Wanted: Former Bolivian President Is Called to Justice

A year ago, on October 17, the then-president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (a.k.a. "Goni") resigned and fled his country for Miami, after a storm of public protests against his deals to sell Bolivian gas to foreign companies and an even greater torment after Goni's troops massacred Bolivian civilians who had protested against the gas deals.

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...



Goni's Shadow over Bolivia President Mesa

The current Bolivian President Carlos Mesa was, until a year ago this week, Vice President to the notorious "Goni." He broke with Goni after the massacre of civilian protestors during the Gas War of 2003. But Goni's ghost may yet come back to break Mesa in return.

Reuters has now published a report on the pending prosecution of Goni that is described above. It appears, so far, only on The Economist: Both Reuters and the magazine are British, leaving U.S. major media way behind the curve in reporting this story in English. It's titled Goni Gone, but not Forgotten. I used BugMeNot.com to "borrow" a password to enter The Economist website and read it.)

Some excerpts from the Reuters report, which ends with a quote from Narco News School of Authentic Journalism professor Alvaro Garcia...

WAVING rainbow-coloured flags, 3,000 people set off on a 150km (94-mile) march this week to La Paz to demand the arrest and trial of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada—“Goni”, as Bolivians universally call the former president and millionaire mining magnate. The first anniversary of his flight to exile in the United States was expected to pass peacefully. The question is how long the peace will hold for his successor, Carlos Mesa...

So far, so good. But then the Reuters reporter apparenty can't tell the difference between "rojo" and "negro," labeling "Black October" as somehow colored "red"...

Goni fled on the 17th day of what has become known as “Red October”—partly in honour of the leftist ideologues who organised demonstrations against him and partly in memory of the 59 people killed after he ordered troops on to the streets....

Mr Mesa, Goni's one-time vice-president, therefore walks a tightrope. An independent without a party, he has been unable to assemble a governing coalition in Congress. He has chosen instead to juggle political forces, sidelining unpopular political parties that supported Goni and the privatisations, but courting civic groups.

That has boosted his popularity, but it makes governing tricky, since Congress effectively contains neither a government block nor an opposition. The political parties, struggling to revive their fortunes, says Gonzalo Chávez of the La Paz Catholic University, “are fragmented and have no detectable policies”. Most are focused on trying to recover their popularity ahead of municipal elections in December...

Ironically, Mr Mesa's biggest challenge may be Goni himself. Last month the ex-president made his first appearance on Bolivian television since his escape. He called for “truth and reconciliation”, but also spoke of the need to “get to the bottom of the parts played by all the different actors”, a jab at protest leaders for inciting rioters. He also denied rumours that he stole money from the country's central bank.

The speech played badly in Bolivia, however. The growing calls for Goni to be put on trial could become a rallying cry for further unrest. A congressional commission has ruled that he should face charges. The protesters who helped oust him formed a political movement, M-17, which is seeking recognition as a political party. “The protest groups are too busy worrying about their candidates' chances in December's local elections to do anything now,” says Álvaro García Linera, a former guerrilla turned political analyst and co-author of a new book on Bolivia's social movements. “They will be back, though, in 2005.”

Of course, had Congress not voted to indict Goni, the unrest would have already been underway this morning.

Memo to any persons out there that might be occupying the White House in Washington after January 20th: Your Ambassador, David Greenlee, is a big part of the problem. Throw the bum out!

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.