Claim Venezuelans took part in raid in Dwyer case

 

ONE OF the two men arrested in the police raid on a Bolivian hotel in which Irishman Michael Dwyer was killed says he believes several Venezuelans were part of the team that carried out the action, writes TOM HENNIGANin São Paulo

Mario Tadic also raises the possibility that one or more of the three men killed in the raid were shot dead after he and a fifth man, Elod Toaso, were taken into custody.

In a signed affidavit seen by The Irish Times, Tadic says he was already subdued, beaten, removed from his room to the hotel corridor and had his head covered by the masked men carrying out the raid when he heard “three or four shots in the direction of the rooms on my left and groans”.

The rooms were occupied by Dwyer, Eduardo Rózsa Flores and Arpad Magyarosi, who were all killed during the police operation in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz on April 16th, 2009.

In response to written questions from The Irish Timesabout his affidavit, Tadic confirms that the forces carrying out the raid had first entered these rooms shooting before they came to his room and took him prisoner.

While being held in the hall he then heard more shots coming from the rooms where Dwyer, Rózsa Flores and Magyarosi were, followed by groans. He says the order was given to remove him and Toaso from the hotel when the groaning from the other rooms increased.

The affidavit is part of Tadic’s case against the Bolivian authorities before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the torture he says he suffered following his arrest. The Irish Timeshas confirmed the affidavit’s authenticity with sources in his legal team.

In it he claims that due to “the manner of speaking and the terms the hooded men used I can confirm that 1) they were not Bolivians 2) they were not police but military”.

In his answers to the written questions from The Irish Times, Tadic says he now believes the men were Venezuelans: “I think, for various reasons, the accent or the manner of speaking, that today I am sure that there were at least two to three Venezuelans.”

Bolivian authorities say the raid was carried out by the elite Utarc police unit after the government decided to move against the five men, who it claims had launched a terrorist campaign with the aim of killing Bolivia’s left-wing indigenous president, Evo Morales, and securing independence for the restive east of the country.

Both the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments did not return calls seeking a response to Tadic’s claim of Venezuelan involvement in the hotel raid.

Under Morales Bolivia has developed close links with the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. In 2007 uniformed Venezuelan military personnel were filmed in Santa Cruz by a local television station during civil unrest in which the government seized back control of the country’s main international airport from local authorities demanding greater autonomy from La Paz.

Tadic claims he was tortured following his arrest, including being submitted to a mock execution. As he was brought on to a military aircraft one of his captors told him: “It is a long journey to Venezuela.”

The aircraft took him instead to La Paz where he says he received two or three injections before an interrogation by the prosecutor assigned to the case. He says the injections left him feeling nauseous and he is now unable to remember clearly what he told the prosecutor.

Tadic, who holds Bolivian and Croatian citizenship, and Toaso, a Hungarian, have been held for 29 months without trial.

According to Bolivian law they should have been released on bail after 18 months’ detention without trial. But last year the government extended that period to 36 months and applied it retroactively. Earlier this month both men were denied bail by a judge in La Paz. The prosecutor has also charged another 37 people, among them members of the political and business elite in Santa Cruz opposed to Morales, with involvement in the case.

In his answers to the questions from The Irish Times, Tadic says he met Rózsa Flores in a forum for veterans of Croatia’s wars of the 1990s.

Both men had fought for Croatian militias during the break-up of Yugoslavia. Tadic says Rózsa Flores, identified by authorities as the group’s supposed leader, invited him to Bolivia to help set up an adventure holiday business.

Once there Tadic says Rózsa Flores confiscated his passport, which prevented him returning to Europe on March 12th as planned, a month before the raid.

He says he did not know Dwyer well and that his poor English prevented them conversing much but he thought he was “a happy and relaxed guy”.

“He went out and I believe he had a girlfriend in the city, he seemed a healthy and normal person. At times I did not see him for a day or two.”

Dwyer’s family will today hold their first meeting with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore as part of their campaign for an independent international inquiry into his death, a move opposed by the Bolivian government.

Last December the Dwyers submitted a report to the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions in which they say eyewitness and video evidence, along with autopsy and ballistic reports, contradict the Bolivian government’s claim that their son was killed in an armed confrontation with police.

This month Dwyer’s family will update their submission with the findings of leading UK forensic group Keith Borer Consultants, which concluded after a review of the evidence gathered by the family that Dwyer’s bedroom “had been staged to give the appearance of crossfire between the police and the deceased”.

In their revised submission to the UN’s rapporteur, the family say this conclusion, “in addition to the findings and conclusions of Irish State Pathologist Dr [Marie] Cassidy, show without any doubt whatsoever that Michael Dwyer was unarmed and executed by members of Utarc”.

Since the police raid on the hotel, the Bolivian authorities’ version of events has been severely undermined by the steady exposure of inconsistencies in official accounts.

Eyewitnesses at the hotel have directly contradicted the police’s claim that there was a shoot-out.

Video evidence has emerged of tampering with the scene of the raid, while another video shows a key witness in the government’s case being paid $31,000 (€22,800) in cash by a government official, only for the witness to claim later he was tortured.

Four months after the raid, La Razónnewspaper in Bolivia received photographs dated January 2007 which appeared to show the Bolivian police captain in charge of the raid socialising with Rózsa Flores. Authorities claimed they only detected the group weeks before the raid.

In addition, Bolivian legal experts say the government acted unconstitutionally by assigning the investigation to a prosecutor in La Paz rather than to the first local prosecutor on the scene in Santa Cruz, calling the legality of the entire investigation into question.