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Bolivia’s Former President and Defense Minister Face Florida Trial for Civilian Deaths March 12, 2018

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: there’s a familiar pattern here.  A Latin American head of state is supported, propped up or whatever by the United States government in order to protect U.S. corporate, military and geopolitical interests.  When his murderous policies become so untenable that popular uprisings (and in a few cases democratic elections) succeed in overthrowing said caudillo, he finds refuge in a playboy’s lifestyle in the United States or elsewhere.  Batista, Jiminez, Duvalier, Somosa… There is a long list.  Chile’s brutal dictator, Pinochet, got caught in England, but a British court let him slip away.  Ecuador’s Mahuad, responsible for millions losing their life savings, was last seen teaching Economics at Harvard.

Now we see, perhaps for the first time,  a possibility for justice for U.S. supported high crimes in Bolivia.

 | MARCH 5, 2018, Miami New Times

Mamani plantiffs

In 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín fled to Miami amid roiling protests in La Paz. The two had enraged indigenous Bolivians by trying to sell off the country’s natural gas reserves to private corporations and then had responded to peaceful protests by ordering out the army, which killed 58 civilians and wounded more than 400 people.

The two figured they would find safe haven in South Florida, as so many other deposed strongmen have done. But they didn’t count on the extraordinary resolve of Eloy and Etelvina Mamani, whose 8-year-old daughter, Marlene, bled to death in their home near Lake Titicaca after a government sniper shot her through the chest.

Along with several other victims of the massacre, the Mamanis sued the two Bolivian leaders in federal court with the help of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard. Today, after more than a decade of legal battles, the Mamanis will get to face Sánchez de Lozada and Berzaín in court.

 

Lawyers for the families say the trial, set to begin in Fort Lauderdale’s federal courthouse, will be the first time a former head of state faces a human rights trial in U.S. civil court.

“The former president and his minister of defense must now listen as we testify about what happened,” Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, said in a news release. “We look forward to this historic opportunity to have our day in court.”

The roots of the case date back to the early 2000s, when Sánchez de Lozada — a U.S.-educated, corporation-friendly leader — took power and tried to begin privatizing state resources, with the hearty backing of the Clinton administration. (James Carville even ran his successful 2002 campaign in Bolivia.)

As New Times wrote in a 2008 feature about the case, that move quickly ran into strong opposition from the impoverished Aymaras and Quechuas in the western highlands:

By 2003, a long-simmering feud over what to do with Bolivia’s natural gas deposits had reached a boil. Goni wanted to bring in foreign companies to pipe the gas through neighboring Chile, to the sea, and eventually to California, but indigenous protesters — who despised foreign companies and Chile with equal aplomb — vowed to stop him. In early 2003, a young, charismatic Aymara coca farmer named Evo Morales (who had come in second to Goni in the election a year before) began gathering indigenous groups to block the plans, pushing instead for nationalization. With little political clout, Morales turned to civil disobedience: Protesters destroyed roads and barricaded towns in the highlands around La Paz, seeking to choke the economy until their demands were met.

Sánchez de Lozada ordered Berzaín and the military to respond — and they did, with violent force. As protests intensified amid the dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, Sánchez de Lozada and his defense minister resigned October 17, 2003, and jetted to Miami. They lived here in comfort in Key Biscayne, but the Mamani family wanted justice for their daughter.

“I want them all in jail,” Etelvina told New Times in 2010. “But that doesn’t seem possible.”

With the help of Harvard’s lawyers, they found one angle for justice in Miami’s federal courts. Lawyers for the former leaders have spent years arguing that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over what happened in Bolivia in 2003.

“All evidence shows the response of the Sánchez de Lozada government was constitutional, lawful, and appropriate,” Howard Gutman, an attorney for the Bolivian leaders, said in 2008.

But the Mamanis have won several major victories already. In 2016, a judge ruled they could continue fighting for their case under the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act, and last month a motion for summary judgment by the former leaders was tossed out, clearing the way for today’s trial.

“The trial will offer indigenous Aymara people, who have historically been excluded from justice, a chance to testify about events that led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries,” Beth Stephens, an attorney for for the victims, says in a statement.

 

 

Bolivians Demand Justice for 2003 Gas War Massacre October 21, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I never cease to be outraged when I think of U.S. foreign policy and actions towards Latin America, of which I have been a life-long student and aficionado.  The U.S. government has never met a pro-American dictator or repressive president it didn’t like, from Tierra del Fuego to Havana, Cuba (which is not to exclude the rest of the world).  It is particularly offensive that, once the people have overthrown these traitors, the United States becomes an asylum for them.  Almost without exception, its geopolitical objectives trump human rights, values and decency.  God Bless America.

 

by BENJAMIN DANGL

Thousands of people marched in El Alto, Bolivia on Friday, October 17th to demand justice for the 2003 massacre of over 60 people during the country’s Gas War under the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) administration. Sanchez de Lozada is currently living freely in the US, and marchers demanded he and others in his government be brought to Bolivia to be tried for ordering the violence. October marks the anniversary of that assault on the city, and people mobilized on Friday to remember and to demand justice.

“Today we’re marching to remember on the 11th anniversary of the Gas War, which was aimed at getting rid of the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,” El Alto neighborhood council member Daniel Cama said while marching down the streets of the city. “We demand justice, and we demand the extradition of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and [former Defense Minister] Carlos Sanchez de Berzain, because they were the ones that led the massacre against the people of El Alto. This violence left many widows, orphans and injured people that are still demanding justice. Today we are marching to celebrate and remember the dead who fought for our natural resources.”

