Racism, Violence and Neo Nazism: Politics as usual in Santa Cruz Bolivia
The Irish media have been quick to vilify and accuse the Government of Evo Morales and the Bolivian police. Disappointingly, however, very little if any mention has been made of the killings and other acts of violence committed by groups opposed to the Morales Government in Santa Cruz. This omission by the media only plays in to the hands of a racist and self-serving opposition intent on impeding a legitimate process of social change in a country where the majority of the population continue to live in poverty.
Changing times in Bolivia
The first ever indigenous President on the continent, Evo Morales came to power three years ago and joined Venezuela and Ecuador in leading a Government committed to bringing an end to the structural inequality and poverty which has dominated Latin America for decades. In the last 20 years, poverty in Latin America has been increasing - in 1980 there were 136 million people on the continent living in poverty whereas today there are 200 million, that is 40 per cent of the population. This increase is due in a large part to the neoliberal policies promoted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Far from creating development in the region, these policies which call for the privatisation of state companies and services and a withdrawal of the government from the economy have only served to benefit a small business and land owning elite. In Bolivia, this elite is largely based in Santa Cruz in the lowland part of the country. Along with the three other provinces of Beni, Pando and Tarija, the oil and gas reserves which are the mainstay of the Bolivian economy, are all located in the eastern lowlands as is the most fertile land, appropriated by European immigrants from the local indigenous populations during the 1900s in particular. The immigrants were largely of Croatian and German origin and have, over the last number of decades, consolidated power and control not only of Santa Cruz but also of institutional politics, openly supporting the dictatorship of Huge Banzer during the 1970s and ensuring the perpetuation of the exclusion and discrimination of the majority of the population of Bolivia– the indigenous. Largely of Aymara and Quechua descent, the indigenous population is concentrated in the highland area of the country.
It was with horror therefore that this business and land owning elite watched the victory of Aymara-Quechua Evo Morales in 2005. In his electoral campaign, Morales promised to bring an end to neoliberal politics in Bolivia and in particular to re-nationalize the many State companies which had been privatised during the neoliberal era. For the first time in the history of Bolivia, the interests of the elite were being affected.
It is around this time that a number of groups rose to prominence in Santa Cruz. Attracting different members and employing different methodologies, all had the same objective: autonomy for Santa Cruz and thus, the protection of business interests in the region. Much of the discourse of these groups is along racist lines - they do not want to have anything to do with the indigenous population of the country, largely located in the highlands, who they see as "backward" and "ethnically inferior". Among these groups are: Santa Cruz Civic Committee a political grouping which works closely with the Governor of Santa Cruz on developing autonomy statutes for the region and which was lead, until recently, by Branko Marinkovic a powerful local landowner of Croatian origin; the Unión Juvenil Cruceña (Union of Cruzeno Youth): a youth group with open neo-Nazism sentiments and which has been involved in frequent violent mob attacks against the local indigenous population, and Nacion Camba, an openly racist organization formed of local “intellectuals” who have provided the ideological foundation for the demand for autonomy. The home page of the Nacion Camba website, for example, reads:
In general Bolivia is perceived to be a fundamentally Andean country made up of aymara and quechua – a backward and miserable ethnicity…. / ..whose bureaucratic centre in La Paz exploits our economic wealth, condemning us to backwardness…/….but there is another side to Bolivia, the 30% of the population who are based in the east and who are made up Mestizos (mixed race European and indigenous) Their place on the UN’s Human Development Index is the highest in Bolivia and is above the overall Latin America average. Here illiteracy is only 7 per cent and in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 600 international events are held, thus demonstrating its ample and undeniable part of the globalised world..our movement seeks radical autonomy for this part of Bolivia.” (www.nacioncamba.net only in Spanish)
Both the Union of Cruzena Youth and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee have, since 2006 been involved in acts of violence and intimidation against members of the Morales Government in Santa Cruz and against civil society organizaitons promoting the rights of indigenous people in the region. These attacks have been denounced by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) amongst others (http://www.fidh.org/entre-la-intimidacion-y-la ) In September 2008 members of these groups stormed and burned Government buildings in Santa Cruz and declared regional autonomy. The violence spread to the other Eastern Provinces and was eventually quelled amidst international outrage at the massacre of 20 pro-Morales supporters in a small town in the province of Pando. According to an investigation carried out by Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) members of a paramilitary group similar to the Union of Cruzena Youth, armed with machine guns, fired indiscriminately at a group of indigenous men, women and children who were on their way to a Pro-Morales demonstration.
