Monday, May 14, 2012

Bolivia: After 11 Months in Prison Without Being Charged, US Businessman Goes on Hunger Strike

As a follow-up to my postings of August 24, September 24 and December 31, 2011, 2011, Jacob Ostreicher, an American flooring contractor from Brooklyn, NY, who has been held in a prison without being charged, has been on hunger strike since mid-April to draw attention to his plight.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, for Mr. Ostreicher, his situation has evolved largely because of his interest in making "easy money" in a business [rice production] he knew nothing about. He also failed to rigorously do any due diligence on those he was forced to trust in running the operation. Nor did he seek out the counsel of the commercial attaché at the US Embassy in La Paz before embarking on this venture.

To make matters worse, one of Ostreicher's trusted employees was arrested last year on drug charges in Bolivia; Ostreicher was detained a short time thereafter and jailed. Under Bolivian law, prosecutors can hold someone in prison for up to eighteen months on preliminary charges.

Bolivian police are now attempting to determine whether the US$25 million invested in the start-up of the business, of which Ostreicher only contributed US$200,000, came from drug trafficking.  What Ostreicher did not realize was just how slow things take in Bolivia.

Ostreicher said in an interview broadcast by ABC’s “Nightline” last week that he was not involved in any illegal activities and provided officials with hundreds of documents showing that the funds came from legitimate sources.

Needless to say, if the media publicity of Ostreicher's situation and consular visits from the US Embassy have not helped resolve the American's legal predicament, it is very unlikely that a hunger strike will change anything, other than rendering Ostreicher weak and malnourished.

Ostreicher’s supporters sent a petition to the White House on May 3, via the “We the People” website, asking the US government to help resolve the businessman's situation. 

That being said, it is noteworthy that the US Embassy has said very, very little about the case, which suggests that the Department of State's interpretation is that bad business choices on Ostreicher's part are the source of his unfortunate circumstances.