Late last month, Bolivia’s Supreme Court of Justice convicted seven former military and government officials of genocide, reports Indian Country Today Media Network. The military officials received 10-15 years imprisonment and the civilians three years in prison. However, the primary suspects in the case, former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzain, remain in the United States. As far as I can tell, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada is either a citizen or a permanent resident of the United States. Mr. Sanchez Berzain was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2008 (sparking protests in Bolivia).
The convictions and accusations stem from a 2003 incident known as the Bolivian Gas War, where protesters blocked a natural gas shipment from Bolivia to Chile. The then-president of Bolivia used the military to open the road. As a result of this incident, as many as 67 people died (all of them members of Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara community) and 400 were injured. The “war” was part of a larger economic and social conflict in Bolivia, and as a result President Sanchez de Lozada resigned from office. The current president, Evo Morales, was a leader of the protesters.
Since Messrs. Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain have been in the U.S., the Bolivian government has filed a formal extradition request, which so far has not been acted upon. Also, victims of the alleged genocide have filed a lawsuit under the Alien Torts Statute against the two Bolivian leaders seeking to hold them accountable for the deaths in 2003. The lawsuit involves some heavy hitters on both sides. For the plaintiffs: Ira Kurzban, Harvard University’s Human Rights Clinic, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the law firm Akin Gump. Representing the defendants are my former idol Alan Dershowitz (who seems to have repositioned himself from a defender of civil liberties to a defender of all things right-wing), and the law firms Williams and Connelly, LLP and Greenberg Traurig. In November 2009, the District Court dismissed some counts of the complaint and allowed others to go forward. The defendants appealed, and the case is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
As there is (probably) enough evidence for the civil case to move ahead, I wonder whether the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the asylee defendant, Mr. Sanchez Berzain. Under the law of asylum, one who engaged in genocide or persecution of others is ineligible for asylum. Clearly, there is some evidence that Mr. Sanchez Berzain was involved in persecuting people. Aside from the District Court ruling, a leader of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia called Mr. Sancehz Berzain the “specific intellectual author” of the 2003 massacre.
Given the calls to deport the housekeeper in the DSK case (who seemingly lied about her asylum claim), I wonder whether there will be a similar outcry here, where the asylee is accused of much worse than lying. My guess is–since our country has a rocky relationship (at best) with President Morales–it’s likely DHS will look the other way when it comes to Mr. Sanchez Berzain. And that’s too bad–asylum law is supposed to be based on international principles; not politics.