Bolivia’s Gas War is largely credited for ushering in a period of progressive change marked by policies led by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected on October 12th for a third term in office. The “Martyrs of the Gas War” are often recalled as the protagonists that led to the nationalization of sectors of Bolivia’s gas industry, a move which has generated funding for many popular social programs the Morales’ administration has developed to alleviate poverty. (For more information, see this article on the ten year anniversary of the Gas War and this article on the case against Goni.)

On Friday, thousands of El Alto residents marched from different points in the city, converging for a rally in the city center, where social movement leaders and victims of the Gas War spoke to a large crowd. Cheers regularly broke out, including the angry cry, “We Want Goni’s Head!” Many activists in the Gas War itself were present, such as the prominent participation by the city’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations. In a march meant to remember those days of repression and struggle, many veterans of the conflict marched down the same streets, and under the same bridges, where the army led their attack.

There was a notable absence of politicians at the day’s events, something many speakers at the rally commented on. Various marchers explained that the Morales government was moving forward with nationalization plans and progressive policies fought for in the streets of the Gas War. However, activists also complained that the Morales administration has not supported the working class city of El Alto with sufficient public projects and infrastructure.

“We’re marching for those brothers and sisters who died or were injured in the Gas War,” explained El Alto resident Genoveve Rodriguez. “As time has passed not even the government remembers this conflict, and they haven’t created enough public projects to help out the city of El Alto.”

The following photos are of the October 17th march, including the vast participation of the neighborhood councils and family members of Gas War victims, as well as the rally which ended the day’s mobilization with speeches and music.

El Alto’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations, key participants in the Gas War, led the march.

Family members of Gas War victims rallied for justice in El Alto.

A cross in downtown El Alto reads “11 Years of Impunity.”

A Bolivian hip-hop group was among many bands performing at the rally following the march.

A commemorative mural in El Alto depicting the Gas War.

All photos by Benjamin Dangl

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl 

Who Is Evo Morales, The Man Offering Snowden Asylum August 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Drugs, Latin America.
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Morales rose to prominence as the leader of the Bolivian Movement for Socialism (MSM) in 2005.

 

 

Bolivia's President Evo Morales waves to photographers as he arrives for the Mercosur trade bloc summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, Friday, July 12, 2013. Paraguay is expected to be readmitted into the bloc after member nations suspended its membership last year for having impeached and ousted President Fernando Lugo. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales waves to photographers as he arrives for the Mercosur trade bloc summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, Friday, July 12, 2013. Paraguay is expected to be readmitted into the bloc after member nations suspended its membership last year for having impeached and ousted President Fernando Lugo. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

 

Tumultuous U.S.-Bolivian relations took a turn for the worse last month when a plane carrying Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was diverted and forced to land in Austria after departing Russia. European authorities thought that Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, was on board Morales’ plane, setting off a diplomatic row after Bolivia refused requests to search the plane.

 

“The U.S. pressured these countries to ground my plane, they wanted to scare me, they kidnapped me and put my life at risk because my country doesn’t follow the rules of the Empire any longer,” Morales said following the incident. ” Edward Snowden is not a fly that can get onto my plane without anyone noticing, he’s not a bag I could just carry on board.” Although his government offered Snowden asylum, the NSA whistleblower accepted a temporary, one year asylum offer from Russia. Bolivia could be on the short list of countries that will accept him for permanent asylum once his one year stay in Russia is complete.

 

Following the incident, CBS news reports that Morales decided to extend asylum to Snowden, welcoming him to come to his country after he accused the U.S. and Europe of temporarily blocking his flight home.

 

Before Morales got wrapped up in international headlines regarding Edward Snowden, the Bolivian President had defied Washington dictates by supporting coca production and nationalizing key sectors of the Bolivian economy, including telecommunications and mining. The transition to a semi-planned economy has helped the South American nation to slash extreme poverty by at least 13 percent, reduce unemployment and virtually wipe out illiteracy among the country’s 10 million citizens in recent years.

 

 

 

Who is Evo Morales?

 

The late Hugo Chavez may have stolen headlines in the U.S. for famously calling former President George W. Bush “the devil” at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. But among contemporary leaders in Latin America, Evo Morales is no less controversial in the eyes of Washington.

 

Morales rose to prominence as a leader of the Movement for Socialism (MSM) after he was popularly elected the country’s first President of indigenous descent in 2005. He played a key role in national protests against the privatization of water supplies in Cochabamba in 2000 and similarly against the privatization of the country’s robust gas resources in 2003.

 

As the Obama administration criticizes Bolivia and other countries for offering asylum to Snowden, the U.S. continues to harbor Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, Bolivia’s President from 2002-2003 who ordered the military to open fire on citizens protesting the privatization of a major gas line. Sixty people died in that attack.

 

It’s part of a long history of U.S. intervention in Bolivian affairs, notably lending support to the Bolivian military in the assassination of Che Guevara in 1967. Che was hoping to lead another popular revolt in the country following his success in the 1959 revolution.

 

With the help of the CIA, the country was plunged into decades of military dictatorship, coups and countercoups until Morales’ election began to turn the page in 2006. His rise has been described by many observers as part of the Bolivarian Revolution that led to a new wave of leftist leaders in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and in Venezuela over the past decade.

 

U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone interviewed Morales as part of his hit 2009 documentary, “South of the Border,” including him in the list of new leaders.

 

 

 

Empowering the peasantry

 

So what can be said of his leadership? For the marginalized indigenous population, Morales represented more than a symbolic change of face, by extending resources to help reduce poverty and virtually wipe out illiteracy with the help of Venezuela and Cuba.

