Soap opera or reality show?

All the ingredients for a soap opera at a sordid and thrilling point emerged in the last few days in Bolivia. Dirk Schmidt, a German who has been living for two decades in Bolivia was arrested by, as his lawyer says, police agents who not so long ago were friends and acquaintances with whom he used to work with and went on fishing and hunting as a supposed intelligence official of the Ministry of Interior.  Now he is accused of conspiracy and armed uprising, a charge quite common in Bolivia these days, and is held in custody in a local prison in Santa Cruz. Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti does not believe his allegations that he worked for the Government although in his service file he claims he provided critical help defusing some of the most serious threats showdowns faced by the Indian-social government of President Evo Morales. The German’s wife, Bolivian Karina Flores Villa, presents documents supporting his claim that he was appointed as a direct “informer” (euphemism for spy) of former deputy Interior Minister Gustavo Torrico, fired just a few days ago for unknown reasons. The belief that there is a power struggle going on within the government and that the fired deputy Minister is just one of  the casualties flares up. But the current Interior Ministry Sacha Llorenti denies the German has been ever appointed to anything, that documents produced trying to prove Schmidt’s point are a forgery. Schmidt, in short, was a dangerous element. In his home police found seven shotguns, two revolvers, and powerful caliber ammunition, which the German claims were all duly registered at the government’s arms control agency. The official story crashes as  ousted deputy minister Torrico discloses that the German really was an officer under his command as an “informer”—and not only recently but since the onset of President Morales’ government, that is over five years now. Now Torrico is likely to face a legal process himself.

The atmosphere is still boiling with conjectures as another scandal breaks. The amauta leader Valentin Mejillones Acarapi (55), who handed Morales the Indian sacred command baton when he was anointed president in January 2006 amid the stone ruins of Tiwanaku, had police searching his home in El Alto, the Andean plateau city that sprawls from the edges of  La Paz. Police found up to 250 kilos of liquid cocaine being processed for crystallization. Mejillones was arrested along with two Colombians who were with him, and his own son, Javier Alvaro Mejillones. Cocaine production has set foot for years in Bolivia and its trafficking, mostly smuggling it into Brazil, the U.S. and Europe, accounts for a significant slice of the country’s economy. The finding brings up questions about the illegal links of people very close to President Morales, Bolivia’s most popular president in recent decades and winner of a chain of elections and plebiscites by landslides. People now are wondering if the man who anointed Morales in an ancient colorful rite that filmmakers and TV celebrated worldwide was arrested with such a big amount of cocaine in his own home, what could be expected from other levels in the government and the official party MAS, for Movimiento al Socialismo.  The finding and imprisonment of Mejillones has coined a new term that has quickly spread across the country: Narco-amauta. Amauta is the name given since immemorial times to savvy and outstanding community Indians.  In a country which reportedly has drug cartels from Mexico and Brazil actively and clandestinely operating, it was only time for that activity to contaminate Indian leaders like Mejillones, analysts say. Cochabamba, the province (department) to which the coca-growing Chapare region belongs, reportedly holds more than two dozens of “narco-communities”, that is rural areas where Indians work on the production of cocaine.

Yet the government denies drug-trafficking has been increasing in Bolivia. But it admits an increase in coca plantation areas, as studies from the United Nations and the U.S. show. And some reaction was needed to prove the government commitment against trafficking.  It left Mejillones and its accomplices to defend by themselves alone before the justice. They remained in custody until a judge decides on the case.

To Mejillones’ chagrin -but not so much for those more familiar with human nature- his friends and colleagues are now turning away from him. Mejillones was an icon among Indians and is said to have participated in ceremonies abroad, particularly in neighboring Peru, on behalf of leftist leaders. The government’s decision of not interfering with justice not even in favor of someone as emblematic as Mejillones is hailed as a dignified move. Rarely any among Morales’ predecessors has been so harsh with people in the government. But there are some who do not give this attitude so much credit. Several times in the past the government has promised to enforce law severely, even on those who have been part of the government. One of the most outstanding cases is the summary dismissal of a president of YPFB, the country’s leading state-owned company, who hasn’t been tried yet, and that of an anti-corruption minister suspected of involvement in a corruption case. All this goes to the credit of Morales, whose anti-corruption policy means quickly acting, at the onset of any case. But in contrast there are other cases that opponents and critics remember because they remain unpunished. For instance, sisters Juana and Elba Terán González, caught with 147.5 kilos of cocaine, have not been tried yet. There also is a case of sixteen people who were killed, including two women, shortly after Morales took over, in a clash between workers of a state-owned mining company and members of a mining cooperative. There has been a series of recurrent violence situations, including the riots against a Constituent Assembly in Sucre that police quelled harshly. Three people were killed and hundreds were injured, as official members of the assembly ended up approving the current main law in a military garrison.  Many people still consider unsolved a deadly clash that left more than 15 dead in Pando, two years ago. Back then, a South American group of nations (UNASUR) issued a declaration supporting Morales and blaming the whole incident on opposition leaders. More recently, a violent incident took place in Caranavi, north of La Paz, where two people members of a group protesting against the government were killed. Something even worse happened in “ayllus”, clusters of indigenous communities in Potosí, near the Chilean border, where four police were arrested by community members in late May. They were supposedly investigating car-smuggling crimes and became victims of a brutal form of a wrongly called “community justice.” Indians executed the group and buried each in bags placing heads down, superstitiously believing that otherwise the spirits of the dead would run away and haunt their executors. Since the incident no one has been arrested and police reportedly were not allowed to enter those communities.

The incidents with the German Schmidt and Mejillones have been banners on the dailies front pages throughout the week but Bolivians still don’t have a detailed account  of what really happened. What role did actually Schmidt play? In an interview with daily El Dia he said he feared being killed “as Eduardo Rózsa”, the Bolivian-Croatian-Hungarian militant now dead and accused of leading a presumed movement that allegedly would try to kill Morales, unleash a terrorist campaign and split the country. In a desperate cry as he was been arrested by police, Schmidt called on Morales to help him. “The only thing I did was to take care of his back”, he cried aloud.

Rózsa died in a controversial episode sixteen months ago in Santa Cruz. Schmidt allusion to the case has sparked speculation that the government could have been no stranger to the presence of Rózsa in Bolivia. And Mejillones said he was a victim of his own “good faith” as he became partner of the two Colombians captured with him,   Javier Patiño Morales y Nubia Estela Garvizu Rico. He believed, he said, they were going to make some food. His son Javier Alvaro Mejillones Mamani has been indicted as an accomplice and also remains in custody. Young Mejillones was in charge of staking out the house, but he did not stake out anything. He was found sleeping and heavily drunk.

All this may be just the first chapter of long story on politics, corruption and leaders in Bolivia.


3 Responses to “Soap opera or reality show?”

  1. ¿Telenovela o reality show? « Mientras tanto, en Santa Cruz Says:

    […] o reality show? Los ingredientes para una telenovela en su etapa más sórdida emergieron a la luz pública en a lo largo de casi toda la semana. Dirk […]

  2. Suchmaschinenoptimierung Seminare Says:

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    • haroldolmos Says:

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