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Plot to assassinate Morales foiled

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SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – In the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivian Police killed three and arrested two suspected terrorists April 16, foiling a plot that, according to Bolivian authorities, included the assassination of President Evo Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and other officials. Bolivian authorities believe the attempt was part of a plan for the secession of the state of Santa Cruz, known as the bastion of anti-Morales opposition.

Following the incident, Morales called for international assistance in the investigation of the plot; April 20, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald Noble announced the international policing agency would help in the investigation. Noble said they would submit the names and DNA samples of the five suspects to the INTERPOL database which contains 18 million records.

“The work of the Bolivian Police is to be commended in helping to foil this plot against President Morales, and INTERPOL will provide whatever support necessary to assist them as they continue their enquiries.”

 End of Morales hunger strike precedes assassination plot

Just two days before the dramatic events in Santa Cruz, Bolivian President Evo Morales concluded a five-day hunger strike in support of a new election law that had been approved by a majority of the population in the new constitution vote, but had been blocked by Morales opponents in the Senate. On April 14, the Bolivian Congress passed the Electoral Reform Law that, among other things, will allow Morales to run for re-election in December, reserve 14 congressional seats for indigenous candidates and permit expatriates to vote. The debate over the law came to a head in the prior week when opposition leaders in the Senate refused to grant a quorum needed for the final vote, after weeks of bitter arguments between the two sides. At that point Morales’ supporters in the Movement Toward Socialism Party had enough votes for passage in both the House and Senate and April 9, Morales announced he was going on hunger strike. “This is another most unforgettable day,” Morales said after signing the new bill into law. “Thanks to the conscience of the Bolivian people and to the participation of the different sectors, workers, indigenous people, professors and professionals.” He also expressed his “profound respect and admiration” for the approximately 3,000 workers and union leaders from Bolivia, Spain and Argentina who had also gone on hunger strikes in support of his effort.

The conflict began after an attempted bombing of the home of Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas in the city of Santa Cruz April 15. The police chased the men and followed them to the Hotel of the Americas in the center of the city, where the men exploded a device in their room, blowing out the windows and doors of that room and several others.

According to Police Commander Victor Hugo Escobar, the alleged terrorists “made use of their firearms and the police responded in a similar manner.” Escobar said after the firefight officials discovered high-caliber arms and documents in the hotel room, and later discovered more high caliber weapons and explosives connected to the scheme in a business expo fair in a building near the hotel. Officials noted that among the explosives was enough C-4 to destroy up to 150,000-square-meters of land; and that C-4 cannot be purchased in Bolivia.

Morales acknowledged that he had been notified of “some possible attempt” by his staff while attending the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago April 15.

“I had information that the international mercenaries were in Santa Cruz. … and I gave instructions to the police chiefs to detain these mercenaries,” Morales said. “…I commend the National Police for this great operation.”

The three dead men were identified as Eduardo Rosza Flores, of Bolivian/Hungarian descent; Arpad Magyarosi, a Romanian; and Irishman Michael Martin Dwyer. The two suspects who survived were Bolivian Mario Francisco Fardig Astorga and Hungarian Elot Toaso, described by authorities as being a computer expert. Fardig Astorga and Toaso were arrested and charged with terrorism, conspiracy against the state and intention to assassinate dignitaries.

In the documents seized by police were a variety of plans, including the targeting of the president and vice president for assassination, as well as for the murder of opposition leaders German Antelo and Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas. Costas called the reports “a sham” and said he would accept the help of international agencies in the investigation. Officials said they discovered plans showing that in mid-March, some of the men had followed the president and his cabinet to a meeting they held on a Bolivian Navy vessel on Lake Titicaca, where they intended to plant a bomb.

As of April 21, Fardig Astorga and Toaso had admitted to the bombings of Terrazas’ home and the home of Vice Minister of Autonomies Saul Avalos March 29, according to Government Minister Alfredo Rada.

Various press reports from the Bolivian government have noted commonalities among the five suspects. Rosza Flores and Fardig Astorga, for instance, both have Croatian citizenship and fought for a division of the Croatian Army during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. The only other publicly known connection between any of the men was that both Dwyer and Rosza Flores were listed as friends on Facebook.

But, according to Linera, Bolivian authorities are left with many questions.

“We’re going to clarify who brought them from Croatia to Ireland to Santa Cruz; who paid for their tickets; who took care of them; who gave them the information about the movements of officials; how did the C-4 get here; who bought the weapons and what were the ideological motives for these persons linked to a far-right fascist ideology,” Linera said.

“This is only one of the tentacles, the operative one. It was the one in charge of gathering explosive weapons and taking them to another place, making attempts and preparing a presidential assassination.”

Jorge Silva, an official with Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism Party, said Rosza Flores posted many links to right-wing Bolivian groups on his blog. Silva also said Rosza Flores had contact with Branco Marinkovic, a Bolivian of Croatian descent who was also the former president of the right-wing Santa Cruz Civic Committee.

For Morales, the Santa Cruz connection is crucial.

“In the past year, the right intended to remove me through the vote of the people in the referendum, and then they tried to stage a civil coup de’etat, both failed. This terrorist cell sought by violent means to seize power and, if they couldn’t take the power, they would secede a region. … Now they’re planning to riddle us with bullets and they are failing; here’s hoping they fail forever.”

Morales has received support from INTERPOL and some of his allies; at the Summit of the Americas he had requested that U.S. President Barack Obama condemn the attempt, implying that if the president did not respond, perhaps the U.S. was involved in the plot. On April 19, Obama issued the following statement:

“I just want to be absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere. The United States, obviously, has a history in the region that has not always been appreciated from the perspective of some people, but what we have to do is to continue moving forward, and I am responsible for how this government acts and we will be respectful of those governments that are democratically elected, even when we disagree with them.”

When asked what he thought of Morales’ policies, Obama said his opinion in this instance didn’t matter but that, “The fact that he is the first president of indigenous origin in a country that has an important indigenous population shows how much work still needs to be done.”