The President Who Killed and the Country that Keeps Him Safe

The last time I saw Bolivia’s deposed President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, he was sitting quietly in the Miami airport waiting to board a flight to Washington DC (he flew first class, I flew coach). While “Goni”, as he is known, looked a little sad and alone, he did have some major advantages over a number of people whose lives he affected as President.

In contrast to Anna Colque, for example, Goni wasn’t dead. Colque was the 24-year-old student nurse assassinated on a rooftop in February 2003, as Goni sent out troops to put down protests against his proposed tax on the poor. Colque’s crime was coming to the aid of a handyman, killed by Goni’s troops on the same roof. Goni also has an advantage over Luis Colque, the dead nurse’s son. Goni was not left motherless at age two by government repression.

The US Harbors an Indicted Criminal

Today marks two years since Goni’s penchant for killing his own people led to his ouster, a move backed by a broad swath of Bolivian society. Today he, and a handful of his closest advisors, live happily in places like Washington and Miami.

Sanchez de Lozada has been formally charged by the Bolivian government with murder and the government has formally petitioned the US for his extradition. That would be the same US government that has demanded over the years that Bolivia extradite “drug criminals” to the US for trial, no murder required.

So far the US response to Bolivia’s political request has been pretty clear. First, the Bush administration has failed to even start the process by notifying Goni that he faces an extradition request. Perhaps the State Department is too busy hunting for Cuban sleeper cells in Bolivia. Second, when the families of the wounded and dead marched on the US Embassy earlier this month to back the extradition request, Bolivian police tear gassed them to their knees.

Message understood?

Can You Spell I-M-P-U-N-I-T-Y?

More than one hundred people were killed, and many, many more seriously injured, during Goni’s brief but bloody return tenure in the Bolivian Presidency (2002-2003). Here’s a link to a recent article about one of those killings.

To be clear, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada did not personally pull the trigger in those massacres. For that matter neither did Osama Bin Laden fly any jets on 9/11 or Saadam Hussein personally carry pout the massacres they he is rightly charged with. To be clear, the crimes that Goni is charged with are also of a far smaller scale. However, the precedent by the US is clear. You do not have to personally pull the trigger to be guilty. You can issue the orders.

Chileans had to wait thirty years and the brave actions of a Spanish judge in order to see even a glimmer of justice for the vast crimes of their dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Bolivians do not want to wait so long.

Sanchez de Lozada has a loyal following of FOGs (friends of Goni) in the US. Last year I publicly took the John Kerry campaign to task for saying that President Bush erred by not taking action to keep Goni in office in 2003 (with what action, US troops?). That eventually prompted a note from the Kerry campaign advisor who wrote the speech, revealing how it was that the Democratic nominee would take such a position. His advisor explained, “Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada is a personal friend of mine, and a person I greatly respect.” Some loyalties, it appears, run deeper than murder.

People from the US ought to care that our government is harboring an international criminal. The US ought to respect the legitimate demands of Bolivia’s government that Goni be sent home to stand trial. Here is a page where you can send a note to the US State Department suggesting that Sanchez de Lozada be sent home.

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