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Cuba dissident fears deportation after Bolivian court backs expulsion

Cuba dissident fears deportation after Bolivian court backs expulsion

A Cuban dissident who has publicly criticized President Evo Morales' close ties to Havana said Wednesday that he fears for his life if he is deported home after a Bolivian court declined to block the move.
Dr. Amauris Sanmartino holds permanent residence status in Bolivia but was arrested this past weekend in the city of Santa Cruz, 540 kilometers (340 miles) east of La Paz, under a law forbidding immigrants to be involved in Bolivian politics.
Sanmartino's lawyers argued that the government did not properly notify Sanmartino of their intent to deport him, but a La Paz district court on Wednesday ruled that was not enough to halt his deportation, which has not yet been scheduled.
At the hearing, Sanmartino accused the Cuban government of working through their Bolivian allies to target him for criticizing Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
"Before they said it was the Americans, but now it's the Cubans who run things here," Sanmartino said. "They're sending me to certain death."
Sanmartino's lawyers said they will appeal the case.
Sanmartino and a group of fellow dissidents attempted to flee Cuba in 2000 on a boat bound for Florida. Picked up by U.S. immigration authorities, the group was taken to the American military base at Guantanamo Bay before U.S. officials helped find them a home in Bolivia.
Cuba's ambassador to Bolivia, Rafael Dausa, said Wednesday that Sanmartino is a "criminal" who left behind unpaid debts in Cuba, but did not provide any details.
The Bolivian government has accused Sanmartino of having ties to a radical separatist movement in Santa Cruz, a center of conservative opposition to Morales.
They also claim Sanmartino helped organize a violent Dec. 15 clash between anti-Morales protesters and the president's backers that injured dozens in the town of San Julian, 115 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Santa Cruz.
On Wednesday, government officials cast his deportation as an act of national sovereignty.
Presidential Chief of Staff Juan Ramon Quintana said that when anyone is working "against the unity of the country, and inciting other citizens ... any nation in the world that truly respects itself has every authority to put that citizen's feet on the border as quickly as possible."
Sanmartino and opposition leaders accuse the government of hypocrisy, pointing out that since Morales' election a year ago no less than Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has become a vocal commentator on Bolivia's domestic politics.
At a summit of South American leaders earlier this month in the city of Cochabamba, Chavez said that Venezuela "would not stand with arms crossed" if Morales' government was threatened at home.
"Hopefully (my arrest) will be a precedent, and when Chavez comes here and says all those things they'll do the same to him," Sanmartino said during Wednesday's hearing.
Sanmartino added that leftist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who was killed in Bolivia while trying to lead a 1967 revolt, was "a foreigner who entered Bolivia to kill people, but the government celebrates him all the time."
On Wednesday, Sanmartino continued to receive medical attention for a heart condition aggravated by La Paz's high altitude.
Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, maintains close ties to Cuba and considers Castro a mentor and personal friend, calling the fellow leftist a "wise uncle."
Since Morales took office, 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 : 2021-02-27 06:21 GMT+08:00