Several times here I’ve been asked what I think about Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada won a second, non-consecutive presidential term in 2003. He set about implementing several contentious policies. First, he introduced financial austerity measures in the vein of the (now nearly defunct) neo-liberal Washington consensus. Even worse, he was prepared to move ahead with a gas line (Bolivia has the second largest reserves of natural gas in South America) through Chile. Due to longstanding animosity towards Chilean ports because of the War of the Pacific, where Chile took Bolivia’s territory that connected the country to the sea, Bolivia nationalists oppose any gas pipeline to a Chilean port that Bolivia would not have administrative control over. Lozada did not secure such port rights from Chile, but moved ahead anyway because of the backing of Western oil majors and U.S. financial support for a processing facility.
Lozada’s actions spurred immediate public discontent. In total, the military killed close to 100 people, suppressing demonstrations, and injured several hundred more. In September 2003, the dissent escalated into the “gas war” where the country was paralyzed by roadblocks and protests. The public demonstrations was spearheaded by Bolivia’s indigenous majority. Losing his grip on power, Lozada fled the country on October 17, 2003. Throughout the revolts, the U.S. staunchly backed Lozada and offered him exile when they fled.
The Bolivian government would like to see Lozada extradited from the U.S. for the alleged disproportionate amount of force the military used to counter the public protests during his presidency. We appear to have no inclination to do any such thing. Needless to say, many things about Lozada are unclear. Both his supporters and detractors are passionate, and most stories must be taken with a grain of salt. I can’t make an informed judgment either way, but his extradition (or lack thereof) is certainly a huge sticking point between the Morales government and Washington.
(Photo Credit: Flickr.com)