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"Black October" Case Against Bolivian Leaders Back In Miami Court Today

Two years ago, New Times brought you the story of a handful of indigenous Bolivians who have taken to federal court in Miami to seek justice against their nation's former leaders, who they say engineered a bloody massacre of protestors outside La Paz in 2003.

The landmark case (one of the first to go after disgraced foreign leaders hiding out in the U.S.) heads back to court today as ex-president Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada and defense minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain appeal a ruling that the indigenous plaintiffs have standing to go forward.

The case hinges in part on why Goni and Berzain called in the Army to take on protestors blocking the roads into La Paz, the capital, in October 2003 to protest plans to sell the nation's gas reserves to foreign companies.

Goni and Berzain maintain they were protecting Bolivia's national security; the hundreds who died were casualties of an armed conflict, they say.

The indigenous plaintiffs, like Eloy and Etelvina Mamani, tell a different story. Their 8-year-old daughter, Marlene, died from a bullet to the head in their living room, and they say Goni and Berzain's orders amounted to an illegal massacre.

With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Harvard's International Human Rights Clinic, the Mamanis joined other family members of those killed during the conflict to sue the ex-leaders in Miami.

In November 2009, U.S. Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled that there was enough evidence to allow a civil case to proceed against Goni and Berzain, both of whom fled to Miami after the conflict -- which came to be known as "Black October" -- booted them from office.

The leaders appealed the decision, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments from both sides this morning. We'll update when we hear more from the courts.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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