Conspiracy, Assassination, and Separatism in Bolivia

By  |  8 / June / 2009

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At the time, the Bolivian political opposition was again using underhanded arguments to block a government initiative. The debate revolved around the new Electoral Law in the face of general elections this coming December. The thing had stalled and the antagonists were becoming harsher. As had happened in October 2008, the social movements were threatening to overtake La Paz, while the president, from the Presidential Palace, appeared in newspaper headlines chewing coca, in slippers, conducting a hunger strike from an old mattress. The rightwing, for their part, appealed to a sense of eternal victimization.

It was within this framework that Evo Morales stated, "My days are possibly numbered. The Bolivian people should know that if something happens to Evo, to Álvaro, to the ministers, it will be the work of the fascist rightwing that is organizing with the support of the U.S. Embassy."1 It sounded like an obstructionist phrase, like the classic government strategy to tighten and radicalize its visceral anti-imperialist discourse in difficult situations. But, this time, at least, it was not merely a tactic.

Three more days would pass before Bolivian society would awaken to newspapers informing that a bomb had rocked the foundations of the home of Cardinal Julio Terrazas, a strong government opponent. It took place in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The Cardinal, coincidentally, was not at home.

Beyond the shock caused by the Electoral Law, this new episode caused condemnations to fly from one side to the other. The opposition united forces and lined up to blame the Executive Power. For its part, the government did not waste a moment in condemning the act.

The scene presented itself as shady and strange. Politically, there was nothing to indicate that the government would win anything by acting against its opponents. It hadn’t done so by means of legitimate State authority during the "civil coup" in September and October last year. And, after the "Massacre of El Porvenir," when it decided to launch an offensive, it did so from within the State structure, with the corresponding legal arms. The other thesis postulated was that it could have been a staged attack. But that option also sounded strange.

The Facts

In the early morning of April 16, members of the Delta group and the Tactical Support and Reaction Unit (UTARC) violently entered the Hotel Las Américas in the middle of downtown Santa Cruz. There were explosions and shots fired. Three men fell in the skirmish: the Bolivian-Croat Eduardo Rózsa Flores, the Irishman Michel Martin Dwyer, alias "Mike," and the Romanian Magyarosi Arpak, alias "Carlos."

Police reported that there had also been two detentions: those of the Bolivian-Croat Mario Tadic Astorga, alias "Francisco," and the Romanian-born Hungarian Elöd Tóazó, alias "Alf," now held in La Paz. According to information obtained that day, there had been a sixth member of the group, nicknamed "The Old Man," who had escaped. In a hotel room they found weapons of diverse calibers and C-4 bombs along with their fuses, the same kind that had been used in the attack against the Cardinal.

The interpretations began immediately. Evo had left the country on his way to Cumaná, Venezuela, where the Summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) was taking place, and Vice President Álvaro Garcia Linera was put in charge of the situation. At a press conference he spoke of an "international ultra-rightwing" and a "terrorist cell." At the same time, from Rio de Janeiro, the government minister Alfredo Rada confirmed that the detainees had confessed their participation in the attack committed on the home of Vice Minister of Autonomy Saúl Avalos, on March 29.

The media was puzzled. No one dared confirm anything; anything was possible. The newspaper El Nuevo Día simply suggested in its headlining story on Friday, April 17: "Terrorism or Set up?"

"Set up," "show," "distraction," "a staged attack," "smokescreen," and "nonsense" were the descriptions that the opposition chose to use the next day. "Any common citizen can see that this is a clumsy set up, a show. Clearly what they have prepared inside the Convention Center was completely arranged for them," declared the prefect of Santa Cruz Rubén Costas, in an improvised press conference, referring to a search which the police had carried out at a Cooperative Telephone System of Santa Cruz stand in the Convention Center that same morning. There they confiscated an arsenal even greater than the discovery on the fourth floor of the Hotel Las Américas.

A Posthumous Interview

The outpouring of speculation was fierce and pointed in every direction. The versions multiplied while each of the political actors looked to turn things to their own advantage for their face off in the December elections. But the bubbles of misinformation were slowly bursting. The complexity of the case, fuelled by the multifaceted and contradictory life history of Rózsa Flores (see footnote), began to unravel when a Croatian journalist, András Kepes, released a posthumous interview with the terrorist that took place in Hungary, a kind of "last will and testament."

