Bolivia: Croatian militants in Evo Morales assassination plot?

President Evo Morales said three men shot dead by an elite National Police squad in the eastern city of Santa Cruz on April 16 were involved in a foiled plot to assassinate him. Police officials said the three men—identified as a Romanian, an Irishman and a Bolivian—were killed after they opened fire on commandos who tried to enter their room on the fourth floor of the Hotel Las Américas. A Hungarian and a Bolivian were taken into custody in connection to the shootout. Bolivia’s official news agency described the five men implicated as mercenaries belonging to a “terrorist cell.”

The group, suspected by authorities of being behind an April 15 dynamite attack on the home of Santa Cruz Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas, was tracked down the following day to the Hotel Las Américas. The ensuing gun-battle killed Arpad Magyarosi, a Romanian; Irishman Michael Martin Dwyer; and Eduardo Rozsa Flores, a Bolivian-Hungarian named as ringleader. Authorities say Rozsa Flores fought in the war for Croatian independence in the 1990s, where he commanded a paramilitary group. He was later involved in the right-wing autonomy movement in Santa Cruz, and was named as a member of Opus Dei. The two arrested men were named as Mario Francisco Tasik Astorga, 58, another veteran of the Croatian war, and Elot Toaso, a Hungarian computer expert.

The two detained men were formally charged with “terrorism” by a court in La Paz, where they have been transfered, and authorities say they have already found evidence linking the cell to the Santa Cruz autonomy movement. One anonymous source told the official Bolivian Information Agency the men “were economically financed” by powerful Santa Cruz interests. (BBC News, ABI, April 18; NYT, April 17; Bolpress, Bolpress, April 16)

Right-wing terrorists appear to have been busy in Croatia too lately.

See our last post on Bolivia.

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  1. just some questions
    Why would an entire group of professional foreign mercenaries be in their undershorts? Wouldn’t at least one be dressed and providing security? Why were the hands tied of one of the dead? Why would professional government forces endanger the lives of other guests by forcing a confrontation in the hotel? Might it have made more sense to just wait until they were walking down the street for a beer? Why wasn’t a prosecutor involved if this was a domestic law enforcement issue?

  2. I knew Arpad
    I knew Arpad and he was a good guy…always happy, singing, playing guitar and writing poetry. He had lots of friends.
    These guys were executed in bed. Morales’ men asked the security cameras be turned off when they enter. WHY? The local police were not involved at all. WHY? There were no bullet holes anywhere and noone was injured other than the 3 dead. WHY? Could they not have just thrown some tear gas in and arrest them? The alleged evidence was found in a ‘nearby location’ …how convenient. This whole thing smells of BS to me … i just hope we find out what really happened from Elod Toaso—who has not been allowed to contact his family or speak to the media…an infringement of human rights I think… but what does that really mean in Bolivia? when they slaughter innocent people on a whim.

  3. What I find intriguing
    What I find intriguing are some of the hotel manager’s revelations, that the five were in the hotel at the time of the attack on the Cardinal and that someone hacked into his cctv system and erased the groups arrival filmed on Tuesday evening. I would imagine that Evo heard of their presence, knew they were up to no good and decided to use the situation to his own ends, taking them out and then accusing them of an assassination plot. But a weird oversight on his part in not shutting the hotel owner up.

    1. We’d like some corroboration please
      Can you folks please provide sources for your claims (eg. that the five were in the hotel at the time of the attack on the Cardinal, that the security cameras were disabled, etc.)?

      Thank you.

      1. From Santa Cruz Notebook
        The official version about a bloody episode Thursday in Santa Cruz, in which three people were killed and two arrested and taken to La Paz, seems like a balloon under a dangerous attack. Three days after the bloody event, questions remain unanswered and local media has begun to openly demand for clarifications. The government of Mr. Morales finds hard to convince Bolivians about the reliability of its information.

        Some outstanding questions waiting for answers:

        Why the three bodies remained in the Hotel Las Americas, where the alleged gang stayed, for some many (14) hours? Was autopsy performed just there? Was it the right place for an autopsy?
        The security video cameras were blocked since 03:00 AM and during at least six hours, according to hotel records. Why? Who gave the order for the cameras black out?
        If the group presented fierce resistance, while they were just in underwear, how come there were no casualties among the police force? As far as it is known, no police sustained the slightest injury and there are no signs of bullets coming from the killed group.
        Why there were no police from Santa Cruz at all and everything was directly commanded from La Paz?
        Last but not least, what did this group come specifically to Bolivia for? Who paid them?
        Stories published Saturday by dailies Los Tiempos (Cochabamba) and La Razón (La Paz) underline the confusion stemming from the official version. Los Tiempos quotes Santa Cruz opposition congressman Oscar Urenda as showing perplexity by the fact the entire operation took place conveniently just hours before the president showed up at the Americas Summit in Trinidad. It looked like an appropriate mise en scene for him to claim that “mercenaries” were trying to assassinate him. He also was puzzled by the absence of forensic reports certifying whether those killed and the two arrested actually fired at the police.

