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E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/05/2049 TAGS: PREL, PTER, PGOV, KJUS, PHUM, ASEC, BL SUBJECT: GOB IMPLICATES SANTA CRUZ LEADERS IN "TERRORISM" PLOT
REF: LA PAZ 635 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: American Presence Post Officer Debra Hevia for reason 1. 4 b and d.
1. (S) Summary: The government prosecutor has implicated a dozen top Santa Cruz leaders in supporting a "terrorist cell" aiming to divide the country. A former public defender for one of the Hungarian defendants told us the government had informants within the group and a great deal of evidence to support its claims. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz leaders claim the government's investigation is a political show, timed to undermine the one-year anniversary of the autonomy vote and to weaken the democratic opposition before December national elections. The public defender expressed concerns about judicial irregularities and human rights abuses in the case, and claims the government has enough evidence that it should be proceeding with confidence and in conformity with the law. The irregularities are inspiring conspiracy theories that the government has something to hide, and that some top government officials may have been deeply involved in the group's activities. We believe it will be many months before the whole truth is known in this case, if ever. End summary.
Government Links Leading Crucenos to Terrorist Cell
2. (U) On May 4, as Santa Cruz leaders were making rousing public speeches to mark the one-year anniversary of the vote approving the department's autonomy statute, the government prosecutor in charge of the investigation of the "terrorist" cell uncovered in April accused many of those same Cruceno leaders of supporting the terrorists' activities. In a press conference, prosecutor Marcelo Sosa said evidence collected from the testimony of the arrested terrorist suspects and confiscated materials indicated that the group had the support of: --Prefect (Governor) Ruben Costas; --Former Civic Committee President Branko Marinkovic; --President of the Private Business Association Pedro Yohvio; --Former President of the Ranchers' Association and now Civic Committee Vice President Guido Nayar; --President of the Agricultural Chamber Mauricio Roca; --Civic Committee General Director Lorgio Balcazar; --Former Civic Committee General Director Mario Bruno; --Vice-President of Blooming Soccer Team Carlos Alberto Guillen; --Director for International Cooperation at the Prefecture Francisco Cirbian; --Retired Army General Lucio Anez, and others.
3. (U) The Santa Cruz leadership responded with outrage and indignation, saying the Morales Administration was on a witch hunt, that the entire "terrorist cell" story was a set-up, and that it was an obvious attempt by the government to squash the democratic opposition before December 2009 presidential elections. Marinkovic declared, "It is no surprise at all that the government would choose the one-year anniversary of our autonomy vote to launch these false accusations against us." Current Civic Committee President Luis Nunez called for the formation of an "Interinstitutional Commission" for all Santa Cruz organizations to band together in mutual defense. He challenged the government to "end the political show, and focus instead on finding the facts, following proper legal procedures, and maintaining the principle of innocent until proven guilty."
4. (U) Sosa told the press that an individual named Luis Hurtado paid the hotel bills for the group. He said the government investigation revealed that there were five major financiers behind the "terrorist" organization, and
identified three of them: --Alejandro MELGAR Pereira, a commercial arbitration lawyer associated with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CAINCO); --Juan Alberto KUDELKA Zalles, director of marketing of the seed oil company owned by the Marinkovic family; and --Hugo Antonio MELGAR Acha, Bolivian Director of the U.S.-based NGO Human Rights Foundation, and a close embassy contact on human rights issues.
5. (U) The New York-based HRF spokeswoman told press that "Human Rights Foundation in Bolivia has carried out extraordinary work denouncing human rights abuses in that country, and unfortunately the response of Morales comes in the form of insults and unfounded accusations. Even more worrisome is that the escalation of attacks by the Morales administration is putting at risk particularly the rights of Bolivians who live in the four opposition departments. We have carried out an internal review and have found no evidence that Mr. Acha is linked to the group that the government claims is carrying out separatist activities."
