For more than three years, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada has put forth a well-developed and, to date, successful, strategy for his defense. Knowing well that it would be in the United Status that his fate—whether or not he would be returned to Bolivia for trial—would be determined, Sanchez de Lozada has worked hard to discredit the judicial process underway in Bolivia, and to cast himself as a victim of a cruel political persecution. He has intended to create in the U.S. a climate adverse to his extradition, making arguments in certain circles so that the U.S. authorities would deny fulfilment of the request for his extradition. To date, the truth as told by the victims is not even heard outside of Bolivia, much less so in the circles of power where the extradition matter will be decided.
We will look at some of the most frequent arguments which are utilized by the allies of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.
1.) Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his ex-ministers will not receive a fair trial in Bolivia because the Bolivian justice system is corrupt.
According to Transparency International, the Bolivian government was considered, during the second term of the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, the second most corrupt in the region. Now, it no longer carries this dishonorable distinction.
This corruption has always favored the rich and powerful, and the victims in this case have neither money nor political power except for their just cause.
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada constructed during his presidency a grand system of power which controlled and today still controls various levels of the judicial branch. This system was affected by the fall of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, but has still not been dismantled, as various judges are still aligned with him.
Even after Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fled the country and resigned the presidency, his political party, in December 2004, secured with the approval of Congress—the same Congress that had elected Sanchez de Lozada as President--various judgeships in the Supreme Court. The Congress of that time also elected the current Attorney General, Mario Uribe who, according to various press accounts is a member of Sanchez de Lozada’s MNR political party (National Revolutionary Movement), a claim which Uribe has never denied.
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was responsible for much of the corruption that existed in Bolivia, both directly in certain cases and indirectly in the maintenance of a political and economic system that promoted corruption.
In any case, the corruption that may continue to exist in Bolivia would never favor the victims who have nothing to offer, but rather would favor those with money, including Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada himself.
2.) The process against Sanchez de Lozada and his ex-ministers is a political vengeance of Evo Morales and his government. If this were not so, why aren’t others included in the trial, such as Evo Morales, Felipe Quispe and other social movement leaders, for their participation in the events of September/October 2003?
Those involved in the trial can categorically affirm that the process has advanced not because there has been political influence on the part of any government official, but only for the work of the victims and a collection of people committed to the struggle against impunity.
In the immediate aftermath of the events of September and October 2003, Evo Morales did present one of the six police reports, but later took no other legal action, and nor could he because he lacked procedural legitimacy by not being one of the direct victims.
On October 14, 2004, the national Congress authorized the Trial of Responsibility for Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his ex ministers by more than a two-thirds vote of all of its members. The Congress which authorized the trial consisted of a majority of members of both houses who were aligned with the political parties which had formed the Sanchez de Lozada government. When he resigned, his allies in Congress did not. The authorization granted by Congress at that time was not motivated by political revenge, but rather, by the fact that the evidence of bloody repression was so overwhelming that even Sanchez de Lozada’s own political allies had to vote in favor of the trial.
The overwhelming majority of the Bolivian people see the trial as an historical necessity and an absolutely just cause, and so political leaders frequently speak in support of this action. However, the political discourse of these leaders does little to assist in the advancement of the trial.
The work of the investigation has been eminently legal in nature, and has been developed objectively. Although from the first moment, the functionaries of the Ministry of Public Affairs, who were related to the government and power structure of Sanchez de Lozada, contaminated much of the evidence, and endeavored to destroy the possibility of a successful trial. Currently, however, the government’s work on the case is being handled by the commission of district attorneys, among others Milton Mendoza, who is described, according to agencies of USAID, as the best prosecutor in Bolivia.
The civil parties to the case have always requested a broad and thorough investigation, that all involved be investigated, and that all those responsible be judged and sentenced, no matter who they are or what position they hold in Bolivian society. In this context, politicians from Sanchez de Lozada’s government, police authorities, syndicate leaders, and military leaders—everyone except Sanchez de Lozada himself, Carlos Sanchez Berzain, ex-Minister of Defense, and Jorge Berindoague, ex-Minister of Hydrocarbons—have all properly submitted themselves to the Bolivian authorities with regard to the trial.
As of now, 11 ex ministers of Sanchez de Lozada’s government, the High Military Command from the period of the massacre, and Sanchez de Lozada himself have all been indicted, not because a political persecution is underway, but because the investigation shows that these individuals have responsibility for the events of September/October 2003. At no time during the investigation did even one of the indicted persons offer evidence that the leaders of social movements were authors of or responsible for the massacre, including among them the ex-Minister of the Interior and the members of the High Military Command who in those days had access to privileged intelligence.
It should be noted that even the current President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, submitted himself to the investigation even though at the time he was serving in Congress as a Representative. Although he was eligible for parliamentary immunity, he did not seek refuge in this, and made his declaration voluntarily.
It is said among allies of Sanchez de Lozada that President Mesa, who succeeded Sanchez de Lozada, issued a Supreme Decree granting amnesty to everyone except Sanchez de Lozada, his ministers and members of the military, a claim used to show evidence of a political persecution and the legal inequities faced by the defense. While it is true that that amnesty was granted for some crimes, like blocking roads, (which Sanchez de Lozada had severely penalized with a decree issued only a month prior to the beginning of the massacre), there has never been amnesty for the kinds of crimes for which Sanchez de Lozada is being investigated, not for him nor for anyone: crimes of genocide (in the form of bloody massacre), homicide, torture, threats against the media, resolutions in contrary to the Constitution and the law. No one received amnesty for these crimes, and anyone would have been investigated who had been identified as responsible for these acts, including, obviously, social movement leaders and Evo Morales himself.
3.) It does not seem that the actions of September/October 2003 could be described as genocide. Why is this crime being named?
