Wanted: Former Bolivian President Is Called to Justice
Last night, at 12:30 a.m., 126 members of the Bolivian Congress (out of 140, making the vote against Goni a crushing 90 percent on the second roll call) voted that Goni and members of his cabinet can now be subjected to trial as civilians for their alleged roles in the deaths of more than 80 civilian protestors during what is known throughout Bolivia as the "Black October" of 2003.
The gauntlet was thus thrown down to the Bush administration in Washington, which, according to U.S. Ambassador David Greenlee responding to Bolivian journalists last night, has allowed the former president, Goni, to remain legally in the United States for the past year... Bolivia and the U.S. share an extradition treaty. That means that, under law, U.S. officials must deport Goni back to Bolivia once an official request is made.
Thus, one of three scenarios will now occur: Washington will either obey the law and deport Goni home to stand trial, or it will disobey the law by continuing to provide him with sanctuary, or it will mock the law by letting Goni slip through law enforcement and hide to avoid extradition.
In any case, when we consider that it took the neighboring country of Chile almost three decades to prosecute the murders and war crimes of former dictator Augusto Pinochet, the vote last night in the halls of Congress, in La Paz, was historic not only for Bolivia, but for all América.
Bolivia has endured multiple coups and dictatorships, each with waves of repression against its own people, but Goni is the first commander-in-chief to be brought to justice, accused of murdering his own people.
According to the Bolivian daily El Mundo - see the article, "Historic: Goni to Face Civilian Trial" (original in Spanish), the effort to authorize the civilian trial failed narrowly on the first vote but passed overwhelmingly on the second:
After two prolonged sessions, the National Congress made history by authorizing, last night, with more than two-thirds of the vote, a trial against former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his entire cabinet for the excessive acts that occurred last October because of the "gas war."
The first session lasted almost twelve hours and after intense and heated debating in defense of Sánchez de Lozada, and also against the former leader, a trial was avoided with 103 votes in favor (that didn't reach the two-thirds requirement of 105 votes), 25 against, and 13 abstentions, on whether the former President and state ministers would be processed by civilian courts.
Upon not having achieved a two-thirds vote, a second round went much faster than the first and by a roll call vote, just like the first one, many of the "no" votes and abstentions became "yes" votes. The final result was 126 votes for "yes," 13 for "no" and one abstention Some members of Congress abandoned the session. Their colleagues harshly criticized them for doing so.
This historic session happened amid a large vigil outside the halls of Congress by social organizations that awaited the results. There had been threats of serious problems if the vote had been favorable to the former president and this caused significant pressure on the legislators, under threat that the people would shut down Congress.
Evo Morales promised the 35 votes of the MAS party in favor of trial, a promise that he kept. The same can't be said of the members of the MIR, NFR or EMNR parties because some of their members were part of the cabinet of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada...
(See also, from El Mundo, "The Families of the Victims Celebrate.")
Meanwhile, according to the Bolivian daily La Patria:
United States Ambassador to Bolivia David Greenlee, on Wednesday, did not discard the possibility of facilitating the extradition of former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, in accord with bilateral agreements that Bolivia has with the White House.
Although he preferred not to enter into speculations, the diplomatic representative assured that there is an extradition treaty between both nations so that any request would simply have to be made by the proper channels.
"But the truth is that in this moment we don't know the status of Sánchez de Lozada (in the U.S.), however I am sure that his status is legal. He is (in the country) legally," he said.
The Ambassador, upon being asked if former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada enjoys any special kind of protection said that Goni has the legal status of a visitor to the U.S.
"I don't want to speculate about what could happen, this is an issue for Bolivia," said David Greenlee when asked if Sánchez de Lozada would be extradited...
So far the only news agencies in English to report the news are the BBC, reporting, "The Bolivian Congress has voted to put former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada on trial over the deaths of up to 80 people in October last year," and the faded UPI.
As of 9:20 a.m. on Thursday morning, the major North American news organizations - AP, CNN, the New York Times, and Goni's new hometown newspaper, the Miami Herald (a.k.a. Oligarch's Daily), etcetera - despite their large budgets and well-paid correspondents in South America and in the Andes, have so far remained silent a silence that may have the intended result of allowing Goni just enough lead time to slip through the fingers of justice...