A Bolivian delegation is in the United States this week to urge the U.S. government to notify Bolivia’s ex-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his ministers of their obligation to return to Bolivia for trial in the deaths of 67 people and more than 400 wounded during October 2003. We speak with Rogelio Mayta, an attorney representing the families of those killed in the 2003 massacre. [includes rush transcript]
A Bolivian human rights delegation is visiting the United States this week to urge the US government to notify Bolivia’s ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and two of his former ministers to return to Bolivia immediately to stand trial in connection with the massacre of scores of protesters three years ago.
Sanchez de Lozada, Carlos Sanchez Berzain and Jorge Berindoague have all resided in the US since fleeing Bolivia in 2003 following a citizen’s uprising that removed them from power. The conflict arose following a decision by the Sanchez de Lozada government to export Bolivia’s natural gas through a port in Chile. When hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest, government forces responded with soldiers and tanks, killing 67 of the protesters and wounding more than 400.
Rogelio Mayta is an attorney representing the families killed in the October 2003 massacre. He is in the US this week to urge government officials to notify the three men of their obligation to return to Bolivia for trial. The trial cannot proceed without formal notification. Rogelio Mayta joins us today in our firehouse studio.
- Rogelio Mayta, an attorney and the Legal Coordinator of the Committee for a Trial of Responsibilities, which is pushing for the trial of former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his ministers in connection with the massacre of 67 protesters during the 2003 citizen’s uprising which removed him from power.
AMY GOODMAN: Rogelio Mayta joins us in our firehouse studio. We’re also joined by Oscar Olivera, the executive secretary of the Bolivian Federation of Factory Workers and spokesperson for the Committee in the Defense of Water and Life in Cochabamba. Oscar emerged in 2000 as the leader of the nationwide protest movement against water privatization in Bolivia. He’s in New York for a conference at the Cornel Global Labor Institute, where he’s meeting with trade union leaders and labor-based researchers from a number of countries. They’re being translated by Tom Fritzsche. And we welcome you all to Democracy Now! Rogelio Mayta, explain exactly what happened in 2003?
ROGELIO MAYTA: [translated] During the second term of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Bolivia was living through a term, a period of high unemployment and poverty. Bolivia has experienced historically the exploitation of its natural resources. During that period, the government wanted to export the gas under very unfavorable terms for the Bolivian people. The social movements and the people had mobilized in order to oppose that possibility.
The government of then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, under the argument of giving legal security to transnationals, began military repression of social protests. In those days, especially between the 20th of September and the first days of October of 2003, there were true military operations against unarmed civilian populations. It was about scaring the people so that they would stop protesting. 67 people have been murdered, and more than 400 were wounded, because of the military repression actions. Among them were a girl of eight years and a five-year-old boy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, two weeks ago, we had an hour-long conversation with Bolivian President Evo Morales. He was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. In one of his first extended televised interviews in the United States, Morales talked about Latin America, U.S. foreign policy, the role of the indigenous people of Bolivia, and he called on the U.S. to extradite his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] I’m not sure. That’s probably something for the United States to take up, but I want to take advantage of this opportunity to call on the people of the United States to help us in our efforts to extradite two [inaudible] people who practiced genocide, who were corrupt under previous administrations and who today are free here in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Names?
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, former president, who in 2003 was responsible for the death of over a hundred people killed by gunfire, along with his minister, Carlos Sanchez Berzain. We’re trying now to use all of the instruments at our disposal to extradite him, but it’s not moving forward. It’s running into some resistance here in the United States. A government that says it fights against terrorism, for human rights, against corruption, it’s not conceivable that this person would still be here. So we ask the people, the government and all the institutions of human rights to help with this.
AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales, speaking to us several weeks ago in New York City. Our guests, Rogelio Mayta, attorney who has come to ask for the extradition of the president and two ministers, and we’ll also be speaking with Oscar Olivera. Rogelio Mayta, you have photographs. For our listeners, we’ll post them on our website at democracynow.org. For our viewers, if you would hold them up and describe them?
ROGELIO MAYTA: [translated] This resistance of the Bolivian people has been a peaceful resistance: civilians against armed forces; people protesting peacefully, answered with lethal weapons. It’s not that there’s been a gas war. That’s false. A war is when there are two armed groups. In Bolivia in October 2003, there was a massacre.
AMY GOODMAN: Lozada, the former president, how did he end up in the United States?
ROGELIO MAYTA: [translated] October 17, 2003, after resigning, he came directly to the United States. Now, we’re worried, because now the United States government is impeding and obstructing a process for the hundreds of victims to have justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Did Lozada, the former Bolivian president, come to the U.S. in a U.S. plane?
ROGELIO MAYTA: [translated] He came in a commercial airline.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you specifically asked the State Department, have you specifically requested of the U.S. government his extradition?
