Bolivia charges dozens in destabilization complot
Bolivian prosecutors brought charges Dec. 19 against 39 people in an alleged plot to assassinate President Evo Morales and launch an armed rebellion last year. The accused include leading opposition politicians and Gary Prado, the ex-general who captured legendary guerilla leader Che Guevara in 1967. The supposed plot was uncovered in April 2009, when national police killed three suspected European mercenaries in the eastern lowland city of Santa Cruz. The accused deny the charges, calling them politically motivated. Most of those charged are already in custody, but 17 are now living outside Bolivia. The most prominent figure among the accused is Branco Marinkovic, a business leader and former head of the opposition Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, who is exiled in the US.
Prosecutors say they have e-mail evidence linking the accused to three European mercenaries killed by police in last April's raid. Two other Europeans were arrested in the raid, and arms and ammunition seized. The killed included Irish national Michael Dwyer and Eduardo Rozsa-Flores, a veteran of the 1990s Balkan Wars with joint Bolivian, Hungarian and Croatian nationality. Rozsa-Flores, alleged to have been the ringleader, said in a video interview that emerged in Hungary after his death that he had been called to Bolivia to form a separatist militia in Santa Cruz.
Branco Marinkovic and other opposition figures have denied any link to Rozsa-Flores. "I am persecuted by the Bolivian government and forced to live outside my beloved Bolivia because in my country my life is in danger. There are no guarantees I would get a fair trial," Marinkovic said from exile in the US.
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera retorted that Marinkovic should come back to Bolivia to "defend his truth," and suggested his leaving the country amounted to a confession of guilt. He called the plot was "the most serious act of conspiracy against the unity of the country."
Gen. Prado likewise denied any involvement when he was called to testify before prosecutors earlier this year. "It seems laughable that a general with my career history would put himself under the orders of a mercenary," he said. (BBC News, Dec. 18)
Opposition prefect removed in Tarija
Meanwhile in Tarija, another opposition stronghold in the country's east, the Departmental Legislative Assembly voted Dec. 16 to remove the prefect (governor), Mario Cossío, after he was charged with dereliction of duty. Cossio's unseating by a legislature dominated by Morales supporters leaves opposition prefects in control of just two of Bolivia's nine departments.
"This is a putschist plan by Morales in complicity with prosecutors and judges controlled by a government that wants to demolish everything that opposes it in order to have total power," Cossío thundered during heated assembly debate shortly before being ousted. Cossío backers called for a general strike "in defense of democracy."
Prefect Ruben Costas of Santa Cruz department called Cossío's removal "a coup d'etat." He charged that the national government is only permitting a "pseudo-autonomy" for the departments, while pursuing "the path of totalitarianism."
Prosecutors brought corruption charges last week against Cossío, who had been re-elected in April. If convicted in the case, concerning fraudulent asphalt sales in road construction, he faces up to eight years in prison.
Three opposition leaders have now been removed from office after being charged with or convicted of crimes. Mayor Jaime Barron of Sucre is accused of "instigating racist actions." Potosí Mayor René Joaquino was removed after being convicted on corruption charges related to a stolen car ring and sentenced to three years in prison. His case is on appeal. Luis Revilla, mayor of La Paz, could be next, with embezzlement charges filed against him last week. Under a law passed by the national legislature, public officials can be unseated based only on the filing of charges by a prosecutor.
Lino Condori, a supporter of Morales in the Tarjia assembly, has been named as the department's new prefect. Cossío, for his part, refuses to recognize his removal and insists he is still the legitimate prefect. He also refused to show up for a judicial hearing Dec. 19, at which he could have been ordered to prison. (La Prensa, La Paz, Los Tiempos, Cochabamba, Dec. 19; La Prensa, Dec. 18; Erbol, Bolivia, Dec. 17; Los Tiempos, WP, Dec. 16; Los Tiempos, Dec. 14; Erbol, Dec. 13)
See our last post on Bolivia.