LA PAZ – A retired general best known for capturing iconic revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara has been placed under house arrest for alleged ties with terrorists, local media reported Saturday.
Judge Betty Yañiquez placed Gen. Gary Prado Salmon and two other suspects under house confinement for allegedly plotting to bring about the secession of eastern Bolivia, the main bastion of opposition to socialist President Evo Morales.
“It’s almost laughable to me that a general, with the career I’ve had, would put himself at the orders of a mercenary,” Prado told prosecutor Marcelo Soza, the local press reported.
Soza accused the retired general of having secret contacts with Bolivian-born Croatian citizen Eduardo Rosza, whom authorities allege headed a terrorist and secessionist group that plotted to assassinate Morales.
Rosza and two alleged co-conspirators were killed in April 2009 in a controversial police raid on a hotel in the eastern city of Santa Cruz.
Prado was the commander of a detachment that captured Argentine-born, Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara on Oct. 8, 1967, near the southeastern Bolivian town of La Higuera, where the rebel – who had come to the Andean nation to foment revolution – was executed a day later.
One of the retired general’s sons, Gary Prado Arauz, was also recently arrested in connection with the same case.
The others placed under house arrest and prohibited from leaving the country are physician Juan Carlos Santistevan, head of the far-right Bolivian Socialist Falange; and Ronald Castedo, former president of telephone company Cotas.
Santa Cruz daily El Deber reported Saturday that Yañiquez, “a judge with the La Paz judicial district, had (issued a ruling in a case involving an) alleged crime that occurred in the jurisdiction of Santa Cruz ... more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from her courthouse.”
At the time of the hearing, Santa Cruz province’s Gov. Ruben Costas was leading a massive protest against a Morales-backed bill that could result in his being suspended from his post along with another recently re-elected governor in relatively prosperous eastern Bolivia.
The bill states that regional or municipal authorities can be suspended from their posts if they are formally charged by the Attorney General’s Office.
The government accuses the governor-elects of charges ranging from corruption to conspiracy to secede.
Bolivia’s mainly white and mestizo “eastern crescent” provinces were hostile toward the central government even before Morales – the Andean nation’s first indigenous president – was elected in December 2005 with nearly 54 percent of the vote.
They have only grown more militant since the socialist took office and convened an assembly to draft a new charter – eventually approved in January 2009 – aimed at empowering the country’s long-oppressed Indian majority and narrowing the enormous gap between rich and poor.
Toward that end, Morales has vastly increased the government’s share of natural-gas revenue and sought to implement a sweeping land reform that envisions breaking up massive estates, including some bigger than the European nation of Luxembourg.
The mainly white business elites who dominate public life in eastern Bolivia accuse Morales of being a dictator and a pawn of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.