Three years on from Dwyer's killing in Bolivia, case still mired in contradictions


TODAY MARKS the third anniversary of the killing of Irishman Michael Dwyer in Bolivia with the full circumstances surrounding the police raid on his hotel no closer to being revealed.

Instead, the intervening three years have only served to cloud the issue. Leaked police evidence, bribery and torture accusations and the mysterious emergence of photographs and videos have all exposed contradictions in the official version of events.

Meanwhile the only trial connected to the incident is mired in legal controversy. While it has already lasted for more than a year, it is currently suspended. The trial is rumoured to be set to recommence next month, but there is no indication of when it will reach its conclusion.

Dwyer and two other men were killed in their hotel in the city of Santa Cruz on April 16th, 2009.

The Bolivian authorities claim he was part of a group led by Eduardo Rózsa Flores who had been recruited by leading opposition figures to assassinate President Evo Morales and foment secessionist violence in the anti-government stronghold of Santa Cruz.

Today, 39 people are being tried in connection with the case, known as “Terrorism Case 1”, with prosecutors saying they are preparing a second case against more figures drawn from public life in Santa Cruz.

The lawyers representing the two men arrested at the hotel where Dwyer was killed say the trial constitutes “a grave threat to our clients’ human rights”. Under Bolivian law, Mario Tadic and Elod Toaso should have been released on bail after 18 months detention if their trial had not concluded.

With that deadline looming, Bolivia’s government changed the law in May 2010 to extend the period to 36 months and applied it retroactively to the two detainees. Now that the deadline for the new law expires today, the two men’s lawyers are once again going to push for their release on bail.

“But without doubt they will deny the request using the argument that we delayed the start of the trial, which is untrue,” says Gianni Prado, who says the men’s last hope is a submission made to the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights alleging illegal detention and torture.

Foreign legal observers have also raised serious doubts about the trial. Last year, a delegation from the Order of Brazilian Lawyers, Brazil’s equivalent of the Law Library, travelled to the city of Cochabamba to observe proceedings.

But they were refused entry to the courtroom by officials from the interior ministry in La Paz.

“It is unprecedented and absurd that this can happen in a democracy. It was not even court authorities that barred our entry but instead government officials,” says Leonardo Avelino Duarte, who led the delegation.

“The trial exposes the domineering influence of the executive over the judiciary. Unfortunately, today Bolivia is no longer a country that respects the rule of law.”

Dwyer’s family are demanding an independent international inquiry and have submitted a report to the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, highlighting evidence they say shows Bolivian authorities are covering up his summary execution.

“The trial in Bolivia will not reveal what happened to Michael,” says his mother, Caroline. “We have a right to know who was responsible. We are fighting this because our son was involved but this is a human rights issue.”

But while the trial makes its halting way through the courts, the political verdict has long since come in. Before the assault on the hotel, the eastern regions of Bolivia were the heart of political opposition to Morales.

Demands for sweeping autonomy by Santa Cruz had provoked a constitutional crisis, and Bolivia-watchers worried the increasing tension between La Paz and the autonomists would lead to violence, even potentially civil war. But today the political opposition in Santa Cruz is in disarray. Much of its leadership has been accused of involvement with the Rózsa Flores group. Some are on trial, others have fled the country. Those still at liberty now keep a low profile and stay out of politics.

Only this month, a public prosecutor threatened to name the owner of the country’s main private airline, based in Santa Cruz, as one of Rózsa Flores’s backers, thus threatening him with terrorism charges, just as his company battled for survival against a new state-owned airline.

“The government has used the Rózsa Flores case very skilfully,” says one local analyst in Santa Cruz who, reflecting the more circumspect mood in the city, asked not to be named.

“Without providing any convincing evidence, they have branded it a terrorist group and then linked it to the Santa Cruz leadership and so discredited what was a legitimate, peaceful opposition. It has been routed.”