Warning: This book contains a hint of irony
EPIGRAPH: “I’ll gobble you up!” said the leopard. “So much the worse for you”, retorted the sword. (Eduardo Rózsa-Flores)
According to reports from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, not many opposition supporters came out to chide the government pinning decorations and medals on the selfless commandos who shot and killed Eduardo and his men. Those who did go along did not make a lot of noise. There was a speech or two, a few whistles, some brief applause, before the meagre crowd dispersed. It was a Saturday after all, and rest and relaxation were probably at the forefront of people’s minds, though the event was also kept short because dark clouds were approaching the city, threatening a sizable storm.
What exactly happened to Eduardo and his associates is still not clear. The first accounts of the story were that at daybreak on 16 April 2009, at the Las Américas hotel in Santa Cruz, an elite commando unit was involved in an exchange of gunfire with a small group of guests staying at the hotel and after a long struggle managed to render the crew harmless. The story grew legs when it then emerged that among the victims had been at least one Hungarian, named Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, a colourful character far from unknown back home in Hungary. Edu Rózsa-Flores was no stranger to self-publicity, having had a TV film made about him. Later on the names of another Hungarian, Árpád Magyarosi, and an Irishman, Michael Martin Dwyer, were added to the list of fatalities along with Rózsa-Flores. Two others – Mario Tadic, a Croatian–Bolivian citizen, and Előd Tóásó, a Hungarian – were arrested and taken into custody. Soon after the blood- soaked incident, the Bolivian authorities claimed that a vicious terrorist group seeking to overthrow the government and murder the country’s president, Evo Morales, had been liquidated. After two years of detective work Tóásó and the others – by that time, the list of defendants had substantially grown – were given a preliminary hearing in the city of Cochabamba. All of them, including Adalberto Tórrez, a retired colonel whose deteriorating health meant he was placed under house arrest, would later be accused of involvement in a complex and extraordinarily murky plot. At the hearing, the judge rejected applications for bail by attorneys for Előd Tóásó and several of the other accused, including Juan Kudelka, Carlos Eduardo Pereira and Hugo Lavadenz, on grounds that the applications had not been submitted properly. As a result, all the defendants were taken back to their original place of detention. In Tóásó’s case, that meant back to San Pedro Prison in La Paz, a place notorious for its poor conditions. And that, by and large, was where the whole business got bogged down and stuck. Judge Sarmiento, known for his stubbornness, disallowed the case out of hand, so to speak, saying that the charges needed to be fine-tuned. As the charges stood, he said, it was impossible to establish the degree of culpability of any individual. After years of detective work, hence, the slipshod prosecution and cynically tight-lipped Ministry of the Interior were given just a couple of days to redress the deficiencies.
According to the Los Tiempos newspaper, Marcelo Soza, the public prosecutor leading the investigation, indirectly acknowledged that in truth no one had been caught in the act of committing an offence. He also acknowledged that no warrant or leave of court had been granted either for a search of the premises or for the raid which ended with the death of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores and his associates. To be more specific, it appeared no one had waited for any green light. According to Martha Requena, Kudelka’s smooth but shrill defence lawyer, Soza’s admission demolished the entire basis of the charge, which collapsed like a badly built wall. Another who found himself caught up in the mess, Gary Prado Araúz, a neatly bearded elderly man and son of retired general Gary Prado Salmón, argued robustly that it was all poppycock. If all that time had been insufficient to gather well-founded evidence, he asked, then what could possibly be garnered from an extra five days? A half-witted soap opera, that’s what. Which is what they got, as testified by the regular photo series of the court proceedings which appeared in the online edition of Los Tiempos. The photos included group shots of the lawyers and the accused before they went their separate ways, one group of course shuffling off in shackles.
Also in Los Tiempos, although stuck away in a margin column, was a brief biography of Eduardo Flores. The newspaper also carried a short report about a demonstration, or more precisely a remembrance ceremony held in front of the Las Américas hotel in Santa Cruz. A number of Bolivia’s opposition figures turned up, including Luis Felipe Dorado and Vanesa Moreno, both of whom sharply criticised the government, which they suspected – on the basis of several strands of evidence – was implicated in the brutal affair. Elsewhere in the paper was a story about a vigil by family members of the accused begun on September 24th Square which demanded fair trials. There was also a photograph showing Előd Tóásó in a bullet- proof jacket before the San Pedro Prison gates swung shut behind him. His face is confused, his lips downcast. Next to him stands a morose native Indian wearing a cap carrying an 1892 inscription. He looks gimlet-eyed at the camera.
