Bolivia vs. Manfred Reyes Villa
Different countries have different protocols as to what happens to candidates who lose their nation's Presidential elections. In the U.S. Al Gore wrote a book, made a movie and won both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. John McCain returned to the Senate and became one of the opposition's leading voices.
Bolivia is different than the U.S. in many respects and here again that's true. Manfred Reyes Villa, the former Cochabamba Mayor and Governor who was runner up in last December's presidential vote in Bolivia, is neither writing a book nor leading his party. He has instead fled to the beaches of Miami to avoid prosecution on corruption charges back at home.
Jessica Aguirre of the Democracy Center team in Cochabamba offers us a look at the controversial case.
[Note: We will have a special report from the Morales innauguration up in a few days.]
Bolivia vs. Manfred Reyes Villa
Barely a week after his distant second place finish in Bolivia's Presidential vote on December 6th Manfred Reyes Villa disappeared. After a flurry of public and media speculation about his whereabouts – and official U.S. claims of ignorance as to his whether he had entered the U.S. – a Miami newspaper found the former candidate in his Miami apartment and published an in-person interview with him.
As it turns out, the four times mayor of Cochabamba escaped Bolivia somewhat ignominiously through the country's border with Peru and onward from the Lima international airport. According to Peruvian officials, Reyes Villa left the country there on an American Airlines flight heading to Miami on December 15th. The Nuevo Herald found him in his luxury apartment in Miami on January 12th, nearly a month after his disappearance.
“Regrettably, I had to leave Bolivia because I had a pending case of political persecution in addition to my pending court case,” Manfred told the Herald in a videotaped interview. He expressed his distrust in the Bolivian judiciary and stated his belief that his political adversary, President Evo Morales controls all three branches of government.
The runner-up presidential candidate, who garnered 26 percent of the national vote in December, is wanted in Bolivia on various charges of corruption and malfeasance. Manfred announced in early December that he would no longer appear in public for fear of politically motivated detention, saying that he was a victim of political persecution. But he assured publicly that he would not leave the country.
Wanted on Corruption Charges
While the charges against Manfred are from the term he served as governor (which ended in August of 2008 after he was removed from office by Cochabamba voters in a national referendum) those charges did not officially surface until after the December vote. The Cochabamba daily, Los Tiempos, reported that there are 22 legal demands against Reyes Villa, involving an alleged 16.5 million dollars in public funds. The demands include corruption charges, misuse of public funds, and tax evasion, as well as charges of election fraud.
Reyes Villa and his supporters have declared that the charges are purely political: strategizing on the part of MAS to clear the field of its chief adversaries. Senators from Manfred’s political party (Progress Plan-National Convergence) publicly announced their support for him on January 13th.
For its part, MAS defenders say that it was generous not to embroil Manfred in political scandal during the election campaign.
Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera takes Manfred’s escape to be an admission of guilt, announcing, “We lament this cowardly and delinquent attitude of Manfred Reyes Villa - eluding justice, eluding his penal responsibilities in front of the justice system. It is proof, it is an affirmation that he is guilty.”
The furor following Manfred’s escape has resulted in the dismissal of two top migration officials and a general legal scramble to get Manfred returned to Bolivia for trial. The newspaper La Razon reports that U.S. officials have stated that they will fully cooperate with the Bolivian government if the charges have merit, quoting John S. Creamer from the U.S. embassy in La Paz as saying, "We are checking our files over there but I cannot confirm his presence. Clearly, if he is there and there is a judicial process here, we are always prepared to collaborate with Bolivian authorities."
Echoes of Ganzalo Sanchez de Lozada
The fleeing of Ryes Villa to Miami holds clear echoes of another high profile prosecution in Bolivia, the criminal case against former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, currently being heard in the Bolivian courts in Sucre. In the case initiated shortly after his ouster in October 2003, by a Congress controlled by his own political party, Sanchez de Lozada is charged along with top aides with involvement in the killings of dozens of Bolivians during the 2003 protests. Sanchez de Lozada has been living since 2003 in the Maryland suburbs just outside Washington and U.S. officials, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, have refused Bolivian requests for his extradition. President Obama's first White House Counsel, Greg Craig, served as Sanchez de Lozada's defense attorney prior to joining the White House.
Reyes Villa's attorneys and Bolivian officials are both appealing to international institutions to support their cause. Reyes Villa attorney, Daniel Humérez, is submitting a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, saying that the former candidate doesn’t trust the Bolivian justice system. Meanwhile, the Bolivian courts have issued multiple orders to appear, and the central government states that it will work to get Manfred extradited.
Written by Jessica Aguirre with assistance from Jim Shultz