In it, Rózsa Flores revealed that he had been called by the authorities in Santa Cruz to form a militia to fight the central government, so that if Santa Cruz was not granted a greater level of autonomy, it could declare independence and create a new country. The phrasing throughout the 49 minutes of the interview was unequivocal:

  • "I will travel from Brazil to Bolivia and I will begin to organize the militia, based on the decision made in Santa Cruz" to gain autonomy through separation from the federal government.
  • "If those in government do not permit the autonomy of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz is ready to secede from Bolivia."
  • "The organizers will provide the financing and weapons, which will be obtained illegally. Probably from Brazil since the arms trade is not legal in Bolivia."
  • "We will not march with flags or bamboo sticks; we will do so with weapons."
  • "I will not go to the Bolivian jungle to play at being Ché Guevera."
  • "I am not going to launch an attack against La Paz, and I will not help launch an offensive against the capital, nor would I overthrow President Evo Morales. We will organize a defense and resistance …"

However, by all indications this last statement by the mercenary was modified with time as different investigations uncovered meticulous plans to take the lives of the president, vice president, the full Cabinet, and even the prefect of Santa Cruz.

Marcos Farfán, the vice minister of the Interior, stated that in the hotel they had found "charts, plans, and documents that point to the fact that the attempts were not going to conclude with Cardinal Julio Terrazas’ house, but rather there was a chain of planned terrorist acts. There are reports that when President Morales met with his Cabinet in Lake Titicaca, the terrorists tried to plant an explosive device on the multipurpose Bolivian Armada ship on which they were traveling." That was on March 27.

Farfán added that the group followed Morales to various public appearances in order to study his security system. "Even Prefect Costas was among the targets pursued by these terrorists," he added. Clearly, the strategy of the cell was to create uncertainty, confusion, and chaos.

A few additional phrases:

  • An overweight Rózsa, appearing on a publicly broadcast video, says "Shit, if only I had known in time about the government session in Titicaca the other day. I would have sent one of these guys (an image of his comrades Dwyer and Arpak, along with Tadic next to a column, appears) in scuba gear to blow up the boat. Every single last one, every single last one of them was there; not one was missing," Rózsa says with the boastfulness of a leader.
  • In regards to Costas: according to Juan Carlos Gueder, one of those implicated for selling arms, and a former militant of the Youth Union of Santa Cruz, Rózsa would say, "A dead martyr is worth more than a living moron who isn’t worth anything as governor."

The government’s strategy was explicit. In the words of the vice president: "It must be established who brought these foreign terrorists from Croatia, Ireland … who is maintaining them, who is giving them money to live in one hotel or another. The government is not going to rest one second until we find the other branches, the other terrorist and mercenary cells, but primarily the financiers, those who paid them to commit this type of attack."

"The International Ultra Rightwing": Bolivians, Croatians, Hungarians, Carapintadas

A Man with a Thousand Faces


Marxist, Jew, journalist, anti-Semite, separatist, writer, anti-Communist, member of Opus Dei, hero of the Croatian war, radical Islamist, actor, Blogger, terrorist. All are epithets that, though they may be contradictory, can be legitimately pinned on Eduardo Rózsa Flores.

Upon discovery of the cell at the Hotel Las Américas, little concrete information was available. But journalistic ambition demanded answers, or at least insinuations. Therefore the first job was to do everything to investigate the fallen and the survivors. The search had many branches, but was fascinating nonetheless. Rózsa gave the investigations that exciting component; ambivalent, multifaceted.

Eduardo Rózsa Flores was born on March 31, 1960, in Santa Cruz. His father was a Communist Jew and bohemian, Jorge Rózsa. His mother was Nelly Flores, a fervent Catholic. In 1971, with the coup d’etat of Hugo Banzer, his family decided to go into exile in socialist Chile under Salvador Allende. They lived there until the military coup of Augusto Pinochet.

The Southern Cone was becoming ever more hostile, so they decided to move again, this time bound for Hungary. Eduardo became a student at the former Soviet Dzerzhinsky Political Military Academy. As the years passed, the son of Santa Cruz cultivated a great dislike for the political system that he had once so much admired. He stated that "the immorality, lies, [and] crimes committed in the name of ‘real socialism’ are inexcusable."

Returning to the Hungarian capital he entered the University of Budapest to study for a degree in Philosophy and Arts. From there he began working in journalism as a correspondent for the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, and the BBC of London.

In 1991, the Spanish daily sent him to the former Yugoslavia to cover the Balkan War. "It was like being in the right place at the right time," he would declare years later. But the logic of the war combined with his apparent search for extreme passions with which to align and commit himself, body and soul, caused him to leave his trade in order to throw himself fully into the military conflict. He enlisted with the Croatian forces battling the Serbs in a war that lasted until 1995 and destroyed Yugoslavia.

