Brazilian engineer sheds new light on Michael Dwyer killing
Marcos Brandt said there was no shootout as claimed by Bolivian police.
Michael Dwyer. His family says it has gathered evidence that shows he was summarily executed by Bolivian state forces and is calling for an international investigation into their son’s death. Photograph: PA Wire
Marcos Brandt: ‘It didn’t sound like a shootout. You didn’t hear fire coming from different shooting positions.’
A Brazilian engineer who was on the same floor of the Santa Cruz hotel when Michael Dwyer was shot dead by police in 2009 has emerged to contradict the Bolivian authorities’ version of events surrounding the Tipperary man’s killing.
Marcos Brandt told The Irish Times that there was no shootout as claimed by police and he corroborates existing evidence raising the prospect that Bolivian authorities tampered with the scene to sustain their thesis that Dwyer and two other men died in a gunfight.
Bolivia’s government insists the three men were shot dead after they opened fire on police sent to arrest them. It claims Dwyer was in the country as part of a group led by Bolivian adventurer Eduardo Rózsa-Flores who planned to foment secessionist violence in its restive eastern lowlands. Dwyer, Rózsa-Flores and Hungarian national Arpad Magyarosi were all killed in the raid, in which two other men were arrested.
Dwyer’s family says it has gathered evidence that shows he was summarily executed by Bolivian state forces and is calling for an international investigation into their son’s death.
Initially Bolivia’s vice-president claimed that the group Dwyer was with was pursued back to the hotel by police, where the shootout took place. But the Brazilian engineer says there was calm in the hotel where he was sharing a room with a work colleague while on business in the city.
He and his work colleague are now speaking publicly for the first time about what they heard when staying in a room on the same floor of the hotel in which Dwyer was killed, at the time of the killing. They were never interviewed by the Bolivian public prosecutor charged with establishing the facts in relation to what happened Dwyer and two others who died on the night.
Both men have spoken to The Irish Times about their recollections of the incident, as has the man who was in charge of the hotel on the night.
Brandt was about to take a shower before catching an early flight to the capital, La Paz, when the building was shaken by a loud explosion. “At first I thought the boiler had exploded. I looked out the bathroom window which gives onto an internal atrium only to see a soldier pointing a rifle at me. He ordered me to open the bedroom door.”
The uniformed man, probably a member of the elite UTARC police unit, told him and his colleague to lie on the floor with their hands on their heads. Brandt says that after the explosion there were several minutes of calm on the hotel floor. In that time he heard various voices talking. “It was normal, no shouting, just voices talking. Only then the shooting started.”
He estimates the time between the explosion and start of the shooting as between two and five minutes, raising new questions about the police’s interaction with Dwyer’s group immediately before they killed three of them.
He describes the shooting as intense and continuous but not consistent with crossfire. “It didn’t sound like a shootout. You didn’t hear fire coming from different shooting positions.” He also describes much of the gunfire as sounding like blanks. “It had that loud popping sound that blanks have, like firecrackers. It was like they were shooting continuously to scare people.”
Considering the number of shots he heard Brandt says he was then surprised on leaving the room once the police had quit the floor: “What was strange was there was little sign of damage caused by gunfire despite the amount of shots I heard. That is when I was certain they were blanks.”
The official Bolivian ballistics report listed relatively few bullet holes considering hotel staff also reported the intense prolonged gunfire described by Brandt. His belief that he heard “different types of gunshots” partially masked by prolonged machinegun fire could be relevant in light of the review of Dwyer’s autopsy report by the Irish state pathologist. This suggested he was summarily executed by a single shot to the heart by someone standing over him.
Brandt says on leaving the room he realised the explosion he heard was a series of simultaneous blasts to force in the doors of the rooms containing the group Dwyer was with. He said he saw no bullet damage along the corridor where Dwyer and his group were staying, corroborating what the hotel manager, Hernan Rossell, told The Irish Times in the days immediately after the police action.
This testimony contradicts the Bolivian ballistics report, which listed bullet holes on the corridor wall outside Dwyer’s room. But the subsequent leaking of a video recorded by UTARC immediately after the raid clearly shows no bullet damage on that wall, reinforcing suspicions that the authorities tampered with the scene to support their version of events.
The Irish Times has also spoken with Brandt’s work colleague, a Brazilian mechanic who was helping him install machine equipment for a local Bolivian customer. His recollection generally coincides with Brandt’s though he says he could not say definitively whether or not there had been an exchange of fire.
In one crucial aspect the two men’s testimonies clash. Brandt says he clearly remembers his colleague telling him that he heard someone pleading for their life, followed by more shots: “He told me he heard someone saying in Spanish ‘please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me’ then more shots and no more pleading.” Speaking last week from Bolivia, Rossell, the hotel manager, told The Irish Times that Brandt made the same claim to him about his colleague.
But in an interview in his home town in Brazil the second man in the hotel room denied ever having heard anyone pleading for their life or saying that he had to Brandt. He says he cannot explain his former work colleague’s recollection of events. Subsequent efforts to reinterview the man have failed.
Despite the intervening years, Brandt was able to confidently sketch the layout of the hotel floor and identify the rooms where Dwyer and the two other men died. He said his sense was the police had been in full control from the beginning: “They didn’t want to arrest them, they wanted to kill.”
In the days after the police raid hotel management told The Irish Times that only Dwyer’s group had been staying on the hotel floor. Hotel manager Rossell said the fact the two Brazilians were in a room on the other side of an atrium probably led to their presence being overlooked. The Irish Times has seen a copy of the hotel register with the men’s names included.
Both Brandt and his colleague had to leave their names, contact details, copies of their passports and travel plans with Bolivian police before they were allowed to leave the hotel for the airport. But they say no Bolivian authority ever subsequently tried to contact them.
The public prosecutor who led the investigation insists he was never informed about the two men’s existence. “The police never told me about these men,” said Marcelo Soza, speaking from exile in Brasília. “This is another example of how they held back information from my investigation. Why would they do that if they were not trying to cover up what they did?”
Soza is seeking asylum in Brazil, where he fled last year after a video emerged in which he was recorded describing how senior Bolivian officials had manipulated his investigation in order to undermine the political opposition to President Evo Morales. He now says Dwyer was unlawfully killed.
Michael Dwyer travelled to Bolivia in 2008 telling his family he was going to the South American country to take a bodyguard training course. He had recently graduated in construction management but with the start of the recession at home was finding work in the sector hard to come by.
The bodyguard course did not materialise once he arrived in Bolivia but he decided to stay on telling family and friends he had found work there with a local businessman, Eduardo Rózsa-Flores.
Killed alongside Dwyer, Rózsa-Flores is the central figure in the mystery about what his group was doing in Bolivia and who it was working for. The government claims it was setting up armed resistance to the state at the behest of the country’s political opposition. But leading opposition figures claim he was an agent provocateur brought over from Europe by the government to discredit it.
Dwyer’s family have always refused to believe their son was knowingly caught up in any political or subversive activity while in Bolivia.
Instead it has gathered evidence that it says proves he was summarily executed by its authorities.
They have submitted the case to the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who has written to the Bolivian government seeking an investigation into the circumstances of Dwyer’s death. The Dwyers have also lobbied the EU parliament in Brussels and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington to take action.
Last year Dwyer’s mother Caroline and sister Aisling brought the family’s campaign to Bolivia itself. As well as visiting the hotel where he died they also formally presented their demand for an international inquiry into his death to senior government officials.
Though they have not definitively ruled out an international inquiry, Bolivia’s authorities have always refused to allow any outside investigation of the circumstances surrounding Dwyer’s death.