The life of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores was no less of an enigma than his death in his native land. For he was not just a mercenary, an actor, a writer, a journalist and a Hungarian, he was also a Bolivian. He came into the world on 31 March 1960, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, one of Bolivia’s main cities. His father, György Rózsa, was a Hungarian painter of Jewish descent, his mother was Nelly Flores Arias, a grammar school teacher of Spanish (some sources say Catalan) descent. The family moved to Chile in 1972, then emigrated to Sweden after the dictator Pinochet came to power. They lived there as political refugees until they decided to move to Hungary. Eduardo Rózsa took the secondary-school leaving exam (the érettségi or Matura) at Szent László Gimnázium in Budapest before entering the Faculty of Arts at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), also in Budapest, where he gained his degree in 1991. He later worked as a correspondent for the Spanish daily newspaper La Vanguardia and the Spanish unit of the BBC World Service. He then went to fight as a foreign volunteer in the former Yugoslavia in the summer of 1991 where he swiftly set up and became the commander of the Croatian army’s First International Unit. With his unit in Slavonia he helped to repel Serbian advances, for which Franjo Tudjman, the first President of Croatia, granted him Croatian citizenship and promoted him to the rank of major. He was wounded three times in battle and demobilised at the rank of colonel in 1994.This writer met him in Budapest after the break-up of Yugoslavia, where he had taken to writing books, taking his dog Tito out for a walk every evening, and spending time in the coffee bar on the first floor of the Hunnia cinema. He took roles in several films, including the acclaimed 1989 film BolsheVita. He also starred in Chico, a 2001 Hungarian feature film directed by Ibolya Fekete about the life and times of Eduardo, who played himself under his wartime nickname in the Croatian Homeland War, a nickname that had so appealed to Ibolya Fekete that she said she would even blurt it out in her dreams.
It was also shown in the Hunnia cinema, where, according to the management, Eduardo occasionally held well-attended readings from his memoirs and poetry, particularly pieces from Mocskos háború (“The Dirty War”) in 1994 and Meghaltunk és mégis élünk (“We Died Yet We Live On”) from 1998.
On the day Eduardo died, Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, who was then sojourning in Caracas, gave the following account of events at the Las Américas. The previous day, Morales said he had ordered the arrest of a number of foreign mercenaries and their accomplices. The day after he was informed that an exchange of fire had taken place in a hotel in Santa Cruz which had lasted half an hour. Three persons died in the gun battle – he supplied the names – including that of Eduardo Flores. The truth, well, that remains guesswork.
The retired Croat colonel known to his pals as Edu, distinguished himself in combat around the Slavonian village of Laslovo, a predominantly ethnic Hungarian-populated area. He was just a little shy of fifty years of age when he died. According to the editors of his entry on Wikipedia, with the support of Croatian diplomats, his family managed to have his body released by the Bolivian authorities, and he was buried in Santa Cruz in a modest ceremony on 17 April 2009, a few wreaths of roses accompanying his coffin. Pablo Benegas, a member of the opposition as well as a special committee of the Chamber of Deputies in La Paz, later said that the outcome of their inquiry into the deaths pointed to the likelihood that Eduardo Flores and his two associates were not killed in a gun battle as first reported but were instead executed. In their sleep.
The story ignited bruising and polarised discussions on blogs and chat rooms, like the one below concerning Tóásó, and his upcoming trial.
JIMIPAPA: It has already become clear why he is where he is! I don’t dig acts of terror whatever the cause in which they are committed.
RECANOKA: Tóásó and his companions miscalculated. The crumb thought he could do all manner of dirty business just as he had back home. It did not work out that way.
CZIPPFE: (alluding to François Villon): Let the lousy terrorist be an optimist at the foot of the gallows tree!
TAEKI: I read that the envoy handed over a letter from the Hungarian government to the Bolivian government in which Hungary requested an official report of the facts of the affair. My thanks to the government! If the country stands behind Előd Tóásó, the Bolivian courts will not be able to pull any dubious stunts. It’s high time the truth emerged.
It is unclear here, though, on what Taeki is basing his mine of optimism. On the subject of the Hungarian government’s conduct in the Rózsa case, it seems from the outset to have been characterised by restrained anger. Before Tóásó’s trial commenced, as the forum commenter Taeki correctly said, the Hungarian ambassador personally endeavoured to stay involved and keep himself informed. He met Tóásó and his defence counsel before holding discussions in the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he handed over to the Bolivian government the letter requesting on behalf of his government official clarification of the tragic affair. The Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, János Martonyi, also gave voice to the hope that the hearing would be fair and that Hungary would be kept continuously updated about developments. Nevertheless, as the head of the press office for the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, no further information was received about the trial. The Ministry later said it was not able to occupy itself with the intricate details of a complex matter. “We are not a court of law; we cannot influence the administration of justice of other states. Our job is to ensure that when in trouble Hungarian citizens receive all possible consular assistance”, explained press chief Eszter Pataki as she adjusted her bracelet, glanced at her watch and shook her hair before turning on her heels and disappearing, leaving huge bales of questions unanswered like piles of clothes in a wholesale second-hand clothing shop. In all probability she would have been unable to add anything more in any case.
