By Philip Hughes
“A good man is hard to find.” So goes the old adage. But not, it turns out, in Bolivia—South America’s poor, landlocked country in the heart of the continent.
There, good men are easy to find—if you know where to look. Mainly, there are two places: inside the country’s prisons or outside its borders. Why? Because the hard left, populist Movement Toward Socialism, known as MAS, government of indigenous President Evo Morales has been waging a relentless 6-year-long campaign against every living former president of the country and anyone else of prominence who dares to oppose the stranglehold on power he’s establishing with the help of the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Take the former presidents. It’s receded a bit into the background, but the most wanted man in Bolivia is supposed to be former President Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada, currently living in exile in the United States. He’s accused of “genocide” in the deaths of some dozens of protesters Morales whipped up in 2004 to hold a group of tourists hostage in a remote village and blockade the capital of La Paz. But since it’s taken a half a dozen years for Bolivia’s government to not achieve his extradition, it makes you wonder how really keen they are to secure it. Knowledgeable people believe that the only person who wants to avoid this extradition more than Goni is Morales himself. As long as he’s abroad, Goni is a permanent political cause celebré for Morales’s regime—one that he can wield at any time to whip up his supporters or distract restless citizens. Once home, Goni would just be a liability. A political “show trial” would call attention to Bolivia’s “justice” system and, worse, risk turning today’s bogeyman into tomorrow’s martyr. (Plumbing the motives of these populist, “justice-for-the-people” Latin American leaders and their governments exhausts the depths of one’s cynicism!)
But, besides Goni, there are the other former presidents. Morales’s predecessor, and erstwhile ally, Carlos Mesa, has been charged with corruption. His predecessor, former Supreme Court chief justice and interim President Eduardo Rodriguez, has been charged with, in effect, treason (since, on his watch, the military permitted the United States to remove and dispose of, for safety reasons, some obsolete, shoulder-fired Chinese air defense missiles). Former President “Tuto” Quiroga has been charged with approving “illegal” contracts with foreign oil firms…that were perfectly legal at the time.
Then there’s the case of the former prefect (governor) Leopoldo Fernandez, who’s been jailed without trial since 2008 (when some vigilantes he’s accused of organizing had a fatal shoot-out with some Morales-backed marchers descending on the departmental capital to occupy it.) He continues to languish in prison despite provisions in Morales’s own “constitution” providing that no one can be imprisoned without trial for more than 18 months.
Typically, these cases remain “pending.” This is the way of Bolivian “justice:” Accuse someone of crimes and then never reach a verdict, leaving the accused—in that arch Nixon-era phrase—”slowly, slowly twisting in the wind.” Further evidence that, under Morales’s putatively “revolutionary” government, an old joke among miners in the Andes still applies: “The three things, above all, to avoid are Chilean women, Peruvian partners, and Bolivian justice.” It takes little imagination to realize what three such disparate things have in common!
Former Prefects Mario Cosio of Tarija Department and Manfred Reyes Villa of Cochabamba, also a former presidential opponent of Morales, are in exile, accused of corruption. Ruben Costas, the prefect of Santa Cruz Department—epicenter of opposition to Morales—and the former president of the Senate Oscar Ortiz, also a Santa Cruz politician, are similarly charged with abuse of public funds. So, too, has been the highly respected and long-time governor of Bolivia’s Central Bank Juan Antonio Morales. And there are many others.
The latest victim has been Senator Roger Pinto, a leading opposition voice in Bolivia’s MAS-dominated Congress. He’s been granted political asylum in neighboring Brazil after fleeing threats against himself and his family for exposing the drugs trafficking connections of the Morales government uncovered since the arrest in Panama last year of the former head of Bolivia’s counternarcotics police, General Rene Sanabria, for running a cocaine smuggling operation.
While there are a couple of rogues in this gallery, the vast majority of those accused, locked up or in exile, are decent, honorable men—often esteemed professionals in their fields—with long records of service to their country. Their real “crime” has been to oppose Morales and his drive for a monopoly of power.
Small wonder, then, that at the Organization of American States General Assembly, held earlier this month in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, Bolivia joined Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other leftist/populist governments in pushing to neuter the organization’s independent Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The reasoning here is very sophisticated. It runs: If you’re going to violate your citizens’ human rights (in the name of “justice for the people,” naturally) the last thing you need is some pesky bunch of commissioners running around calling attention to the fact! Or, worse, vacating your courts’ decisions because they violate human rights conventions to which your government subscribes!
But why should anyone care about any of this? Simply this: The deafening silence from the media and the liberal nongovernment organization community about this pattern of judicial abuse in Bolivia—and in far more salient countries elsewhere in Latin America—underscores their selective indignation and hypocrisy on issues that are supposed to be sacred to their cause.