Archive for April, 2013

A boomerang hits back

April 18, 2013

Annals for history (and for those unfamiliar with Bolivia’s recent history)

Santa Cruz, BOLIVIA – The five men were sound asleep at a downtown four-star hotel after busy hours likely reviewing plans and messaging relatives in Hungary, Ireland, Croatia and Romania. All stayed in their individual rooms, except for brief meal breaks and petty errands like going outside for cigarettes and returning a rented car nearby. They looked like rather bored visitors about to travel back home. But destiny had pushed them into a tragic corner of one of the most brutal cases in Bolivia’s recent crime history.

At predawn hours, a deafening explosion knocked down the door of the group’s chief and a ra-ta-ta-ta of submachine gunfire echoed accompanied by screams and shouting.

Three of the men—a Hungarian, an Irishman and a Bolivian of Hungarian and Croatian heritage–lay dead, their bodies riddled with bullets. Four years later, the episode still haunts Bolivians, most used to tear gas explosions than to elite police raiding hotels shooting and killing guests.

No witnesses offered any details. Hotel guests scurried away from the scene, including a Bolivian Interior Ministry official who left the premises as the episode took place. Prosecutors came to the crime scene hours later and talked with the hotel manager and a receptionist who provided no clues worth investigating further.

Bolivian officials maintained the five men were part of a plot to kill President Evo Morales and trigger a Balkan-style secession movement in eastern Bolivia, the country’s the most prosperous region. The survivors, a Romanian citizen and a dual Bolivian-Croatian national, were arrested and tortured and are still held in prison. Bolivian authorities also unleashed waves of arrests and questioning of political opponents and conservative business leaders during eighteen months before filing official charges against 39 people, about a dozen of them exiled in neighboring Brazil and Paraguay. Others fled as far as the United States. Nine remain in Bolivian jails while others are under house arrest.

The Hotel Las Américas affair, as it is known, has been a traumatic landmark for Morales. As Bolivia’s first Aymara Indian President, Morales came to power pledging full respect of law and human rights. He used to say there would be not even one violent death during his government. But during his seven years as president, dozens of people have been killed in police actions.

With Hotel Las Américas, extra-judicial execution emerges as a new accusation that might account heavily on the Bolivian leader’s record.

Within hours of the killings Morales arrived in Venezuela, where he told reporters he had known of the alleged conspiracy beforehand and had ordered his Vice-president to take action. “I had intelligence that international mercenaries were in Santa Cruz…preparing to kill me and other authorities,” he said.

The statement raises a disturbing question oft repeated: If the President knew of a conspiracy, why were the alleged conspirators not arrested instead of what now appears to be a merciless execution?

Chief prosecutor Marcelo Soza says the police were attacked and soldiers fired

back, killing three. But no soldier was hurt in the attack, which occurred while the

five men were sleeping and either naked or wearing only underwear.

When Irish, Hungarian and Rumanian diplomats first expressed concern for their citizens, Morales furiously retorted with a threat to sue the diplomats “for sending mercenaries to kill us”.

These countries (Ireland, Hungary and Romania) have also filed complaints to international courts.The Inter-American Human Rights Commission is studying the case, while Human Rights Watch noted that an Irish state pathologist who examined the body of Michael Dwyer, the Irish citizen killed in the attack, concluded he had been shot dead by a single bullet in the heart, fired by someone standing over him, “most likely as he was sitting up in bed.”

One of the victims, Rózsa Flores, was well known in Central Europe. Decorated by the Croatian government, his life was the subject of a film, “Chico,” which received a prize in an international film festival.

Seven bullets hit Rózsa Flores. One blew his brain; each shoulder showed one shot, three other shots hit his thorax right side; a seventh bullet hit his right inch, apparently while he was on a crawling position.

Hungarian musician Magyarosi got six bullets, one through his trachea that asfixiated him in blood, Hungarian experts said.

More recently tape recordings have surfaced, allegedly with the voice of chief prosecutor Soza admitting that the police set up the supposed crime scene.

They had planted weapons in the rooms of those killed, even shooting at the walls to

simulate cross fire.

The voice warns that if the trial fell apart, “Evo (Morales) will fall too.”

Soza adamantly denies the voice is his, but experts in Spain and Brazil have determined otherwise.

Jimena Costa, a political analyst and professor at Bolivia’s Catholic University says that most Bolivians believe the killings were part of a strategy to subdue opposition to Morales’ government. “President Morales so far appeared not implicated. Now those tapes incriminate him,” she said.