La Paz: Bolivia`s highest court on
Tuesday convicted five former top military commanders of won the presidency two years later.
The unrest was initially sparked by a government plan to export natural gas from this poor, landlocked South American
nation through a proposed pipeline to Chile. It quickly set
off protests by the largely Aymara Indian population of La Paz`s satellite city genocide for an army crackdown on riots in October 2003 that
killed at least 64 civilians. It gave them prison sentences
ranging from 10 to 15 years.
In a unanimous decision, the six judges of the Supreme Tribunal also convicted two former Cabinet ministers of complicity in the killings and sentenced each to three years.
Indicted in the case but not tried was Gonzalo Sanchez
de Lozada, Bolivia`s president at the time of the killings. He
was forced into exile by the widespread popular anger they
provoked. Carlos Sanchez Berzain, the then-defense minister,
also was indicted but not tried. Bolivian law prohibits trials
in absentia and both men live in the United States.
A lawyer for Sanchez de Lozada issued a statement
calling Bolivia`s justice system highly politicized and saying
that "no objective observer" can take the sentences seriously.
"Plainly, the Bolivian judiciary was used here as a political
tool," said the statement by attorney Ana Reyes.
The 2003 protests and crackdown, in what has become
known as "Black October," was a turning point in Bolivian
politics: The country`s discredited traditional political
parties collapsed and Evo Morales, one of the protest leaders,
, El Alto, which vented centuries of anger
over poverty and political marginalization.
Sanchez de Lozada, whose indictment was authorized by
Congress before Morales` December 2005 election, has long
argued that using force was justified because a blockade by
unruly protesters in El Alto had cut off La Paz, the capital,
from food and fuel.
But prosecutors said nothing justified letting soldiers
open fire on civilians who were armed only with sticks and
rocks. Sixty-four people were killed and 405 wounded, Chief
Prosecutor Mario Uribe said.