LA PAZ (Reuters) - Washington has refused to extradite a former Bolivian president to the South American country to stand trial over political violence that forced him from office nine years ago, President Evo Morales said on Friday.
Former leader Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is accused of corruption and responsibility for the deaths of 63 people killed in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in October 2003.
“Yesterday (Thursday), a document arrived from the United States, rejecting the extradition of people who have done a lot of damage to Bolivia,” leftist Morales, an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, said in a speech.
Calling the United States a “paradise of impunity” and a “refuge for criminals,” Morales said Washington turned down the extradition request on the grounds that a civilian leader cannot be tried for crimes committed by the military.
Sanchez de Lozada, a U.S.-educated mining magnate who embraced free-market policies, quit during the bloodshed of 2003 and fled to the United States 13 months into his second term as president of the impoverished Andean country.
Bolivia’s demands for the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada and several of his ministers have aggravated prickly relations between Washington and La Paz.
The countries agreed to normalize diplomatic relations late last year but new ambassadors have yet to take their posts.
Morales, a former coca farmer who has reversed the privatizations pursued by Sanchez de Lozada, expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in 2008, accusing them of plotting with his rightist enemies.
Washington responded by sending Bolivia’s ambassador home soon afterward.
Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition was also demanded by opposition leaders in Bolivia and they criticized the U.S. decision.
Rogelio Mayta, a lawyer representing victims of the 2003 violence, said “the U.S. protection” of Sanchez de Lozada was not surprising.
“It’s yet another display of the U.S. government’s double moral standard,” he said.
Two former government ministers and three former military officers who did not flee Bolivia have been convicted over the bloodshed and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Vicki Allen