Bolivian Ex-President Will Stand Trial in US Court for Massacre

Feb 22, 2018
9:15 am

Bolivian President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, Photo by Antônio Cruz for Agência Brasil (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil)

Former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada will stand trial next month in Florida. It will be the first time a former head of state faces a judge in the United States in connection with alleged human rights abuses. The trial is the result of a civil lawsuit alleging Sánchez de Lozada and his defense minister, José Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, both of whom live in the United States, were behind the extrajudicial killings by the Bolivian military of more than 50 people in El Alto, an incident known as the “October massacre.” The lawsuit argues that the two defendants had planned months in advance to intentionally use deadly force against protesters to quash political opposition.

The massacre took place  during a period of protests, led by the Indigenous Aymara community, that became known as the Gas War, in reference to the government’s plan to export cheap natural gas to the United States through Chilean ports. The uprising, in conjunction with another protest known as the Water War, led to Sánchez de Lozada’s resignation and the eventual election of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president (who is of Aymara descent).

Morales’ government had requested that Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín (no relation) be extradited in 2008 but was denied by the U.S. State Department, because some of the charges lacked equivalency in U.S. law. A second attempt filed in 2013 was accepted in February 2016, and the lengthy process is still on underway.

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