- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales has mounted an international campaign to extradite deposed President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who has been living in Washington since a 2003 popular revolt forced him from office.

Solidarity marches have been organized in the United States, Europe and Australia. Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera says a commission of government officials and relatives of Mr. Sanchez’s victims will travel to the United States for “a media campaign and public demonstrations to exert pressure.”

A formal extradition request is stalled in Bolivia’s Supreme Court.

The high-profile campaign of Mr. Morales’ leftist government appears to be an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration and rally popular support at home.

“It’s not possible that those corrupt assassins should protect themselves in the United States. That is why we are asking that the U.S. expel that delinquent,” Mr. Morales told cheering supporters last week in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz.

Mr. Morales has pledged to put Mr. Sanchez on trial on genocide charges in the deaths of 67 persons shot by the army during a “Black October” uprising three years ago.

The Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which Mr. Morales led to an election victory last year, has helped organize massive protests against a plan to sell Bolivian natural gas to the United States. Morales aides accuse Mr. Sanchez of instigating a campaign to destabilize the government from his exile home.

“It’s evident that Goni Sanchez is involved in a conspiracy against the current government for both ideological and personal financial reasons,” said Oswaldo Peredo, an elder leader of MAS who accuses the ousted president of channeling money to opposition groups.

Mr. Sanchez has been accused of amassing more than $200 million through corrupt dealings with foreign oil companies, including Houston-based Enron Corp.

The exiled leader is living in a large home in Chevy Chase, Md., and refuses to talk with reporters. Attempts by The Washington Times to reach him were unsuccessful.

Families of those killed in 2003 marched to the U.S. Embassy in La Paz last Tuesday to demand a meeting with Ambassador Philip Goldberg, whom the Bolivian government has linked to a purported assassination plot on the president.

About 60 Americans representing U.S.-based human rights groups joined the protest. Solidarity marches were held simultaneously in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Sydney, Australia.

Sanchez supporters say Mr. Morales is reviving the case to distract public attention from a crisis engulfing his own government, which has aligned itself with the policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Morales is facing a separatist movement led by the pro-business elite in the eastern lowlands, a violent revolt by miners in the western mountains and protests by pro-government peasants demanding quicker land redistribution and more space to grow coca.

“The government is just looking for scapegoats to cover up its own ineptitude and demagoguery,” said Mario Justiniano, a deputy of Mr. Sanchez’s center-left National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), which retains a small following, with 7 percent of the vote in the last election.

Government officials say they have more urgent reasons to move against Mr. Sanchez. MAS leaders say that governors pushing for autonomy of the four eastern provinces of Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija and Pando met with Mr. Sanchez’s chief aide and son-in-law, Mauricio Balcazar, in Miami two weeks ago.

Government officials called the MNR a “black hand” behind an armed rebellion last week by independent miner cooperatives in the Andean province of Huanuni. The uprising left 17 dead and 60 wounded.

“The MNR gave the cooperativist miners important mining concessions when it was in power. I’m sure that it’s now calling in some favors,” Mr. Peredo said.

Mr. Morales’ anxiety appeared to reach a fever pitch last week when he accused Mr. Goldberg, Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas and former military officers of plotting to assassinate him.

Bolivian officials have criticized the United States for failing to expedite an order to detain Mr. Sanchez, but attorneys say the Bolivian government has been incapable of moving the extradition case through the courts.

An international detention order was issued to Interpol when Mr. Morales assumed office in January. The Bolivian Supreme Court has not approved the extradition request because of a dissenting vote from one of the 11 judges, Sandoval Capobianco, who is a member of the MNR.

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