The killings of three men characterized by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales as extremists and potential assassins has some European countries wanting an explanation.
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Airlifted in from Bolivia’s western highlands, some two dozen elite officers in green helmets and flak jackets entered the Las Americas Hotel just before 4 a.m., disabled its surveillance cameras and stealthily made for the fourth floor.
A bomb exploded. After 15 minutes of gunfire, three men were dead in their underwear on separate hotel room floors: A Bolivian-born Hungarian, an Irishman and a Romanian. Two of their comrades with ties to Croatia and Hungary were arrested in rooms down the hall.
A few hours later, President Evo Morales announced during a visit to Venezuela that an assassination plot against him, hatched by right-wing extremists and employing foreign mercenaries, had been foiled on his instructions.
”Before I left,” he said, “I gave the order.”
The strange events of April 16 have only deepened political and social rifts in this nation of 10 million, where Morales, an Indian and a strident leftist, faces an intransigent foe in the light-skinned elite of this provincial capital. Vice President Alvaro GarcÃa has blamed the alleged plot on ”the fascist and racist right” of Santa Cruz. Morales’ opponents in turn claim the government is trying to discredit them and bolster his campaign for reelection in December.
The killings have also brought Bolivia to the attention of four European countries impatient for an explanation. Hungary, Ireland, Romania and Croatia have all asked for what the latter called ”a full and impartial” accounting. Was it not possible to wait a few hours and capture the alleged conspirators peacefully at breakfast?
”The Irish government has a legitimate right to seek the facts of how one of its citizens came to be killed by the security forces of another state,” said Ireland’s foreign minister, Michael Martin.
Yet more than two weeks after the raid, Bolivia has yet to provide persuasive details of the alleged conspiracy. It’s a puzzle, in the words of Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Balazs, in which the pieces don’t fit.
An indignant Morales at first resisted the calls for explanation. Then, at the United Nations on April 22, he said he was willing to accept an international investigation.
Such a probe would almost certainly begin with Eduardo Rozsa Flores, the only one of the slain men with clear warrior credentials.
In September, he told a TV journalist in Hungary that he was returning home to organize a militia. You can only broadcast the interview, Rozsa said, if I don’t return alive.
Born in Santa Cruz 49 years ago to a Hungarian father and Bolivian mother, Rozsa boasted in interviews and in a blog of serving as a translator for ”Carlos the Jackal” when the Venezuelan terrorist was living in then-communist Hungary.
After the Berlin Wall fell, Rozsa became a minor celebrity in Croatia for commanding a brigade of foreign volunteers in its 1991 independence war. A poet, journalist and recent convert to Islam, he later starred as himself in Chico, a biopic that won best film in Hungary’s national cinema festival in 2002.
The other two slain men apparently lacked Rozsa’s combat experience, if not his sense of adventure. So under what premise — and for what exactly — did he recruit them?
Michael Dwyer was a 24-year-old Irish security guard whose family said he went to Bolivia in October looking for work. His Facebook pages show he liked to play Airsoft, a non-lethal military game like paintball where participants shoot non-metallic pellets at each other.
Arpad Magyarosi, 29, was an ethnic Hungarian rock musician and schoolteacher from Romania who relatives said loved to travel. Neither of the men apparently told their families back home exactly what they were doing in distant Bolivia.
Authorities said Las Americas was the third four-star or better hotel in which the men had lodged.
The raid’s two survivors were flown to the highlands capital of La Paz and jailed without bail on terrorism charges after a closed hearing. They are Mario Tadic, a 51-year-old Bolivia-Croat comrade-in-arms of Rozsa from the Balkans, and Hungarian computer technician Elod Toaso.
Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel said Rozsa recruited Toaso, 28, through the Szekler Legion, a right-wing group that promotes autonomy for Romania’s ethnic Hungarians. Hungary’s ambassador, Matyas Jozsa, told The Associated Press after visiting Toaso in jail that the former bank employee may not have understood what he was getting into.
”My impression is that far from being a terrorist, he’s fearful. Little by little he came to realize what he was involved in and that he’d made a big mistake,” said Jozsa.
He believes the slain men never had a chance to surrender and said Toaso saved himself by diving face-down to the floor, putting his hands on the back of his neck.
How Tadic survived is unclear.
The hotel’s manager, Hernan Rossell, told the AP he arrived on the scene 10 minutes after the shooting ended and saw Rozsa’s body on the floor, a revolver about 16 inches from his right hand, a bullet wound in his face. It was the only weapon Rossell said he saw on the fourth floor not wielded by the police, none of whom were injured in the raid.