Reformers Express Concern to Bolivian Government Over Illegal Arrest of Leonilda Zurita 11/19/99

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Last week, DRCNet reported that Leonilda Zurita Vargas, Bolivian activist who had recently participated in political demonstrations and press events in the United States, including events organized by drug policy reform groups, had been illegally arrested and jailed on returning to Bolivia ( Parties who had worked with Leonilda sent the following letter of concern to the President of Bolivia this week:

November 18, 1999

Dear President Banzer:

We are writing to express our concern regarding the illegal arrest and detention on November 10, 1999, of Leonilda Zurita, the executive director of the Tropico Federation of Bolivia, on her return from the United States. Having collaborated with Zurita during her recent visit to Washington, we encourage you to ensure that Zurita, other activists, and all Bolivians receive the full human rights protections granted in Bolivia under its own legal system and international treaties it has signed.

In the United States, Zurita was collaborating this month with a wide range of U.S. non-governmental organizations in Washington, DC to raise awareness of economic conditions, human rights violations and the negative impact of U.S. international drug control policy. Upon her return November 10, she was arrested by police waiting for her at the Cochabamba airport with an arrest warrant dating from February.

Her arrest was based on a case in which she and several other union leaders were charged with causing damage to property in the amount of $38. While we are not in a position to judge the merits of the original case, we find her recent detention troubling for several reasons. The timing of her arrest suggests that it was politically motivated and linked to her activities in the United States. Jailing her for 24 hours was a harsh response to a relatively minor charge, and was illegal under Bolivian law. The warrant for her arrest only gave the police the right to take her to make a statement, not to lock her up for 24 hours. In any case, the legality of the warrant is questionable because the documentation failed to specify the charge against her. Additionally, Zurita easily obtained an exit visa for her trip to the United States though exit visas are seldom granted to individuals with pending legal problems. A police officer at the Sacaba Police Station informed the Andean Information Network, based in Cochabamba, that the arrest was based on orders from authorities. These facts suggest her arrest may actually have been prompted by her political activity in the United States where her speech and conduct are protected by law.

We are greatly alarmed by the detention of Leonilda Zurita in violation of her basic rights and urge you to guarantee strict adherence to Bolivian legal procedures in her case. We urge you to express respect for freedom of speech and other basic human rights in Bolivia by assuring that these proceedings are not a reprisal for Zurita's political views.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Eric E. Sterling, Esq., President
The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Coletta Youngers, Senior Associate
Washington Office on Latin America

Martin Jelsma, Coordinator
Drugs & Democracy Programme, Transnational Institute

David Borden, Executive Director
Drug Reform Coordination Network

Barbara Gerlach and Cristina Espinel, Co-Chairs
Colombia Human Rights Committee

Grahame Russell, Director
Rights Action/Guatemala Partners

Sanho Tree, Director of Drug Policy Project
Institute for Policy Studies

Robert A. White, President
Center for International Policy

Michael S. Gelacek, Esq., Vice-Chairman and Commissioner
U.S. Sentencing Commission, 1990-1998

Frank Smyth
Freelance Journalist

Harry Belafonte

Danny Glover

Reverend Bernard Keels
United Methodist Church, Baltimore, Maryland

Ambassador Peter Romero, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
Harold Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
General Barry McCaffrey, Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy
Ambassador Marcelo Perez Monasterios, Bolivian Ambassador to the United States
Honorable Walter Guteiras, Vice Minister of Human Rights
Dr. Edgar Moreno, Minister of Justice
Honorable Gerardo Rosado, President of the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies

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Issue #116, 11/19/99 Hypocrisy II: More Special Treatment for Politicians' Families | Youth Violence Subcommittee Holds Field Hearing on Heroin Upsurge | Reformers Express Concern to Bolivian Government Over Illegal Arrest of Leonilda Zurita | In Memoriam: Gil Puder | New Mexico: Governor Holds Forum on Legalization, Top Cop Resigns, Republican Chairman Acknowledges Authoring Private Pro-Decriminalization Paper in 1997 | "Judge Judy" on Drug Users and Their Families: "Let 'Em Die" | Student Conference Report | DEA Lifts Hemp Seed Embargo | McWilliams and McCormick to Plead Guilty | Drug Education: New Publication from The Lindesmith Center | Needle Exchange Forum: Newark, New Jersey 20-Nov | New Report on Injection-Related AIDS Finds Prevention Neglected in Large States and Major Cities | Editorial: Guest Editorial: US Senate Should Pass Forfeiture Reform Bill

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