Eduardo joined the ultra rightwing Croatian Liberation Movement, founded in 1956 by collaborators of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. He was hurt on three occasions and led the International Croatian Brigade, comprised of 380 men of 20 nationalities. For this work he was considered a "war hero" by Croatia.

Xavier Vinader was at that time the international president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In the newspaper El Temps8 he relates the stupor of members upon discovery that the journalist had changed objectives; "Flores—everyone called him that—began by sending article upon article until one day the leaders of the international section of the Barcelona daily saw him in an agency photo, on top of a Croatian tank, wearing a camouflage suit and armed to the teeth. They were left stunned. Their correspondent, without saying a word to anyone, had hung up his pen and enlisted with the Croats as a mercenary."

And he added, "The International Brigade, and also Flores—who had invented an imaginative biography for himself—were the objects of an investigation by the RSF team when, in 1992, the Swiss journalist Christian Wutenberg and English photographer Paul Jenks were assassinated. Both had tried to stick their noses into the mercenary group’s sinister practices and they were well acquainted with Flores’ schemes. Later, further signs of his participation in other dirty war operations surfaced, organizing an illicit trade network in icons plundered from Serbian churches, and a multitude of misdemeanors. The Flores case was condemned from the heights of international journalism. Scotland Yard opened an investigation into the death of Paul Jenks, but nothing prevented him from finishing the war, decorated by the Croatian Army and with that country’s passport in his pocket."

Years later he would abandon Catholicism to convert to Islam. So strong was his commitment that he became the vice president of the Hungarian Islamic Community.

His life was brought to the big screen in the film Chico, in which he played himself. The film, which covers his life from childhood through the Balkan War, received several international awards, including those for Best Director and the Ecumenical Jury prize at the Karlovy Vary Festival in the Czech Republic. It also received a mention for Best Picture at the Budapest Festival in Hungary.

He is also a writer: Dirty War is his most important book, published in Hungarian and Croatian, and anticipated for release in English in 2010. In his other works, such as Loyalty, he developed his image as a poet.

With his conversion to Islam, he became a militant for the Palestinian cause. From his blog www.eduardorozsaflores.blogspot.com he demanded that Israel leave the Gaza Strip and that American troops exit Iraq. But don’t believe that with these views Eduardo was a man on the left of the political spectrum. On the same website one can find his full anti-communist arguments, as well as many links to diverse Camba separatist webpages.

At the time of his death, Eduardo Rózsa Flores was 49 years old. And there is every indication that, as in distant Europe, he was seeking a new Balkanization in the heart of Latin America.

(Photo: api.ning.com.)

The investigation was advancing, but clearly the publication of the interview marked a turning point. As Garcia Linera stated, the line of investigation concentrated in the search for the ideological leaders.

So it was on May 4 that the District Attorney Marcelo Sosa gave a brief press conference in which a few fundamental facts were disclosed. Based on the statements of Juan Carlos Gueder and Alcides Mendoza, both implicated in the attempts, who had decided to cooperate with the investigation (both former members of the Youth Union of Santa Cruz, both accused of providing weapons to the cell), as well as those of the "key witness," Ignacio Villa Vargas ("The Old Man," with whom the police had infiltrated the group in January), and those of the two detained terrorists, the district attorney linked the cell with the highest political and business circles of Santa Cruz.

Sosa mentioned the former president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, Branko Marinkovic, of Croatian origin, the governor of the State, Ruben Costas, the present civic vice president and leading rancher, Guido Nayar, and the president of the Private Business Federation of Santa Cruz, Pedro Yovio. He also spoke of the president of the Chamber of Eastern Agriculture (CAO) Mauricio Roca, Costas’ attorney, Luis Alberto Hurtado Vaca, the former Army General Lucio Añez Ribera, and even Carlos Guillén, the vice president of one of the principal soccer clubs in the region, Blooming.

Guillén would give Rózsa’s group a Hyundai in exchange for USD$3,500. But not only that, he also financed the militia at the Hotel Las Américas, where the cell had resided since April 14. The explanation given was that, as the vice president of Blooming, he had credit at the luxurious hotel. Regarding the sale of the automobile, Guillén stated that Rózsa had identified himself as Germán Aguilera Roca.

In his account, Hurtago (Costas’ attorney) was mentioned as another of the financiers of the group. His role had been to finance the mercenaries’ spending at the Hotel Asturias, where they stayed for 82 days, as well as in the Hotel Las Américas and the Gran Hotel Santa Cruz.2 It is important to recall that it was in one of Costas’ stands in the Convention Center, a symbol of Santa Cruz’ middle class, that the group’s second arsenal was discovered.

