LEADING FIGURES in Bolivia’s opposition were involved with the group which included Irishman Michael Dwyer and allegedly planned to kill the country’s left-wing president Evo Morales, according to the prosecutor investigating the case.
Mr Dwyer and two other men were shot dead by police in a hotel in the eastern city of Santa Cruz on April 16th. Two others were arrested at the scene.
Bolivia’s authorities say they were supposedly plotting with regional separatists to set up armed groups to confront the central government as part of eastern Bolivia’s increasingly bitter struggle for greater autonomy.
On Monday night prosecutor Marcelo Sosa told a press conference that leading political and business leaders from the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz provided aid to the group.
Among those named by Mr Sosa were Ruben Costas, the leader of Santa Cruz’s regional government, and Branko Marinkovic, a prominent businessman and former leader of Santa Cruz’s main autonomy movement. Others include a retired general and a former government minister.
Mr Sosa has summoned the men to testify about their alleged involvement.
Mr Marinkovic is a hate figure for Evo Morales and fellow leftists in Bolivia, accused of masterminding attempts by the eastern part of the country to split away from the poorer west. He has denied the accusations.
The prosecutor said his evidence is in part based on testimony from four witnesses: Mario Tádic, the Bolivian of Croatian descent and one of the two men arrested in the hotel where Dwyer was killed; Juan Carlos Gueder Bruno and Alcides Mendoza, both arrested last week in Santa Cruz and accused of supplying the group with a weapon; and Ignacio Villa Vargas, described by the prosecutor as his key witness.
Said to have acted as a local fixer for the group, Villa Vargas is a 51-year-old career criminal with a police record dating back to 1981 involving fraud, dealing in stolen cars and falsifying US visas. He is reportedly gravely ill with diabetes.
He says he was present at meetings involving the group’s leader, Eduardo Rozsa Flores, Mr Marinkovic and the other prominent figures implicated. At one meeting he claims Mr Marinkovic rang Mr Costas, the regional government’s head. Mr Costas supposedly offered the group a house and land where they could stay and train.
Mr Marinkovic is accused of providing the group with $200,000 to buy arms. The money was given to Argentine gun dealers who disappeared with it without providing weapons, according to one of the other witnesses, Alcides Mendoza.
After agreeing to co-operate with the investigation Mr Gueder and Mr Mendoza were released from prison and are now under house arrest. Last week Mr Gueder said Flores told him he had planned to kill Mr Costas, now accused by the prosecutor of being involved with the group.
The regional government in Santa Cruz has dismissed the latest accusations.
“Nothing would surprise me with this prosecutor. This is a plot from a bad Venezuelan soap opera, which is trying to make up something so that the whole country thinks the leaders of the opposition really wanted to kill Evo Morales,” said Vladimir Peña, legal director for the Santa Cruz administration, to the newspaper El Deber. “[Mr] Sosa is doing terrible damage to democracy and the country by not carrying out a responsible investigation.”
Mr Sosa also said that Mario Tádic, arrested at the hotel where Mr Dwyer was killed, has testified that it was Flores and Mr Dwyer who carried out a bomb attack on the home of Santa Cruz’s cardinal. The small blast went off the night before Mr Dwyer was killed, causing minimal damage.
Hotel staff say they believe Mr Dwyer did not leave the hotel after he checked in, two nights before he died.