On December 23, 2012, a dramatic development signaled a turning point in a 19-month long saga.
Ariel Rocha, President of the Court of Justice of Santa Cruz, fled Bolivia after it was confirmed that he was part of a blackmailing plot targeting an American Haredi citizen. Last week, Jacob Ostreicher was released from Bolivian jail, at least ten senior Bolivian government officials were arrested for stealing his rice crop and for extortion, and the judge in his case was requested to appear before a commission investigating yet another Bolivian corruption case. Following the failure of the judge to appear at the agreed time, Bolivian Prosecutor General Ramiro Guerrero ordered his arrest, only to find that the judge had already crossed the border to Argentina.
Ostreicher is part of a group of Americans who invested $25 million in a rice farm in Santa Cruz. Located in eastern Bolivia, Santa Cruz is part of the Bolivian Amazonian Basin, thus providing good conditions for this crop. Bolivian rice is notorious for its low quality, to the extent that even countries like Chile and Brazil have banned it. Yet, it is a crucial part of the local diet. Regular meals in Bolivia include various carbohydrates, most notoriously rice and one or more of the over 100 varieties of tubers native to the Andean High Plateau. Being quite profitable, rice is almost monopolized by what in Bolivia is known as the Japanese Colony. Most of its founders originated in Okinawa, Japan, and reached Bolivia from Peru in the 1950s. As of now, there are over 2,500 of them born in Japan, with over 10,000 descendants. Their most notorious member is Michiaki Nagatani Morishita, who was a presidential candidate in 2005, when Evo Morales took power after a long siege of La Paz. In other words, Ostreicher's group attempted to compete against a local monopolistic market. Bolivia is a world-class country when measuring corruption; they didn't have a chance.
In June 2011, Ostreicher was arrested by Bolivian police after it was alleged that he did business with "people wanted in their countries because of links with drug trafficking and money laundering." Don't even try to understand why links are a crime; the man was not charged and the judge ran away. These were false allegations. He was kept in jail until he was released last week after being requested to post a bail of more than $14,000 and remained under house arrest. He is expected to leave Bolivia soon.
"While a welcome step, granting Jacob bail is long overdue," said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), who had recently joined Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in helping Ostreicher. "His life remains at risk every day that he remains in Bolivia, due to credible death threats against him," said Smith, co-chairman of a US congressional subcommittee that oversees international human rights. "I urgently call on the Bolivian judicial system to act swiftly to completely exonerate Jacob of the baseless accusations against him and grant him his freedom," he added to the Times of Israel.
Mario Ariel Rocha - Mafioso and President of the Court of Justice of Santa Cruz
Bolivia or Israel, no Escape for Corrupt Regimes | Bolivian Judge Flees Bolivia
One of the most striking findings while preparing this article was a picture of a smiling Ostreicher at the door of the Bolivian Court. He knew what the Bolivian extortionists had failed to understand. There is a term in Hebrew that translates as "toy-criminals," ("avaryanei tza'atzu'a") Bolivian society is crime oriented. After one befriends one of them, they invariably warn of robbery and violent attacks. Bolivian media confirm these claims with daily reports of truly savage acts of violence. Yet, Bolivians are "toy-criminals." Drunken criminals attacking random victims for a dime, policemen attempting to get "regalitos" ("little gifts") worth fractions of a dollar, state officials trying to get a cut of every business under their jurisdiction. Clumsy acts of violence perpetrated by petty people who cannot earn money otherwise. So clumsy, that they messed with the Haredim for a paddy field.
Haredim run much of the diamond and drug smuggling business between Israel and Europe; Israel has one of the world's largest diamond industries. This has been reviewed extensively by the Israeli media, including juicy descriptions of how the smuggling is perpetrated, and the fear of European customs officers to check Haredi-looking people. This is an unexpected offspring of the Holocaust. The interest of the Times of Israel in this issue was not random. A Haredi had been attacked by a Bolivian Mafioso. The latter proved to be nothing but a "toy criminal" by fleeing to Argentina, home to a significant Haredi population, that runs large parts of that country's economy. Pretty soon, Ostreicher will be openly laughing. Meanwhile, Bolivia industriously continues its crimes, knowing that the Haredim won't help me.