Public Defender: So Much Pressure, So Much Evidence
6. (S) American Presence Post Officer met May 5 with the former public defender assigned to alleged terrorist Mario Tadic, one of the two Hungarian citizens arrested in the April 15 raid on the Hotel Las Americas in Santa Cruz (reftel). The defender had just recused herself from the case, saying she couldn't function in the face of so many judicial irregularities and so much government pressure, with no support from her institution. Based on her discussions with her former client and her review of all the government evidence, she believes that the Santa Cruz leaders named by the government are most likely linked with the group, which she called "mercenaries" not "terrorists." She said they did not seem to be acting out of any particular conviction, but Tadic admitted they had been stockpiling weapons and carrying out military training on rural properties outside the city of Santa Cruz. She confirmed they were responsible for placing the explosive device in front of the Cardinal's house on April 14. Tadic testified that the next target was going to be Prefect Ruben Costas' residence, and that Rozsa had advised Costas to strengthen his security gate to minimize the damage. The intent in targetting the Cardinal and the Prefect was to make it look like MAS-supporters were carrying out the attacks.
7. (S) The defense attorney said that the two members of the "Santa Cruz Youth Union" arrested last week for allegedly providing weapons to the "terrorists" were actually government informants (Juan Gueder and Alejandro Mendoza). Apparently they were originally contracted by the group to provide weapons, but they charged the group much more than the weapons were worth. This caused a "conflict" (ring leader Eduardo Rozsa Flores reportedly had a violent temper), and after the altercation the two went to the government to inform on Rozsa and his group. They are currently under house arrest in La Paz, and very indignant about the rough way they were treated during their arrests, considering that they were working for the government after their fallout with the group. Another former Youth Union member, Ignacio Villa Vargas, is being treated as a "key witness" and is in hiding under government protection in La Paz. Santa Cruz leaders consider him a "bought" voice for the government, given his long criminal record.
8. (S) The defender said the second arrested Hungarian, Elod Toaso, was actually Rozsa's lover. He was badly beaten during the arrest, but not during any interrogations. He now has a private lawyer, who is planning to use the defense that Toaso was merely Rozsa's domestic partner, and not a member of the "terrorist cell." The lawyer also said in a public
statement that his client has information about the involvement of high-level government officials, which he will reveal soon.
Real Human Rights Abuses
9. (S) The Hungarian, Irish, and Romanian government are demanding an explanation for why Bolivian police shot three men dead in their beds in the middle of the night, and a Spanish expert in terrorism investigations has arrived in Bolivia. The public defender admitted that the highly-trained SWAT team could have easily arrested them in that condition in the middle of the night. There are many conspiracy theories that the central government not only knew about the activities of the group, but got directly involved at some point to futher incriminate Santa Cruz leaders. For example, the informers told the police the identity and location of a Paraguayan arms dealer (Alcides) that was one of the group's suppliers, but the government chose not to arrest or question him. The defender cannot understand why. This is but one of the irregularities. Another problem is that the government is publicly releasing testimony by its "key witness" Villa Vargas, but defense attorneys have never seen him, have no ability to question him due to his supposed "terminal diabetes," and the government has never presented evidence from a medical authority that he is too ill to testify in public.
10. (S) In general, the defense attorney was appalled and offended by the way the government is handling the case. Based on what she has been shown, she said they have much evidence and should be acting in full confidence. There is no need to be making such a political show and violating procedural law, and certainly no need to so blatantly abuse the rights of the defendants, she stated. For example, she was summoned to a hearing without receiving a copy of the evidence the prosecutor was to present, which legally she should have been given 48 hours before the hearing. She filed a motion to postpone the hearing, and the new time was set for 2:30 a.m. She said Tadic is being kept in solitary confinement with no electricity, so he is in the semi-dark all day long and total dark at night. He has a brother in Chile who is willing to help him, but the prison warden will not allow him contact with his brother. He has no clothes, nothing for his personal hygiene, and since he was arrested in the middle of the night, not even his eyeglasses, so he cannot read anything. The defense attorney filed a complaint with the social worker of the prison, asked the government to provide him with his personal effects from Santa Cruz such as clothing and eyeglasses, and also asked the Red Cross to provide some humanitarian assistance, but no one has provided any relief for Tadic and he languishes in very poor conditions. In addition, she said she could not assume a proper defense given the procedural irregularities and the government pressure surrounding the case, and the frustration and stress caused her to recuse herself. She was replaced by a public defender who is "100 percent MAS-ista" and she is confident Tadic will continue to be treated poorly and receive the maximum sentence.
11. (C) There are many unanswered questions in the government's investigation, and the Crucenos vehemently deny the accusations. We expect the saga to drag on for many months. Perhaps we will never know the full truth. However, we can take small comfort in the fact that the public defender did not report seeing the U.S. Embassy on any list of potential suspects.