 

The BBC reported in 2008 that a 30-month campaign to teach thousands of poor Bolivians to read and write has made the country “illiteracy free.” In 2001, at least 14 percent of the population didn’t know how to read, compared with just 4 percent after the campaign was completed in 2008.

 

For many of the poor indigenous population, the “Yes I Can” campaign designed by Cuba and funded by Venezuela was the first time a Bolivian government had helped further the education in rural areas.

 

“Not knowing how to read and write was like having a disability, it was like being blind,” said Freddy Mollo, a 43-year-old student.

 

“I couldn’t even draw a line. I had never been to school. Now I have learned to read and write in Quechua and I feel like a real person. Before I didn’t,” said Daria Calpa.

 

Gains extend far beyond just literacy campaigns. Using data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Guardian newspaper reported that the proportion of those in moderate poverty dropped from 60 percent in 2005 and to 49.6 percent in 2010. Extreme poverty fell from 38 percent to 25 percent over the same period.

 

The UNDP also reports that Bolivia is the top country in Latin America in terms of transferring resources to its most vulnerable population — 2.5 percent of its Gross National Product (GNP).

 

“Bolivia is one of the few countries that has reduced inequality… the gap between rich and poor has been hugely narrowed,” said Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean last year.

 

 

 

Standing up to the DEA

 

As a former union leader for a coca growers union, the issue of normalizing coca production and consumption was a personal one for Morales and for millions of citizens who rely upon the crop for their livelihood. It’s a difficult line to walk when coca from South America, mostly from Colombia and Bolivia is used to produce the majority of the world’s cocaine.

 

“I would like to say with clarity and with responsibility to you and the entire world that this is the coca leaf; that this is not cocaine. This coca leaf is part of our culture,” said Morales holding up a coca leaf at a 2009 U.N. meeting in Vienna.

 

For centuries, indigenous groups in the Andes mountains have been chewing coca, a leaf that produces a mild buzz similar to caffeine. Morales, a regular consumer of the plant has been a leading spokesman for taking the plant off the U.N. list of schedule I drugs.

 

After expelling the U.S. ambassador in 2008, the U.S. and Bolivia normalized relations in 2011, but it is not business as usual when it comes to drug enforcement. “For the first time since Bolivia was founded, the United States will now respect Bolivia’s rules and laws,” said Morales under the agreement restoring full diplomatic ties that Bolivia and Washington signed in 2011. As part of the new agreement, the DEA is no longer welcome in Bolivia.

 

Cocaine is still illegal in Bolivia and regulation of the coca industry seems to have actually helped reduce the illicit drug trade. “It’s fascinating to look at a country that kicked out the United States ambassador and the D.E.A. [Drug Enforcement Agency], and the expectation on the part of the United States is that drug war efforts would fall apart,” said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivian research group. Instead, she said, Bolivia’s approach is “showing results.”

 

By empowering the coca unions and drawing a clear line separating coca leaf from illegal cocaine, Morales appears to have found an alternative to the decades DEA war on drugs policies that have resulted in $1 trillion spent, 60,000 deaths and no measurable reduction in drug export or consumption. About 82 percent of Americans now say that the U.S. is losing the war on drugs.

 

 

America’s Refusal to Extradite Bolivia’s Ex-President to Face Genocide Charges September 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: “Washington turned down the extradition request on the grounds that a civilian leader cannot be tried for crimes committed by the military …”  The “civilian leaders” of the United States and Great Britain might be in big trouble if they could culd be tried for the crimes committed by the military they send to foreign lands to commit them.”
Published on Sunday, September 9, 2012 by The Guardian

Obama justice officials have all but granted asylum to Sánchez de Lozada – a puppet who payrolled key Democratic advisers

In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government’s energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation’s indigenous Aymara communities. Dozens of protesters had been killed by government forces in the prior months when troops were sent to suppress them.

Thousands of Bolivian Indians rallying in La Paz to demand the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, 16 October 2003. The sign reads, ‘Goni, Zorro, murderers of the people’, in reference to the president and his defense minister. Photograph: Reuters/Carlos Barria

The resulting outrage over what became known as “the Gas Wars” drove Sanchez de Lozada from office and then into exile in the United States, where he was welcomed by his close allies in the Bush administration. He has lived under a shield of asylum in the US ever since.

The Bolivians, however, have never stopped attempting to bring their former leader to justice for what they insist are his genocide and crimes against humanity: namely, ordering the killing of indigenous peaceful protesters in cold blood (as Time Magazine put it: “according to witnesses, the military fired indiscriminately and without warning in El Alto neighborhoods”). In 2007, Bolivian prosecutors formally charged him with genocide for the October 2003 incident, charges which were approved by the nation’s supreme court.

Bolivia then demanded his extradition from the US for him to stand trial. That demand, ironically, was made pursuant to an extradition treaty signed by Sánchez de Lozada himself with the US. Civil lawsuits have also been filed against him in the US on behalf of the surviving victims.

The view that Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike. But on Friday night, the Bolivian government revealed that it had just been notified by the Obama administration that the US government has refused Bolivia’s extradition request:

“‘Yesterday (Thursday), a document arrived from the United States, rejecting the extradition of people who have done a lot of damage to Bolivia,’ leftist [President Evo] Morales, an outspoken critic of US foreign policy in Latin America, said in a speech.

“Calling the United States a ‘paradise of impunity’ and a ‘refuge for criminals,’ Morales said Washington turned down the extradition request on the grounds that a civilian leader cannot be tried for crimes committed by the military …

“Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition was also demanded by opposition leaders in Bolivia and they criticized the US decision.

“Rogelio Mayta, a lawyer representing victims of the 2003 violence, said ‘the US protection’ of Sanchez de Lozada was not surprising.

