Arce, the Cocaine Minister, is here to serve 30 years in prison

Jacqueline Patiño
Posted July 10, 2009 from Bolivia
luis_arce_gomez_71.gif (1/1)

He is 71 years old. He arrived to Bolivia after 20 years in the United States where he was in jail serving a drug dealing sentence; he now must respond for asassinations and disappeared people in the dictatorial government of 1980-1981 where he served as Minister of Internal Affairs. The Supreme Court of Bolivia has sentenced him in the 90s and has been waiting for his return in order to make this sentence be complied with.

When he arrived to El Alto International Airport in La Paz, Bolivia, a cold winter dawn and a police operation were the only witnesses of his arrival, so old and full of aches and disorders that he needed a wheelchair. So different from 31 years ago, when he was the strongest man of Luis Garcia Meza dictatorial government. His most famous saying at that time was that 'all who oppose this government should walk around with their last will under their arms', sentence by which he lead all his ministry affairs on that doomed year.

This old, frail man accompanied Garcia Meza in the Coupe d'Etat of July 17th, 1980. They have overthrown President Lidia Gueiler and installed a terror regime from the same day they acquired power. That day a group of violent para-military men assaulted the COB (Bolivian Labor Union Central). They killed Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, Carlos Flores Bedregal and Gualberto Vega Yapura. They kidnapped, tortured and exiled union leaders, politicians and journalists. They are also attributed the death of Father Luis Espinal and the massacre of 8 leaders of MIR (Movement of Revolutionary Left).

A year ago he served half of his sentence and the US Justice freed him under parole. He tried to avoid deportation by applying for assylum but the legal arguments were through and his departure was ordered. Upon arrival he had a thorough medical review and was sent to the maximum security jail of Chonchocoro.

With the burden of his years, his left eye blind, his audition partially lost in both ears as a sequel of the type 2 diabetes, and limping with the consequences or radiation therapy that treated his prostate cancer, the former strong man of the dictatorship has arrived into his prison cell to fulfill the 30 years of prison without indult imposed upon him by the Supreme Court. This convict's cell is RC-01 and will be in isolation regime for four weeks. He is the key to finding Marcelo's body.

This old man is the perfect example of how being 'strong' can make you weak, and how being 'the best' can make you 'the beast'. The families of the dissapeared and the assassinated are asking him to step forward and say where the bodies of his victims are. That is all they want from him. But odds are not with them, as men like him usually prefer to die before having to tell the truth.

Bolivia is the country with the smallest number of people disappeared in dictatorial governments: around 80. Argentina has several thousands, as well as Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay. But it is not about the number. It is about what us, Bolvian people, believe in. This is quite simple: we believe that people should not be killed for any reason at all. We are really surprised when someone kills a human being and we do not admit assassinations.

We just hope our governments, former and present, understand the inefable goodness and naive nature of Bolivians and act accordingly. For us, one person disappeared, one person killed or one person tortured, is already too much. Unnacceptable. Unbearable pain for all of us. Marcelo and Father Luis have never been forgotten, as they represent all the rest who suffered the same fate. They are emblems of democracy. And we hope today's and tomorrow's governments, whatever their political line, will not give us any more emblems to remember. Stop the killings. This government has 75 people dead in its hands already. See the example of how you can end in this old, wrinkled man.

Comments 2

Log in or register to post comments
  • Victoria Green
    Jul 13, 2009
    Jul 13, 2009

    That is a personality that does not even deserves punishing or revenge - if you see the state he is in now. His name isn't worthy of pronouncing, but I believe that your generation has a lot of anger towards him and for you being able to write this story is a reminder to all existing world's leaders that everything paid back in your life according to the deeds you do. Disappeared, tortured, killed, afraid to speak - who provides this kind of torture and why? We do know it well and we know that this wrinkled man has also been a puppet or a tool to be blamed later on, since he was doing orders of some bigger fish. We do have same situation here, and I am even afraid the situation with torturing might happen again after the 7th of April again and the new elections approaching. I don't dare to speak the name of our tyrants, but they still run for their parties and aspire to become presidents...While uneducated people are being confused whom to chose and giving preference to torture (definitely believing this is the holly man to them). P.S. I wish we can make changes, your story awakened some feelings of defense in me. And I really hope we will be not waiting for 30 years to pass, but after July 30 elections, we get rid of torture and get explanations from those whose name is not being deserved to pronounce... Planting the seeds today we get 10 times bigger harvest tomorrow... Today the old man is left with nothing but counting his wrinkles and having frustrations of his deeds. One may call it boomerang effect, Somebody else the Law of Cause and Effect, We call it a reminder to politicians and all living beings…

    Yours, Victoria

  • Jacqueline Patiño
    Jul 13, 2009
    Jul 13, 2009

    You are so right. I just want to remind all politicians that their lust for power needs to end and become love for their people. This can only be done through the acceptance, by all of us, that violence is unacceptable and that there are, indeed, non violent ways to solving our differences. I am overwhelmed by the number of people who actually think the only way for them to be heard is taking violent action, such as road blockage, or killing their opponents, or making terror prevail. We need to learn to obtain what we need through clean negotiation and good faith, otherwise the world will be lost in endless wars and mini wars, just as it is hapenning right now in half of the earth.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.