Nor would Taeki.
The cardinal Archangel is engrossed in the night. All colour discontinues if there is no light.
That was composed sometime somewhere by Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, a man that even his detractors called a “poet-revolutionary”. He served as the last Secretary of the Communist Youth Organisation at ELTE arts faculty in Budapest in 1990, and, the story goes, got involved in the Alliance of Communist Youth when he worked as an interpreter for a delegation of Cuban militiamen who visited Hungary during the eighties. The Cubans met with leaders and members of Hungary’s own Workers’ Militia which had grown in strength during the years following the suppression of the 1956 revolution. Flores became friends with them and not long after got involved in the Militia himself. In the summer of 1989, the organ’s ingeniously titled official newspaper Munkásőr (“Workers’ Militiaman”) ran an interview with Rózsa under the title of “The Last Young Communist Secretary”. During the interview, Rózsa, seated on a comfortable settee, fretted restlessly over how to save the world, his passions aroused mostly when the conversation turned to politics. He was asked why he joined and became secretary, and replied that he felt it was his duty to undertake the role for that fleeting period insofar as fate had wished it thus. How did he know that the times were changing? From the fact that in his opinion everything was simply a hand of cards that had already been played before. If anyone started talking about spontaneous movements of people then a penknife would instinctively open in his pocket, he said, as he believed the vast majority of so-called democratic movements were directed from on high.
During his time as Young Communist Secretary, Rózsa-Flores got to know more than a few Hungarian politicians who are still active today. One was the Minister for the secret service at that time. Eduardo, it was said, was in the habit of bragging about his secret-service contacts. Whether or not it made him feel more important, secretive, scarier or taller in his boots is open to conjecture. During the making of Chico, the director Ibolya Fekete asked him about his singular view of the world and his sense of justice. Perhaps the fervour, the drive, the wind which blew Chicorózsa on the path to Bolivia was a desire to make mincemeat of the Communists, to give them a drubbing. Taking on Evo Morales, the “coca(in)- friendly” Bolivian president of native Indian descent, with his unorthodox interpretation of leftism, also fits into the narrative of Edu Rózsa’s volte-face in his struggle against the reds.
But what was Rózsa-Flores really like?
A round, bristly face looks out with a wry half-smile from the photo in his obituary. He was stockily built, if I remember correctly, and had expressive, slightly brooding eyes, militarily short-cropped hair, and a hint of jug ears. Zoltán Brády, editor- in-chief of the avowedly right wing – in contrast to Munkásőr – periodical Kapu (“Gate”) which over a long period regularly took contributions from Rózsa-Flores, has stated that he was in regular contact with Edu and knew him extremely well. According to Brády, Eduardo was driven, even tormented, by a gnawing sense of justice which would pull and push him from one extreme to the other. The staff at Kapu used to tease him by calling him a latter-day Petőfi1after the storied Hungarian poet. Alluding to Petőfi’s final demise, Brády once told him “Eduardo, old son, you’ll meet your Segesvár someday”. To digress, theories of what actually happened to Petőfi are perpetually to-ing and fro-ing. Did he really lose his life in battle? No way! He was taken prisoner by the Russians and died around Ust- Barguzin on the shores of Lake Baikal, in a Siberian bed, amid Siberian pillows, gnawed only by the sharp, pointed little teeth of time. That is an indubitably bold story but one perhaps for another day.
It is doubtful Brády really thought his combative mutinous fellow poet and friend would meet his own Segesvár in South America. The editor-in-chief did say more prosaically, however, that before his appalling death Rózsa fought for almost a year in the unsanitary, stifling jungles of Bolivia with a rifle and ear plugs to block out the screech of parrots. During the time he was officially supposed to be in Iraq, he was fighting against the inhuman repressive regime of President Morales. Then, with a conspiratorial wink, Brády went on to divulge that in another nice little adventure, it was in fact Rózsa-Flores (and himself) who leaked the notorious and incendiary Balatonőszöd speech by Ferenc Gyurcsány, the Socialist Prime Minister of Hungary, in September 2006. Gyurcsány, as is well known, lashed out at his party and its conduct, and admitted that they had been lying for the last one and a half to two years. Flores kept looking for death until he eventually found it, Zoltán Brády maintained. Not having recourse to lodge any complaint, there is no way of knowing whether he found it exactly as he thought. Eduardo was a revolutionary poet of the kind that is born once in a century. Not long before he died, he wrote a piece of journalism about freedom which could only arise from blood, the blood of fallen warriors.
