FBI agents are aiding Bolivian authorities in their search for the killers of two Mormon missionaries in La Paz, Bolivia, on May 25, and four alleged conspirators are on trial, the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia says.
"I have made it crystal clear to the president of Bolivia that this is of the greatest importance to us and we want to bring this to the end of the investigation," said Robert S. Gelbard, who met with officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a visit to Salt Lake City recently.Gelbard said the group that claimed responsibility for the killings, Zarate Wilka Liberation Armed Forces, is a "fringe group that went after Americans" for two reasons: Its members blame the United States for their country's problems and sought revenge for their political party's poor showing in Bolivia's recent national election.
"We predicted to Washington that the far left would react strongly," Gelbard said, adding that the killings were committed only two weeks after the Bolivians chose a new president and parliament.
Elder Jeffrey Brent Ball, 20, of Wanship, Summit County, and Elder Todd Ray Wilson, 20, of Wellington, Carbon County, were gunned down in front of their living quarters in La Paz. In messages to La Paz newspapers, the terrorist group threatened more American deaths.
The group had claimed responsibility in August 1988 for dynamiting Secretary of State George Schultz's motorcade during a visit to La Paz and for a subsequent bombing of the Bolivian parliament building.
Bolivian authorities have advised missionaries and other Americans who might be terrorist targets to "observe minimal security precautions" by altering daily routines and not loitering in open areas.
Gelbard characterized the missionaries' deaths as a violent reaction to a politically "centrist tendency" developing in Bolivia, which has "had more governments than years of existence."
Since its independence from Spain in 1825, Bolivia has seen 180 military takeovers, he said. But in the past seven years, the country has had a weak democracy while coping with inflation that peaked at an annual rate of 24,000 percent.
"There's a lack of strong democratic institutions, whether at the macro level or the micro level," Gelbard said. "They have a hard time making things work."
The United States has three goals in Bolivia: fostering democracy, supporting economic stabilization and development and reducing production of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
This year, U.S. officials will funnel $100 million in aid to Bolivia to improve health and agriculture and support private-sector development.