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  • Former Bolivian Governor and right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Fernandez

    Former Bolivian Governor and right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo Fernandez | Photo: ABI

Published 11 March 2017

A former right-wing state governor was found guilty of orchestrating the Porvenir massacre during the 2008 coup attempt against President Evo Morales

On Friday a Bolivian court sentenced former Pando State Governor Leonardo Fernandez to 15 years in prison for his role in directing the Porvenir massacre during the 2008 civic coup against President Evo Morales.

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"We are relieved, and are finally taking a deep breath because we have achieved a verdict which is one of the most important in this latest phase of our democracy," said Mary Carrasco, a lawyer for the family of the 13 victims of the Sept. 11, 2008, massacre.

Friday's sentence comes after 8 years of legal proceedings, which saw almost 1,500 hearings and the testimony of over 70 witnesses, including survivors.

On Sept. 11, 2008 — in the midst of a nation-wide "civic coup" attempt by Bolivia's right-wing opposition after President Evo Morales handily won a nationwide recall referendum— a group of supporters of President Evo Morales was on its way to attempt to retake the offices of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, fearing that the state officials who had violently occupied the building would destroy recently granted land titles.

During the march the group of largely Indigenous farmers was ambushed by state police in Porvenir, leaving 13 dead and 37 severely injured.

An investigation by the Union of South American Nations declared the massacre to be a crime against humanity, and the ombudsman for UN high commissioner for human rights found that "well-known indigenous leaders, were intentionally targeted and killed," by then Governor Fernandez.

The U.N. report also documented that up to 15 survivors of the massacre were kidnapped and tortured after the massacre as part of an attempted cover-up.  

Fernandez was arrested in late 2008 and spent 4 years in custody during the preliminary phase of his trial. While in jail he ran as a vice presidential candidate against Evo Morales in the 2009 elections, coming in a distant second. He was released to house arrest in 2013 given health concerns.

While Fernandez was found guilty of orchestrating the massacre, he was acquitted on charges of terrorism and causing severe bodily injury. A lawyer for Fernandez told local reporters that he planned on appealing the verdict.

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