Naturally: WORLD FREEDOM!
Eduardo Rózsa was a founding member of the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association as well as a past vice-president of the Hungarian Islamic Community. He was the author of, among other things, 47 Sufi poems. He was the person who kept the Hungarian Ministry of Internal Affairs in contact with Carlos the “Jackal”, that bogeyman of international terrorism, when the latter lay low in the favourite hiding places of Sándor Rózsa, a legendary highwayman in 19th-century Hungary. Eduardo Rózsa would often relate, more or less jokingly, that in point of fact, he was a national anarchist, founder of a one-man Nationalist Anarchist Party. A soldier who did his duty. Right up to the last interview he ever made, he fiercely rejected the claim that he was just a hothead warrior, a mercenary who scoured the flashpoints of the world with an unslakeable thirst to get to the fighting wherever and whenever necessary. At the same time, neither did he want to see himself or be seen as some kind of lyrical temperament carried across hedge and ditch by mood, compelled to make decisions by the fortuitous turn of events. Neither and both, or all three. The reasons behind the deeds of this complex individual were not always comprehensible. More often than not he did not feel any compulsion to explain in minute detail why he was doing something, or why anything was in his world or why it was not. Full stop.
FLORES: I would like to be more handsome, cleverer, bolder and more just, but that only lasts for a second until a mirror is produced or a puddle appears in front of the tips of one’s boots and then it is over. People are poets as long as they write, after which they are simple mortals. A person is a soldier only as long as a weapon is slung on his shoulder and there is an opponent to defeat, or as long as that is the case. It is not permissible to mix the states up.
Yet it seems the states were becoming mixed up, which in the case of Bolivia, is to say Santa Cruz and Edu. It remains obscure what the cause was, and what, leaving possible financing aspects aside (or even taking them into account, come to that), was the explanation for what happened. An interesting addendum to the case is that after Flores died a number of people looked to him as a kind of right-wing Che Guevara. That would hardly have given him much pleasureas he was fond of demolishing what he considered was the radically false myth of the freedomfighter Che Guevara. Heaven knows whether that was purely for his own sake or were there deeper reasons; suffice it to say that Eduardo, before his own death, were it expected or unexpected, foreseen or unforeseen, made an interview – according to his son, it was in preparation for the impending elections – with Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who as it happens was subsequently accused in respect of the Las Américas events. No, my apologies! – the interview was with General Gary Prado Salmón who headed the military unit which captured and executed Che Guevara.
In one particular photo, Eduardo is standing in the ex-general’s study in a grey- checked shirt, wearing a chucky black and grey wristwatch, much like the one that could be seen on the left wrist of the naked body displayed after the commando action. The grey general is seated in front of him while on the wall to the left are pictures of a long military career extending to retirement. Behind him are stacks of books although the photo is not clear enough to allow the titles on the spines of the books to be legible. It is probably safe to assume, however, that the shelves are not exactly groaning with the works of Gabriel Garcia Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges. It is also probable that the two men had not got together to debate one hundred years of Márquez’s celebrated solitude, knotty questions of the library of Babel, or the first letter of the Borgesian alphabet. So was it an interview? The photo certainly encourages one to suspect conspiratorial goings-on in the Bolivian public prosecutor’s office. The accused allegedly maintained a confidential string of correspondence over the computer. What else could possibly have been going on other than a conspiracy? Surely nothing other than the assassination of Evo Morales and the secession of the wealthier province of Santa Cruz at the price of armed combat. The group around Eduardo Flores were working towards that goal, and for his part the hugely experienced and, at the very least, interested Gary Prado endeavoured to be of assistance. It is clearly of secondary importance that on this interpretation of the facts the interview aimed at dismantling the nimbus, or at least dimming the halo of Che Guevara genuinely did take place (I have checked). Thus that must have been the topic of their correspondence and their encounter. QED.
Translation by Tim Wilkinson
1 SándorPetőfi(1823–49),the undisputed masterpoet of his age, went missing, presumed dead, fighting with the Hungarian army under General Bem at the battle of Segesvár (Sighişoara), when Transylvania was still part of Hungary. (Editor’s note.)