Bolivia’s police chief has been replaced amid corruption allegations, in a sign of the obstacles facing reform to the country’s police force, which has had seven chiefs in the last six years.
On Monday, President Evo Morales announced that police chief General Jorge Santiesteban had been removed from his post. The general is accused of illegitimately allowing some 54 people, some of them related to government officials, to join the police academy, and of making threats against a minster who proposed an investigation into the case, reported Jornada.
In his farewell speech, Santiesteban said that the allegations were lies, and were part of a “dirty war” against him. He has been replaced as police chief by Colonel Victor Maldonado.
Following the announcement, Interior Minister Carlos Romero said that the government was suspending all promotions to the position of general in order to address “flaws” in the process, as Jornada reported.
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Santiesteban was the sixth police chief to lose the post in the last six years, according to the Associated Press, illustrating that the institutional “flaws” that the interior minister refers to go deep.
The general had served only one year in the job. His predecessor, General Ciro Farfan, lasted two months before he was dismissed over accusations of possessing a stolen car. Before him came Oscar Nina, who was police chief from January 2010 until he was dismissed in March 2011 as part of the fallout over the arrest of Rene Sanabria, former head of the police’s anti-drugs unit FELCN. Sanabria is currently in the US serving a 15 year sentence for drug smuggling, and, according to reports, has implicated Nina in his illegal activities.
The public lack of trust in the police is demonstrated by a recent study which found 85 percent of the population of Bolivia’s four biggest cities did not report crimes to the police due to lack of confidence in the institution. Lynchings of suspected criminals are common, with some 150 such attacks counted since 2009, most of them fatal.
The lack of stability in the police command structure could be a severe hindrance to Bolivia’s efforts to fight organized crime, amid claims that foreign drug trafficking organizations are increasing their presence in the country.