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Effort to deport Cuban dissident attracts criticism in Bolivia

Effort to deport Cuban dissident attracts criticism in 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 Albarracin, 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."
Appointed by Congress to monitor human rights issues, the public defender runs an independent government agency.
Albarracin 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 related to the Andean capital city's high altitude.
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, 70 miles (115 kilometers) northwest of Santa Cruz.
Opposition leaders have decried Sanmartino's arrest as political persecution, pointing out that one of the president's own key advisers is Peruvian.
Sanmartino has been a vocal critic of Cuba's government and has publicly denounced the influence of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Morales' administration.
Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, is a close ally of Castro, calling the fellow leftist a "wise uncle."
Since Morales took office a year ago Castro has sent more than 1,500 Cuban doctors to provide urgently needed medical services in South America's poorest country.
Sanmartino has helped some of those doctors flee to neighboring Brazil or the United States.


Updated : 2021-06-23 11:39 GMT+08:00