The Miami Herald
Wed, Nov. 12, 2008

Bolivia asks U.S. to extradite ex-president

Bolivian officials said Tuesday they have formally asked the United States to extradite former President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada, who ordered a military crackdown on 2003 riots in which at least 60 people died.

The 2,700-page request charging the exiled leader with ''genocide'' was delivered Monday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Consuelo Ponce told The Associated Press.

U.S. government offices were closed Tuesday for Veterans' Day, and officials there could not be reached for comment.

Sánchez de Lozada fled to the United States during the anti-government riots after troops under his command opened fire on largely Aymara Indian protesters.

The ex-president's lawyers said the extradition attempt is no more than political harassment by leftist President Evo Morales.

''The actions taken by the Sánchez de Lozada government were constitutional, lawful, and appropriate,'' Howard Gutman, a lawyer representing the former president, said in a statement released Tuesday.

The extradition ''is part of a politically motivated offensive orchestrated by Evo Morales against democracy and those he considers his political foes,'' he said.

Chances that the extradition will be granted are slim. U.S.-Bolivia relations have soured dramatically in recent months, and Sánchez de Lozada, a resident of Chevy Chase, Maryland, has many Washington allies.

Nevertheless, families of those killed and injured during the protest hailed the extradition request.

''It doesn't matter where he escapes to,'' said Eloy Rojas, whose 8-year-old daughter was killed by a soldier's bullet that flew through the window of his family's home.

``He must pay for the damage he has caused.''

The extradition request also names former Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín and Hydrocarbons Minister Jorge Berindoague for alleged involvement in the crackdown.

More than 15,000 protesters marched on the U.S. Embassy in La Paz earlier this year after it was revealed that Washington had granted Sanchez Berzain political asylum.