San Pedro Prison

by Ross
(Sydney, Australia)

I read your article and found it very interesting. I've also read the book Marching Powder.


While I understand your frustration and anger at the situation in Bolivia, it seems strange that you are so upset at the tourists, who are really only there seeking a travel experience. When they come to the prison for tours, yes the officials get money but so do the inmates and their families. In fact the only reason the tourists were allowed a camera inside is because the corrupt officals realised they can charge more money.

You talk about the contempt and lack of respect some of the tourists have for the Bolivian people. While this is true, many of them do have respect, and in the case of Rusty Young, he has a good heart and is genuinely concerned for the prisoners and the welfare of the Bolivian people.

But what I find ironic is that the Bolivian officals themselves through their massive corruption and greed are the ones who show the least respect for the country and the people. Even more shocking is that these same officials are fully aware of the production of cocaine in the prison and are profiting from it. In other words they have no respect for the law, are dealing in drugs, and are engaged in the very same criminal activity for which they imprison people.

Is this not a far greater problem than a handful of disrespectful tourists. Where is your outrage at this?

As someone once said there is no greater disaster than greed. And in a country where corruption is rampant from the ground up, no wonder the Bolivian people suffer so much and have massive social problems.

Comments for San Pedro Prison

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Apr 23, 2010
the tour is illegal - nuff said
by: K. Carpenter

What's to ponder? The tour is illegal and everyone knows that. So whether someone offers the tour or not, any intelligent tourist would refuse it.

Apr 22, 2010
Hey Bella, why don't you write about the bad stuff?
by: BoliviaBella

Hey Paul. Actually, if you explore our forums more in depth I think you'll find a great variety of opinions, including mine (not always positive, sometimes I totally ream an issue). I think the discussion I'm having with the person below, for example, is proof of that. I'm being pretty outright negative. The San Pedro prison issue really brings out the grouch in me. And he actually makes some extremely good points to ponder.

That's why our forums are as important as they are. I always try to encourage other foreigners to contribute to this site. In fact, I wish more would. It wouldn't be so terribly one-sided if they did. Your statements are proof of that too.

However, on our main presentation pages, you're right, I do make a conscious effort to highlight the positive aspects of this country. Here's why.


Apr 20, 2010
San Pedro Prison and corruption
by: Paul

Hi Bolivia Bella,

I think you are missing the point completely about the tourists and inmates of this prison. Having been living in Bolivia nearly a year now you and I both know how corrupt this country is, as all your other contributors seem to know. You know yourself that in this country it is NOT the judges and lawyers who rule this country's laws, nor the politicians. No it is the rich, those who are rich can "get out of jail free", in fact they don't go to jail, they simply bribe their way out of trouble. here money rules, especially in this area of Santa cruz where you and I both live. You featured on your website the last report by Human Rights on Bolivia, also you are right in saying too many kids are in prison with their parents, however, you don't say what the alternative is. The exploitation of young kids here and in other countries around the world is terrible, a tragedy, but what is being done about it? And the kids who stay with parents in prison at least escape the horrors of child labour, many of them do get to go to a nearby school, they are not orphans living on the streets like so many. You know I think you have done a wonderful job building up your website, and Bolivia as a place to live and visit etc., but equally I must say you tend to only present a positive side of the country, and people coming to live or visit need to know the full picture. For example, all the years you have lived in santa Cruz, you say nothing or next to nothing about the dangers here, about the ever increasing crime-rate, about the delinquents who murder for a cell phone or a rucksack. My own situation is not unknown to you, as a teacher of English recruited from the

Apr 20, 2010
San Pedro Prison
by: BoliviaBella

I understand that poverty drives people to crime who otherwise might not have committed a crime. I don't disagree with almost anything you've said except the last sentence:

the tourists are NOT only there because corrupt guards allow it. They are there because they choose to be there. They seek out this tour. The first choice they make is to approach the prison and request the tour. Paying a corrupt official to enter is the second choice they make, not the first.

You're right. Some people, such as those mired in poverty, make bad decisions and commit crimes because they think they have absolutely no other options.

Tourists DO have other options and the freedom to make a gadzillion other choices and options. They could visit any one of at least 300 other awesome tourist attractions in Bolivia rather than contributing to keeping this one running. It takes 2 to make corruption successful. One to make the offer and the other to accept it.

And let's not forget that this tour is not only a poor choice it's also illegal. By taking it they are risking their own freedom by committing a crime.

Apr 19, 2010
San Pedro Prison
by: Ross

Hi BoliviaBella

First of all I want to say that I very much respect your own experiences and the Bolivian people. I am an outsider and have never even been to Bolivia, but I do a lot of study into social problems around the world and I can understand your bitterness at the situation.

However, you say this:
"The prisoners themselves are to blame for their own behavior and there's a reason they're in prison. They're obviously not known for making intelligent choices or they wouldn't be in there."

I think you are being a little harsh and perhaps oversimplifying. While its true we are responsible for our own behaviour and choices, often what we are not responsible for are the choices we have available to us.

For example, some of the women end up in prison as a result of desperate measures that are borne out of poverty. Dealing in drugs may not be the answer but for many I'm sure they feel like they will try anything to better their situation.

And one of the biggest problems in all of this, is that 90% of the time the drug Lords themselves rarely get caught, its the couriers who suffer.

But I don't just blame the corrupt officals in Boliva. The US plays a huge role in all this, and their foreign policies are shocking. The whole War on Drugs is absurd. About a year ago, the state of California had to release some 30,000 prisoners because their prisons had become so overcrowded. Not to mention that the state is broke and can't afford the ever growing prison population.

I do quite a bit of work with World Vision and was amazed to learn that literally thousands of people (mostly children) die every day purely from a lack of fresh disease-free drinking water.

So my point in all of this is that I think we need to focus on the bigger picture because there are much greater forces at work here than just the actions of the tourists, who are only there because the Bolivian officials allowed the prison tours in the first place.

Apr 19, 2010
San Pedro Prison
by: BoliviaBella

There is no single party to blame here. I completely agree that the prison guards are corrupt and to blame for what happens and if you read it carefully you'll see that I say so in my article several times.

The prisoners themselves are to blame for their own behavior and there's a reason they're in prison. They're obviously not known for making intelligent choices or they wouldn't be in there.

As to the tourists they were not a handful but dozens and even hundreds per month.

My anger is against people who not only have a choice but also the freedom to make more respectful choices and yet freely choose to participate in something that is illegal (the tour and/or the drugs many of them purchase in the prison while on the tour), ludicrously put themselves and others at risk, treat the prisoners and their families like a ridiculous circus spectacle, and then add insult to injury by ostentatiously flipping Bolivia the bird on their way out (literally).

What gets my goat is that children live in the prison and they are the main reason I wrote this. Although the prisoners do have a choice about how they behave inside the prison, they do NOT have the freedom to leave.

Guards and tourists, on the other hand do have that freedom. And they are making not only the wrong choice, but willingly participate in making life for these kids even more dangerous than it already is.

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