Wall Street Journal Warps Impact of American’s Arrest in Bolivia

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article from August 1st, “Jailed American’s Drug Case Stokes Tension With Bolivia,” fails to acknowledge the many discrepancies in the Ostreicher case, dramatically exaggerates the effect the case has had on Bolivian-US relations, and contrives false connections between Ostreicher’s case and other drug-related cases.  Prolonged pretrial detention and harsh conditions take a dramatic toll on prisoners and their families.  However, the fact that Ostreicher is imprisoned under a law that the US pressured Bolivia to pass is noticeably absent in the article’s extensive discussion of US-Bolivian relations and the drug war.  (Please see the AIN report, “Ostreicher Case: US-Imposed Legislation Still Dictates Drug Prosecutions.”)

US-Bolivian Relations

“The case of an American jailed in Bolivia without trial for more than a year is gaining increased attention from human-rights groups and members of the U.S. Congress, adding to frictions between the U.S. and Bolivia over the country’s antidrug efforts.”

  • Although one Bolivian human rights group criticized the proceedings early in the case, international human rights organizations have not emitted any public statements regarding the Ostreicher case.
    • While the issue has clearly rubbed both Bolivian and US government officials the wrong way, there has yet to be any tangible impact on the countries’ relations or bilateral drug cooperation.
      • In fact, Republican Representative Chris Smith has been an outspoken critic of the US government’s lack of attention to the issue.  On August 2nd, Representative Smith introduced a bill he calls the “Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act” that would ban travel to the US by foreign officials from countries in which American citizens “unjustly languish in their prisons.”  The bill has so far not made it out of committee, and GovTrack.us estimates it has a 3% chance of passing.
      • In response to Smith’s bill, Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera responded:
        • The US does not have moral grounds to stand on considering it has been protecting Bolivian ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada for more than eight years, who has been accused in Bolivia of genocide for the events of the 2003 Gas War.
        • The attitude the US has taken towards the Ostreicher is blatantly hypocritical given the harsh sanctions the US has imposed on Bolivians in the fight against drug trafficking.  It appears to have a double standard when it comes to its own citizens in Bolivia.

“The Bolivian government has had an increasingly fraught relationship with the U.S. government over drug policy.”

  • Although friction persists over these and other issues, bilateral relations have recently improved. On the ground, daily cooperation between the Narcotic Affairs Section of the US embassy and Bolivian drug control officials and agencies continues.
  • Other US officials have also recognized Bolivian counterdrug efforts.  In October 2011, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, told a congressional committee, ”In Bolivia, eradication efforts are a highlight of a sometimes difficult bilateral relationship and actually exceeded the 2010 target of 8,000 hectares. These efforts appear to have stopped the expansion of coca cultivation…Furthermore the U.S. estimate that actually showed a 500 hectare decrease in land under coca cultivation.  In Bolivia, U.S. assistance, including support for training and canine programs, has resulted in Bolivian seizures of coca leaf that are 19 times higher than they were a decade ago.”

“Mr. Morales expelled U.S. antidrug agencies from Bolivia in 2008 after accusing them of interfering in Bolivia’s political affairs…”

  • The Bolivian government announced it would expel one agency, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in November, yet the much larger US Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) of the Embassy continues to fund antidrug and coca control efforts – albeit with a reduced budget – and coordinates with the Bolivian government on a daily basis.
  • US Chargé de Affaires John Creamer confirmed on July 15, 2012 that “NAS is staying…[Its] mission is changing as a result of the Bolivian’s government’s nationalization of the drug war, an initiative we welcome…so we are approving less operating costs and emphasizing training more.”

“Mr. Ostreicher’s lawyer says his client is being used by Bolivia to get back at the U.S. after a Miami court last year sentenced Gen. Rene Sanabria, Bolivia’s top-ranking antidrug official, to 14 years in jail for trying to smuggle cocaine into the U.S….Relations sank further after Gen. Sanabria was sentenced.”

Drug Control Record

“Concerns about Bolivia’s role in the international cocaine trade have risen in recent months. A U.N. study released in June showed the cultivation of coca, the raw material in cocaine, has risen more than 20% since Mr. Morales took office in 2006, and Brazilian federal police report a rise in drug trafficking to Brazil from Bolivia.”

“’The Bolivian government has failed in its struggle against narcotics trafficking and wants to camouflage its defeat and surrender to the drug trade by waving Jacob as a trophy,’ said Yimmy Montano, Mr. Ostreicher’s attorney, who is scheduled to testify Wednesday.”

