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Cablegate: Bolivia: Detainee Forced to Confess Against Us?

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #1258/01 1562107
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 042107Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7635
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 8009
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 5344
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 9287
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 6511
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3639
RUEHGE/AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN 0737
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3903
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 5513
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6263
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0963
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 1172
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

UNCLAS LA PAZ 001258

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL BL ASEC
SUBJECT: BOLIVIA: DETAINEE FORCED TO CONFESS AGAINST US?

REF: LA PAZ 1243

- - - -
Summary
- - - -

1. (SBU) Citing insufficient evidence, a judge ordered
released anti-government activist Roberto Lenin Sandoval
Lopez, who was illegally abducted and incarcerated by a
police intelligence unit on June 2. The prosecutor in
Sandoval's case had already decided not to press charges due
to the government's illegal arrest. Sandoval claims, that
while in police custody, officers threatened his life and
forced him to file a false confession. Sandoval asserts the
police pressured him to state that the U.S. Embassy was
financing a Sucre opposition leader. Sandoval's alleged
confession comes at time when the Bolivian government on a
nearly daily basis accuses the USG of conspiring against it,
and is continually looking for any reason (real or not) to
close down or curtail the activities of USAID. Various
social groups are using Sandoval's release as a pretext to
march on the Embassy on June 9. The prosecutor and judge
showed great courage in standing up to President Evo Morales'
government, which clearly wanted Sandoval behind bars. Evo
will likely make both into his latest set of targets in his
usual rhetorical attacks on the judiciary as corrupt and
against his government. Beyond the rhetoric, the prosecutor
and judge could face threats from Evo's ardent supporters in
El Alto. End Summary.

- - - - - -
Catch . . .
- - - - - -

2. (SBU) Six police officers abducted Sandoval from outside
his home in Sucre the morning of June 2 and transported him
to El Alto. The police never presented the legally required
arrest warrant. Minister of Government Alfredo Rada at 8:30
PM on June 2 explained that Sandoval had been detained for
fomenting terrorism and sedition, attempted murder, and
several other charges. Rada claimed that Sandoval was an
instigator of several violent anti-government events in Sucre
(reftel).

- - - - - - - - -
. . . And Release
- - - - - - - - -

3. (SBU) By 6:30 AM June 3, according to press sources, the
Ministry of Government presented its claims to El Alto
prosecutor Harry Suaznabar. Sandoval was among 12 people
charged with 25 separate crimes including terrorism and
sedition. Suaznabar chose not to press charges due to
problems associated with Sandoval's detention. Around 3:00
PM, judge Daniel Espinal reviewed the case and decided to
release Sandoval because he found no "elements" or evidence
that "sustained" the charges against him.

- - - - - - - - - - -
A Forced Confession?
- - - - - - - - - - -

4. (SBU) Sandoval spent approximately 30 hours in police
custody (in transit to El Alto and within the El Alto police
facility). According to a press interview conducted shortly
after his release, Sandoval claims he was threatened and
pressured into a forced confession. Sandoval asserts he was
forced at gunpoint to state that U.S. Embassy finances Jaime
Barron, leader of the opposition Chuquisaca
Inter-Institutional Committee. Sandoval also alleges his
police captors forced him to declare that San Xavier
University, where Barron is rector, is financing the Sabina
Cuellar's prefect campaign. (Note: Cuellar is the opposition
Chuquisaca Inter-Institutional Committee's candidate for the
June 29 prefect election. Polling suggests Cuellar will
easily defeat the pro-government MAS candidate Walter Valda.
End Note).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Government and Its Supporters React
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (SBU) Despite a significant public outcry against
Sandoval's illegal detention, including a very pointed
criticism from Bolivia's human rights ombudsman, the Vice
Minister of Interior Ruben Gamarra expressed the government's
"indignation" over Sandoval's release. Minister of
Government Rada stated that Sandoval, "constitutes a danger
to state security." Rada added that the government's cases
against the 12 suspects will continue, and that Sandoval's
capture "permitted the investigation to advance."

6. (SBU) Members of various El Alto social groups who
support President Evo Morales ) including the Regional
Workers Union (COR) and the Neighborhood Association (FEJUVE)
- circled the prison where Sandoval was held and demanded he
be transferred to Conchoncorro prison (a maximum security
facility). Police had to disguise Sandoval as one of their
own to transport him to the court where he was eventually
freed. Upon hearing of Sandoval's release, FEJUVE's Ismael
Herrera announced that El Alto would carry-out a general
strike on June 9, and that El Alto residents would march on
the U.S. Embassy. (Comment: Herrera's declaration to march
on the Embassy was not news. We have been hearing through
both public and private sources that the Embassy may be the
target of demonstrations on January 9. End Comment).

- - - -
Comment
- - - -

7. (SBU) It is encouraging that both prosecutor Suaznabar
and judge Espinal had the strength to follow the law and more
importantly stand up to Evo Morales' government in the
Sandoval case. Both Suaznabar and Espinal took significant
risks as they work in El Alto, a stronghold of Evo's base
where radicals often threaten people who do not tow Evo's (or
their) line. Furthermore, Evo frequently criticizes the
judiciary as corrupt and against his government, he can be
expected to make this argument against Suaznabar and Espinal.
End Comment.
GOLDBERG

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