Ex-Bolivian president to be tried in Florida for rights abuses

Former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, seen here in a September 30 2003 picture, is to go on trial in Florida for alleged human rights abuses during 2003 protests against his government

Former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada goes on trial in Florida next month in a civil suit over his role in the killing of more than 50 civilians during disturbances in 2003, court documents showed Wednesday. It would be the first time a former head of state will face trial in the US for human rights abuses, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is among a team of lawyers representing relatives of eight of the victims. The suit alleges that Sanchez de Lozada and his defense minister, Carlos Sanchez Berzain, planned the extra-judicial killings by Bolivian security forces. A federal judge ruled that the two will face trial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida starting March 5 under a law that permits civil suits in US courts for extrajudicial killings. "We look forward to this historic opportunity to have our day in court," said Teofilo Baltazar Cero, whose pregnant wife was among those killed. Known as the "October massacre," the deaths came after La Paz was cut off by massive protests led by Evo Morales, now the country's president. Armed government troops were deployed on October 11, 2003 to open a route through blockaded roads for diesel and gasoline shipments into the Bolivian capital. Witnesses say they opened fire on civilians. The deaths and ensuing crisis forced Sanchez de Lozada's resignation on October 17, and he fled the country the same day for the United States. The lawsuit alleges that he and Sanchez Berzain had planned for months to crush the political opposition through the use of deadly force.