Ominous news from BoliviaFor several months now, Bolivia has been acting like Venezuela's little brother; among other things it broke relations with Israel in January over Operation Cast Lead. This week, there has been ominous news from Bolivia as the authorities have gone out of their way to shut down a local Chabad House that is very popular with Israelis in the town of Rurrenabaque in northeastern Bolivia.
Bolivian police forces raided a Chabad center in the northeastern town of Rurrenabaque a number of times in recent days, ordered its closure and arrested a number of Israeli tourists who were staying there. Rabbi Aharon Fraiman, Shliach to Rurrenabaque, told Chabad.info the police refused to give him a reason for the raid, but rumors throughout the town have linked the police activity to an assassination attempt on the Bolivian president last week.If the Israelis know anything about this, they are apparently staying tight-lipped.
On Wednesday, after the Chabad House temporarily resumed activity, Fraiman, who was almost arrested himself, said this was nothing more than a local dispute: "An anti-Semitic restaurateur who thinks we are hurting his livelihood is doing everything to get us out of here," the rabbi said.
On Thursday, however, the multiple arrests, closure of the center and the local media's coverage of police activity in the area, led the rabbi to believe it was something more: "Apparently it's not him, but something bigger. He doesn't have this much power".
"Rumors floating around say that it has something to do with an assassination attempt on the president," the rabbi said.
"Meanwhile, I hired a lawyer here to handle the case, but this is not a law-abiding state, and so far, no one has told us what the commotion is about. They also haven't showed us any closure injunctions."
The Shliach told Chabad.info about one Israeli tourist who was arrested by the Bolivian immigration police, taken to the airport in handcuffs and deported from the country. He also said there were a few others still under arrest.
"I am working to have them released from custody, and am also trying to contact the Foreign Ministry or some kind of Israeli representative here. So far, I've had no success," he said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called the raid "unexplainable" and said that the developing incident "is preoccupying [the Foreign Ministry]". However, he emphasized in a conversation with Israel National News that his office currently has no information on any Israeli citizens taken into custody.The town of Rurrenabaque is a major tourist attraction for travelers in Bolivia, including many Israeli backpackers. The town is a center from which tourists leave for trips to the jungles and swamp areas in northern Bolivia.
A deportation order would have required some formal contact with Israel, according to Palmor, but there has been no such request from Bolivian officials.
There are many more pictures and details on this story here.
Two Israeli travelers staying at the Chabad house were arrested and later released, according to Rabbi Aharon Freiman, 22, who spoke with The Jerusalem Post from Rurrenabaque Thursday.Hmmm.
Freiman said he had not been arrested.
"Nobody from the police or from other government authorities has explained the reason for the raid or for the order to close our place," said Freiman, who opened the Chabad house two months ago.
"I've heard different rumors," added Freiman, who said he did not speak Spanish well. "Some claim that this is a crackdown against drug trafficking. A lot of Israelis who come here smoke hashish and marijuana. Another rumor going around is that this is somehow connected with the attempted assassination of the [Bolivian] president."
On April 16, President Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president and an outspoken critic of the US, said that police had thwarted an assassination attempt against him. Three suspects were killed and two were arrested.
Morales, who faces strong opposition among wealthy Bolivians, has made allegations in the past of attempts to assassinate him.
Shay Geffen, a member of the more messianic stream within Chabad and a spokesman for the National Union Party, said that several MKs were attempting to intervene with Bolivian authorities on behalf of the Freimans, including Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) and Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu).