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Extradite Ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to be charged with crimes against humanity

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“The Bolivian Gas War”, as it came to be known, was the singular event that went on to shape and evolve my world view and political outlook. We all have moments in our lives that profoundly change us, to the point there was life before, and then life after. 

With the help of the American Embassy in Bolivia, I reconnected with my Bolivian father within a months of graduating from college. We became close in a very short time via phone conversations and emails and I decided that in early October 2003 to take a trip to La Paz to see him.

I remember seeing it as a short piece on CNN, something to the effect of “Protests turn deadly in La Paz, Bolivia” followed by some obligatory riot footage. I remember thinking to myself “This is normal for Latin America. This will pass.” Still, I picked up the phone to call my dad and get a first person viewpoint on it and to make sure everything was ok.

As I dialed his number, I began to worry “What if everything isn’t ok?” But I thought then, there would have been more than 45 second blurb on CNN if it were really bad. Then the noise hit me: Dead Air. No automated response, no voicemail, but the deafening white silence of a severed connection. A vague panic began to grow in my chest, as I pulled out my laptop and write my father.

I sent the email, thinking it might be a full day, or at least several hours before I heard back from him. As I was harnessing some nervous energy, I checked my email after 30 minutes, just to be sure- and there it was. My letter had bounced back. There was no server to even receive my letter.  That’s when I knew for sure, that this couldn’t be typical. Something was very wrong.

Two days later, when I finally received word from La Paz, my father’s email seemed that of a beleaguered war correspondent, entrenched in some resistance stronghold. The word “civil war” stood out on the page, next to the previous days death tally. The letter ominously ended with “wish us luck, and pray for us”

At the end of October, 68 people were killed while 400 more were injured by Bolivian security forces. President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, immediately resigned his presidency and fled to the US, where he has been harbored ever since. Despite repeated extradition attempts by the country of Bolivia, the US has refused the people of Bolivia their right to hold him accountable for his actions.

The fact that the US thumbs its nose at the sovereignty of a fellow Western Hemisphere democracy is bad enough, but the ramifications of his continued protection from extradition adversely affects the lives of hundreds and thousands of American citizens. It has led to a heated tit for tat between Washington DC and La Paz, and the virtual disintegration of diplomatic relations between the country. With no American Ambassador in Bolivia, anyone who visits the country is at risk if something should happen to them. If I go down to visit my father in La Paz, and I break my back while mountain biking, or get Dengue Fever in the jungle, there is no high level diplomat to oversee my medical evacuation. Likewise for any Bolivian in the United States.

This is a dangerous stance to take, and it sends a negative message to the rest of the world. Our diplomatic clout in other countries is based on our values and ideals as a country. We have historically been a country with a reputation of cooperation with any fellow democracy that treats their citizens fairly. It’s easy enough to flat out deny Bolivia their justice, because they are a small, third world country without a significant military or natural resources integral to America.  The truth is that this is a bad piece of diplomacy from the Bush administration, that can easily be rectified. As long as he lives and is protected here, we can still undo what has been done.


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