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Bolivia: Massacre victims celebrate US ruling

Relatives of the victims described as a “light of hope” the decision of a United States Court of Appeals that annulled a ruling that favored former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his Defense Minister, accused of the death of protesters in 2003, and ordered a new trial.

“It has left us calm and hopeful, we think that the trial had come to nothing, but there is one more opportunity to punish impunity,” said Sonia Espejo, one of the promoters of the lawsuit and who lost her husband in the so-called “Massacre October ”in which 65 protesters were shot dead by law enforcement officers.

In 2018, a jury from the south of the state of Florida declared Sánchez de Lozada and his minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín responsible and ordered them to compensate the victims in an unpublished civil trial in the United States. However, a month later a court released the defendants from guilt for lack of evidence.

The case will now return to Federal Court in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, the defendants’ attorney Stephen Raber said.

In a written statement, Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín said that the recent ruling “does not establish any responsibility” and that the order to return the case is to comply with “additional procedures” that have to do with the evidence. “We trust the process” .

The events date back to 2003 when, in the midst of a deep political crisis, then President Sánchez de Lozada ordered the military to contain a long protest. The death of 65 civilians precipitated the resignation of the ruler and his subsequent flight to the United States, thus marking the fall of the traditional parties and the political rise of the then coca grower leader Evo Morales, who after ruling for almost 14 years also resigned harassed by protests in November of last year.

The trial in Bolivia for the “October Massacre” did not prosper due to the absence of the accused, but years later a US court agreed to open a civil process of reparation for the victims.

“This is an important moment in the fight for accountability, not only for families, but for Bolivia,” said US attorney Thomas Becker of the Harvard University International Human Rights Clinic, who is driving the process.

The defense of the exmandatario and his minister alleged during the trial that the death of the civilians was due to crossfire between the military and protesters and that it was not intentional. “There is no basis to hold the defendants accountable and we trust they will be exonerated when this case comes to an end,” Raber said in a message sent to The Associated Press.

From Buenos Aires, where he is exiled, Morales published on Twitter that the annulment of the ruling that favored Sánchez de Lozada “is an important step in the fight against impunity.”

Sánchez de Lozada accused Morales of having led the protests to carry out a coup. ———-

The Associated Press correspondent Gisela Salomon contributed to this note.