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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Bolivian Man Accused of Genocide Has Asylum in the U.S.

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Late last month, Bolivia's Supreme Court of Justice convicted seven former military and government officials of genocide, reports Indian Country Today Media Network.* The military officials received 10-15 years imprisonment and the civilians three years in prison.* However, the primary suspects in the case, former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and former defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzain, remain in the United States.* As far as I can tell, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada is either a citizen or a permanent resident of the United States.* Mr. Sanchez Berzain was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2008 (sparking protests in Bolivia).

Carlos Sanchez Berzain: Accused mass murderer and...

The convictions and accusations stem from a 2003 incident known as the Bolivian Gas War, where protesters blocked a natural gas shipment from Bolivia to Chile.* The then-president of Bolivia used the military to open the road.* As a result of this incident, as many as 67 people died (all of them members of Bolivia's indigenous Aymara community) and 400 were injured.* The "war" was part of a larger economic and social conflict in Bolivia, and as a result President Sanchez de Lozada resigned from office.* The current president, Evo Morales, was a leader of the protesters.

Since Messrs. Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain have been in the U.S., the Bolivian government has filed a formal extradition request, which so far has not been acted upon.* Also, victims of the alleged genocide have filed a lawsuit under the Alien Torts Statute against the two Bolivian leaders seeking to hold them accountable for the deaths in 2003.* The lawsuit involves some heavy hitters on both sides.* For the plaintiffs: Ira Kurzban, Harvard University's Human Rights Clinic, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the law firm Akin Gump.* Representing the defendants are my former idol Alan Dershowitz (who seems to have repositioned himself from a defender of civil liberties to a defender of all things right-wing), and the law firms Williams and Connelly, LLP and Greenberg Traurig.* In November 2009, the District Court dismissed some counts of the complaint and allowed others to go forward.* The defendants appealed, and the case is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Ned Flanders look-alike.

As there is (probably) enough evidence for the civil case to move ahead, I wonder whether the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the asylee defendant, Mr. Sanchez Berzain.* Under the law of asylum, one who engaged in genocide or persecution of others is ineligible for asylum.* Clearly, there is some evidence that Mr. Sanchez Berzain was involved in persecuting people.* Aside from the District Court ruling, a leader of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia called Mr. Sancehz Berzain the "specific intellectual author" of the 2003 massacre.*

Given the calls to deport the housekeeper in the DSK case (who seemingly lied about her asylum claim), I wonder whether there will be a similar outcry here, where the asylee is accused of much worse than lying.* My guess is-since our country has a rocky relationship (at best) with President Morales-it's likely DHS will look the other way when it comes to Mr. Sanchez Berzain.* And that's too bad-asylum law is supposed to be based on international principles; not politics.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

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