Surreal would be a fairly descriptive word for Tuesday evening’s events. It wasn’t so much seeing a former Bolivian President live and in color, speak so frankly about Bolivia and its current state of affairs that seemed unusual, but rather it was the odd, and possibly historic occurrences throughout the night.
Invited by a friend to the event hosted by the organization Princeton in Latin America where Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was on hand in Washington, DC to speak about the current state of South America. Quite rarely does “Goni” appear in public as he still remains very much on the minds of Bolivians for some unanswered questions.
His talk took a back seat to the pre-game festivities. I found a place near the front giving me time to come up with some sort of heavy-duty question (I failed, but more on that later). Near the back of the room, a young man with a digital camera would flash repeated pictures of Goni, as another man handed him a brown envelope. Piecing together the turn of events was difficult from my vantage point, but I would learn later what had transpired.
November 1, 2005, Washington, DC – Former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1991-1997, 2002-2003) was served with legal documents today by U.S. citizens acting on behalf of Bolivian human rights organizations. Mr. Sanchez de Lozada is being summoned to testify in an investigation undertaken by the Bolivian Office of the Attorney General where he is accused of the wrongful deaths, injuries, illegal imprisonment and other crimes against Bolivian citizens.
Goni attempted to remove himself from the situation as all the parties involved were escorted from the event. The ex-President tried to laugh it off, but when I glanced over my shoulder, I saw him standing alone in the hallway, he appeared visibly shaken and disturbed at the surprise.
After all of that was out of the way, Goni’s 30 minute talk would begin. The title of his speech was “Quo Vadis South America,” although it ended up concentrating heavily on the events in Bolivia. It’s hard to say whether he shuffled things up and purposely focused on Bolivia, and in a way, to defend himself because of the incident prior to the speech. He didn’t appear to be operating off of notes. Those in attendance all had varying degrees of knowledge and interest in Bolivian politics. There were some officials from the Bolivian embassy present, as well as some students who spent time in the country.
The main problem in South America, and especially Bolivia, in Goni’s eyes was the unholy alliance between drug money and radical social movements. He didn’t hesitate to specifically mention Evo Morales as a beneficiary of coca money. He made it clear that Evo wasn’t involved in the shipping, Goni indicated that Evo was a recipient of tax revenue from coca, which helps funds the MAS political machine. There was hardly a mention of Hugo Chavez, in regards to funds for Bolivia. However, it may be logical to think that Evo has some idea of what’s going on in the Chapare area, but probably is not directly involved with illegal activities. If he was involved directly, with so many enemies within the country, surely someone somewhere could make a link if he wanted to, but so far there has been no proof. Yet, this was the first time I have heard of this coca tax.
He also referred to his resignation, which he said was the result of a coup.
Following the speech, the room was opened up for questions, which would be taken three at a time. One non-Bolivian woman who said she lives in Santa Cruz asked what Goni thought would happen if Evo became President. Darn, that was essentially my question. Time to think of another.
For the next question, a young lady in front of me was eager to ask the President a question. She indicated that she studied at the Universidad Mayor de San Andres and after that she exploded. Increasingly her voice became louder and louder as she asked Goni to explain his actions regarding the events in Warisata and demanded to know how Goni could live with impunity in the United States. As she was being escorted out, everyone in the room could hear her voice fade out as she was led down the staircase. As she left the room, she stated that everyone in the room had “blood on their hands”.
The first question was overshadowed by the second question. Goni defended himself specifically in regards to the Warisata issue where he simply said that the convoy of foreign and Bolivian tourists who were trying to escape was ambushed. There were casualties on both sides.
Usually in Q&A sessions like this, there is usually room for a handful of questions. I wanted to get my chance, so I raised my hand knowing full well that my first question had been asked. Uh oh, what would I say?
Immediately my mind reverted back to the use of the word “coup”, so I asked what he though his Vice-President Carlos Mesa’s role in his resignation. His answer was extremely vague, but insinuated that he must have known something, but ended with saying he has no comment on the issue. Pretty weak question if I would say so myself. I would have rather ask about the effects of a MAS presidency.
No, I don’t think Goni is a monster. No, I don’t think he should be charged with genocide. Should he have to answer or testify about his role and his knowledge about the events in October 2003? Of course. However, I know he won’t get a fair trial in Bolivia under the current circumstances. People are already judging him guilty before the facts are verified.
A comment in the Democracy Center’s blog from Javier F. regarding this very issue summed it up:
Most of us would agree that the suspect should be brought to justice and then labeled criminal once he/she has been proven guilty.
If you read previous entries in this Blog, you will find Jim playing the role of judge already …”People from the US ought to care that our government is harboring an international criminal.”* …look at the title “The president who killed…” …can clearly show that judicial Jim already put Goni in Jail.
The legal document only asks Goni to come and testify, but many are reading into the matter as if Goni has already been proven guilty and must serve his jail time. In the minds of some, any verdict other than a guilty is insufficient. It is a lose-lose situation. If it is found that other lower ranked officials ordered to use live rounds on protestors, and Goni is off the hook, in many minds, justice would not have been done.
Take a look at the website Juicio a Goni, Ya!, which contains a front page image which imagines Goni and Carlos Sanchez Berzain behind bars. That sums up the opinion on some that are pre-judging the case. As I said before, Goni should have to answer about his knowledge and his role in all of the events of October 2003.
Afterwards I asked for a picture with him. When I was talking with him, he didn’t seem very interested, probably because I was babbling about something uninteresting. But, in a way, I felt sorry for him. Rarely making public appearances, he must be on edge whenever someone walks up to him. It could go either way. Someone might be coming up to hug him or to berate him. Definitely, the issues have every right to be addressed. The manner in which the very vocal young lady went about to prove her point, really had no place in an event like that.
However, someone did their homework and strategized well finding a time to serve Goni the papers. The Los Tiempos correspondent in the United States picked up on the story and it appeared in this morning’s Cochabamba edition.