        For Urenda, according to Los Tiempos, it is “absurd” the official information that the group had been hired on the internet by an individual identified only as “the old man”, and that each would receive a pay of $6,000. No less puzzling is the finding of a cache of weapons allegedly belonging to the group in an office of the telephone cooperative COTAS. It is no secret that government leaders covet COTAS, the main rival of ENTEL, the formerly an Italian-owned conglomerate bought in the mid-1990s at the peak of a privatization swing and nationalized two years ago by Mr. Morales. COTAS is one of Santa Cruz’s most profitable enterprises and the finding of weapons in a showroom office seemed to Urenda as an effort to build up a case against the coveted cooperative.

        “There is something wrong with the government story. There is something behind all this and since in Bolivia nothing remains secret we will find out and we will unveil it. People will sing it all out.”

        But official representative René Martínez found the official version plausible and asked the government to look into the relationship between the alleged conspiracy group and local authorities in Santa Cruz.

        La Razón Saturday added skepticism on the government story. It quoted Hernan Rosel, the Hotel Las Americas where the group stayed, as saying that Tuesday night, when a bomb placed by the gates of the Primate Cardinal Julio Terrazas’s residence, none of the guests left the hotel. “There is no possibility they had left the hotel unnoticed”, he said. His suggests the bomb was placed by others, but not the group, as the government had been charging. The daily adds a disquieting doubt. “A report by hotel staffers who checked out the building found no signs of any bullet fired by the alleged squad…”

        La Razón’s story continues on: “The police elite broke into the hotel after 04:00 AM, and blew up the door of room 458, where the alleged hit-man Eduardo Rozsa was lodged. According to the insurance report, in the room there were ten bullet holes around the place where the body was. There were no holes in the door or the doorway. Room 457 showed three orifices on the wall, close to the bed, where Rumanian Magyarosi Arpad died. In the room 456, where Irish Dwyer Michael Martin died, there was just one bullet hole. Nothing else. There were eight holes in room 455, six by the wall next to the bed, one by a TV set, and another by a decoration painting. There was blood on the floor and the door of room 454. The police squad found none in room 453 but they shot aiming at the bathroom anyway.”

        Two members of the group, Mario F. Tadik, a Bolivian, and Hungarian Elod Toaso, were arrested and taken to La Paz.

        El Nuevo Dia daily runs this Sunday a statement by a forensic export, Ronny Pedro Colanzi, supporting the notion that at the Las Americas hotel there was no clash. The daily quotes Colanzi as saying he had seen that at least in one case the shot at the heart was precise, leaving no traces of violence or struggle. As a rule, when there is a shooting, the crime scene is messed up, which doesn’t seem to have happened in this case, Colanzi told El Nuevo Dia.

        Opposition congressman Walter Arrázola says it was a “plain execution” and police gave no chance to the alleged terrorists to defend themselves.

        Santa Cruz’s El Deber this Sunday quotes senate President Oscar Ortiz as saying: “By what is being known, there was no clash but an execution. This is very serious and demonstrates there is something dirty in this affair. Long before it, President Morales was claiming that there existed a secret cell planning to attempt against his life and that of other authorities.”

        Rozsa, whose Bolivian father was a leftist and had to leave the country in the 1970s, when a rightist military regime took over, was well known pro Palestine and active fundamentalist, which would hardly fit the government claim that he was a leader of a rightist squad.

  4. Croatia, the land of political assassination
    It is not clear whether “right wing” terrorists killed Pukanic. The actual assassins were from Republika Srpska, so Serbs. But it is still unclear on whose orders did they act, i.e. who paid for the kill. Pukanic had many enemies – right and left. Himself he was mostly right of center. There was an attempt on him earlier. He asked for and got police protection, but then a couple of months later misteriously the police protection was removed, and within less of a month he was killed. He was personal friend of Mesic.
    But I would not discount that he was onto something related to the trial of general Zagorac that would implicate high ranking HDZ people in the government, and that they wanted him offed.
    I think the British foreign office suspects the same, which resulted in a nasty BBC story, that Croatian foreign minister is now complaining about.