Bolivia: The Bizarre Life and Death of a Failed Assassin

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EPA / Imre Foeldi

On 17 April 2009 Bolivia's President Evo Morales announced that the day before security forces had foiled a plan to assassinate him, killing Eduardo Rozsa Flores and two others.

Journalist-turned-Croatian independence fighter Eduardo Rosza-Flores was asked in an interview a few years ago with the Hungarian edition of Elle Magazine if he would ever assassinate someone for a cause. "Only if [that person] comes to kill others," said Rozsa, according to an English version of the transcript posted on one of his blogs. "To protect and save the lives of my friends."

The question now is whether Rozsa, a Hungarian-Bolivian, felt that way about Bolivian President Evo Morales. Rozsa was killed early last Thursday morning in a hotel room in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. The government claims that he, along with four others, was part of a terrorist cell that was plotting to assassinate Bolivia's first indigenous President as well as other high government officials. "He went to Santa Cruz because he wanted to fight for autonomy of that region, which he said was his new and most important task," says Rozsa's close friend, Zoltan Brady, in an article published by the Croatian news site Evening Paper on Monday. Autonomy has become the central demand of the Bolivia's eastern lowlands, where the predominantly white and more affluent population is at sometimes violent odds with Morales' pro-indigenous agenda, and where the lion's share of the nation's vast natural resources are located. "He told me about his involvement in fights in the jungle," Brady wrote. "He was one of [many] guerrilla fighters there." (Is Evo Morales one of the world's most influential people? Vote for the TIME 100.)

Brady says he doesn't think Rozsa wanted to kill Morales. But Rozsa's dramatic end seemed to cap off a turbulent life. Born in 1960 to a Bolivian mother and a Hungarian Jewish father, Rozsa left Bolivia at an early age, living in Chile and then Sweden. He moved on to Hungary, where he finished college and held several odd jobs, including, according to Hungarian newspaper reports, becoming the translator for international terrorist Carlos the Jackal. In 1991, Rozsa turned to journalism and arrived to cover the Balkans War for the BBC World Service and a Spanish newspaper. But he quickly dropped the pen to fight the remnants of Yugoslav federal forces alongside the Croats, becoming commander of a brigade of 380 foreigners, the First International Platoon, known by its Croatian initials, PIV. (See a story about the crime wave clouding Croatia's future.)

"He was an action-chaser," a Croatian journalist with years investigating connections between foreign mercenaries and Croatian secret services tells TIME. "PIV was a notorious group: 95% of them had criminal histories, many were part of Nazi and fascist groups, from Germany to Ireland." Rozsa rose to the status of Major and gained a reputation for brashness — before scandal hit in December of 1991. That's when a PIV enlistee named Christian Wurtemburg, a Swiss national, turned up dead — tortured and garroted. British journalist Paul Jenks began investigating Wurtemburg's death and was shot dead as well. (British journalist John Sweeney made a movie about the deaths in 1994 for Channel 4 called Dying for the Truth.)

"Many here firmly believe that Rozsa was responsible for these deaths," the Croatian journalist tells TIME, explaining that Rozsa had accused Wurtemburg of being a spy and ordered him to be punished. He did not like anyone sniffing around the incident and probably had a hand in Jenks' shooting. Still, Rozsa was never officially charged for the acts, and soon after he left Croatia.

Rozsa headed back to Hungary, to journalism, authoring several books of essays, memoirs and poetry and converting to Islam. In 2002, he starred in a film, named Chico — his nickname — based on his own life. It won first prize in Hungary's film festival in 2002. During this time, he seems to have taken a renewed interest in his birth country, Bolivia. "Santa Cruz is something that is omnipresent in my life," he said in a 2006 interview. "A constant. At the heart, I am cruceno" a denizen of Santa Cruz. On his website Sic Semper Tyrannus (Thus Always Tyranny) he also linked himself to a Santa Cruz-based fascist group, Nacion Camba.

A source in the Bolivian government confirmed for TIME that Rosza last entered Bolivia in early September of last year. That's also when Rosza's regular broadcasting of his life via his half-dozen personal blogs comes to an abrupt end. He appears only in the online photo album of Michael Dwyer, Rosza's supposed Irish-born cohort who was killed in the hotel room next to Rosza's last Thursday. The photo shows him enjoying Carnival festivities in late February.

The Bolivian government has been slow in handing out any more details of the alleged assassination plots that finally sent Rozsa to his grave, aside from saying they believe there are plenty more armed groups in Bolivia — and that ties are emerging between the dead men and conservative opposition party members and prominent Santa Cruz businessmen, though so far they won't name anyone. Morales' political opposition has adamantly denied any link to the accused terrorists and says that the government faked the episode in order to execute the men. Rozsa's cousin has been his only family member to step forward in his defense, and has denied his dead relative's involvement in such a plot; but he has not offered an explanation as to what exactly Rozsa was doing in Bolivia recently. (Check out a story about Bolivia's immense strategic natural resources.)

The incident also serves to further baffle those who knew Rozsa. "I used to ask myself, would a supposed journalist just stop writing and take up as a fighter in an independence movement that isn't his?" Drago Hedl, a journalist for the Croatian newspaper Morning Paper who interviewed Rozsa in 1991 and 1992 several times, tells TIME. "And now I wonder, why would a man who writes poetry and wants to be an actor end up as an assassin?"