“‘It’s yet another display of the US government’s double moral standard,’ he said.”

Because he has yet to be tried, I have no opinion on whether Sánchez de Lozada is guilty of the crimes with which he has been formally charged (Bolivian courts have convicted several other military officers on genocide charges in connection with these shootings). But the refusal of the Obama administration to allow him to stand trial for what are obviously very serious criminal allegations is completely consistent with American conceptions of justice and is worth examining for that reason.

Let’s begin with two vital facts about the former Bolivian leader.

First, Sánchez de Lozada was exactly the type of America-revering-and-obeying leader the US has always wanted for other nations, especially smaller ones with important energy resources. When he was driven into exile in October 2003, the New York Times described him as “Washington’s most stalwart ally in South America”.

The former leader – a multimillionaire mining executive who, having been educated in the US, spoke Spanish with a heavy American accent – was a loyal partner in America’s drug war in the region. More importantly, the former leader himself was a vehement proponent and relentless crusader for free trade and free market policies favored by the US: policies that the nation’s indigenous poor long believed (with substantial basis) resulted in their impoverishment while enriching Bolivia’s small Europeanized elite.

It was Sánchez de Lozada’s forced exile that ultimately led to the 2006 election and 2009 landslide re-election of Morales, a figure the New York Times in October 2003 described as one “regarded by Washington as its main enemy”. Morales has been as vehement an opponent of globalization and free trade as Sánchez de Lozada was a proponent, and has constantly opposed US interference in his region and elsewhere (in 2011, Morales called for the revocation of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize as a result of the intervention in Libya).

So, this extradition refusal is, in one sense, a classic and common case of the US exploiting pretenses of law and justice to protect its own leaders and those of its key allies from the rule of law, even when faced with allegations of the most egregious wrongdoing. If the Obama DOJ so aggressively shielded accused Bush war criminals from all forms of accountability, it is hardly surprising that it does the same for loyal US puppets. That a government that defies US dictates is thwarted and angered in the process is just an added bonus. That, too, is par for the course.

But there’s another important aspect of this case that distinguishes it from the standard immunity Washington gifts to itself and its friends. When he ran for president in 2002, Sánchez de Lozada was deeply unpopular among the vast majority of Bolivians as a result of his prior four-year term as president in the 1990s. To find a way to win despite this, he hired the consulting firm owned and operated by three of Washington’s most well-connected Democratic party operatives: James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum. He asked them to import the tactics of American politics into Bolivia to ensure his election victory.

As detailed by a 2006 New York Times review of a film about the Democratic operatives’ involvement in Bolivia’s election, their strategy was two-fold: first, destroy the reputations of his two opponents so as to depress the enthusiasm of Bolivia’s poor for either of them; and then mobilize Sánchez de Lozada’s base of elites to ensure he wins by a tiny margin. That strategy worked, as he was elected with a paltry 22.5% of the popular vote. From the Times review:

“‘[The film] asks a more probing question: whether Mr Carville and company, in selling a pro-globalization, pro-American candidate, can export American-style campaigning and values to a country so fundamentally different from the United States …

“‘It’s a very explosive film in Bolivia because it shows close up a very deliberate strategy,’ said Jim Shultz, an American political analyst in Bolivia who recently saw the film with a group of friends. ‘The film is especially explosive because it’s about a candidate – so identified with the United States and so hated by so many Bolivians – being put into office by the political manipulations of US consultants.’

“Mauro Quispe, 33, a cabdriver in La Paz, said he saw slices of the film on the television news, and it raised his ire. ‘I was stunned,’ he said. ‘He was being advised by the Americans, and everything they said was in English.'”

There’s no evidence, at least of which I’m aware, that any of these Democratic operatives intervened on behalf of their former client in his extradition pleas to the Obama administration, but it rather obviously did not hurt. At the very least, shielding a former leader deposed by his own people from standing trial for allegedly gunning down unarmed civilians takes on an even uglier image when that former leader had recently had leading US Democratic operatives on his payroll.

Then, there are the very revealing parallels between this case and the recent decision by Ecuador to grant asylum to Julian Assange, until his fears of political persecution from being extradited to Sweden are resolved. Remember all those voices who were so deeply outraged at Ecuador’s decision? Given that he faces criminal charges in Sweden, they proclaimed, protecting Assange with asylum constitutes a violent assault on the rule of law.

Do you think any of the people who attacked Ecuador on that ground will raise a peep of protest at what the US did here in shielding this former leader from facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity back in his own country? In contrast to Ecuador – which is fervently seeking an agreement to allow Assange to go to Sweden to face those allegations while simultaneously protecting his political rights – the US has done nothing, and is doing nothing, to ensure that Sánchez de Lozada will ever have to face trial. To the contrary, until Saturday, the US has steadfastly refused even to acknowledge Bolivia’s extradition request, even though the crimes for which they want to try him are plainly within the scope of the two nations’ extradition treaty.

Then there’s the amazing fact that Democrats, who understandably scorn Mitt Romney for piling up massive personal wealth while he advocates policies harmful to the poor, continue in general to revere these types of Clintonites who, arguably to a lesser extent, have done the same. Indeed, Democrats spent all last week wildly praising Bill Clinton, who has made close to $100m in speaking fees alone by traveling the globe, speaking to hedge funds, and advocating globalization and free trade.

In this case, one finds both the prevailing rules and the prevailing orthodoxies of American justice. High-level leaders in the US government and those who serve their interests are exempt from the rule of law (even when accused of heinous acts of terrorism); only leaders who run afoul of US dictates should be held accountable.

