Bolivian authorities say the dismantling of a commando made up mainly of foreign mercenaries could lead to the people behind around a dozen different attacks carried out since 2006 in the city of Santa Cruz. Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera said the attacks were aimed at destabilizing the government of Evo Morales and were to culminate in the assassination of the president. He said business leaders and landowners in the eastern province of Santa Cruz were financing the clandestine operations by the five alleged terrorists, three of whom were shot and killed by the police.
The leader of the opposition-controlled Senate, Santa Cruz businessman Oscar Ortiz, questioned the official report that the men were killed in a shootout, and said he suspected they were simply murdered by the police. According to witnesses, however, police had attempted to arrest the men in downtown Santa Cruz, and they fled to a hotel, where a half-hour shootout came to an end when the alleged plotters reportedly detonated a grenade inside their hotel room.
Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas, Morales’ most prominent political opponent and one of four governors who have sought autonomy for their provinces, initially suggested that the supposed assassination plot was staged, although he is now demanding an impartial investigation. The right-wing Santa Cruz Civic Committee, led by local business leaders and landowners, is demanding to see the evidence and photos of the commando that the government says it has.
No investigation has so far clarified the months-long escalation of bomb and arson attacks that have targeted the homes of cabinet ministers, government officials and opposition leaders in Santa Cruz since Morales took office in January 2006. However, the April 15 attack on the Santa Cruz home of Roman Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas, which was carried out with military-style plastic explosives, caused a public outcry. Terrazas was out of town at the time of the attack, for which no one claimed responsibility.
The gun battle in the Las Américas hotel in Santa Cruz occurred the following night. The police reported that members of an elite anti-terrorist unit had been involved in a gunfight with a far-right group of mercenaries, and that three men were killed: Romanian-Hungarian Magyarosi Arpak, Irishman Michael Dwyer and Bolivian Eduardo Rózsa Flores, who also apparently holds Hungarian and Croatian passports. Two others were arrested: Bolivian-Croatian Ramiro Francisco Tadic and Romanian-Hungarian Elod Toaso.
The police also reported that they found a cache of rifles, munitions, and plastic explosives similar to those used in the attack on Terrazas’ home, as well as the lid of a container that might have been used to hold the explosives in the bombing attempt the night before. The arsenal was found in a marketplace warehouse belonging to the Cooperativa de Teléfonos de Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a company owned by local business leaders who are active in the opposition.
In September 2008, one of the three men who were killed, Eduardo Rózsa Flores, a Bolivian journalist from Santa Cruz who fought in the Balkans war, had taped an interview with a Hungarian TV personality “in case anything happens to me.” In the interview, which was broadcast by the Hungarian MTV station after the news of his death came out, Rózsa Flores said he had been invited by the opposition in Bolivia to set up an armed force to protect the autonomy of the Santa Cruz region. He also said, “We are ready, within a few months in case co-existence doesn’t work under autonomy, to proclaim independence and create a new country.”
Rózsa Flores, the son of a Communist militant who settled in Santa Cruz, was commander of an international brigade in the Croatian independence struggle made up of 380 mercenaries from 20 different countries. There are indications he saw the Croatian independence struggle as a model for his native Santa Cruz. (IPS, April 26)
Rozsa Flores said in a Budapest TV interview last year that he was returning to Bolivia to organize a militia for Santa Cruz. “There is a need for weapons,” he said in the interview, which was broadcast for the first time in Hungary last week after his killing, “so it isn’t about the boys marching in the streets with flags and bamboo sticks.” At one point in the interview, he said his goal was not toppling Morales, but achieving autonomy for Santa Cruz. Yet at another point, he referred to “declaring independence and creating a new country.”
“These terrorists were connected to an ideology of the extreme fascist right,” García Linera said, while Morales himself described the cell as a “tentacle of a structure” intent on killing him. Yet the New York Times reports that Rozsa Flores—described as the son of a Hungarian Jewish immigrant to Bolivia—apparently “came into contact with” the notorious ultra-left terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez AKA “Carlos the Jackal” in Hungary, while studying linguistics there in his youth. Despite his earlier association with the far-right secretive Catholic organization Opus Dei, Rozsa Flores is also described by the Times as a convert to Islam.
Doubt has been cast on García Linera’s claim that the three were killed in a 30-minute gunfight. An insurance report filed for the hotel and obtained by La Razón newspaper apparently found no signs of an exchange of gunfire. “What happened was the killing of three people who were sleeping, which means murder,” said Óscar Ortiz, president of Bolivia’s Senate and a top opponent of President Morales.
Alfredo Rada, a senior minister, made things worse when he went on TV with images of men in Santa Cruz clasping weapons, claiming they were linked to those killed. But the men in the photos, lifted from a Facebook page, debunked the claim by explaining that they practiced “airsoft,” a pellet-gun game. (NYT, April 28)
See our last post on Bolivia.