November 10, 2009 | 9:06am
In January, New Times brought you the story of a handful of indigenous Bolivians who traveled to Miami to seek justice against two well connected former leaders who were in charge during a bloody massacre outside La Paz in 2003.
The Bolivians claimed that former President Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada and defense minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain -- who now resides in Key Biscayne -- ordered the army to gun down dozens of Aymara Indians to halt sweeping protests against their regime.
The case, we wrote, would be a major test of America's resolve to punish foreign leaders who flee to the States to escape their crimes at home.
Round one of the case finally wrapped up yesterday, and you can score a big win for the Bolivian plaintiffs.
District Judge Adalberto Jordan, ruling on Goni and Berzain's request for a dismissal, found that the Bolivians have more than sufficient evidence and legal standing in Miami to proceed.
"The decision is a great victory for the plaintiffs," says Judith Brown Chomsky, one of the lawyers representing the Bolivians. "(It) reaffirms that U.S. courts are an appropriate venue for bringing perpetrators of human rights violations to account."
Jordan's ruling wasn't all good news for the Black October victims. He dismissed extrajudicial killings claims for three of the plaintiffs because they failed to show that their relatives could have died via "targeted killings."
He also tossed out four other counts, most because he ruled they had exceeded the Bolivian statute of limitations.
Ana Reyes, one of Goni's lawyers, dismisses today's ruling as "procedural," and notes that most of the plaintiff's claims were dismissed.
"While we are pleased that Judge Jordan dismissed most of the plaintiff's claims as having no legal basis at all, the court did permit a small number of them to go forward for factual development," Reyes says in a statement. "We are considering all legal options open to President Sanchez de Lozada and remain confident we will prevail in our defenses. The facts show that (Goni) acted lawfully and responsibly to protect innocent civilians from armed rioters."
But for the Bolivian families like Eloy Rojas Mamani, whose 8-year-old daughter Marlene was felled by a bullet through the family's front window, Jordan's ruling means they have a chance to keep fighting for some compensation from Goni and Berzain.
"This decision is a reminder that heads of state cannot act with impunity," says James Cavallero, director of Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program, which helped organize the lawsuit.