A case to answer


WHAT HAPPENED in room 457 in the Hotel Las Americas on April 16th, 2009, is still quite unclear. What is beyond doubt is that a group from an elite Bolivian state police force, Utarc, led by Capt. Walter Andrade, entered the room in the hotel in Santa Cruz and shot dead Tipperary man Michael Dwyer. Beyond that, official Bolivian and family accounts of events continue, a year and a half later, to diverge irreconcilably and alarmingly.

From the start, Dwyer’s family has challenged police and government versions and despair of getting a credible, let alone any, explanation from the prevaricating Bolivian authorities. Now they have asked UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston to support their and the Government’s demand for an independent international inquiry into his killing and that of his two companions, group leader Croat Eduardo Rozsa Flores, and Hungarian Arpad Magyarosi. Their call deserves strong, urgent diplomatic support.

“There was no shoot-out just a cold-blooded execution,” the family dossier for Alston insists, backing its case with plausible independent testimony that demands explanation: from hotel staff casting doubt on suggestions of an exchange of gunfire or of hot pursuit; from video evidence of the belated appearance of mysterious bullet holes in the corridor, suggesting tampering with the scene, and of prior contact between Andrade and Flores; of Andrade’s own involvement with a bombing that provided an ostensible excuse for the raid; of inconsistencies and absurdities in official accounts; and from Ireland’s State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy on the “incompleteness” of the Bolivian autopsy and evidence that four out of five bullets hit Dwyer when he was on the ground. The report also quotes Bolivia’s ombudsman questioning the “lack of legality” surrounding the raid and police “excesses”.

The family’s dossier is understandably sympathetic to Dwyer, painting him largely as a naive, good-hearted young man involved in an adventure that he did not fully understand. In that it is arguably at its least convincing, not perhaps because it is not true. His motives and that of the Flores group remain a mystery, but an assassination plot against President Evo Morales appears deeply improbable. But, ultimately, that is not the issue. Bolivia has an obligation to the rule of law and, in international law, to demonstrate that its police did not simply tear up the rulebook. And the Dwyers have a right to know how their son died and to hold his killers to account.