The Trial of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada
Several times over the past few years I and others have written in this space about both the criminal and civil legal cases against former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in connection with the government killings that took place under his command in September and October 2003. In the nearly six years since, the families of those killed and wounded in that repression have sought justice from the deposed president and his chief ministers, with little result. Sanchez de Lozada himself remains in self-imposed exile in suburban Maryland, enjoying the political protection of the U.S. government.
This week begins the historic trial of the President and those top aides before the Bolivian Supreme Court. In the U.S. people concerned with this case have been engaged in a series of activities to draw attention to U.S. support for Sanchez de Lozada, including pamphleting his Maryland neighborhood last night to let their neighbors know that a man charged with murder lives, politically protected, in their midst.
To explain more about the trial and what U.S. citizens can do to pressure the Obama Administration to revisit President Bush's protection of the deposed Bolivian leader, we have invited a Democracy Center alumnus, Gretchen Gordon, to offer the Blog post below. Gretchen is co-author of the chapter on gas and oil politics in the Democracy Center's new book on Bolivia, Dignity and Defiance, which includes a thoughtful history of Sanchez de Lozada's handover of the country's oil and gas to foreign corporations and the protests over those policies that forced him to leave the country, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
The Trial of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada
Written by Gretchen Gordon
This Monday, the Bolivian Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the trial of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and members of his administration for human rights abuses in 2003, including the deaths of 67 people and the wounding of over 400. The “Trial of Responsibilities” is the country’s most high profile case since the 1995 trial of former dictator Luis García Meza. While the trial likely won’t make U.S. headlines, the U.S. government, and consequently U.S. citizens, have a vital role to play in determining its success or failure. This is because the most important defendants, including Sanchez de Lozada and several of his former ministers, are currently in the U.S., evading trial.
The essence of the case of the Trial of Responsibilities is as follows: During his presidency Sanchez de Lozada presided over a radical economic restructuring involving deregulation and privatization of the country’s industries and public services. In 2003, the popular discontent over these policies erupted into mass protests when Lozada announced a plan to export Bolivian gas at a bargain basement price. Sanchez de Lozada authorized the use of lethal force, leaving 67 dead and over 400 wounded.
After breaking with the Sanchez de Lozada government over the use of force, Vice President Carlos Mesa assumed the presidency and eventually initiated the proceedings for a Trial of Responsibility. While Sanchez de Lozada claims the trial is a political maneuver by the current administration, it was in fact initiated by Sanchez de Lozada’s own Vice President with the backing of a requisite 2/3 Congressional majority, in a Congress controlled by Lozada’s own party.
In 2005, the Bolivian government submitted a notification to the U.S. regarding the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada and two of his former ministers, Jorge Berindoague Alcocer and Carlos Sanchez Berzain so that they could stand trial. However, the Bush Adminsitration ignored the notice. In 2008, the Bolivian embassy submitted the formal extradition request. Now, with a new Obama Administration, there is hope that the U.S. will respond to the request and stop obstructing the Bolivian judicial process.
This trial is a crucial step in transforming a history of impunity for government abuses. U.S. citizens can help by urging the Department of Justice and the Department of State to grant the request and to stop providing safe harbor to human rights abusers and fugitives of justice. Below is an action alert that you can join to Attorney General Holden and Secretary of State Clinton.
Help the Bolivian people in their struggle to hold human rights abusers accountable
This week brings an important opportunity to be in solidarity with the Bolivian people. In October 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Goni) and two of his former ministers fled to the U.S. after being involved in a massacre in which military personnel killed 67 people and injured over 400. Though Bolivia has sent an official request to extradite these officials so as to try them on nine charges including homicide, torture and crimes against freedom of the press, the Obama administration has yet to give a response.
On May 18th, the Bolivian Supreme Court began hearings related to the case, but without the participation of Sanchez de Lozada and several of his Ministers.
Tell the Department of Justice to Stand for Justice
This week, please fax and email a short message to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging them to cease the political protection of Bolivia's deposed President:
To contact Secretary Clinton:
To contact Attorney General Holder:
For more information, e-mail Dave Kane at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.