from WorldPoliticsReview Website
stands in front of a banner
depicting former Bolivian President
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,
Warista, Bolivia, Sept. 20, 2006
(AP photo by Juan Karita).
Damages of $10 million were awarded to the case's eight plaintiffs, who all lost family members during the 2003 security crackdown on protests in Bolivia over a proposed natural gas pipeline running to Chile.
Both Sanchez de Lozada
and Sanchez Berzain have been living in exile in the United States
since they fled Bolivia after the violence in what became known as
Bolivian gas war.
The landmark case was brought under the 1991 Torture Victims Protection Act, or TVPA, among the world's most far-reaching human rights laws.
The act permits civil suits within the United States for extrajudicial killings and torture committed by officials of a foreign government once the possible remedies in their home country are exhausted.
In September and October 2003, the Bolivian highland city of El Alto and its surrounding countryside were in an uproar after Sanchez de Lozada, a former mining magnate, had awarded lucrative gas contracts to dozens of foreign companies as part of a privatization scheme.
Massive protests against a proposed gas pipeline to Chile paralyzed the largely indigenous city in the Andes and the neighboring capital, La Paz, in the basin below.
Widespread road blockades
provoked severe shortages in food and gas supplies. Sanchez de
Lozada, who is known as Goni in Bolivia, and his Cabinet
responded by declaring a state of emergency and militarizing El
He was one of 58 people
killed by the security forces; more than 400 others were injured
during the conflict. His 68-year-old widow, Juana Valencia de
Carvajal, was one of the eight plaintiffs in the Florida case who
testified in the U.S. federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
Goni and Berzain then
fled the country, finding safe haven in the United States.
But Luis Castellano Romero, who was shot in El Alto and lost his leg while he was bringing his father home for lunch, testified,
Goni told the court that he did not order the military to shoot demonstrators and that he repeatedly pushed for dialogue.
His minister of defense washed his hands of any responsibility when he addressed the court, insisting that his government role was purely administrative.
He said the fault lay
with Morales, even though he was out of the country at the height of
the protests in October 2003.
The former minister of government, Victor Hugo Canelas, told the court,
The success in bringing the case to trial in the U.S. was in large measure due to the dedication of Tom Becker, who arrived in Bolivia in 2005 as a young Harvard law student and was the chief investigator attorney on the case.
The plaintiffs' lawyers scored an earlier victory in May 2014, when a federal judge ruled that their case could proceed because they,
Two years later, a U.S. appeals court dismissed the defense's argument that the court should shelve the case because the plaintiffs had already been provided some compensation by the government in Bolivia.
The ruling established a
legal precedent, as a U.S. federal appellate court had never before
considered an argument by a defense team that the exhaustion of
remedies abroad should be the basis for dismissal of a case.
The State Department turned down its first petition in 2008, and a second application presented in early 2016 has received no response to date. After the Florida verdict, the human rights commission of Bolivia's Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of its legislature, announced that it believed the outcome provided an incentive to continue pushing on the extradition demand.
The normally deeply
divided Chamber of Deputies also issued a unanimous statement
praising the decision and demanding that Goni and Sanchez Berzain
return to the country to face trial.
When the families of the
victims arrived back at El Alto airport two days after the verdict,
they were covered by garlands of flowers, amid tears and shouts of