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.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
Construction work on the first portion of border wall approved under the Trump administration started today in Calexico, California. This is the first wall contract that has been awarded since President Trump took office, and its purpose is to replace two miles of an existing, smaller barrier. The federal government waived the need for environmental and other reviews on national security grounds, but the state of California filed suit against the decision.
After a trip to Cuba on Wednesday, six Democratic U.S. lawmakers urged the State Department to restore staff to the embassy in Havana. The staff were pulled last year after a bout of mysterious ailments among diplomats. A decision is expected on March 4th.
Citibank, one of the banks that drove the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) into debt, will now be paid, by a Washington-appointed oversight board, to consult on the utility company’s privatization. According to an analysis from the Action Center on Race and the Economy, Citi underwrote large parts of PREPA’s $9 billion debt, and at one point owned at least hundreds of millions of dollars in PREPA bonds.
Police in El Salvador arrested three high-ranking military officers on Tuesday in relation to the case of eight soldiers who were convicted last year of abducting and torturing two people, one of them a minor.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called for early congressional elections yesterday, just hours after the opposition coalition announced it plans to boycott early presidential elections. The April 22 vote could mean the end of the opposition’s majority in the legislature. The Democratic Unity movement said on Wednesday it would not participate in a “fraudulent” presidential election, leaving Maduro with no strong challengers.
In the first major demonstration in Argentina this year, nearly 200,000 people on Wednesday joined a massive march in Buenos Aires against President Mauricio Macri’s government. Speakers at the event, which was led by truckers and other labor unions, said the president’s policies are starving the most sensitive part of society and urged him to stop public sector layoffs and other austerity measures.
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