(Extensions of Remarks - May 23, 2013)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E738-E739]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                           BOLIVIAN DETENTION


                       HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH

                             of new jersey

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, May 22, 2013

  Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, earlier this week, I chaired a 
hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human 
Rights, and International Organizations that pressed for the immediate 
freedom and repatriation of Mr. Jacob Ostreicher, a U.S. citizen from 
Brooklyn, New York, who has been detained in Bolivia for 720 days. I 

[[Page E739]]

want thank our distinguished witness who testified at that hearing, Mr. 
Sean Penn, for taking time out of his very busy schedule to testify 
before the subcommittee.
   The human rights subcommittee that I chair held two hearings in the 
112th Congress on Mr. Ostreicher's case, one in June and the second in 
August 2012. The witnesses included Mr. Ostreicher's wife, Miriam 
Ungar, his daughter, Chaya Weinberger, Steve Moore, a retired FBI agent 
who investigated Mr. Ostreicher's case on a pro bono basis, and Mr. 
Ostreicher's two Bolivian attorneys, Mr. Yimy Montaono and Mr. Jerjes 
Justiniano-who are not only extraordinarily effective and competent 
defense lawyers, but brave as well.
   The record--including their testimonies--established that Mr. 
Ostreicher is innocent, and is the victim of an elaborate, high-level 
government extortion ring that has fleeced approximately $27 million 
worth of assets from the rice operation that he had been managing.
   It's time Jacob came home to his wife and family and friends. Basic 
justice and humanitarianism--Jacob is very ill--adds to the urgency 
that he be freed.
   In one sense, a lot has happened since the hearing last August. 
Tragically, Mr. Ostreicher has developed the symptoms of Parkinson's 
Disease, likely due to the sustained, severe stress to which he has 
been subjected.
   Immediately following meetings that I had with Bolivian officials in 
La Paz last June, including Carlos Romero, Minister of Government, 
Bolivia started to investigate whether Mr. Ostreicher was the victim of 
extortion. A total of 27 prosecutors, judges, and officials responsible 
for confiscated goods who were involved in Mr. Ostreicher's case have 
now had charges made against them. Currently, 13 of them are in the 
Palmasola prison, 9 are under house arrest, and 5 are fugitives.
   One of those in prison, Fernando Rivera, is a Ministry of Government 
adviser who I personally witnessed threaten the judge presiding at one 
of Mr. Ostreicher's hearings in a Santa Cruz court room. Mr. Rivera 
recently apologized to Mr. Ostreicher during a bail hearing, claiming 
that he was only following orders from then-Minister of Government 
Sacha Llorenti. In one of the many bizarre twists to this story, Mr. 
Llorenti is now the Bolivian representative to the United Nations, 
living in New York, just a few miles from Mr. Ostreicher's home.
   I traveled for a second time to Bolivia in early December, this time 
with Representative Nydia Velazquez, to visit Mr. Ostreicher and again 
to press Bolivian officials to either produce the evidence that he has 
committed a crime or free him. High level officials assured us that Mr. 
Ostreicher's case would proceed fairly and expeditiously now that the 
extortion network was being exposed. Some officials even admitted to us 
privately that they believed Mr. Ostreicher is innocent.
   Mr. Penn became involved in the case in October, and was 
instrumental in obtaining medical care for Mr. Ostreicher and for 
helping to secure his release from the Palmasola prison to house arrest 
on December 18th. With Mr. Penn's personal intervention with President 
Morales and with Mr. Penn in the court room, all of us hoped that Jacob 
would be at long last released and vindicated at a hearing in December. 
Inexplicably, that didn't happen.
   The State Department references Mr. Ostreicher's case in its 2012 
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Bolivia, and notes the 
arrest of government officials and the stolen assets as part of its 
section on ``arbitrary arrest or detention.''
   However, in another sense, the most important aspects of the case 
have not changed. Mr. Jacob Ostreicher is still in the custody of the 
Government of Bolivia. On June 4th, it will be two years since he was 
imprisoned. Bolivian officials are employing delay tactics and giving 
excuses for his continued detention that we have heard before. No 
evidence whatsoever has been presented to indicate that Mr. Ostreicher 
is guilty of any crime. And there is no sign of the $27 million in 
assets from his rice operation that were confiscated. Perhaps this last 
fact is the real reason why Mr. Ostreicher still is not home with his 
family in the United States.
   Recently, there have been reports from credible sources that there 
is another ``security threat'' to Mr. Ostreicher's safety. These 
followed the sudden removal of Bolivian security officers from the 
parameter of Mr. Ostreicher's residence, the day after Mr. Rivera 
implicated the current Bolivian representative to the U.N. in the 
extortion case. As long as Mr. Ostreicher is forced to remain in 
Bolivia, the government is responsible for and must take all necessary 
measures to ensure his safety.
   As a result of the continued injustice in Mr. Ostreicher's case, and 
also in response to the growing number of cases of Americans being 
detained abroad in violation of their human and due process rights, I 
together with Rep. Velazquez have reintroduced the Justice for 
Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act, or ``Jacob's Law.'' H.R. 1778 would 
deny visas to foreign government officials responsible for violating 
the human or due process rights of an American in their custody. The 
travel ban would also apply to the officials' immediate family members.
   It is wrong for our government to give foreign officials and their 
families the privilege--and it is a privilege, not a right--to visit 
and study in the U.S. while those same officials are wrongfully 
detaining an American abroad.
   While this bill works its way through the legislative process, my 
committee will continue to pursue every means possible to secure Mr. 
Ostreicher's safe return to his wife, children and grandchildren. And 
that is why we are holding this hearing.
   President Morales is flying to Atlanta today for a meeting with 
former-President Jimmy Carter to ask for his assistance in negotiating 
land access through Chile to the Pacific Ocean.
   While the Bolivian media is reporting on these events, I hope that 
they will also note that I am sending the former president the 
transcripts of the hearings that this subcommittee has held on the case 
of Jacob Ostreicher. I contacted the Carter Center earlier today to ask 
the former President Carter to intervene personally in Mr. Ostreicher's 
case. I was advised that Jacob's case is on the agenda today and would 
be raised.
   It was very much a privilege to have Mr. Penn with us this week, not 
only because of the fame that he has rightly garnered through his 
Academy Award-winning acting, and not only because of the highly 
commendable assistance he is bringing to the suffering people in Haiti 
through the relief organization that he founded, but also because of 
the extraordinary assistance that he has provided to Mr. Ostreicher, 
who he had never met and to whom he owed no obligation prior to being 
asked to assist with the case last fall. That assistance now includes 
joining us today to highlight Mr. Ostreicher's continued plight and to 
advocate for his freedom.