More than 75 witnesses have testified in the criminal case in Sucre. But Bolivian courts have never convicted military and civilian leaders in a trial like this. "Regardless of the amount of evidence presented, it's still possible that political pressure could force the tribunal to hand down extremely light sentences or to dissolve the case altogether," says Rogelio Mayta, the lawyer representing most of the plaintiffs in Bolivia.

In Miami, Eloy and Etelvina notched a victory this past November. U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled that the couple and several other plaintiffs had enough evidence and standing to proceed with a civil case here.

But an appeal has been filed and it could be years before a civil trial begins.

Etelvina and Eloy with their children.
Courtesy of Thomas Becker
Etelvina and Eloy with their children.

There's even a slimmer chance the United States will respect Bolivia's 2008 request to extradite the former leaders. Although the countries share an extradition treaty — ironically signed into law by Goni himself in '95 — the government can ignore requests if it deems them "politically motivated."

Laura Sweeney, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, says, "We don't comment on matters of extradition."

"Obama has no incentive to consider extradition," says Bruce Bagley, an expert on Bolivian politics at the University of Miami. "He'd invite criticism from every enemy he already has on the right."

In the meantime, the two leaders continue living comfortably in exile. Just last month, Berzaín published an editorial in El Nuevo Herald, criticizing Evo Morales's December 6 re-election. "The Bolivian elections are the result of the deliberate destruction of the political system and the persecution of political leaders," Berzaín wrote in the December 31 piece, "with the direct intervention of Cuba and Venezuela."

Berzaín's visibility in Miami is difficult for Etelvina to accept. On a recent Sunday, she traveled the hour and a half over rutted highway from El Alto back to her hometown, Warisata. She climbed the baked mud stairs to the bedroom where her daughter died, and collapsed on the bed.

She cried as she described plugging her finger into the hole in Marlene's chest as her daughter screamed, only to realize all of the girl's blood was pouring from the exit wound in her back.

Today, everything in this house that was Marlene's is gone. It's Aymara custom to gather the dead's belongings and give them away after the funeral. Only a single school notebook remains back in El Alto — and that's only because Etelvina missed it while cleaning.

Suddenly, Etelvina's eyes flash. She jumps to her feet and pushes aside a box atop a dresser. She pulls down a little girl's black shoe, dusty and tiny. She holds it to her face and cries. "Oh, Marlene," she whispers to the shoe. "Oh, Marlene."

Alejandra Landivar and Jean Friedman-Rudovsky contributed to this story. It was reported in La Paz and Warisata, Bolivia, through a World Affairs Fellowship from the International Center for Journalists.

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