Saturday, November 14, 2009

Goni, Going, Gone?

(digitalwarriormedia) A U.S. court of appeals ruled that former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and one of his former deputies could face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in the deaths of 60 Bolivians in October 2003.

The ruling by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida is a major victory for the victims of “Black October”.

The court upheld that plaintiffs have a viable claim against “Goni” and his former Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, according to a press release posted on Juicio a Goni (Justice For Goni).

The cases, Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez Berzaín, and Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada, seek compensatory and punitive damages under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín are accused of ordering and using deadly force during a military crackdown against a civilian demonstration in the city of El Alto. Residents of the city were protesting the Bolivian government’s export of natural gas to the United States through ports in Chile. At least 60 people were killed and 400 wounded.
“This judgment reaffirms that U.S. courts can hear actions brought against those who abuse human rights,” said Judith Brown Chomsky a cooperating attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“It’s a powerful example of how international law is making it harder for those who violate human rights to escape accountability simply by fleeing to another country,” said James Cavallaro, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and a Clinical Professor of Law.

Both men fled to the U.S. on October 17, 2003 as Goni resigned his presidency.
Agencia Boliviana de Información (ABI) reports that Miami federal judge, Adalberto Jordan, accepted three of the seven lawsuits filed by the victims.
And although the cases will proceed, requests by the Bolivian government to seek the extradition of Goni are still unresolved.
Earlier in the week, Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanaca announced that in December the U.S. will determine if an extradition request for Goni shall be honored, thereby allowing the former head of state to stand trial on Bolivian soil.

The extradition of Goni and his former deputy remains one of several complex issues that lie between the U.S. and Bolivian governments as both nations attempt to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

Diplomatic Immunity?

Concerns abound that political connections to powerful players within the Obama Administration may hinder the accountability that victims’ families have been seeking for the past six years. Coming to Goni’s defense in the past are Arturo Valenzuela and Greg Craig.

On November 5, Arturo Valenzuela was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs. Previously Valenzuela – who served during the Clinton Administration - had tried to stop the civil suit against Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín’s.
Craig, a high-profile Washington attorney and partner at Williams & Connelly, served as one of Berzaín’s lawyers. He was White House counsel to President Obama until his abrupt resignation on Friday.

As time passes, justice for the perpetrators of “Black October” is getting closer. And despite the outcome, the results of this case will have far-reaching implications for the future prosecution of human rights violations within domestic and international law.



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