  • While the international drug trade remains a pernicious problem for the Morales administration, the Bolivian government has made significant strides against illegal coca production and drug trafficking in recent years.
  • The UN released their last coca cultivation study in September 2011.  It concluded that “there are 31,000 hectares of coca crops in Bolivia, a 0% increase, which reflects stability in the evolution of the size of the coca crop.”  Preliminary reports suggest that the UNDOC will report a 12% reduction in Bolivia ‘s coca crop to 27,000 hectares, less than their estimate for 2006, Morales’s first year in office.
  • While cultivation of coca initially rose during Morale’s tenure, cooperative coca reduction is beginning to show results, and coca production has actually decreased significantly in the past year.  Although US and UN statistics vary, John Creamer, the highest-ranking US official in Bolivia, also affirmed there has been an “impressive reduction” in coca production in the past year, and the statistics provided are reliable.  Creamer stated, “During the last three years, the Bolivian effort has been impressive; in 2009 they eradicated 5,400 hectares, in 2010, the amount went up to 8,200, in 2011 it reached 10,500 hectares…In 2010 and 2011, we saw an impressive net reduction in the number of hectares of coca.  In other words, they have eradicated more than they replanted, and this is an important achievement for the Bolivian government.”
  • The 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report also notes: “The government took significant steps to control coca production in the Chapare.”  In addition, “The FELCN [Bolivian antidrug police] achieved numerous high-profile successes during 2011,” and “ Bolivia intensified coca eradication efforts, reporting the eradication of more than 10,000 hectares for the first time since 2002, even as eradication forces continued to meet resistance from coca growers.”
  • Bolivian and Brazil law enforcement signed multiple bilateral agreements that seek to contain drug trafficking. One important achievement is the arrest and extradition of Maximiliano Dorado in 2010, a large-scale Brazilian trafficker residing in Bolivia who sold land to Jacob Ostreicher and partner through their associate, a Colombian woman previously romantically linked to Dorado. This land sale, and Ostreicher’s meetings with Dorado were stated as sufficient evidence to maintain Mr. Ostreicher in custody.
  • Furthermore, that the Bolivian government is “waving Jacob as a trophy” is an exaggeration.  In fact, the Ostreicher case has received little attention in domestic press.  Most articles have been brief, and primarily report the US reaction to the case.

Accusations of Morales Administration’s Ties to Drug Trade

“The case comes as Bolivian President Evo Morales’s government is scrambling to defend itself against allegations that it protects drug traffickers.”

“Brazil recently granted asylum to a leading Bolivian opposition senator, who claimed to be the victim of death threats and trumped-up criminal investigations after denouncing on the Senate floor what he said were Bolivian government links to drug traffickers.”

  • Pinto accused high-ranking Bolivian official of connections with same trafficker, Maximiliano Dorado, who owns the land that Ostreicher farmed—this is the only apparent connection between the cases.
  • The case of the Senator Roger Pinto is not connected with Ostreicher.  His asylum request seems to have been a dramatic political maneuver. Pinto has a long history of vehement opposition to MAS.[1]
  • In 2010, opposition senator Roger Pinto made highly public but vague denunciations, accusing the Morales administration of having ties to drug traffickers and covering up said ties.  However, these claims were never substantiated.  Most recently, in July 2012, the right-leaning sensationalist Brazilian magazine, Veja, published an article called, “The Cocaine Republic,” alleging that Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana and former Miss Bolivia and current Regional Director of Development of Beni Jessica Jordan met with convicted Brazilian drug trafficker Maximiliano Dorado.[2]

Discrepancies in the Ostreicher Case

The case has been riddled with contradictory information and odd accusations even from the defense:

  • For example, it seems questionable that Ostreicher and his partner would chose to invest approximately $25 million dollars through a Colombian woman they barely knew in a country in which they had no experience.  Also, Ostreicher did not speak Spanish or have any experience in agriculture.
  • Apparently, Ostreicher and his partner did not have access to legal documentation of their investments. They claim that after three years, they discovered that the land they were farming still belonged to a Brazilian drug trafficker.
  • Furthermore, Ostreicher has given misleading and inaccurate portrayals of the Bolivian prison.  In an interview with ABC’s Nightline, he showed a cell with nothing but a mat on the floor; however, prisoners are free to bring furniture, personal belongings, appliances, etc. into their cells.
  • The conditions that Ostreicher faces in Palmasola Prison are clearly harsh, but there is no indication that he has been treated differently from other prisoners.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCHR), “the delays that have occurred in Mr. Ostreicher’s case are not unusual.”[3]  (Please see AIN report, “Prison Detainees in Bolivia: Bad Fruit of a Slow Judiciary System.”)

In addition, there have been questionable circumstances regarding the family’s campaign for Ostreicher.

“The Bolivian government denies it is holding Mr. Ostreicher for political reasons. “Mr. Ostreicher is being investigated for presumed crimes of money laundering and links to people involved in drug trafficking,” said Fernando Rivera, the lead prosecutor in the case.”

  • While Ostreicher has endured a lengthy wait for his trial, this is by no means atypical in Bolivia.  As confirmed by the UNHCHR office in Bolivia, “many of the procedural delays that have occurred in Ostreicher’s case are commonplace throughout the Bolivian judicial system,” and “the delays which have occurred in Mr. Ostreicher’s case are not unusual.”[4]

“Mr. Ostreicher said he came to Bolivia on August 2010 to check into reports that the company that he co-owns, Coliagro SA, a Bolivian agriculture venture that produces mainly rice and soy, had been swindled in land deals by its local administrator.”

