Source: Huffington Post
It was a moment worthy of a sitcom. The world’s most infamous information technology specialist, Edward Snowden, had been holed up in a Moscow airport for three weeks, with no apparent escape in sight. Then the rumor surfaced that Bolivian president and known thorn in the United States’ side, Evo Morales, may sneak Snowden out of the country on his presidential plane. Several European countries refused to allow Morales to pass through their airspace, and his plane was grounded in Vienna. Snowden wasn’t aboard. Seeing the hand of the U.S. behind the event, Morales responded by offering political asylum to the former defense contractor wanted by the U.S. government for leaking information about the surveillance activities of the National Security Agency.
The humiliation Morales faced in Europe likely wasn’t the only thing on his mind when he made the offer. Morales has long resented the U.S. government’s refusal to hand over a certain former Bolivian head of state accused of human rights abuses in his home country.
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, president of Bolivia from 2002 to 2003, was a free-market reformer and U.S. ally. He fled his country after protests to his plans to route natural gas through neighboring Chile toppled his government in 2003 — an episode known in Bolivia as the “Gas War.” He now faces charges of genocide in Bolivia for allegedly ordering the military to fire on protesters in 2003, killing more than 60 people, as well as a civil lawsuit in the U.S. brought by relatives of those who died. Sánchez de Lozada, now living in the U.S., is being sheltered from extradition back to Bolivia.
The Sánchez de Lozada issue hung heavy over U.S-Bolivian relations. And that was before Edward Snowden.
“It’s an absurd expectation that Bolivia would extradite Snowden if he ever arrived there with this kind of precedent,” Kathyrn Ledebur, director of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network, told The Huffington Post. “It’s kind of this elephant on the table that they’re pretending doesn’t exist, but is a huge problem.”
After all, the Gas War is still fresh in the minds of many Bolivians. The gas project offended nationalist sentiment in Bolivia, where many opposed allowing private firms to control the country’s natural resources. Routing the pipeline through Chile added another layer of complexity to the conflict, since many Bolivians feel a lingering resentment against Chileans over a 19th century war that ended with Bolivia’s loss of access to the sea.
At least 64 civilians died and hundreds more were injured at the hands of the military as the Sánchez de Lozada administration tried to break up the protests. He blamed the protesters themselves for the violence, saying they attacked security forces. He argued that the government had a responsibility to clear road blockades that made it difficult to supply hospitals.