According to the district attorney, Villa "The Old Man" Vargas spoke of a secret meeting between Rózsa and the cream of the separatist movement—Marinkovic, Roca, Yovio, and Nayar—in which the governor participated via telephone. There, the ranching leader (Nayar) would offer land for militia training, Costas would offer a safe house, and Marinkovic would supply USD$200,000. At the same time, Alcides Mendoza would confirm that Marinkovic had originally financed the group in order to buy weapons and it was he who would deliver money to a group of Argentineans, who escaped with a small fortune.

Garcia Linera, from the start, spoke of an "international ultra rightwing," and not by coincidence. The notion that it had been Argentineans who had fled with the money refers to journalist Nora Veiras’ accusation in the Argentinean daily Página/12 on April 21.3 In it she points to a relationship between the militants, better known as "carapintadas" or "painted faces,"4 who revolted against successive democratic governments in Argentina at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, and were involved in similar acts in the recent events in Santa Cruz.

The point of contact was Jorge Mones Ruiz, with whom Rózsa would meet in early April. Mones Ruiz was posted as an Argentinean Army intelligence official in Bolivia for a period during the last dictatorship, in the mid-1980s, and, it seems, often boasted of his knowledge of Bolivian comrades and former comrades.

On his recent trip to Bolivia, Mones Ruiz was accompanied by Liliana Raffo de Fernández Cutiellos, widow of the Lieutenant Coronal Horacio Fernández Cutiellos, who was killed during an attempted takeover of the La Tablada Regiment by the Todos por la Patria Movement in 1989. She would later obtain press credentials for the daily Estrella del Oriente, with which she was able to gain access to an interview with the former prefect of the Department of Pando, Leopoldo Fernández, held in prison in San Pedro and accused of a conspiracy against the government and the murder of peasants in September 2008, better known as the "Massacre of El Porvenir."

But that is not all. Mones Ruiz is also the Argentinean representative of UnoAmérica, a continental organization that aspires to be part of Unasur (Union of South American Nations). Until now, its real influence in different Latin American processes has been marginal, but no less radical. UnoAmérica has dedicated itself with particular interest in dismantling the investigation conducted by an Unasur commission into the recent "Massacre of El Porvenir."

To accomplish this, they used the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). Implicated in the events was Centa Reck, a member of the executive of the Human Rights Foundation—Bolivia, and director of the daily newspaper, La Estrella del Oriente. To this day, HRF supports proceedings filed by Fernández’ defense before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Hugo Achá is (or was) the president of HRF in Bolivia. He is another of those accused of financing the cell. He even has his own alias: "Superman." He denies all involvement, but admitted contact with Rózsa, who, in his words, would approach him as a BBC journalist investigating the case of the "Massacre of El Porvenir." According to the district attorney’s assertion, Tadic, today a prison mate of Fernández, claimed that he had offered money to Rózsa. Achá is a now a fugitive in the United States.

In the May 12 edition of Página/12, Veiras mentions a report received by the Argentinean chancellery from the embassy in Bolivia, signaling that in the Department of Beni (in northern Bolivia, adjacent to Santa Cruz) there was "an Argentinean cell of 11 former ‘carapintadas’ that had joined forces with two other cells (Brazilian and Uruguayan), consisting of former military men who had been posted in the Balkans." The link connecting this international rightwing would be, of course, Human Rights Foundation—Bolivia.5

The Interpretations

"The same faces that incited the capture, destruction, and burning of state entities in the name of legitimate demands for autonomy by the people of Santa Cruz, are faces politically related to those in the north of the country who precipitated a massacre of undefended peasants; they are faces that encouraged the terrorist attempt against a gas export pipeline to Brazil; they are the faces that led, together with others, the frustrated coup against the Civic government and the prefect in August and September 2008," editorializes the state daily Cambio in its May 5 edition.

Bolivian rightwing resentment toward President Evo Morales is nothing new. The battles are constant, on every front, legal and otherwise. That is why after the Confidence Referendum in August 2008, brought on by the political rightwing against the will of the regional right, the separatists initiated their own strategy.

Confirming (and resigning himself to) the power held by the Movimiento al Socialismo party in the Bolivian Altiplano zone, the leaders of the "Half Moon" (comprised of the Departments of Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz, and Tarija) initiated, in the words of the journalist Hugo Moldiz Mercado,6 a "war of positioning."