Article 38 of the Bolivian Penal Code, dated August 23, 1972, establishes the crime of genocide as actions committed by:
One who, with the intention of destroying, totally or partially, a national, ethnic or religious group, to kill or wound the members of this group, or submit members of this group to inhumane conditions, or who imposes measures to impede their reproduction, or who violently displaces children and adults, and shall be punished with 10 to 20 years.
This sanction applies to the author or authors, or others directly or indirectly responsible for bloody massacre.
If those responsible are public authorities, or public servants, the penalty shall be increased by 100 to 500 days.
The kind of genocide referred to in Bolivian law is distinct from genocide as defined by international law. Sanchez de Lozada is being investigated for genocide according to the internal penal code of Bolivia.
This is a confusion that Sanchez de Lozada has been able to exploit, making it look as if the charges against him have been magnified, and that his enemies are trying to compare his actions to the genocide in Rwanda. Clearly the events are not the same, but according to Bolivian law, what Sanchez de Lozada authored was a massacre, which is a crime for which he must respond.
4.) If crimes were committed in September/October 2003, isn’t it possible that these were individual actions? That they were simply errors committed by poorly trained soldiers? The president is not responsible for every error committed by individuals acting in moments of conflict, confusion and fear.
No, the events of September and October 2003 were not isolated actions, mistakes or errors in judgment, but rather, measured actions which obeyed a specific strategy designed to break the citizen resistance through means of terror.
The investigation shows that here were repeated bursts of gunfire, and sharpshooters killing select targets. The intention was not to exterminate the masses, but rather, to kill a few people as a way of terrorizing the population and forcing the people to obey out of a sense of vulnerability.
Sanchez de Lozada never indicated that the armed forces were acting on their own account. On the contrary, he declared that they were acting according to his orders. On October 11, 2003, Sanchez de Lozada promulgated Supreme Decree 27209 which ordered the militarization of the gas plants and the transport of hydrocarbons. This decree safeguarded the actions of the military, expressly signaling in the third article that : “whatever harm to property or persons that might be produced as an effect of fulfilling the objective of this supreme decree shall be compensated and guaranteed by the State” and in this manner, anticipated the massacre.
5.) The civilian protesters were breaking the law. They deserved the punishment they received, as they were looking for a fight. As President, Sanchez de Lozada had no other option. He had to break the blockades so that food and gas could arrive to the citizens.
Many innocent people died, and not only those who were protesting. This was the intention, in fact, of the operation of terror executed by the military.
Legitimate violence should be exercised in a measured and rational manner, but in this case, the violence was simply disproportionate and directed to cause harm and terror. It is said that the military were guarding service stations and the transportation of hydrocarbons. In Villa Ingenio and Apana, which are the most dramatic examples, the military did not protect service stations nor guard cisterns. There were not even blockades taking place in these areas; but the unarmed civilian population was attacked without notice.
One of the saddest aspects of this dramatic, painful and undignified history is that two young children—Marlene Nancy Rojas, age 8, and Alex Llusco Mollericona, age 5, were both killed by the precise actions of sharpshooters.
6.) The events of September and October 2003 were instigated by drug traffickers, communists and other enemies of democracy.
There exists no evidence of this. According to police intelligence reports, cited by the ex-authorities of Sanchez de Lozada’s government, no armed groups, guerillas nor anything like it were detected in the area during this period of time.
7.) Sanchez de Lozada was democratically elected. He should not have been removed from office in this way.
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, in September and October of 2003, did not act in a democratic fashion, and rather, acted illegally. From the perspective of the Bolivian people, it was inconceivable that he could continue being President when he was responsible for the deaths of more than 60 people, a consequence of lethal military operations against an unarmed civilian population.
There is no prescribed process for terminating the presidency of one who has killed his own people. In this case, Sanchez de Lozada resigned, and as he left he was not attacked and no attempt was made on his life. Because of his actions, the Bolivian people are pushing for a trial of responsibility, and it has been three years so far with no sanction for those responsible. The trial would be a fulfillment of democratic principles.
8.) The Bolivian government is skipping the necessary step of formally notifying Sanchez de Lozada and his two ex-ministers of the trial. It is not legal to declare these men “rebeldes” if they have yet to be formally notified of the trial.
The significance of notification is not the formality itself, but rather the fact that those to be indicted are aware of the reports against them, so that they might assume a defense. In this case, Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain are clearly aware that there exist complaints against them—they have presented documents in the case and made petitions. Sanchez de Lozada has appeared in a CNN interview admitting to being aware of the investigation. Sanchez Berzain has a proxy who has participated in the investigation and has made various petitions on his behalf. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Affairs has sent these men a formal written notification via mail. There is a variety of evidence which confirms that these men are aware of the complaints, and that, with malicious intent, they have not assumed a defense so that the legal action might expire within a certain time limit and they will remain unpunished.
Because of the failure of the U.S. government to fulfill the Bolivian government’s formal request to notify the three men of the trial—a request they received over a year and a half ago—the Bolivian government and civil parties involved in the trial have moved to request the declaration of “rebeldia” in order to overcome this obstruction of justice.
9.) The extradition treaty between Bolivian and the U.S. states that this treaty does not apply to political crimes and therefore, is not relevant to the case of September and October 2003.
The nature of political crimes is difficult and controversial to assess. From a classic perspective, it is understood that political crimes are those which act against the constituted political order, and include crimes such as sedition. Sometimes, common crimes are committed for political purposes, such as a kidnapping committed in order to obtain funds to arm a subversive political organization.
The massacre, homicide, woundings and other crimes committed in September and October 2003 are not political crimes, and were not committed to threaten the established political order. Rather, they are common crimes.