Even in the civil case against him, an appellate court ultimately ruled that he was immune from damages or civil lawsuits, overturning a lower court ruling that there were sufficient allegations of genocide and war crimes against him to allow the suit to proceed. As usual, US federal courts are the leaders in ensuring that the most politically well-connected are shielded from the consequences of their acts.

Relatedly, we find the prevailing sentiment that asylum is something that is only to be granted by the US and its western allies against unfriendly governments. The notion that one may need asylum from the US or the west – or that small Latin American countries unfavorable to the US can grant it rather than have it granted against them – is offensive and perverse to all good and decent western citizens, who know that political persecution is something that happens only far away from them.

The protection of this accused former leader will likely generate little controversy in the US because it was the by-product of the actions of both the Bush and Obama administrations, and because it comports so fully with how American justice functions. The only surprising thing would have been if there had been a different outcome.

© 2012 The Guardian

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Decolonization’s Rocky Road: Corruption, Expropriation and Justice in Bolivia March 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, Media.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl   
Monday, 16 March 2009

March 13th, 1781 siege of La Paz, Bolivia launched from El Alto by indigenous rebels Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa. The siege was against Spanish rule and for indigenous liberation in the Andes. At a gathering the night before the recent anniversary mobilization, Eugene Rojas, the mayor of Achacachi, said, “We, the indigenous, organized a siege of La Paz in the past, and we will do it again if we need to.” Rojas alluded to the long-postponed decolonization that Katari and Sisa dreamed of over two centuries ago. Today, those dreams of liberation are at once alive and in jeopardy. 

 

 

After the nationalist confetti of the January 25th constitutional referendum blew away, and the busted water balloons and foam of Carnival washed down the streets with the rain, political scandals filled the Bolivian airwaves. Besides the challenges of applying the changes in the new constitution, recent cases of government corruption, shaky relations with Washington and political unrest show that the road to the December general elections is likely to be a rocky one.

 

The Corruption Scandal

 

In late January, Santos Ramirez, a key architect and member of the Movement Toward Socialism party, (MAS, the political party of indigenous president Evo Morales) and director of the YPFB – the state oil and gas company – was hauled off to jail on corruption charges. Investigations showed that Ramirez asked for a bribe in order to provide an $86 million contract to Argentine-Bolivian Company Catler Uniservice for a natural gas plant. The investigations started when a manager at Catler was murdered and robbed of $450,000 – money that was apparently going to Ramirez’s aide, according to Reuters. Ramirez is now in San Pedro jail in La Paz, the same place former Pando governor Leopoldo Fernandez is currently held after being implicated in a massacre of MAS supporters in Pando in September 2008.

 

Ramirez’s arrest struck a harsh blow to the MAS administration which has always pledged to put an end to the country’s legacy of corruption. The difference this time around however, compared to what was the norm in previous administrations, is that Ramirez actually was actually sent to jail; under past governments some of the most corrupt politicians remained free.

 

After the Ramirez scandal blew up, Morales said, “It’s been totally proven that foreign agents, CIA agents, were infiltrated (in YPFB) … Maybe that’s the way the (U.S.) empire has to conspire against the policies that we’re pushing forward.”

 

Alfredo Rada, the Minister of Government, accused Francisco Martinez, a US diplomat, of being a CIA agent and helping to infiltrate the YPFB. Morales accused Martinez of “coordinating contacts” with a Bolivian police officer that the government says infiltrated the YPFB, following orders from the CIA. Morales explained that “deep investigations” had proved Martinez was also “in permanent contact with opposition groups” in Bolivia. The Bolivian president then kicked Martinez out of the country. The expulsion of Martinez follows that of former US ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg in September of 2008. Goldberg was also accused of collaborating with the right wing opposition to undermine the Morales administration. (See Undermining Bolivia for more.)

 

“There is clearly a connection in the activities that the former ambassador Philip Goldberg, USAID, the DEA and now Martinez have been doing here in Bolivia,” an anonymous official in Bolivia‘s Government Ministry said to Josh Partlow of the Washington Post. “These are suspicious acts that have nothing to do with diplomacy or foreign aid. … This conduct of interference, and it cannot be called anything else, is not tolerated here anymore.”

 

“We reject the allegations,” the US state department said in a statement regarding the events. “We can’t understand how the president can assure us that he wants better relations with the United States and at the same time continue to make false accusations,” said Denise Urs, a US embassy spokeswoman.

 

In a press conference on March 13, Tom Shannon, the US assistant state secretary for Latin American Affairs, commented on the expulsion of the US diplomat from Bolivia. “We need a full diplomatic dialogue and a high-quality dialogue… And regrettably, up to this point, as we have sought to engage the Bolivians around the issues that have provoked their own actions, we have yet to receive what we would consider to be a coherent or a consistent response.”

 

Meanwhile, the Santos Ramirez corruption case is far from closed. On March 13, Ramirez demanded that he be let out of jail because he says no evidence has been produced that proves that he harmed the Bolivian government with his actions, as the supposed irregular contract with Catler has not yet been terminated.

 

Cárdenas’ House Occupied

 

On March 7, 350 people took over and occupied the country home of Victor Hugo Cárdenas. Cárdenas was vice president in the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada administration of 1993-1997 and a harsh critic of Bolivia‘s new constitution. The group of angry locals forced Cárdenas’ wife and three children to leave the house, while reportedly beating them.

 

Mario Huaypa, a representative of the group that occupied the house, told the Agencia Bolivian de Información that a general meeting was held within the community in which it was decided that the house should be expropriated because the land it was built on was illegally acquired by Cárdenas. The group said they will continue the occupation until the official Bolivian justice system looks into the case. The people who occupied the home introduced the supposedly eight legitimate owners of the land, who said that the land and house should be taken over and converted into a retirement home for the area’s elderly.

