NEW YORK - September 26 - A delegation from Bolivia will be arriving in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 27 to urge the U.S. government to notify Bolivia’s ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his ministers, Carlos Sanchez Berzain and Jorge Berindoague, of their obligation to return to Bolivia immediately for trial in the deaths of 67 people and more than 400 wounded during October 2003.
The delegation, comprised of Juan Patricio Mamani Quispe and Rogelio Mayta, will meet with government officials at the U.S. State and Justice Departments, as well as key congressional leaders, to urge that U.S. officials fulfill this appeal from the Bolivian government which was officially received by the U.S. State Department on June 22, 2005. To date, the U.S. government has failed to notify the three men, and has failed to respond to this official request. The matter is a critical one for the Bolivian people, as the trial cannot proceed without formal notification of Sanchez de Lozada, Sanchez Berzain and Berindoague, all of whom currently reside in the U.S. since fleeing Bolivia in October 2003.
Juan Patricio Mamani Quispe is the President of the Association of the Family Members of those Killed in the Gas War, a Bolivian organization seeking an end to the impunity for those members of the Sanchez de Lozada government who responded to social protests with an armed assault. Juan Patricio’s brother was killed by government troops, leaving behind a 14-year old son. Rogelio Mayta is the attorney representing the family members of those killed.
The conflict arose following a decision by the Sanchez de Lozada government to export Bolivia’s natural gas through a port in Chile. This decision ignited a long simmering citizen revolt against a series of governments that had repeatedly sold off Bolivia’s rich natural resources at prices which favored individual and international interests, and failed to generate a just earning for the Bolivian people. Bolivian social movements had been making clear and consistent declarations that these kinds of contracts would no longer be acceptable. When hundreds of thousands of Bolivia’s people—workers, miners, farmers—took to the streets in protest, the Sanchez de Lozada government responded with soldiers and tanks, killing 67 of the protesters, including pregnant women and young children, and leaving more than 400 wounded. A unified call arose nationwide for Sanchez de Lozada’s resignation, and on October 17, 2003, the president escaped in a U.S.-provided helicopter. He now resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland and Sanchez Berzain and Berindoague live in Miami, Florida and Moraga, California, respectively.
While the trial of responsibility has proceeded for the other government ministers involved in what is known as the October Massacre, the case has been unable to move forward against the ex-president and his ministers because they live in the U.S. and the U.S. government has, to date, failed to fulfill the notification request. Until these men are formally notified of the charges against them, it is not possible to begin extradition proceedings. The Bolivian people, and especially the family members of those killed and wounded by government troops, have been waiting almost three years to see justice done.
“Without this trial, it is impossible for my family, and all the family members of the dead and the wounded, to heal,” said Juan Patricio. “We have been waiting for three years now for the trial, and the ongoing impunity for these men is an assault on our dignity, on our sense of our value as human beings. The United States needs to fulfill its promise as a nation which cares about human rights and justice.”