A U.S. court found former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada responsible for the 2003 extrajudicial killing of more than 50 people, mostly Indigenous Aymara, in El Alto, Bolivia. He’ll have to pay US$10 million to the nine families of victims who brought the case to court.
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After six tense days and 34 hours of jury deliberation, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida federal court found Sanchez guilty of, on Oct. 17, 2003, directing the national military to open fire via tanks and helicopters on a neighborhood in the city of El Alto, just outside of the capital of La Paz.
The killings became known as the October Massacre and were part of a planned attack that the government covertly named The Republican Plan. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) who defended the Bolivian families in today’s win say that the massacre claimed the lives of 58 Bolivians and injured around 400 others, mainly Aymara. Among the victims defended was an eight-year-old who was shot by a bullet that entered her mother’s bedroom and a pregnant woman who was killed by a bullet fired through the wall of her house.
The court also found Sanchez, now 87 years old, along with his then minister of defense, Carlos Sanchez Berzain, guilty of "extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity and aggravated manslaughter" during Oct. 17 massacre.
Sanchez and his ministers had ordered the attack on El Alto because of previous protests in the city demanding that the government stop exporting its natural gas to the United States and Chile and provide the energy to domestic markets first.
After the event, Sanchez immediately fled to the United States leaving his vice president Carlos Mesa to take over as president. Bolivia elected its first Aymara – and current head of state – Evo Morales into office in 2006.
U.S. law allows civil courts to process foreign cases if they involve accusations of torture or extrajudicial executions.