Luis García Meza, a former military dictator of Bolivia who was serving a 30-year prison sentence for crimes including genocide and murder, died April 29 at a hospital in La Paz, Bolivia. He was 88.
He had suffered a heart attack, according to a medical report.
Gen. García Meza seized power in July 1980 in an event known as the “cocaine coup,” for the support he received from drug traffickers in the country.
His rule followed that of President Lidia Gueiler, who was trying to return Bolivia to democracy after 16 years of dictatorship, and lasted 13 bloody months. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least 50 people were killed by paramilitary groups who targeted the government’s political opponents and 22 others “disappeared.”
A subsequent trial found the groups were organized with the help of Klaus Barbie, a Nazi war criminal known as the “Butcher of Lyon.”
Gen. García Meza was also implicated in the January 1981 massacre of eight members of a rival political group, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. The killings resulted in genocide charges against Gen. García Meza and officials such as his interior minister, Luis Arce Gómez, in the years after Gen. García Meza’s resignation in 1981.
Gen. García Meza went into hiding and was convicted in absentia in 1993, at the close of what was known in Bolivia as the “trial of the century.” Two years later, he was extradited to Bolivia from Brazil. He completed much of his sentence at the hospital where he died.
Luis García Meza Tejada was born in La Paz on Aug. 8, 1929. (Some sources give his birth year as 1932.) He worked as a cavalry instructor at a military school before holding senior Army positions in the 1970s.
Gen. García Meza resigned from the presidency amid attempted coups and attacks by insurgents; in 1982, Bolivia returned to civilian rule under President Hernán Siles Zuazo.
In January 2017, a court in Rome convicted Gen. García Meza and seven other former South American political and military leaders for the disappearance and deaths of 23 people of Italian origin during the crackdown on dissidents by the region’s military dictatorships.
A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Correction: A previous version of this obituary incorrectly reported that Gen. García Meza resigned in 1982. It was 1981. The story has been corrected.