U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a leading human rights advocate in the U.S. Congress, has made a formal request of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to personally intervene in the case of American Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held without formal charges in Bolivia since June 2011. The Assistant Secretary is in Cochabamba, Bolivia for a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly taking place from June 3-5. Smith was asked to become involved in the case by Mr. Ostreicher's daughter Chaya Weinberger, a Lakewood, N.J. resident who is a constituent in Smith's congressional district.
"I strongly urge you to publicly and assertively advocate for Mr. Ostreicher's release while you are attending the General Assembly," said Smith, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chair of its human rights subcommittee, in a letter to Jacobson this weekend. "Mr. Ostreicher's safety and life are in danger, and it is incumbent on all United States officials to use every means available to help him obtain his freedom."
Mr. Ostreicher, a U.S. businessman who went to Bolivia to engage in a business venture, was arrested on June 3, 2011, and remains in Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz. At least 15 judicial hearings have been scheduled in his case, but only three transpired. Although the Bolivian government has produced no evidence that Mr. Ostreicher has committed any crime, there is no indication that it is preparing to release him. Under Bolivian law, he could languish in prison for another six months on preliminary, unsubstantiated charges connected to a police investigation.
To help underscore the jeopardy Mr. Ostreicher faces and to explore the ways in which the U.S. government can properly assist this American citizen arrested and detained in a foreign country for no publicly stated reason, Smith has scheduled a hearing in the human rights subcommittee he chairs for Wednesday, June 6, at 10 a.m. in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled "The U.S. State Department's Inadequate Response to Human Rights Concerns in Bolivia: The Case of American Jacob Ostreicher." Chaya Weinberger, Mr. Ostreicher's daughter, will be testifying as will Mr. Ostreicher's wife, Miriam Ungar, and Steve Moore, former FBI Special Agent, known for his work in the Amanda Knox case in Italy.