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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
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
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
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
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
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
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