The victims of a massacre in Bolivia will receive financial compensation 20 years later | International

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A woman holds an image of her son murdered during the 2003 protests in El Alto, in an archive image.DADO GALDIERI (AP)

Exactly 20 years after the “Black October” massacre of 2003, in which 58 anti-government protesters died in the Bolivian city of El Alto and its surroundings, the two main defendants of the events, former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former minister of Defense Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, will pay compensation to the families of eight of the victims. With this, the civil process that these families have been promoting in Florida, United States, for 16 years will be closed. The agreement prohibits the parties from providing information about the amount of compensation and does not imply that the defendants accept “responsibility for the events in question.”

“This is a historic day,” summarized Thomas Becker, the leader of the legal accusation that was raised in the US judicial system on behalf of the families of eight people murdered in the protests against Sánchez de Lozada in 2003. “We have ended in an agreement. "We cannot talk about the details, but we can talk about the statement that both sides have prepared, which says that we decided to end the trial," Becker told the Bolivian press. The lawsuit represented by this lawyer was supported by the International Human Rights Clinic, belonging to Harvard Law School, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit institution. “The door is closed to appeals. Neither they can appeal nor can we. With that, what remains is the 2018 verdict, which indicates that Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín are responsible for extrajudicial executions. That is why it is a victory for the Bolivian people,” Becker interpreted. Lawyers for Sánchez de Lozada, 93, declined to share his perspective when asked by the American media, due to the confidentiality of the agreement.

In 2018, the families of the victims achieved a guilty verdict in the first instance, which forced the defendants to pay them 10 million dollars. This decision was not applied because they appealed to a judge who rejected the victims' initial victory, so they had to appeal on their own. These resources from both parties are the ones that have now been cancelled.

The process was carried out under the US law for the Protection of Victims of Torture. In the hearings of the first stage of the trial, a former soldier who participated in the massacre declared that the military had received orders to shoot at “everything that moved” to enable a convoy of tankers with gasoline to cross on October 12, 2003. the blocking of streets carried out by the residents of El Alto. This protest prevented the neighboring city of La Paz, the administrative capital of the country, from being supplied with gasoline. In order to reach La Paz, the so-called “death convoy” had to cross the blocked streets of El Alto. It is estimated that 25 people fell when the military assault vehicles that were guarding the gasoline passed by. Another 33 Bolivians died before and after that date due to the repression of the Armed Forces led by Sánchez Berzaín.

The violent unlocking of El Alto was supported by a government decree that authorized the military to act and use firearms if necessary. The Cabinet signed it, but not the vice president at the time, Carlos Mesa, who considered it a mistake not to negotiate with the protesters. These began by demanding, for nationalist reasons, the cancellation of a project to export Bolivian gas to the United States through Chile and other demands, but then they pointed to the resignation of Sánchez de Lozada, considered the Bolivian “patriarch of neoliberalism.” He initially assured that he would not resign, but he only resisted until October 17. That day, cornered by the popular protest, which had paralyzed part of the country, he escaped to the United States. He was accompanied by Sánchez Berzaín. Both sought asylum in this country and that prevented them from being caught by the Bolivian justice system, which sentenced the former commanders of the Armed Forces to prison terms of 15 years or more and the former ministers of Sánchez de Lozada who had remained in the country. country, to sentences of around three years. The trial in the United States was the first in which a former head of state refugee in this country appeared before civil justice to answer for such serious crimes. “Even peasants can win against the most powerful and no one is above the law,” Becker rejoiced.

Sánchez de Lozada, a wealthy miner, considered one of the richest men in Bolivia, held the presidency twice. The first between 1993 and 1997, when he carried out profound neoliberal reforms, privatizing oil and energy, mines, railways and state telecommunications. He began his second term in 2022, in the midst of an economic crisis and strong social unrest against the privileges enjoyed by oil companies. At that time, they owned the oil and gas they extracted. After his departure from the country, he was replaced by Mesa and a new political cycle began in which the central figure would be Evo Morales. On May 1, 2006, Bolivia nationalized the oil industry.

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