 

Cárdenas, an Aymara intellectual, governed in the 1990s with Sanchez de Lozada speaking on behalf of the indigenous population and their rights, while at the same time pushing through repressive and neoliberal policies that led to economic depression and state violence against indigenous people. To this day, public appearances by Cárdenas are regularly met with protests. The locals who occupied his house were also protesting the fact that Cárdenas campaigned against the new constitution. It is rumored that Cárdenas will run as a possible presidential candidate for the general elections in December.

 

The occupation of Cárdenas’ home has rightly been condemned throughout Bolivia, as the act only worsens the polarization in the country and pushes aside much-needed peaceful dialogue between opposing political factions. Unfortunately, violence has been even more extensively used by the Bolivian right wing since Morales took office in 2006. A right wing youth group in Santa Cruz has regularly attacked indigenous people in that city (see The Dark Side of Bolivia’s Half Moon.) In 2007 alone, there were approximately eight political bombings in Bolivia, most of which were against leftist unions or MAS party officials (see String of Bomb Attacks Prompts Hunger for Truth.) In 2008, right wing thugs destroyed various government and human rights offices across the country, and murdered some 20 pro-MAS farmers in the Pando, injuring dozens of others (see The Machine Gun and The Meeting Table). While the violence against Cárdenas’ family members and the house occupation should be condemned, so should the widespread violence unleashed by Bolivia’s right wing against indigenous and pro-MAS citizens.

 

Misinformation and Decolonization

 

In other news, the US State Department recently released a human rights report on Bolivia which did not even mention the Santa Cruz Youth Group and similarly violent right wing groups, or the repression they have let loose on Bolivia’s indigenous majority. The report does mention the charges against former Bolivian president Sanchez de Lozada, but does not mention that the country in which this criminal is currently enjoying refuge is the same one that issued the human rights report. The report explains, “On October 17, the attorney general’s office formally indicted former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and former defense minister Sanchez Berzain on criminal charges in connection with the deaths of up to 60 persons in October 2003. In November the government submitted a request for Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition from the country to which he fled.” (For more on the irony of the US issuing such human rights reports, see the recent article, Who is America to judge?)

 

On the media front, Bolivia has recently witnessed the all too common bias and misinformation from various US press outlets. A recent piece in The Atlantic Monthly by Eliza Barclay was particularly egregious. The title itself – “The Mugabe of the Andes?” – alludes to the article’s suggestions that most political violence in Bolivia comes from Morales and his supporters – not a racist right wing. In the article, Barclay fails to quote a single MAS supporter, or anyone offering a more nuanced view of the country’s political landscape. She focuses on how Morales’ “rhetoric studded with racial references aimed at his opposition” has created divisions in the country, and then goes on to mention the September 2008 violence in Pando without saying that right wing governor Leopoldo Fernandez, not Morales, was behind the massacre. She mentions that US ambassador Goldberg was expelled, but doesn’t say why. Barclay also writes that Bolivia’s “highland regions remain stuck in a poverty trap that Morales has shown little flair for unlocking” but fails to mention that, as the website Abiding in Bolivia pointed out, the Bolivian government is “running a surplus and massively expanding its budget and infrastructure spending.”

 

Though the MAS has made plenty of mistakes and Morales is far from a perfect president, Barclay’s article leads the reader to believe that the country is brimming with people who hate the MAS government. The fact is that Morales, in his 2005 election, August 2008 recall referendum and recent constitutional vote, received significantly more support from the population than Barack Obama did in the 2008 US elections. Luckily, photographer Evan Abramson offered a much more accurate view of Bolivia in this excellent narrated photo essay, which was posted on the Atlantic’s website to accompany the article. (For more media analysis on coverage of Bolivia see Borev.net and Abiding in Bolivia.)

 

One example of the positive policies of the MAS government was demonstrated on March 14, when Morales redistributed some 94,000 acres in the eastern part of the country to small farmers. The land of US rancher Ron Larsen was among the acres redistributed. Bolivia’s new constitution, which limits new land purchase at 12,400 acres, has empowered the MAS government’s plans for land reform. “Private property will always be respected but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency,” Morales said, upon officially redistributing the land. Many of the Guarani farmers in the area that received the land, including various families on the Larsen ranch, had been living in conditions of slavery. Morales explained that, “To own land is to have freedom, and if there is land and freedom, there is justice.”

While the Atlantic Monthly misled their readers, on March 14th, the NY Times did publish an Op-Ed by Evo Morales on his demand for decriminalizing coca, a leaf widely used throughout the Andes for medicinal and cultural purposes. At a recent UN meeting in Vienna, Morales called for the legalization of the coca leaf, and even chewed coca at the meeting. Some 48 years ago the UN incorrectly classified the coca leaf as a narcotic. In his NY Times piece, Morales writes, “Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.”

 

Indeed, symbolism, history and identity have taken center stage in today’s Bolivia. Just recently it was announced that a statue of Che Guevara situated at the entrance to the city of El Alto will, after outcries and protests from numerous residents, be replaced instead with statues of Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, as these two heroes more accurately represent the city’s legacy of anti-colonial, indigenous rebellion. As Bolivia continues on its rocky road to the December general elections, the process of decolonization, so often lauded by MAS government officials, takes on many forms in this country in the midst of historic transitions.

