The Obama administration officially needs to buy a calendar already

TW: political killings, marginalization of and violence against indigenous peoples, military coups

I mentioned late last week the unfortunate anniversary of the US-backed 1973 Chilean coup which coincided almost exactly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration that the United States is a clear force for global liberation. What I left out of that discussion was the later American support for the brutal regime, namely the apparent complacency between at least one US-based bank and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in hiding illegally obtained funds which he intended to access after fleeing Chile. While the US government armed and otherwise assisted his violent take over of the country, its role in the 2005 probe which uncovered the bank’s unsavory deal was a bit of a fig leaf. Although it didn’t exactly correcting the past mistake, it at least made some gesture of reparation. No domestic suits were filed, but the revealed information assisted prosecution efforts in Chile.

A few years later, then presidential candidate Barack Obama would deliver a rather impacting speech on flaws in the United States’ policies with regards to Latin America, saying:

From the right, we hear about violent insurgents. From the left, we hear about paramilitaries. This is the predictable debate that seems frozen in time from the 1980s. You’re either soft on Communism or soft on death squads. […] The person living in fear of violence doesn’t care if they’re threatened by a right-wing paramilitary or a left-wing terrorist; they don’t care if they’re being threatened by a drug cartel or a corrupt police force. They just care that they’re being threatened, and that their families can’t live and work in peace. That is why there will never be true security unless we focus our efforts on targeting every source of fear in the Americas. That’s what I’ll do as President of the United States.

And yet, his administration just refused to extradite or permit domestic legal cases against the former Presidents of Mexico and Bolivia, who are charged with killing or permitting the killing of civilians who held opposing political views. This from the administration that justified the assassination of multiple targets (sometimes US citizens) in other countries often with little or no involvement of the territories’ legitimate governments. Evidently, jurisdictions only exist for other countries.

The case against former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has been widely publicized, with The Economist and Bloomberg News both fairly explicitly calling the Connecticut-based civil suit a sham, potentially motivated by historic political rivalries. Given the dissolution of the same case against Zedillo in Mexico amid accusations that the plaintiffs were fabricated evidence, it’s necessary to not reject these claims outright. That being said, declassified US intelligence shores up the claims that Zedillo and his government either exhibited criminal negligence of government-trained paramilitaries, deliberately used them against Zapatista-supportive civilians, or did both.

While Zedillo’s and his administration’s culpability in a 1997 massacre could arguably have been adequately examined in Mexican courts and this case is only a shameful circumvention of double jeopardy restrictions (common to both Mexico and the United States), the case is much clearer against the former Bolivian President. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada has been charged by Bolivian courts with legally condoning violence against indigenous protesters, which left 60 dead and at least 400 injured. As the current Bolivian government sees those protests as being legitimate opposition to efforts to erase the social and economic viability of indigenous communities among other groups which then faced excessive police violence, he has been charged with genocide. He has not stood trial for this actions anywhere, and the request of the Bolivian government is for him to be extradited so he could stand trial there, rather than a suit being brought to him in the United States.

(Left, police violence against protesters in Bolivia, October 2003. Right, protests for the extradition of Former President Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada, June 2007.)

Earlier in President Obama’s term in office, Human Rights advocates, many of them based in the United States, were optimistic about the possibility of Obama’s new commitment to reducing all forms of violence in Latin America driving an extradition of the former Bolivian president, now six years after the killings. Last Tuesday, however, his administration’s Department of State made clear that extradition was not an option for either of these former heads of state. Again, this statement was made on the anniversary of the US-backed Chilean coup in 1973 – showing a hint of ignorance or malice in the policy decision. As with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks, the timing could not have been worse, let alone the substance of her statements or the State Department’s release.

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2 thoughts on “The Obama administration officially needs to buy a calendar already

  1. Ari Jones says:

    Do you have any thoughts on why Obama’s administration would make this decision? It seems particularly odd given that the suit against the former Bolivian president are being brought by the current Bolivian government. Basically, how does it harm us to extradite him? Unless we’re afraid of setting precedent that would allow people like Bush to be forcefully extradited to whatever countries are claiming war crimes committed by him…

  2. Ari, I wasn’t sure so I didn’t include it in the post. I think you’re right that probably one factor is the precedent it might set for extradition of Americans – we’d look hypocritical if we would allow foreign countries to extradite their citizens who are residents here, but not our own citizens for actions they’d done elsewhere (namely Bush and company, but even Obama might be vulnerable to that, and there’s all the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan too). There’s also some weird politics surrounding extradition of former or present heads of state (here‘s an interesting article by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation on it I couldn’t quite work into the article).

    I suspect there’s also some issues about complicity in the original protests, at least in the case of Sánchez de Lozada. The Bolivian protests were in part about the privatization of publicly owned natural gas and water resources, to US-based companies. If extraditing Sánchez de Lozada is restitution for American complicity in his government’s policies, then it’s also an admission of fault.

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