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Bolivia coup led by Christian fascist paramilitary leader and millionaire – with foreign support

Bolivian coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho is a far-right multi-millionaire who arose from fascist movements in the Santa Cruz region, where the US has encouraged separatism. He has courted support from Colombia, Brazil, and the Venezuelan opposition.

by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton

Part 4 - Camacho’s Croatian godfather and separatist powerbroker

Branko Marinkovic is a major landowner who ramped up his support for the right-wing opposition after some of his land was nationalized by the Evo Morales government. As chairman of the Pro-Santa Cruz Committee, he oversaw the operations of the main engine of separatism in Bolivia.

In a 2008 letter to Marinkovic, the International Federation for Human Rights denounced the committee as an “actor and promoter of racism and violence in Bolivia.

The human rights group added that it “condemn[ed] the attitude and secessionist, unionist and racist discourses as well as the calls for military disobedience of which the Pro-Santa Cruz Civic Committee for is one of the main promoters.” 

In 2013, journalist Matt Kennard reported that the US government was working closely with the Pro-Santa Cruz Committee to encourage the balkanization of Bolivia and to undermine Morales. “What they [the US] put across was how they could strengthen channels of communication,” the vice president of the committee told Kennard. “The embassy said that they would help us in our communication work and they have a series of publications where they were putting forward their ideas.

In a 2008 profile on Marinkovic, the New York Times acknowledged the extremist undercurrents of the Santa Cruz separatist movement the oligarch presided over. It described the area as “a bastion of openly xenophobic groups like the Bolivian Socialist Falange, whose hand-in-air salute draws inspiration from the fascist Falange of the former Spanish dictator Franco.

The Bolivian Socialist Falange was a fascist group that provided safe haven to Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie during the Cold War. A former Gestapo torture expert, Barbie was repurposed by the CIA through its Operation Condor program to help exterminate communism across the continent. (Despite its antiquated name, like the German National Socialists, this far-right extremist group was violently anti-leftist, committed to killing socialists.)

The Bolivian Falange came into power in 1971 when its leader, Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, ousted the leftist government of Gen. Juan Jose Torres Gonzales. The government of Gonzales had infuriated business leaders by nationalizing industries and antagonized Washington by ousting the Peace Corps, which it viewed as an instrument of CIA penetration. The Nixon administration immediately welcomed Banzer with open arms and courted him as a key bulwark against the spread of socialism in the region. (An especially ironic 1973 dispatch appears on Wikileaks showing Secretary of State Henry Kissinger thanking Banzer for congratulating him on his Nobel Peace Prize).

The movement’s putschist legacy persevered during the Morales era through organizations like the UJC and figures such as Marinkovic and Camacho.

The Times noted that Marinkovic also supported the activities of the UJC, describing the fascist group as “a quasi-independent arm of the committee led by Mr. Marinkovic.” A member of the UJC board told the US newspaper of record in an interview, “We will protect Branko with our own lives.

Marinkovic has espoused the kind of Christian nationalist rhetoric familiar to the far-right organizations of Santa Cruz, calling, for instance, for a “crusade for the truth” and insisting that God is on his side.

The oligarch’s family hails from Croatia, where he has dual citizenship. Marinkovic has long been dogged by rumors that his family members were involved in the country’s powerful fascist Ustashe movement. 

The Ustashe collaborated openly with Nazi German occupiers during World War Two. Their successors returned to power after Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia – a former socialist country that was intentionally balkanized in a NATO war, much in the same way that Marinkovic hoped Bolivia would be.

Marinkovic denies that his family was part of the Ustashe. He claimed in an interview with the New York Times that his father fought against the Nazis.

But even some of his sympathizers are skeptical. A Balkan analyst from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, which works closely with the US government and is popularly known as the “shadow CIA,” produced a rough background profile on Marinkovic, speculating, “Still don’t know his full story, but I would bet a lot of $$$ that this dude’s parents are 1st gen (his name is too Slavic) and that they were Ustashe (read: Nazi) sympathizers fleeing Tito’s Communists after WWI.

The Stratfor analyst excerpted a 2006 article by journalist Christian Parenti, who had visited Marinkovic at his ranch in Santa Cruz. Evo Morales’ “land reform could lead to civil war,” Marinkovic warned Parenti in the Texas-accented English he picked up while studying at the University of Texas. 

Today, Marinkovic is an ardent supporter of Brazil’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, whose only complaint about Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was that he “didn’t kill enough.

Marinkovic is also a public admirer of Venezuela’s far-right opposition. “Todos somos Leopoldo” — “we are all Leopoldo,” he tweeted in support of Leopoldo López, who has been involved in numerous coup attempts against Venezuela’s elected leftist government.

While Marinkovic denied any role in armed militant activity in his interview with Parenti, he was accused in 2008 of playing a central role in an attempt to assassinate Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism party allies.

He told the New York Times less than two years before the plot developed, “If there is no legitimate international mediation in our crisis, there is going to be confrontation. And unfortunately, it is going to be bloody and painful for all Bolivians.

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