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Bolivian groups seek extradition of former president

Published Dec 21, 2006 10:17 PM

In Bolivia, a coalition of social movements has formed a committee, Comité Impulsor, to work towards the extradition of former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who is living in the United States. The groups want him to face trial for massacres against his own people and for ransacking the treasury of Bolivia, the poorest country in South America.

A group of progressive U.S. lawyers will be traveling to Bolivia this January as part of a National Lawyers Guild delegation to meet with activists of this committee and families of Sánchez de Lozada’s victims from the Indigenous, working class city of El Alto. They intend to bring information concerning this case to the progressive movement in the U.S.

Sánchez de Lozada is another in a long line of former presidents and nefarious terrorists and gangsters—such as Toto Constant of Haiti and Posada Carriles of Cuba—who, after working to carry out imperialist dictates in Third World countries, are given safe haven in the U.S. when they are no longer useful to their masters. The Bolivian social movements are determined that Sánchez de Lozada, who currently resides in the Washington, D.C., area, will answer to the people of Bolivia for his actions.

Sánchez de Lozada was twice president of Bolivia. His second presidential campaign in 2000 was strongly supported by the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. He ran a slick media campaign managed by none other than Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville.

Sánchez de Lozada quickly began to implement the policies of the IMF. He privatized state assets and cut social spending to free up capital for transfer to multi-national corporations and the local comprador bourgeoisie, while neglecting the needs of the poor majority.

In February of 2003 the Sánchez de Lozada government tried to implement an income tax to make up for a budget deficit caused in large part by the privatization of the oil and gas industries. This tax would have been devastating to the poor. A strike and demonstrations opposing the tax were begun, interestingly enough, by police unions in the capital of La Paz. With the police on strike, sections of the Bolivian working class, students and masses of Indigenous people from the nearby suburb of El Alto were emboldened to come out in large numbers. The government attacked these demonstrations, using the Bolivian military and killing several people. The government withdrew the tax and survived, but the Bolivian social movements continued to organize.

In October 2003, the Sánchez de Lozada government began to negotiate for the sale of mass quantities of gas to Chile. The Bolivian people became alarmed that the government was going to sell off all the nation’s natural resources, with apparently no benefit for the country, and rose up in strikes and protests all over the nation. The social movements massed in La Paz and demanded the nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas industries and the resignation of President Sánchez de Lozada. The president sent in the army against the people and approximately 67 people were killed.

The social movements led strikes and blockades that eventually forced Sánchez de Lozada to flee the country. Since then, Bolivia has elected its first Indigenous president, Evo Morales.

The effort to extradite Sánchez de Lozada faces many challenges in both Bolivia and the United States. In Bolivia the military and members of the former ruling classes have attempted to block this extradition. The Bush administration has so far refused to cooperate with Bolivia concerning service of process—the legal notice to a defendant of a court’s jurisdiction over that person.

Bolivian activists feel that this issue is important to the future of the Bolivian revolutionary process and are asking for solidarity from progressives in the United States.

Burton will be taking part in the lawyers’ delegation to Bolivia in January.