Legal Market Overview
The situation in Bolivia remains tense in the wake of the political crisis unleashed by the outcome of November 2019’s presidential election, a scenario subsequently impacted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The elections, marred by a 20-hour outage in the reporting of electoral results that resulted in both civil unrest and allegations of fraud, subsequently saw Evo Morales resign – citing military pressure to do so and a desire to avoid further bloodshed – and seek political asylum in México. Amid allegations of a coup, Jeanine Áñez was sworn in as acting president on 13 November 2019, inducing a sharp political reorientation of the country marked diplomatically by a cutting of relations with Cuba and Venezuela and the appointment of an ambassador to the United States for the first time in 11 years. A general election planned for May 2020 was cancelled as the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic began to make itself apparent in March, with the country imposing quarantine measures and going into lockdown; originally re-scheduled for September, the election has since been pushed back again -currently to November – with Áñez confirming her candidacy despite previously stating that she would not stand. These compound difficulties have obviously impacted corporate and business activity significantly. While there was a spike of interest from international investors in the immediate wake of Morales’ departure, ongoing political uncertainties and the economic slowdown enforced by the pandemic have more generally given rise to upturn in restructuring mandates and contentious contractual matters. As a result, non-distressed M&A activity has been the exception in the corporate sphere; real estate activity, too has seen a tailing-off of international projects matters and a compensatory increase in instructions from local clients. Headline legal-market news was the mid-July 2020 launch of PPO Abogados; in practice the spin-off of the entire Bolivian operation of Uruguay-headquartered, multi-jurisdictional firm, Ferrere. The country’s recent political reorientation -and the prospect of a consequent economic upturn- appear to have played a determining role in the decision (reminiscent of Argentine firm Bruchou, Fernández Madero & Lombardi’s decision to withdraw from the Affinitas alliance to focus on its domestic market after the election of Mauricio Macri), which saw all three offices – Santa Cruz, La Paz y Cochabamba, with some 50 lawyers in total – become part of the new platform. As one of the two largest firm in the market, it is admirably well positioned for any economic upturn that materialises; in the meantime Ferrere has immediately demonstrated its on-going commitment to the Bolivian market, retaining a presence in both Santa Cruz and La Paz, and with a more or less full service offering including corporate / M&A, banking, tax, labour, dispute resolution, IP and data privacy. The other development of note was the 2019 dissolution of long-standing tax boutique Tufiño y Villegas, with each of the former name partners José Luis Tufiño and Álvaro Villegas establishing new firms, Tufiño & Asociados and Villegas Aldazosa Soc. Civ, respectively. Beyond this, the market remains largely unchanged insofar as participants are concerned. Key full-service firms in the local market include Moreno Baldivieso Estudio De Abogados, Guevara & Gutiérrez S.C, C.R. & F. Rojas – Abogados and Indacochea & Asociados; along with Bufete Aguirre, Quintanilla, Soria & Nishizawa Sociedad Civil – (BAQSN), the latter the product of the late-2018 merger of Bufete Aguirre and Quintanilla, Soria & Nishizawa.