Thus began what the Executive Power called a "civil coup." The objective between August and October of last year, despite the 67.41% obtained by Evo at the ballot box, was to flaunt territorial control in the region. The measures undertaken to achieve this were the taking of state institutions, a hunger strike, and roadblocks.

In that context, on September 8, Rózsa continued the aforementioned conversation with the journalist Kepes. At the time he assured that he was not planning to attack Morales, that his objective was limited to "defense and resistance." The design was clear. Every one of the schemes sought to find repression on the part of the central government, with the aim of playing the victim while characterizing the Executive Power as homicidal.

To confirm this thesis, Rózsa declared, "We understand that there will be a central government offensive with the deployment of the Armed Forces and indigenous forces." In that same period, the then-U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg was seen in Santa Cruz, where he had a meeting with Costas and civic leaders on August 21. That meeting resulted in his expulsion from the country by the government. Like Rozsa and several other members of the cell, Goldberg had spent time in the fractured ex-Yugoslavia, acting as an official at the U.S. Embassy.

In keeping with former Socialist Representative Vásquez Michel’s criticism cited by Moldiz Mercado, "On September 2, in full compliance with the coup agenda, two American functionaries—given charge by Goldberg—had another conspiratorial meeting with four retired generals in the home of General Elías Eduardo, charged with security at the Prefect of Santa Cruz and a man trusted by Prefect Rubén Costas. Among the military men were General Oniveros, General Marcelo Antezana, and General Herlan Viestrox." Three days later, "The director of military affairs for the U.S. Embassy spoke in Santa Cruz with the commander of the Eighth Division, General Antonio Bracamonte, Lieutenant Coronal Dieter Claure, and others, to plan a delivery of military units to the paramilitary groups. With that, they hoped to add further tension to the situation and give the impression that the government had lost control of the Armed Forces."

President Morales recently suggested that Prefect authorities, members of the Civic Committee, and several businessmen created a "Supreme Council of Resistance" in Santa Cruz to convert the capital of Santa Cruz into a new Kosovo and, through this, achieve division in the country.

But the government was never crushed, it maintained control of the Armed Forces at all times and, when it advanced, it did so through social movements. For the separatist movement’s leaders, the whole thing spiraled out of control7 through the repeatedly cited "Massacre of El Porvenir." Surrounded, they found themselves forced to rethink their objectives and circumstances, accepting the "Great National Agreement" proposed by the government.

The following battles were less intense. First, the resistance to calling elections due to the New Political Constitution of the State of Bolivia (NCPE) in October, then the approval of the NCPE on January 25, and the last episode regarding the recent new Electoral Law in the face of coming December elections. In each encounter, the regional opposition appeared withdrawn and on the defensive. In fact, it is striking how on the day that their presidential candidates resigned, indigenous presidential hopefuls were deployed throughout the country.

But below the surface everything indicates that the separatist movement had a new card: the plain and simple assassination of the president, along with his vice president and his entire Cabinet. All of which represented a new low, a venture toward the abyss, once again.

End Notes

  1. Stated on April 12, 2009.
  2. According to the May 6 edition of La Prensa, Hernán Rossel, manager of the Hotel Las Américas, confirmed that Hurtado Vaca made a 30-day reservation for six people and paid in cash. Evelin Leigue, of the Gran Hotel Santa Cruz, confirmed that Luis Hurtado registered the group between April 3-14, for which he paid 13,000 Bolivianos in cash. Rómulo Estivariz, lawyer for Lorena Rojas and manager of the Hotel Asturias, stated that Hurtado Vaca paid around 60,000 Bolivianos in cash for a 70-day stay, during which time seven people stayed at that establishment.
  3. www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-123612-2009-04-21.html.
  4. The "carapintadas" or "painted faces" were a variety of extreme rightwing military activist groups that carried out a series of uprisings against the governments of Raúl Alfonsín and Carlos Menem in Argentina between 1987-1990. The nickname alludes to the use of camouflage paint by the insurgents, who took various military bases and fought against forces loyal to the constitutional government in an effort to finalize proceedings against the protagonists of Argentina’s bloodiest dictatorship (1976-1983). Although the leaders of the "carapintadas" were arrested, found guilty, and condemned to prison, the majority of the participants in the events went unpunished, and the ringleaders were pardoned by then-President Carlos Menem in 1989 and later, by Eduardo Duhalde.
  5. www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-123612-2009-04-21.html.
  6. "Dos momentos del plan ultraderechista," Cambio, Monday, May 4, 2009.
  7. See "Bolivia: una nueva masacre y el repliegue conservador."
  8. Spanish translation, http://rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=84909.