[News] Bolivia officers convicted over 2003 massacre

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 31 11:05:51 EDT 2011

Bolivia officers convicted over 2003 massacre

High court finds five former military commanders guilty of genocide 
over killing of 64 civilians during protests.


August 31, 2011

Bolivia's highest court has convicted five former military commanders 
of what was described as genocide over an army crackdown on unrest in 
2003 in which at least 64 civilians were killed.

The commanders were given prison sentences ranging from 10 to 15 
years at the court in Sucre on Tuesday.

In a unanimous decision, the six high court judges also convicted two 
former cabinet ministers of complicity in the killings and sentenced 
each to three years.

Indicted in the case but not tried was Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, 
Bolivia's president at the time of the killings. He was forced into 
exile by the widespread popular anger the killings provoked.

Carlos Sanchez Berzain, the then-defence minister, was also indicted 
but not tried. Bolivian law prohibits trials in absentia and both men 
have found safety living in the United States.

Ana Reyes, a lawyer for Sanchez de Lozada, issued a statement calling 
Bolivia's justice system highly politicised and saying that "no 
objective observer" can take the sentences seriously.

"Plainly, the Bolivian judiciary was used here as a political tool," 
said Reyes.

The 2003 unrest was initially sparked by a government plan to export 
natural gas through a proposed pipeline to Chile.

It quickly set off protests by the largely indigenous population of 
La Paz's satellite city, El Alto, which vented anger over poverty, 
political marginalisation and the extraction of natural resources 
from Pachamama - the Aymara term of a highly spiritualised Mother Earth.

The demonstrations and crackdown, in what has become known as the 
'Gas War' and 'Black October', largely discredited the government and 
brought major support for Evo Morales, one of the social movement 
leaders, who won the presidency two years later.

Ironically, the indigenous community is currently on a 
march against Morales' environmental policy, accusing him of ignoring 
his base and supporting construction of a highway which would damage 
the TIPNIS national park.

'Bloody Massacre'

Sanchez de Lozada, whose indictment was authorised by Congress before 
Morales' December 2005 election, has long argued that using force was 
justified because a blockade by unruly protesters in El Alto had cut 
off La Paz from food and fuel.

But prosecutors said nothing justified letting soldiers open fire on 
civilians who were armed only with sticks and rocks. Sixty-four 
people were killed and 405 wounded, Chief Prosecutor Mario Uribe said.

One witness in the trial told of how her curious five-year-old son, 
Alex Llusco, was killed by a gunshot to the head when he stepped onto 
their porch to watch the protests. He was the youngest of those killed.

Families of victims erupted in tears when the verdict was announced 
at a brief public hearing in Sucre, where the court sits. Many had 
held a vigil outside for two months.

The longest sentences were meted out to Roberto Claros, the armed 
forces chief during the crackdown, and Juan Veliz, the army commander.

Both were given 15 years in prison for "genocide in the form of a 
bloody massacre" and murder.

The convicted former cabinet ministers were Erick Reyes Villa, who 
had been environment minister, and Adalberto Kuajara, the labour minister.

As a legislator in late 2003, Morales became the first person to 
formally request criminal charges be brought against Sanchez de 
Lozada in the case.

One of the convicted military men, the former armed forces chief of 
staff, Gonzalo Rocabado, called the case misguided because it was "a 
trial against the armed forces that followed the law".

Bolivia has sought the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez 
Berzain, who lives in Florida.

The US State Department did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a 
query from the AP news agency on the status of that request.

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