Flanagan calls for international investigation into Dwyer death

Bolivian president Evo Morales is the first South American head of state to visit Ireland


Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has told Bolivian president Evo Morales there should be an international investigation into the killing of Tipperary man Michael Dwyer, who was shot dead by police in a Bolivian hotel in April 2009.

At a meeting in Dublin on Saturday evening, Mr Flanagan told Mr Morales the Government supported calls by Dwyer’s family for an independent international inquiry into the circumstances of his killing. Dwyer (24) and two other men were shot dead during a police operation at a hotel in the city of Santa Cruz, while the remaining two members of their group were arrested.

“I raised the issue of Michael Dwyer, which is an issue of concern to the Irish Government,” Mr Flanagan said after the meeting. “I reiterated my support for the family’s call for an independent investigation into the death of Michael Dwyer, and that there should be an international dimension.”

After a separate meeting with Bolivia’s ministers for foreign affairs and defence, who accompanied Mr Morales on his two-day visit to Ireland, Dwyer’s mother Caroline said she was encouraged by the Bolivians’ willingness to engage on the issue and said there was a “window of opportunity” to make progress.

“They told me Mr Morales had asked them to convey his personal condolences, which was a good start... They said they had a will to have the facts of the case out there, and they would fully cooperate and facilitate an international investigation,” she said.

Ms Dwyer said this was in contrast to the Bolivian government’s initial unwillingness to discuss the case with the Irish authorities in 2009, and marked a significant improvement in tone since she met Bolivian government representatives in La Paz in September 2014.

However, Ms Dwyer said she expressed her concern about the absence of any timeline and the fading memories of witnesses, pointing out that some key witnesses had not been interviewed as part of the original investigation.

“They said that if the family were to come to Bolivia they were willing to facilitate our visit to establish any facts,” she added.

Bolivia’s government claims Dwyer was part of an opposition terrorist group. But the family rejects that and has gathered its own evidence that it says points instead to their son’s summary execution.

A recent documentary with which the family cooperated pointed to witnesses who contradicted the official version of a shoot-out, video footage that showed police planted evidence, and a public prosecutor in exile who built his government’s legal case to support the raid but who says now it was all lies.

The Dwyer case was also raised by President Michael D Higgins, who met Mr Morales at Áras an Uachtaráin on Saturday evening. “President Higgins thanked the President for the talks arranged with the Dwyer family during his visit. He also urged progress in addressing the understandable loss and grief of the Dwyer family,” the Áras said in a statement.

At the one-hour meeting, which the Aras described as warm, the presidents discussed climate change, including the upcoming COP21 conference in Paris; sustainable development; cultural diversity and the role of indigenous people and their languages.

“President Higgins discussed with the Bolivian president the role of human rights in contemporary discourse,” the statement said.

Mr Morales, who is the first South American head of state to visit Ireland, also visited a dairy-processing plant and attended an event for Ireland’s Bolivian community on Sunday. An agreement was signed between Bolivia and the Higher Education Authority on third-level cooperation.

Chris O’Connell, chairperson of the Latin America Solidarity Centre in Dublin, said that while Mr Morales’s government had impressive achievements, some in Bolivia were concerned about the administration’s direction. He pointed to its environmental record and the treatment of opponents of large-scale development projects. In one incident, in Takovo Mora in Santa Cruz province last August, he said, Guarani indigenous were beaten and gassed when they blocked roads to demand a consultation - guaranteed by the constitution - prior to a state oil project.

Mr O’Connell said there were also concerns about freedom of expression and association. He said a law passed in 2013, which requires all NGOs in Bolivia to apply for a licence to operate, resulted in just 10 per cent of organisations receiving authorisation to date. “The law gives the state huge powers over NGOs, including the right to rescind their legal status without cause,” he said.