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The Procuduria contra el Terrorismo (anti-terrorism prosecutor's office) of Peru has filed criminal charges against journalist Walter Chavez, an advisor to Bolivian President Evo Morales. Chavez has been living in Bolivia as a political refugee since the 1990s and played a prominent role in Morales' strong electoral campaign in 2005 (see NotiSur, 2006-01-06). Peruvian prosecutor Guillermo Cabala and Bolivian congressional opponents of Morales claim he does not deserve the status of refugee and are calling for his extradition to face trial in Peru. Chavez, having become a lightning rod for criticism of the Morales government, has resigned from his government post but is calling on the Bolivian government not to extradite him.

Walter Chavez accused of being ex-MRTA guerrilla

Chavez has long been wanted in Peru for allegedly aiding leftist rebels. He said Jan. 30 that he is innocent and will fight the allegations. "I will comply with what the law indicates," Chavez told reporters in his first public appearance since Bolivian opposition leaders called for his resignation the week before.

Cabala, Peru's chief anti-terrorism prosecutor, told the Associated Press late Jan. 29 that he had asked the courts for an international arrest warrant for Chavez, whom Bolivia says is a political refugee long ago granted asylum.

Cabala said Chavez was arrested in 1990 while allegedly receiving US$10,000 in extortion money from a Peruvian businessman for the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA), and he is accused of receiving US$5,000 in another case. Chavez was released on bail and disappeared before turning up in Bolivia in 1992. Bolivia granted Chavez political asylum in 1998. "We're going to seek to make him come and answer to justice," Cabala said.

Chavez, who was a leading adviser in Morales' successful 2005 campaign and frequently served as the president's spokesman, said he was innocent. "They accused me of being part of an MRTA cell but they never proved anything against me," he said.

Chavez said he was held and tortured, accused of "charging revolutionary bonds" from businesspeople, but he was released a month later when a prosecutor ordered his release with "conditional liberty." Two years later came the self-coup by President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), and Chavez fled to Bolivia. Chavez met Morales in 2002 after interviewing him for local media. "After that I accompanied him in his electoral campaign."

The MRTA, as well as the larger guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso, took up arms against Peru's government during the 1980s and 1990s.

Poder Democratico y Social (Podemos), Bolivia's main opposition party, is demanding a full report on Chavez's duties and how he obtained residency in the country. They have also called on several ministers to report on Chavez's work for the Morales administration.

Chavez claims the extradition effort is part of a "dirty war" against him that started after the Bolivian government expelled anti-Castro Cuban Amauris Sanmartino, who led a violent anti-government demonstration in the eastern city of Santa Cruz. "It is an act of revenge by the Bolivian right to strike at the government of Evo Morales," he said. Sanmartino was deported to Colombia and some opposition figures have demanded that the same be done to Chavez.

Refugee status disputed

Cabala says the status of "political refugee" does not apply to Chavez since he is being "investigated for a common crime: terrorism." In 1998, Chavez was declared a fugitive prisoner since he had not presented himself to a court since 1990. Cabala said that status was ratified in 2001, with a detention request for a crime punishable by a 25-year sentence and a fine of more than US$3,000. Cabala said Chavez's defenders asked the courts to change the accusation to a lesser charge, which was rejected with new requests for his repatriation. His defense presented a refugee's certificate, given by Bolivia's Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana.

On Jan. 31, Chavez announced that he would leave Morales' government "to prevent the campaign begun against me from achieving the objective of affecting the administration of companero President Evo Morales." He said he would request "indefinite authorization" from Quintana to continue his Bolivian residence to clear up his legal situation.

"I am going to get underway with this process that has unfairly and calumniously existed against me for 17 years but that never was able to prove any of the accusations against me," said Chavez. "I want to ask the government of Evo Morales--which is a government with which I have worked, to which I have brought some ideas--that it respect my condition as refugee, as seven [prior] governments have."

The Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia (APDHB) suggested that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) seek a third country where Chavez could continue his political asylum.

The upper house of Congress called on Quintana and Foreign Relations Minister David Choquehuanca, along with other ministers, to answer questions about Chavez. PODEMOS senators want the two top ministers to answer questions about Chavez's migration status. News outlets have reported that refugees are not allowed to take government posts or practice politics in Bolivia, although they do have rights of free expression and other constitutional liberties.

Bolivian government asks Interpol not to arrest

The Bolivian government asked Interpol not to comply with the arrest order against Chavez, announced Choquehuanca on Feb. 12. He said the government wanted the international policing organization to respect Chavez's political-refugee status.

Government Minister Alfredo Rada defended Chavez's presence in the country on the same day, saying his extradition was not likely.

Chavez again rejected charges against him, saying, "I have been the victim of a defamation campaign on a Peruvian program that starts its reporting showing the city of La Paz and saying that I hide myself there as if I was a rat, a criminal or an animal."

The Peruvian TV program Panorama on Lima's Channel 5 said Jan. 31 it would produce a special report where Cabala assured viewers that "there is an abundance of evidence" to incriminate Chavez as a member of the MRTA, among it his own confession. Panorama director of investigations Jose Arrieta said, "Here he admits being a member of the hierarchical group of the MRTA."

Chavez says he only wants the Bolivian government to "deal with me justly, here in Bolivia all I have done is political journalism."

Some analysts and critics of the Morales government characterized Chavez as a hard-line leftist in the administration. [Sources: Associated Press, El Nuevo Herald (Miami), 01/30/07; La Razon (Bolivia), La Republica (Peru), 01/31/07; Los Tiempos (Bolivia), 01/30/07, 01/31/07, 02/01/07, 02/12/07; El Comercio (Peru), 02/12/07]
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Publication:NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
Date:Feb 23, 2007

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