 

***

 

Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia, and the Spanish edition of his book “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” including a new epilogue on current events, will be published shortly in Bolivia by Plural Editores. Dangl is also the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

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El Alto Anniversary Event. Photo: Quintana/ABI

Over 3,000 Bolivian and Peruvian indigenous activists recently marched in El Alto in commemoration of the

Hillary Clinton and James Steinberg “Talk Tough” on Latin America February 1, 2009

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Written by April Howard   

Thursday, 29 January 2009

 

ImageWhile President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their appointees emphasize a return to diplomacy in foreign relations, so far they show little inclination to be diplomatic toward leftist governments in Latin America. In fact, recent comments by Obama, Clinton and recent appointees show a continuation of an antiquated analysis and a lack of understanding of recent Latin American social movements and regional integration.On a visit to the State Department on January 23, Clinton promised “I will do all that I can, working with you, to make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America’s future.” Obama made similar assertions in a speech to diplomats, and ‘diplomacy’, symbolizing a return to international peace and prosperity, was the word of the week.

Most recently, however, newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, boldly stated that “Our friends and partners in Latin America are looking to the United States to provide strong and sustained leadership in the region, as a counterweight to governments like those currently in power in Venezuela and Bolivia which pursue policies which do not serve the interests of their people or the region.” This begs the question of exactly who “our friends and partners in Latin America” are, as many Latin American countries are happily accepting funding for humanitarian projects from Venezuela, and Bolivia is hardly in an economic position to pull strings around the continent. These and other comments by Clinton show that the Obama administration intends to continue a foreign policy in Latin America based on corporate benefit and a misplaced fear of Latin American nationalism.

Taking the Field Back From Chavez in Venezuela

According to Steinberg, the US’s relationship with Venezuela “should be designed to serve our national interest . . .  Those interests include ending Venezuela’s ties to the FARC and cooperating on counter-narcotics.  For too long, we have ceded the playing field to Chavez. . .  We intend to play a more active role in Latin America with a positive approach that avoids giving undue prominence to President Chavez’ theatrical attempts to dominate the regional agenda.”

Clinton herself, in replying to questions by Senator Kerry during her nomination, said that Chavez has tried to take advantage of a lack of US attention in Latin America “to advance out-moded and anti-American ideologies.” Clinton and Steinberg echoed each other about the dangers of “ceding the playing field” to Chavez and leaders “whose actions and visions for the region do not serve his citizens or people,” but Clinton showed less bravado by adding that “While we should be concerned about Chavez’s actions and posture, we should not exaggerate the threat he poses.”

Protecting Fear Mongering Politicians in Bolivia

While President Evo Morales and members of his administration have consistently expressed hope about prospects for better relations with the new US president since last November, during a positive visit to the US and meetings several senators,  recent comments by Clinton make this possibility obscure, if not unlikely. 

In her first appearance in the senate, Clinton also defended former Bolivian Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who was expelled from Bolivia in September of 2008 by Morales, who accused Goldberg of interfering in affairs of national sovereignty. In turn, the Bush Administration expelled Bolivian ambassador, Gustavo Guzman. Without cause, the Bush Administration then proceeded to accuse Morales’ government of failing to fulfill commitments to international drug control and withheld Bolivian benefits under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). Morales responded by accusing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of spying and interfering in national politics in favor of opposition leaders, and expelled the DEA.

Clinton described Goldberg’s expulsion as another “unjustified” act along with others taken against personnel of the US mission and aid programs by the Bolivian Government. It begs the question, Clinton said, “If Bolivia wants a constructive bilateral relationship.” Also included is Mike Hammer, a political and economic advisor to the US in Bolivia who worked with Goldberg. Hammer was recruited as White House Spokesperson for matters of National Security, but will later return to Bolivia.

Last week, Clinton continued the trend of lumping together the drastically different countries and governments of Venezuela and Bolivia and characterizing them both as negative influences on the continent. She called for the U.S. to fill what she referred to as “that void” of US attention “with strong and sustained US leadership in the region, and tough and direct diplomacy with Venezuela and Bolivia. We should have a positive agenda for the hemisphere in response to the fear-mongering propagated by Chavez and Evo Morales.”

As Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network writes, “Although the new Secretary of State’s reply received scant attention in the United States, it was front-page news in Bolivia, and was easily open to interpretation as a deliberate rebuff of the Bolivian government’s repeated expressions of readiness to engage the new U.S. administration.” Yet, Clinton also stated that the administration believes that “bilateral cooperation with Venezuela and Bolivia on a range of issues would be in the mutual interest of our respective countries – for example, counterterrorism, counter narcotics, energy, and commerce,” and Ledebur reports that “Clinton’s testimony was also hailed by Bolivia’s Vice Foreign Minister, Hugo Fernandez, as signaling that the Obama administration shared Bolivia’s desire for closer relations.”  

Other Obama complicated administration ties to Bolivia include political adviser Gregory Craig, who, despite a record for defending human rights in Latin America, has been criticized for his work defending Latin American leaders accused of human rights abuses. According to Politico.com blogger Ben Smith, Craig is a “muscular counsel” whose top deputies and stature suggest that “office will play a larger role in policy — on an already muscular White House staff — than in previous administrations.”

Currently Craig is representing ousted Bolivian President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada and former Minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, a fact which, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), “has raised legitimate doubts regarding his moral commitment to Latin America.” Both men are indicted in the United States for their participation ordering soldiers to open-fire on protesters in El Alto, Bolivia, in 2003, and uncontestable fact that caused the death of over 60 citizens. In June of 2007, both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín were granted political asylum in the US while awaiting trial in Miami under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Over 20 people marched against the action in Bolivia, and the Bolivian ambassador Gustavo Guzman prepared a case for extradition of the politicians before he was expelled.

While COHA Research Associates Michael Katz and Chris Sweeney defend Craig as a politician dedicated to human rights, they write that “The Bush administration’s decision to protect these powerful figures has sent a disconcerting message of American elitism to the Bolivian citizenry. Human rights advocates believe that Craig’s continued representation of Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín demonstrates his readiness to defend the interests of the rich and famous against the poor. Admittedly, such charges complicate his reputation in Latin America, and for some bring into question his true commitment to regional solidarity.”

