"The injustice that was done to him here is consuming him," said his wife, Miriam Ungar, 47. "He cannot sit still. He paces back and forth in a five-foot space in his cell all day. He doesn't sleep nights."
He chain smokes and says he often stares blankly at a single page for several hours when he tries to read. At least he has a cell to himself in a prison teeming with 3,500 inmates. He does his best to avoid the hoodlums who run things inside Palmasola, where he says he is the only U.S. citizen.
As an Orthodox Jew, Ostreicher keeps a kosher diet, which is not an option in the prison cafeteria. So he often goes days without meat. He says he plans to begin a hunger strike April 14, when Passover ends.
"He is slowly losing his mind," his wife said.
A few other countries in the region rank lower than Bolivia on Transparency International's index of perceived corruption, but human rights groups say bribes and case-fixing are common in Bolivia's legal system. Last year, five Bolivian prosecutors were dismissed for irregularities including alleged corruption, the Interior Ministry says. Currently, 15 prosecutors are under investigation.
The judiciary also suffers from disorganization and a shortage of judges.
In September, a judge ordered Ostreicher freed, only to retract his order a week later, saying he had erred. That judge was later promoted and a new judge was named to the case.
Then, on Monday, the new judge removed himself from the case, saying Rodriguez accused him in court papers of favoring Ostreicher at her expense. Another problem adds to delays: the court's judges are handling double their normal caseload because so many judicial posts are unfilled.
The U.S. government has tried to help Ostreicher but doesn't have much influence, being without an ambassador since its last one was expelled in 2008 for allegedly inciting opponents of leftist President Evo Morales.
The U.S. Embassy said there has been "frequent contact with Bolivian officials at the highest possible level regarding the case (and seeking) to ensure that Mr. Ostreicher is afforded due process." Its statement said U.S. officials had visited Ostreicher and were concerned for his health.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca acknowledged receiving diplomatic notes from the U.S. State Department but would not say whether the Bolivian government was acting on them.
When Interior Minister Carlos Romero was asked about the case, he said only that he would look into it.
While investment in big Bolivian energy and mining projects has risen recently, investment in agriculture has suffered because of disputes over land ownership and government confiscations of several major tracts.
"Domestic and international investors alike are afraid," said Ronald Nostas, vice president of the Bolivian Federation of Private Businessmen.
Another American who ran into trouble over land is longtime Bolivia resident Ronald Larsen, who was stripped in 2010 of his 58-square-mile (15,000-hectare) cattle ranch after authorities accused him of exploiting his workers. Larsen called the charges trumped up. He now lives mostly in Brazil, where his son Dustin says he is fixing up a seaside hotel.
Dustin Larsen expresses sympathy for Ostreicher, but says the New Yorker clearly was not prepared for doing business in Bolivia.
"Americans take everyone at face value. Unfortunately, down here you can't do that," he said. "A lot of deals have gone bad down here."
Associated Press writer Paola Flores reported from Santa Cruz and Frank Bajak from Lima, Peru. AP writers Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, and Ian James, in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.
Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/fbajak
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.