life, just because of my blond hair and blue eyes. And I’ve been a victim of street crime several times. It happens so quickly, your first reaction is usually total disbelief. Then paralysis temporarily sets in. When you finally realize what’s happened, you have to keep a clear head about what steps you will take next. Crime against foreigners is not as rampant in Eastern Bolivia as the Andes region, however, don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. There are fewer foreigners here in the East.

Avoid Becoming a Victim of Crime in Bolivia

There are ways to avoid being the victim of petty theft or any other crime that is usually targeted at foreigners, by being aware, alert and most of all, informed. The following is an excerpt from information proved by the U.S. Embassy but it applies no matter where you are visiting from, and especially if you are going to live here.

The U.S. Department of State currently classifies Bolivia as a medium to high crime threat country. Street crime, such as pick pocketing and theft from parked vehicles, occurs with some frequency in Bolivia. Theft of cars and car parts, particularly late-model four-wheel-drive vehicles, is common. Hijacking of vehicles has occurred, and travelers should take appropriate precautions to avoid being victimized. All tourists visiting Bolivia should exercise extreme caution. Visitors should be suspicious of all “coincidences” that can happen on a trip. If the tourist has doubts about a situation, the tourist should immediately remove him/herself from the scene. Visitors should be careful when choosing a tour operator and should not accept any type of medication or drugs from unreliable sources. Visitors are advised to avoid hiking alone or in small groups.

Thefts of bags, wallets, and backpacks are a problem throughout Bolivia, but especially in the tourist areas of downtown La Paz and the Altiplano (western Bolivia). Most thefts involve two or three people who spot a potential victim and wait until the bag or backpack is placed on the ground. At times a thief poses as a policeman, and requests that the person accompany him to the police station, using a nearby taxi. The visitor should indicate a desire to contact his/her country’s Embassy or consulate and not enter the taxi. Under no circumstances should you surrender ATM or credit cards, or release a PIN number. While most thefts do not involve violence, in some instances the victim has been physically harmed and forcibly searched for hidden valuables. Visitors should avoid being alone on the streets, especially at night and in isolated areas.

The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Avoid committing any crime while you are here. It is NOT worth it! While in Bolivia, a foreign citizen is subject to Bolivia’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and elsewhere and may not afford the protections available to the individual under the law of his/her country of origin. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States and elsewhere, for similar offenses. Persons violating Bolivian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bolivia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime. It often takes years to reach a decision in Bolivian legal cases, whether involving property disputes, civil, or criminal matters. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the court can order a defendant held in jail for the duration of the case. Prison conditions are primitive, and prisoners are expected to pay for food and lodging.

When I was young, my mother used to take me to visit the prisons, both men's and women's, on Sundays. I am a first-hand witness to the deplorable conditions that exist there. There are no private quarters, people often sleep on the floor for lack of room, there is no air conditioning or heating, food and clothing must be brought by relatives (if prisoners have relatives, otherwise they depend of the mercy of fellow prisoners or charitable visitors), and there is a high crime rate inside the prisons. The worst and saddest thing: innocent children growing up in prison because their mothers committed (or maybe didn't commit) a crime. You do NOT want to end up in a Bolivian prison.

You do have rights and you can exercise them! But you also have an obligation to avoid committing crimes or breaking the law.



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