Marcelo Soza contradicts official version of hotel raid that led to Michael Dwyer’s death
Serious questions around lawfulness of police operation, says former prosecutor
Michael Dwyer: he was unarmed when shot in his hotel room in the city of Santa Cruz on April 16th, 2009. Photograph: PA Wire
There are serious questions concerning the lawfulness of the Bolivian police operation in which Michael Dwyer was shot dead, according to the former public prosecutor who investigated the circumstances surrounding the Co Tipperary man’s death.
In an interview with The Irish Times from his exile in Brazil that contradicts government claims and casts doubts on the authorities’ version of events, Marcelo Soza said Mr Dwyer was unarmed when shot in his hotel room in the city of Santa Cruz in April 16th, 2009: “There was no gun near Dwyer when they killed him.”
In charge of investigating the case for four years, Mr Soza says ballistic and autopsy reports as well as his own survey of the aftermath made clear that “there was no confrontation in the hotel,” and a shoot-out had not taken place.
In a damning indictment of the Bolivian authorities’ conduct, Mr Soza accused top officials of misrepresenting the nature of the police raid and then manipulating his own investigation into it until he was eventually forced to seek asylum in Brazil in March.
Bolivia’s government has always claimed Dwyer was in Bolivia as part of a group led by Bolivian adventurer Eduardo Rózsa-Flores that planned to assassinate President Morales and foment a secessionist war in the country’s eastern lowlands. Dwyer, Rózsa-Flores and Hungarian national Arpad Magyarosi were all killed during the raid in which two other men were arrested.
UntrueMr Soza insists the government’s claim that police chased Dwyer’s group to the hotel after it started a terror campaign in eastern Bolivia is untrue, saying the raid had been carefully planned in La Paz and that he had seen a video of the police unit involved practising on a mock-up of the Hotel Las Americas.
“There was no chase to the hotel,” he insists. “It was not necessary to carry out the raid. They could have been captured at any time. They walked the street, they frequented bars . . . Why not arrest them on the street?”
This evidence of planning is crucial to understanding the case, according to Mr Soza, as he had been appointed to lead the investigation in Rózsa-Flores’ activities in Bolivia two days before the police operation took place. Therefore, under Bolivian law the authorities should have notified him of their plan to raid the hotel.
“I was only told after the operation took place, even though I was already in charge of the case,” he notes, adding that the failure to have the prosecutor in charge of the case present at the raid meant all evidence collected during it was “illegal”, a claim with possibly serious legal ramifications for the trial of 39 men accused of involvement with Rózsa-Flores.
DemandsThe Irish government and the EU say they are waiting until this trial is concluded before considering how to proceed with demands for a full accounting for the deaths of EU nationals at the hands of Bolivia’s police.
Most damningly, Mr Soza claims evidence shows the whole operation was planned by a senior political figure. Mr Soza says he sought to question President Morales about his statement given in a press conference that he had given the order for the raid as well as vice-president Álvaro García Linera, who claimed it took place following a chase through Santa Cruz.
“But I was blocked. They would not even provide me with the names of those who took part in the operation so I could take depositions from them.” Mr Soza argues that having planned the raid, high-ranking officials then used it to “decapitate” the political opposition to President Morales centred on the city of Santa Cruz.
He revealed he had investigated a claim made by a Bolivian author that Rózsa-Flores was on the phone to a senior political figure immediately before the police raid took place.
Asked why he was only now coming forward with such damning accusations about the government’s behaviour, Mr Soza says at first he was blinded by a sense of patriotism as he believed Rózsa-Flores’ group was in Bolivia to carry out subversion. He also admits ambition played a role, with senior government officials hinting he could be promoted to the role of the state’s chief prosecutor.
But now in exile he says that for much of his time in charge of the case he was a prisoner of circumstances: “I couldn’t do anything without the permission of the government. It was a totally politicised case. In a certain manner I just completed orders from the government. I was not acting as a prosecutor.”
BlackmailMr Soza categorically denies the Bolivian government’s claim that he blackmailed people during his stewardship of the investigation, dismissing the charges as similar to those against other prosecutors and judges who have been blamed for the extortion of senior officials and ministers: “Before the president thanked me for my work in the defence of the patria. Now he says I am a delinquent?”
He says he reluctantly took the decision to flee to Brazil when his arrest looked likely, saying he feared for his life in a Bolivian prison. He is one of several hundred Bolivians to seek asylum in Brazil since Evo Morales became president in 2006.
Mr Soza says he is willing to testify to European officials about his knowledge of the case: “I believe the truth is the truth. I have no reason to hide anything.”