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Solidarity requested in effort to extradite ex-president of Bolivia

Published Jan 28, 2007 8:01 PM

The National Lawyers Guild sent a delegation to Bolivia this January to study the political and legal situation in this South American country, especially the legal and political issue of the extradition to Bolivia of the ex-president of Bolivia, Sánchez de Lozada, from the United States.

Relatives of victims of Bolivian
ex-president demand his return.
Photo: Mark Burton

The delegation met with the Comité Impulsor, a group of lawyers and activists working towards the extradition of their ex-president. Rogelio Mayta, the lead attorney, explained the historical background of the case for extradition.

President Sánchez was elected in 2002 with strong support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and influential circles in the United States. Sánchez immediately began implementing policies, such as privatization of national industries, as demanded by the IMF. In 2003, President Sánchez planned a massive sell-off of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves to U.S. interests with the planned shipment to go through Chilean ports, which sparked protests and road blockades. Sánchez sent the army in to clear the blockades in a military operation that ended with the massacre of eight persons in the altiplano town of Serata.

Rather than quiet the protest, the government’s actions provoked more strikes, blockades, protests and hunger strikes. These actions effectively blocked gas supplies from reaching the capital. By decree, Sánchez ordered his military to carry out actions against the Bolivian people, ostensibly to bring gas to the capital.

This decree unleashed a wave of military attacks against Bolivia’s Indigenous community in September and October of 2003, and by the end of the military repression 67 people had been killed. The uprising continued with more intensity, and Sánchez was forced to flee the country. It is alleged that on his way to the U.S., Sánchez took $1.5 million from the Bolivian Treasury.

Mayta highlighted the vast amount of work that has gone into the extradition proceedings, which included reviewing hundreds of documents, orders and decrees signed by Sánchez, and unclassified military documents. Over 100 witnesses have testified in court proceedings. As required under Bolivian law, two-thirds of the congress approved the indictment of Sánchez, showing the widespread support in Bolivia for his extradition. Bolivia is now working on a formal extradition request.

Meeting families of the victims

The delegation also had a tearful meeting with members of an association of people whose family members were killed during the Sánchez repression. One person described how her husband was shot while asleep in his house. The members of the association showed us the gravesites of their victimized family members and personally pointed out areas of their city where Bolivian troops massed against the local population.

Juan Patricio Quispe, who spoke for the committee, asked the delegation to take their stories back to the United States to help the campaign to extradite Sánchez. He emphasized that no amount of restitution will bring their loved ones back and that they want Sánchez to answer for his crimes in Bolivia.

The Bush administration has refused to serve notice of the extradition proceedings on Sánchez, and many Bolivians believe that only solidarity from people in the U.S. will force the Bush administration to comply with their extradition request. Mayta, of Comité Impulsor, explained that powerful interests in the U.S. protect Sánchez as he has a close business and personal relationship with the Rockefeller family. Bill Clinton’s campaign manager James Carville worked on Sánchez’ election campaign and Sánchez currently confers with Greg Craig, who defended Clinton during the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky.

Bolivians also believe that there are political reasons for U.S. opposition to the extradition of Sánchez. The Morales government has insured that a great majority of the oil and gas revenue stays in the country for public benefit, and these revenues now go towards funding public schools and healthcare for children instead of to the transnational corporations. The government also has recently passed a land reform bill and there are plans to carry out some form of nationalization in the mining sector. Bolivians believe that the U.S. opposes these new developments and may try to stymie the extradition process to politically weaken the Morales government.

The Bolivian people are determined, however, that unlike the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Sánchez de Lozada will not escape facing his people. The Bolivians are asking people in the U.S. for solidarity. The Bolivia Solidarity Network can be contacted at www.boliviasolidarity.org for more information.

Mark Burton was part of the National Lawyers Guild delegation to Bolivia.