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Spies, Lies and Journalists: 007 and a failed coup in Bolivia

This is a guest post by Melvyn Kohn

David Aaronovitch has just written a book on conspiracy theories titled Voodoo Histories. Much as the internet is awash with these, there is lots to take aim at. He claims to debunk all and sundry, but methinks he doth protest too much. In a candid moment, he admits that his own mother had questions about the death of JFK. I think he ought to  have listened to her, but at this point in time my own questions are a bit rhetorical – I am just taking a poke at Aaronovitch. Two pokes actually, as he exonerates the Gestapo in regards the Reichstag Fire. He ignores not only the weighty evidence of the Nuremberg Trials, but also what some might say is the even weightier evidence of the mother of Hans Lutten, who was Germany’s leading civil rights’ lawyer. She went so far as to incriminate the government in her book A Mother Fights Hitler.

I do not dismiss all conspiracy theories, though some are patently absurd.

Take the one about the plot to assassinate the President of Bolivia last month. What? You have not heard of that? Or of the conspiracy theory that it was a plot by the Bolivian government, Evo Morales being a narco-terrorist who gave an order to kill one of the alleged plotters because he needed an argument to get Obama’s support?

OK, OK, so you haven’t;  some may well be asking themselves who Evo Morales is; and one might even be excused for not knowing where Bolivia is, or what its siginificance is in of cloak and dagger conspiracies.

In which case a little background might be of use. Let’s start with Bolivia – a state that has had its share of intrigue at times. Even a monograph with the not very exciting title The Rubiaceae of Bolivia is not without its tale of secret missions, as the Rubiaceae includes the cinchona tree, a source of quinine. In the 19th century one of the native Indians, Manuel Mamani, a cascarillero, or bark-collector, was paid to discreetly collect the seeds, which were sent back to Europe and then on to to India and Java. Mamani ended up in jail, where he was beaten so severely he died. Bolivia also had at that time its share of wars with its neighbours, in one of which it lost its west coast, so it is today a landlocked nation.

Things settled down a bit in the 20th century, and many Europeans, including German farmers, turned up in the southeast province of Santa Cruz. People of Spanish descent held most of the political power, and a large percentage, if not the majority, of the population was of aboriginal descent. The politics in the 20th century, in contrast to some of its neighbours, were not that exciting. The most I could say about it in the 1940s, for instance, is that a chap named James Bond wrote a monograph titled The Birds of Bolivia. Flora and fauna have at times been of greater interest than the affairs of state, but of course, the region is known for Che Guevara, who was gunned down in Santa Cruz in 1967.

Not as exciting, but nonetheless a highlight, was the recent election of Evo Morales, a coca farmer of Aymara Indian descent. Needless to say he was from the left, which did much to delight the hearts of Che Guevara fans and twitchers from Connecticut, but not a lot for the right wing, including the inhabitants of Santa Cruz; some of whom are a bit fond of the swastika. Ernst Zundel’s wife hails from that province, as does the former WWII nazi she hired to operate on one of her sons. Whatever the man’s prowess in the concentration camps, he was unsuccessful in his operation on the young Mr. Zundel.

This tragic failure was recenty matched by that of a number of right wingers in their plot to assassinate the former coca grower; three of these ended up dead after a police shootout on 16 April this year: Mike Dwyer, Eduardo Rozsa Flores and Arpad Magyarosi. Two of their mates were taken into custody: Mario Tadik Astorga and Elod Toaso.

The common denominator was ties to right wing groups in Croatia – with the exception of Dwyer, a 24-year-old from Ireland who seemed quite out of place in such company. So out of place, in fact, that quite a few in his homeland decided the nice young man could not possibly be mixed up with anything sinister. Armed with such logic, conspiracy theories sprung up to fit the ‘nice young man’ theory. Mark Tighe of the Sunday Times (Ireland) noted on 24 April on his blog, Irish Journalist, that the story about the 30 minute shootout “seemed like bunkum.” Questions were posed in an AP article (of which, more to come) about why, for instance, the Bolivian police decided to make their move at 4am rather than wait for the crew to come down to breakfast. Was it because they wanted to use the element of surprise and avoid a full scale shoot out in a dining room full of guests, including women and children?

As it is, no one other than the alleged plotters were harmed, and so the cries of police brutality fall short; but then the theories about Dwyer’s innocence were far fetched to start with, in light of the facts that he has appeared ubiquitously on internet sites with guns in each hand, and a nazi tattoo on his arm. And what are we to make of the tales of his sudden acquisition of a brand new BMW, and his ability to afford 4 star hotels?

Indy Media Ireland soon started to connect more dots between these and other oddities about Dwyer than any armchair conspiracy theorists could between the Bolivian president and a secret order to execute innocent tourists. Dwyer, after these revelations, no longer fit the image of the innocent tourist, or even the patsy; but rather, that of the willing and eager mercenary. His choice of companions did little to aid the case for his innocence, in light of the fact that Flores was a veteran fighter in Croatia, and is believed to have killed two people there. Inuendo, perhaps, but of indisputable factuality is Flores’ own record – a video made in September 2008 which he ordered to be played only if he died or did not return to Europe. In it he tells Hungarian TV anchorman Andre Kepes that he intended to sneak across the border from Brazil into Bolivia where he felt called to “organise the defence of the city and province of Santa Cruz.”

At this point, time for some more background; let us flashback to 1991, when there was a war going on in Croatia; but I will not write much more than about that country as I do not know much more than that. An interesting factoid is that no one named Bond ever wrote a monograph on the avifauna. It did, however, have its share of spies and mercenaries, one of whom was the aforementioned Flores, who led the Croation Forces First International Platoon (Prvi Internacionalni Vod, PIV). For this he was awarded citizenship. Along with him was Astorga, and, some say, Toaso, though the latter’s age is given as 28 so this may or may not be correct. Some details are admittedly hazy, but all roads seem to lead to Croatia; from whence another piece of the puzzle emerges, in the form of one Branko Gora Marinkovic Jovicevic. He is one of the wealthiest men in Bolivia, and according to Bolivian officials, was the one who invited Flores to Santa Cruz. His family left Croatia in the 1950s, allegedly to escape retribution for his family’s role in collaborating with the nazis in WWII. He is himself a Croatian citizen, as well as a powerful figure in Santa Cruz, which he is said to run with his cronies. Investigators believe that it would be difficult for five men would just breeze into the Hotel Las Americas in Santa Cruz with a cache of weapons and ammunition, including several cylinders of C-4 explosive, and stash more explosives and assault rifles in a storage unit in the fairgrounds, without his knowledge and consent.

But these facts were a bit too inconvenient for some, and of the Irish mainstream coverage, Indy Media noted on a 29 April post: “The Irish media has not been objective in its coverage of the killing of the Irish man in Santa Cruz, Bolivia last week.”

If the Irish media was less than objective, the world media was much the same or silent. The Independent (UK) covered this briefly for one day, and then it disappeared from the radar screens. Then the story re-appeared, in the aforementioned AP article by Paola Flores and Fran Bajak. Many of the above observations did not find their way into the article, which left open the door to questions about the conduct of the Bolivian government. This appeared on 2 May, and ran in a number of papers, mainly in the US. Louder echoes of questions about Bolivian police conduct and/or far fetched conspiracy theories could be found on far right web sites, including Stormfront.

There will be those who will believe what they want, looking, perhaps, for some quantum of solace that the truth does not provide. But until they come up with some facts to show a conspiracy on the part of the Bolivian government, I prefer to base my conclusions on facts.