At a meeting of UNASUR on 13 September 2008, all heads of State in South America confirmed their support for the democratically elected Government of Evo Morales and denounced the actions of the opposition groups in Santa Cruz. The opposition was, as a result, significantly weakened.
Events of 16 April in Santa Cruz
It is in this context, therefore, that almost seven months later Michael Dwyer, Eduardo Rosza and Magyarosi Arpak were shot dead by members of the Bolivian Police in a Hotel in Santa Cruz accused by the Government of being mercenaries, hired to assassinate the President and Vice-President.
While an official, if not an international, investigation will work to clarify the circumstances surrounding the killing of the three men, evidence at this point indicates that the gang leader, Eduardo Rosza was undoubtedly involved in illegal activities in Santa Cruz.
Rosza’s is a murky figure with a past in journalism and as a soldier in the Balkan war (see for example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/....html )
Shortly before travelling to Boliva, Roszas was interviewed by Hungarian journalist Andras Kepes.. He requested that the interview only be broadcast on his victorious return from Bolivia or should something happen to him. Following his death, the programme was broadcast on National Hungarian Television and in it Rosza states:
“I have been called to organise the defence of the city and province of Santa Cruz, the Council of Santa Cruz have voted for the creation of a regional security council. I will go to Brazil and Bolivia and begin to organise Militia. The organisers will provide funding and arms…illegally and probably from Brazil / I understand there will be a conflict with the Central Government…/ We won’t walk with flags, we will do it with arms, we will declare independence and create a new country.”
Following the raid on the hotel where Rosza and his men were staying, the police raided an exhibition hall in Santa Cruz and found a cache of weapons hidden at the stand of the Cruzena Telephone Cooperative (COTAS), the largest telephone company Bolivia, lead by Santa Cruz businessman Herland Suárez Antelo and with strong links to the Santa Cruz Civic Committee.
While this discovery implicates the Santa Cruz business community, it is not yet clear who it was that initially contacted Roszas. Evidence has however begun to emerge in Argentina which points to a former military general called Jorge Mones Ruiz.
Ruiz is one of the leaders of the “Carapintadas” or “Painted Faces” - a group of military generals who lead a movement to impede the processing of military generals for crimes against humanity following the end of the dictatorship in Argentina in 1982. During the dictatorship, 30,000 people were tortured and “disappeared” accused of communism and subversion by the military. In the final phases of the dictatorship, Ruiz was posted as head of the Argentinean Army’s intelligence operation in Bolivia where he became close friends with members of the business community in Santa Cruz. He is currently a leading member of the ultra-right organization known as UnoAmerica or One America. Founded in December 2008, this organization aims “ to curb the advance of “Castro Communism” and the new 21st Century Socialist manifestations of it, in particular those in Boliva and Venezuela.” (See http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-123612-2009-....html)
Investigations are now underway in Argentina and Bolivia into the involvement of Ruiz with the opposition in Santa Cruz and the organization of Rosza and his group.
It is clear therefore that dirty forces have been work in Santa Cruz. Accounts from family and friends indicate that Michael Dwyer had no interest in politics, it would appear therefore that he became involved in a group, the danger or implications of which he did not fully understand. His death, in this context, is tragic and a full investigation must be carried out.
This event should not however lead to a simplified vilification of the Government of Evo Morales, a democratically elected President who enjoys 67 per cent popular support and who faces ongoing violent attempts to destabilise his Government from an elite and racist minority in the eastern provinces of the country.
Fionuala Cregan is a freelance journalist based in South America.