ROGELIO MAYTA: [translated] Not yet. Under Bolivian law, before proceeding to extradition, we have to show the charges that are against him. But for the last year and three months, the United States government has not listened to the Bolivian petition to realize that request. Without that action of notification, we cannot continue with the process. So we’re not even talking about extradition yet. We’re only talking about an initial action.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to another comment of Bolivian President Evo Morales, who talked about the importance of natural resources in Bolivia, and specifically the issue of water in indigenous communities.
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] I think it’s important to democratize the United Nations so that we can deal with issues like humanity, how to save the planet, how to avoid loss. The indigenous communities live in harmony not only with their fellow persons, but also with Mother Earth. And we’re very worried about global warming, that’s leaving people without water. In the past we’ve seen the bodies of water that were up to certain level, are now declining. That means that in a very short time we’re going to have very serious problems. Without light, we can live with lamps, with oil lamps, but without water, we can’t live.
AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales. In our studio, as well as Rogelio Mayta, we’re joined by Oscar Olivera, perhaps the most well-known activist in Bolivia. And we welcome you to Democracy Now!, Oscar Olivera.
OSCAR OLIVERA: Gracias, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of water. You are particularly well known for taking on a major U.S. multinational, Bechtel. Tell us what happened in Cochabamba and where that stands today?
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] In reality, the confrontation with Bechtel and other businesses has been the proposition of converting water into a commodity. We’ve only been spokespeople for that demand, that water should not be converted into a commodity. Six years later, the theme, the matter of water in Cochabamba has not been concluded. There are still attempts from the World Bank, with international cooperation, to privatize water. Still, any breach of contract with the multinationals could be submitted to tribunals in the World Bank.
AMY GOODMAN: But could you explain, though it’s well-known in Bolivia, hardly known here at all, though it’s a U.S. company, what happened in Cochabamba? Talk about what Bechtel tried to do and what the people responded.
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] It’s not that Bechtel tried to do it. They did it. They increased the charges for water, the cost of water, by 300%, so that every family had to pay, for this water service, one-fifth of their income.
AMY GOODMAN: How did they get control of the water? I mean, here, you turn on the tap. You don’t pay.
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] The government, under a law that was passed, conceded control of the water under a monopoly to Bechtel in a certain area. So that means that Bechtel tried to charge a fee and had the monopoly power over a very basic necessity for people. The law said even that people had to ask, had to obtain a permit to collect rainwater. That means that even rainwater was privatized. The most serious thing was that indigenous communities and farming communities, who for years had their own water rights, those water sources were converted into property that could be bought and sold by international corporations.
In confronting that situation, the people rose up, confronted Bechtel, and during five months of mobilization, managed to defeat Bechtel, breach the contract and change the law. But the most important thing — and we need to remind Evo Morales of that today — was that that victory of the people in Cochabamba was the reason why Evo Morales could be president today. If that uprising in 2000 had not ended in a popular victory, Evo Morales today would not be the president.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you say you have to remind President Evo Morales?
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] Because Evo does not talk today about that struggle. And he was not the principal protagonist in that struggle, nor was it Oscar Olivera. It was the Bolivian people, which up until the 18th of December, when Evo Morales was elected, was the primary protagonist in that struggle. At this time, Evo Morales is in the government because the people put him there so that we can continue pushing together. He is in the government to obey what the people has decided. He needs to change the political and economic systems of the country. We’re going to continue pushing forward that process, which means recovering our common goods, as well as our capacity to decide.
AMY GOODMAN: Who died in that struggle back in 2000?
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] In that struggle, a 17-year-old boy named Victor Hugo Daza was killed along with four indigenous Aymara in El Alto.
AMY GOODMAN: Every November in the United States is a mass protest against the School of the Americas. That’s the old name for it. Were there any connections with the soldiers and the School?
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] Of course, there were connections. At that time, the president, Hugo Banzer Suarez, and the mayor of Cochabamba had gone to the School of the Americas. And also the soldier who actually killed the youth, who we mentioned, also had been a graduate of the School of the Americas.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, today, you are in the United States meeting with trade union leaders. What are you doing with them?
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] What we want, as the program says, is democracy now for everyone. Today, there should be five people at this roundtable, but instead, there’s only four. The best democracy in the world, which supposedly is the United States of America, the government of the United States did not permit that Juan Patricio Quispe, the brother of a man who was killed in 2003, could come here today. The American embassy refused to give him a visa so that he could come and give his testimony about the suffering of the people. But the government of the United States allows the presence of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to be here, and they don’t even want to give him the paper of notification, so that he has to respond to the accusations in Bolivia.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does he live here?
OSCAR OLIVERA: In Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: D.C.?
OSCAR OLIVERA: D.C. [translated] And soon, we’re going to do an action at his house to demand to the government and to ask to the American people that they help us in bringing Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to justice.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being here. When will you do that at Lozada’s house?
OSCAR OLIVERA: [translated] It’s going to be this weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will cover the event. I want to thank you both for joining us. Oscar Olivera, we’ve spoken to you on the phone. It’s good to have you in our studio. And Rogelio Mayta, we will continue to follow your attempts to have the former president and two ministers of Bolivia extradited.