Bolivia: The Return of the “Minister of Cocaine”

During the military dictatorship of Luis García Meza that ruled Bolivia in the early 1980s, his right-hand man and Minister of the Interior Luis Arce Gómez had a bit of advice for dissidents thinking about speaking out against the government. He told them “to walk around with their written will under their arms.” Wilfredo Jordán posts an audio clip [es] (in Spanish) of Arce Gómez saying these words.

So began a reign of terror that saw an estimated 1,000 killed at the hands of the brutal government. Two of the high profile murders were Spanish Jesuit priest Luis Espinal [es] and Congressman Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, who was abducted, tortured, and subsequently killed. His body has never been found.

The García Meza government was heavily involved with drug trafficking, and Arce Gómez was considered to be the main link. He was often dubbed the “Minister of Cocaine.” Richard Sánchez of La Mala Palabra [es] highlights some of these actions, such as taxes on the coca leaf sold to narcotraffickers and the business of air taxis to transport the drugs. As a result Arce Gómez was extradited to the United States to serve his sentence. After completing his time, he was returned to Bolivia on July 9, where he would be sent to the maximum prison in La Paz to serve out the sentence without pardon handed down by the Bolivian courts.

Many bloggers were quite young during this dark time in Bolivian history. However, some older people were surprised to see how much Arce Gómez had aged. José Vasquez of Vasquez Press [es] writes:

Algunos compatriotas han sido conmovidos por la apariencia del ex dictador, al que en la televisión se lo ve como un anciano que apenas camina con bastón o en silla de ruedas, que padece varias enfermedades (próstata, diabetes y que tuvo derrame cerebral).

Some fellow citizens were quite moved by the appearance of the ex-dictator, on television he looked like a senior citizen that barely walked with a cane or in a wheelchair, suffering from various illnesses (prostate, diabetes, and a brain hemorrhage).

Many Bolivians hope that his return will mean that there will finally be answers to the some of the questions asked long ago [es]. The family of Quiroga Santa Cruz is hoping that finally his remains will be located.

The poor state of health that former military officer is in has some speculating that he may ask for a more lenient sentence, in exchange for perhaps, information on the disappearance of Quiroga Santa Cruz and others. However, Vasquez does not see why the Bolivian justice system should be humane with him, when the dictatorship did not show any “humanitarian behavior” to others.

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