According to Ledebur, “The new Obama administration and Congress could help repair some of the damage done to the U.S. reputation in Latin America in recent years by taking a flexible, respectful approach toward Bolivia, in cooperation with Bolivia’s neighbor democracies and the international community.  The Obama administration would also do well to recognize that Bolivia’s political dynamics, demands for profound reform, and jealous defense of national sovereignty and self-determination have emerged from the country’s own history, and have not been somehow foisted upon it by outside powers against the democratic wishes of the Bolivian people.”

Successful Failures in Plan Colombia

In his questions for the record prepared for Clinton’s nomination as Secretary of State, John Kerry cited a GOA report from fall 2008 that concluded that Plan Colombia “has not significantly reduced the amount of illicit drugs entering the United States.” Steinberg showed a lack of understanding of the accepted failures of Plan Colombia by referring to “counternarcotics successes in Colombia.”

 

Clinton showed a lack of nuanced understanding of government connections to paramilitaries by stating that the administration will “fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC, and work with the government to end the reign of terror from the right wing paramilitaries.” She did show recognition of the need to change Plan Colombia strategies by mentioning the need to work “here at home to reduce demand.”

In terms of trade agreements, Clinton attempted to remain neutral, saying that “It is essential that trade spread the benefits of globalization,” but she added that “without adequate labor protections, trade cannot do that,” and that “continued violence and impunity in Colombia directed at labor and other civic leaders makes labor protections impossible to guarantee in Colombia today.” 

No Timeline for Change in Cuba

Clinton spoke for Obama on Cuba, reiterating that Obama “believes that it makes both moral and strategic sense to lift the restrictions on family visits and family cash remittances to Cuba,” but added that the administration does not have a timeline for this action. Contrary to the experience of the past 50 years, she also communicated that Obama “believes that it is not the time to lift the embargo on Cuba, especially since it provides an important source of leverage for further change on the island.”

Big Business in Brazil

Kerry expressed concern with Brazil’s “leading role” in MERCOSUR, the Rio Group and the Union of South American Nations “which have at times been at odds with U.S. interests in the region.”

Clinton’s reply focused on business opportunities in the increasingly destructive agro-export sector. “We look forward to ensuring that continued U.S.-Brazil energy cooperation is environmentally sustainable and spreads the benefits of alternative fuels. The expansion of renewable energy production throughout the Americas that promotes self-sufficiency and creates more markets for US green-energy manufacturers and producers is vitally important,” she said. 

Consistent with other members of the Obama administration, Clinton emphasized the agrofuel industry and did not address top scientist’s continued criticisms that agrofuels are not only unsustainable and do not create a net reduction in greenhouse gasses, but that the carcinogenic spread of crops grown for animal feed and agrofuels is dangerous to farmers and has contributed to an international food crisis. When later asked about the international food crisis, Clinton asserted that the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” and a “practical interest in doing its part to address a food crisis.” She categorized the causes of the food crisis as “cyclical and structural,” citing “poor harvests in key-grain producing nations, sharply higher oil prices, and a surge in demand for meat in high-growth Asian countries.” Many of the transgenic and genetically modified grains and crops grown in Latin America are destined as much for feed for meat animals in Europe and China as for agrofuels, but Clinton did not make that link.

Clinton identified “long-term factors include[ing] inadequate investment in enhanced agricultural productivity, inappropriate trade and subsidy programs, and climate change.” If ‘inadequate investment’ includes “hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. Department of Energy grants aimed at jump-starting the evolution to fuels made from such non-corn feedstocks as switchgrass, wheat straw and wood chips” given to several privately held firms, then more of the same problems are to be expected. Similarly, if agrofuel crops are emphasized, as Clinton indicates a U.S. interest in doing in Brazil, then issues related to climate change can only be expected to intensify.

While one could hope that Clinton’s plans to “work with partners in the international community to address immediate humanitarian needs and make seeds and fertilizers available in critically affected nations, . . . put more focus on efforts to enhance agricultural productivity . . . including agricultural research and development , and investment in improved seeds and irrigation methods,” will not involve multinational pesticide and GM seed giant Monsanto, or processors Cargill, Bunge and Syngenta. Without accepting the present dangers of the agrofuel and agro-export situation in Latin America, change in the current trajectory under an Obama administration is unlikely.

Spreading Democracy

Though both Candidates ran on campaigns of change to the Bush Administration, Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and Clinton’s recent comments show little to indicate that the US will change it’s now more than century old policy of foreign intervention under the vestige of “democracy promotion.” Clinton urged the senate “not [to] allow the war in Iraq to continue to give democracy promotion a bad name. Supporting democracy, economic development, and the rule of law is critical for U.S. interests around the world. Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies, and the nations with which we share our deepest values.” Clinton seems to urge a return to covert actions of regime change and support for opposition parties in her assertion that “democracy must be nurtured with moderates on the inside by building democratic institutions; it cannot be imposed by force from the outside.”

Still, “America,” she said, “must renew its effort to bring security and development to the disconnected corners of our interconnected world.” Like past members of past administrations, Clinton does not seem to grasp the idea that US involvement is not always necessary or welcome in all parts of the globe, and furthermore, involvement that refuses to recognize peoples’ rights to defend access to natural resources, preserve their human rights, and act out of self determination cannot solve past problems and will only exacerbate future conflicts.

***

April Howard is a instructor of Latin American Studies at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and an editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email April.M.Howard(at)gmail(dot)com