Bolivia's effort to deport Cuban dissident draws criticism
Opposition leaders have decried the arrest of a Cuban doctor, who holds
permanent residence status in Bolivia, as political persecution.
BY CARLOS VALDEZ
LA PAZ, Bolivia - A government human rights monitor on Tuesday called
for the government to halt the deportation of a Cuban dissident critical
of President Evo Morales' ties to Havana, saying the move could hurt
Bolivia's image abroad.
Dr. Amauris Sanmartino, a Cuban who holds permanent residence status in
Bolivia, was arrested Saturday in the eastern lowland city of Santa Cruz
under a 1996 law forbidding immigrants to be involved in Bolivian politics.
''This case could affect the image of Bolivia,'' said Public Defender
Walter Albarracín, whose office has sought to block Sanmartino's
deportation to Cuba. ``Beyond whether someone thinks one way or another,
here in Bolivia we live in a state of law, and we must be very careful
with that state of law.''
Albarracín confirmed that Sanmartino had fled from Cuba to Bolivia in
2000 with the help of the United States. But the Morales administration
says that Sanmartino does not hold refugee status.
U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on the case, which has caught the
attention of the Cuban exile community thousands of miles north in Miami.
''We are aware of Mr. Sanmartino's case and we are in contact with the
Bolivian government about it,'' read a brief statement released Tuesday
by the U.S. Embassy in La Paz. ``In addition to local law, we believe
that this case involves international conventions and agreements to
which Bolivia is a signatory.''
Sanmartino has been transferred to La Paz, where his lawyers have filed
for a court hearing to halt the deportation. A hearing set for Tuesday
was canceled while Sanmartino was treated for heart problems.
Sanmartino has close ties to conservative opposition leaders in Santa
Cruz, a center of anti-Morales sentiment. On Tuesday, the government
accused him of helping to organize a violent Dec. 15 clash between
anti-Morales protesters and the president's backers that injured dozens
in the town of San Julian.
Opposition leaders have decried Sanmartino's arrest as political
persecution, pointing out that one of the president's own key advisors
Sanmartino has been a vocal critic of Cuba's government and has publicly
denounced the influence of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Morales'
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