  • The article omits some important background information.  According other press accounts, Ostreicher invested from $25,000 to $200,000 USD in a rice business in which his Swiss partner, Andre Zolty, invested a combined $25 million USD on the recommendation of Colombian Claudia Liliana Rodriguez.  Ostreicher had never been to Bolivia, did not speak Spanish, and had no experience in agriculture.  Ostreicher and his partner’s choice to invest in a country, sight unseen, and without any capacity for oversight provoked prosecutors’ suspicion.  Prosecutors also produced a 2009 marriage certificate for Ostreicher and one of Rodriguez’s employees, which further complicates the investigation.

“Bolivian police arrested the administrator in April 2011 based on Mr. Ostreicher’s complaints, and she is now in a Bolivian jail awaiting trial on charges of “illicit enrichment.” She has pleaded innocent.”

  • Police arrested Rodriguez on money laundering charges during an investigation of trafficker Maximiliano Dorado’s properties.  Bolivian police allege she has ties to Dorado and a Colombian drug trafficker charged with transporting 944 kilos of drugs to Argentina from Bolivia.

“The Bolivian government is accusing Mr. Ostreicher of laundering money for an alleged Brazilian kingpin, Maximiliano Dorado, who lived in Bolivia before his 2010 extradition to Brazil, where he is in jail awaiting trial on drug charges.”

  • Dorado is a convicted drug trafficker. He was serving a 15-year sentence in Brazil for drug trafficking, murder, and money laundering, but escaped from prison in 2001.

“One of the administrator’s deals was a land purchase from Mr. Dorado. Bolivian prosecutors viewed the link as evidence against Mr. Ostreicher and arrested him. Mr. Dorado couldn’t be reached to comment.”

  • Although Rodriguez claimed that she had purchased the land for them, Ostreicher and his partners’ rice farm was still legally in Dorado and his brother’s name, as a result, the property, equipment and contents are subject to confiscation under Bolivian drug laws.

“Mr. Smith, the congressman, said he witnessed a June 11 bail hearing in Bolivia in which the prosecutor, Mr. Rivera, threatened to penalize the presiding judge if the hearing was held.

  • Fernando Rivera is a legal advisor for the Bolivian Government Ministry, not the lead prosecutor.

“Mr. Smith said he was ‘shocked by how a clearly innocent man was being sent back to jail by a judge who was clearly intimidated.’”

  • Representatives of the Bolivian court system also perceived Smith’s attendance as an attempt to pressure the hearing’s outcome.

 “Mr. Ostreicher, 53, recently declared himself on hunger strike. His lawyers say he has lost about 44 pounds and his health is failing. Doctors who examined him last week recommended his immediate transfer to a hospital. He says that prison officials have refused to move him, his lawyers say.”

  • A hunger strike is clearly an extreme measure, but not uncommon in Bolivia.  During the same week in Bolivia, there were at least three other hunger strikes, including that of El Alto prostitutes demanding affordable sexually transmitted infections testing.
  • Ostreicher told the press he began his hunger strike in mid-April, three and a half months before the WSJ article was published.  There have been several warnings about his health since then.  However, when US embassy officials requested that medical personnel within the prison, as stipulated by Bolivian regulations, to verify his condition and advocate for his transfer to a hospital if necessary, but Ostreicher initially refused. He has since been released for medical treatment and returned to prison.


Ostreicher was denied bail for a third time in his most recent hearing on August 30th, 2012.  Under Bolivian law, as Ostreicher does not have fixed residency in Bolivia or sufficient ties to Bolivia, he does not meet the conditions for bail.

While Ostreicher’s judicial process has been protracted and tedious, the Wall Street Journal’s attempt to inflate this case into a bilateral dispute over drug policy is not helpful to Ostreicher or the many other prisoners awaiting trail on drug charges under the US-authored Law 1008.

[1] Pinto’s dramatic and highly public request for asylum in Brazil seemed to be a politically motivated attempt to stir up conflict.  As a member of the opposition, Pinto may have been trying to drive a wedge between MAS and Brazil at a particularly delicate time when with the recent cancellation of a contract with a Brazilian company to build the Amazonian highway through TIPNIS and the imminent summit of the Organization of the American States in Bolivia.  Interestingly, although Pinto is from Pando, which borders Brazil, and could have easily crossed the border to leave his country as he himself admits in a dramatic letter published in the press, he decided to go to the site of MAS’s power, in La Paz, and hole up in the Brazilian embassy.

Pinto was a support and member of dictator Hugo Banzer’s party, National Democratic Action (ADN) and Democratic Social Power (PODEMOS), which evolved out of ADN.  Pinto is a close ally to Leopoldo Fernández, the former governor of Pando who was is awaiting sentencing for his role in the massacre of eleven people in the remote Pando province in September of 2008.  Although Pinto was not legally implicated in the massacre, a Bolivian diplomat accused Pinto of being an accomplice.

[2] Inter-American Security Watch’s translation of the article: http://interamericansecuritywatch.com/bolivia-the-cocaine-republic/

[3] Email Communication, “Report on Meeting with UNHCHR” from Felicia D. Lynch. 12 July 2012 included in http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA16-WState-MooreS-20120801.pdf

[4] Ibid