Imprisoned Bolivian ex-dictator Garcia Meza dead at 88

The late Bolivian ex-dictator Luis García Meza seen arriving in La Paz after his arrest and extradition from Brazil in March 1995

La Paz (AFP) – Bolivian ex-dictator Luis García Meza, who was serving a lengthy prison sentence for crimes committed after his 1980 military coup, died Sunday in a La Paz hospital at the age of 88, his attorney told local media.

The frail Garcia Meza died of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure at the Cossmil military hospital in La Paz, where the former general had spent more than a third of his 30-year prison sentence, attorney Frank Campero said.

Garcia Meza took power in a violent military coup in July 1980, near the end of the period of military dictatorships in Latin America.

Scores of people were killed as his forces seized power, including historian and socialist leader Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, whose body was never found.

A fierce anti-communist, Garcia Meza cracked down on leftist dissent and tortured opponents, but his regime was also closely associated with drug traffickers. He eventually resigned after 13 months in power.

In April 1993 Garcia Meza was sentenced to 30 years behind bars for the killings and abuses during his time in office, but he avoided prison by fleeing the country.

Authorities caught up with him in Brazil in March 1996. He was quickly arrested and extradited to Bolivia, where he was placed in a maximum security prison.

The ex-dictator’s interior minister, Luis Arce Gonez — nicknamed the “minister of cocaine” — served a drug trafficking sentence in a US prison that ended in 2009. He was then sent to Bolivia to serve a separate 30-year sentence for human rights abuses.